101 Things in 1001 Days

Some of you will remember my 101 Things to do in 1001 Days challenge, which I started way back at the start of 2009 in Estonia, and ended a few days before my 30th birthday last year.

For those of you who don’t, the idea is that you come up with 101 things you want to do in the next 1001 days, and aim to check them all off your list. The goals must be specific, not vague – things that you can confidently check off the list as having completed. (For example – instead of “get fit”, find measurable ways of achieving that, like “go to the gym 3 times a week for 3 months”, or “go to an exercise class”.)

Well, it’s time to do it again. That list changed my life. A bucket list doesn’t work for me, because I have no deadline to push me into action. This challenge motivates me to get up and do something instead of letting the days of inactivity turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months. I confess, that’s what’s been happening lately, and I don’t like it. If you read this post, which I wrote at the end of my original 101 Days experiment, you’ll see just how much I managed to get done because of it. My achievements of late have been minimal. It’s time to get back on track and live life to the full once again!

I completed 84 of my original 101 challenges. My new list contains some (but not all) of the uncompleted ones, and also a few that I did complete and want to do again. Some of the challenges on the list are huge and will require lots of planning and budgeting. Some are seemingly small but important to me nonetheless. Most are brand new experiences, and some are things I’ve done before but want to make sure I do again.

I’m excited to be setting out on this challenge again, because it did amazing things for me last time. I’m full of energy and enthusiasm just from making the list!

So, here we go! I have 8 broad, general goals. They are:

Travel, travel, travel.
Take better care of myself.
Keep learning, improving my general knowledge, and exercising my brain.
Try new things.
Enjoy life.
Write more.
Be a better, nicer, more considerate person.
Do things that scare me.

Here’s how I plan to achieve them: the new list!

Start date: December 29, 2012
Finish date: September 26, 2015

Travel, travel, travel (15)

1. Visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. Take an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment trip.

3. Visit Russia.

4. Throw tomatoes at La Tomatina.

5. Visit Area 51.

6. Visit Stonehenge.

7. See the Northern Lights.

8. Visit another continent (other than North America, Europe, and Asia).

9. Visit the birthplace or grave of a cultural icon.

10. Ride an elephant.

11. Do some more Couchsurfing.

12. Visit a ghost town.

13. Visit/travel in at least 10 countries.

14. Take a road trip.

15. Get an Irish passport.

Take better care of myself (14)

16. Go hiking.

17. Buy a bicycle.

18. Fast for 3 days.

19. Stop smoking.

20. Lose 3 stone.

21. Get a massage.

22. Complete the 30 Day Shred.

23. Make a budget.

24. Complete a 200 sit-ups challenge.

25. Take a kick-boxing class.

26. Go to bed before midnight every night for a week.

27. Get up early and eat a healthy breakfast every day for a week.

28. Put £10 (or equivalent) into savings for every goal I check off my list.

29. Get laser eye surgery.

Keep learning, improving my general knowledge, and exercising my brain (16)

30. Get a new qualification.

31. Watch at least 10 documentaries.

32. Read at least 50 books.

33. Take a cooking class.

34. Take an interesting online course just for fun.

35. See a play in a theatre.

36. Learn to identify all the countries on a map.

37. Choose 10 countries and watch a movie from each of them.

38. Learn to cook a meal from each of 5 different countries.

39. Visit at least 5 museums I haven’t been to before.

40. Learn how to use 20 more commands/shortcuts/functions on my Macbook.

41. Ask friends to name one favourite music album they think I should listen to, and then listen to all the recommendations I get.

42. Ask friends to name one movie they think I need to watch, and then watch all the recommendations I get.

43. Become fluent in French (pass a high-level DELF exam).

44. Go to a photography exhibition.

45. Reach a basic conversational level in a third language.

Try new things (11)

46. Be a movie extra.

47. Participate in Geocaching.

48. Drive a motorcycle.

49. Perfect a magic trick.

50. Zip line.

51. Learn how to juggle.

52. Get a manicure.

53. See a Broadway show.

54. Do one of those ‘extreme’ things I’ve always wanted to do, like skydiving or a bungee jump.

55. Swim with dolphins.

56. Scuba dive.

Enjoy life (20)

57. Kiss at midnight on  New Year’s Eve.

58. Take a picture for each letter of the alphabet.

59. Order the lobster.

60. Build a sandcastle.

61. Get up and go for a walk as the sun rises.

62. Assemble a list of my all-time favorite quotes.

63. Go down a water slide.

64. Eat at one of the world’s best restaurants.

65. Attend a music festival.

66. Memorise a favourite poem.

67. Document “A Day In My Life” in photos.

68. Buy myself flowers.

69. Take a moonlit walk on a beach.

70. Make playlists of songs for running, relaxing, and parties.

71. Ride a rollercoaster.

72. Go to a market.

73. Make a snowman.

74. Go to at least 5 live music shows.

75. Have a picnic.

76. Host a board games night.

Write more (8)

77. Answer the ‘50 questions that will free your mind‘.

78. Submit at least 10 articles for publication somewhere.

79. Enter a writing contest.

80. Write a poem that I actually let others read.

81. Comment on 50 different blogs.

82. Write a book in a month (NaNoWriMo).

83. Write a blog post every day for a month (Nabloplomo).

84. Take a magazine or travel writing course.

Be a better, nicer, more considerate person (11)

85. Volunteer.

86. Help someone without being asked.

87. Don’t complain about anything for a week.

88. Write a letter to someone I admire.

89. Buy a meal for a homeless person.

90. Register and release 10 books through bookcrossing.com.

91. Send flowers anonymously to someone who needs cheering up.

92. Sponsor a child.

93. Give a sincere compliment every day for a month.

94. Write and mail  a letter or card to someone in my family every week for 3 months.

95. Donate £10 (or equivalent) to charity for every uncompleted task on my list.

Do things that scare me (6)

96. Ask a guy out on a date.

97. Cook dinner for a group of friends.

98. Say ‘no’ to 5 things I don’t want to do, but would normally agree to just to keep people happy.

99. Join a writing group despite my fear of embarrassment or criticism.

100. Speak in front of an audience.

101. Invite a complete stranger to go for dinner or coffee.


saudadeA friend of mine used to get teased for her declaration that she “misses” her children. It’s not that we’re all heartless robots incapable of empathy, laughing mercilessly at our friend because she is apart from her children. It’s just that she doesn’t actually have any children yet.

We found this concept virtually impossible to get our heads around, and I think it’s probably because there is no word for it in our language. My friend often searched desperately for a better way to express what she meant, but she couldn’t find one. She simply “missed” the kids that she didn’t yet have. It seemed odd to me, as someone who has never wanted children, but recently I’ve been feeling something similar. I don’t “miss” my kids, because I don’t believe I’ll have (or want) any. But there are other things. Other “misses”… kind of.

This morning, I happened to stumble across the perfect word to describe the feelings that have been haunting me lately. It isn’t an English word; it’s Portuguese. Saudade.

According to Wikipedia (which knows everything): Saudade describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. It’s related to the feelings of longing, yearning.

I suppose this is a bit like homesickness, or nostalgia. It’s stronger, though. It’s deeper. It’s like an emptiness that you know can’t be filled by just going back home, or seeing that person again, or experiencing the things that you remember so fondly. You want to believe that it can be, but you know that it can’t. Not really.

SaudadeIn Portuguese, ‘tenho saudade tuas’, translates as ‘I have saudade of you’ meaning ‘I miss you’, but carries a much stronger tone. In fact, one can have ‘saudade’ of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future. 

I have had this kind of conversation with so many people recently, but we were never able to be more than vague and confused about what we meant. The extreme joy and pleasure of certain moments, laced right through to the core with the future pain of missing those moments. I don’t miss you now, because you’re here with me… but I will. I don’t yearn to be here now, because I am here… but I will. The expected pain, making the moment bittersweet, both detracts from said moment and makes it more precious.

SaudadeSaudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. […] It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence.

Separation. Death. Distance. Endings. Old friends. In our late teens, my friend Alison and I spent Friday evenings in my sister’s room and mine, getting ready to go out, sharing clothes and dancing to terrible pop music. Every time I hear “Tragedy”, I think of Ali, as if she ought to be with me every time I do that ridiculous dance. We’d go back to my parents’ house after our nights out and make a mess of the kitchen as we made a 2am snack before going to bed, giggling and shushing each other.


Friday nights, 1999.

She died last week. Cancer. She was a year younger than me. All those memories, they’re still there, they’re real, but the person in them has been taken away. Just “gone” doesn’t describe it accurately enough. Saudade comes closer.

Saudade. A constant feeling of absence, the sadness of something that’s missing, wishful longing for completeness or wholeness[…] It can also be felt for unrequited love, in that the person misses something he or she never really had, but for which might hope, regardless of the possible futility of said hope.

I suppose that’s the closest to what my friend said about “missing” her children. I feel it a lot, too, but it’s hard to put into words. Saudade. Something missing. Something, someone, more. Is it love? A deeper connection? A lover? A partner? Children? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I don’t know. Perhaps that’s why I lurch catastrophically and wholeheartedly from one failed relationship to another, professing happiness as a single person only to hopelessly, helplessly follow doomed feelings for men I can’t have, or shouldn’t have. I settle for what they’ll give me, and tell myself it’s enough. Or I refuse to settle, and then feel… saudade. Empty. Lonely. Alone. Sad. Missing something. What do I want? What do I “miss”? Is it something I had once and then lost, or is it something I haven’t even had yet?

Saudade. It’s the perfect word for me right now, with no exact English equivalent.

Saudade: like a mixture of love, longing, distance, loss, nostalgia, pining, yearning, missing, sadness. Homesickness. Unfulfilled desire. Futility mixed with hope. “The presence of absence.”

Sometimes, English just doesn’t cut it.

O’er the hill we go, sliding all the way

It rained last night.

I know that doesn’t sound dramatic at all, but believe me, it nearly killed me.

For the past week or so, I have struggled to get up and down the snow-covered hill that stands between my house and my school. It wasn’t so bad at first, when the snow was all soft and deep, but with every day of traffic and footfall and freezing temperatures, it became more and more like a carefully polished slide of doom.

Then, last night, it rained. This did not wash away the snow and ice, oh no!! They are so tightly pressed down now that they are basically part of the road, like some sort of giant shiny fossil. The rain merely smoothed everything out nicely and then immediately froze into one big glossy, glassy, several-inches-thick sheet of pure solid ice.

Obviously I was in a state of utter delight about this as I stood at the bottom of the hill this morning and contemplated my almost certain death.

Tentatively I put a foot on to the ice, and then clutched hurriedly at a parked car as the ground rushed towards me. OK, I said firmly (whether to the ice or the car or myself, I am not sure). OK. Right.

I managed one more step before giving in to an awkward little shuffle dance thing that brought me back to where I’d started. Argh! I said to an old man who was smoking a cigarette at his garden gate and taking in my plight. He nodded thoughtfully, and we looked at the Hill of Doom together in silence. Finally, he motioned to me to come over to his side of the road, where a narrow strip of snow, sheltered by the wall, had escaped the freezing rain. He reached out his hands and dragged me across the final chunk of ice as I flailed around, shrieking. OK, I repeated less confidently. OK. Right. 

My new friend ducked inside his gateway and reappeared with a shovelful of sand, which he proceeded to throw as far up the hill as he could reach, and I nervously began my climb. When I was halfway up and clinging to the wall for dear life, I saw the principal putting out cones to warn traffic not to go down the hill. He called my name. Hayley Teacher! (that is my full name) Slowly, slowly! He was watching me anxiously as if he suspected I might suddenly break into a confident and joyful gallop that would send me hurtling down the hill. His shouts attracted the attention of my director and a couple of teachers, who stuck their heads out of the back door to observe the proceedings. If there is anything harder than trying to climb an ice-covered hill without killing yourself, it is trying to climb an ice-covered hill without killing yourself while your boss and colleagues watch you. I swear, by the time I got to the top, I was a trembling, sweating mess. My heart was thumping more loudly than it was that time I jumped in front of a bus.

I have spent a large portion of the day contemplating how I’m going to get home, which is ridiculous as I live about a hundred metres away.

Honestly, I’m not ruling out some sort of homemade sled involving one of the big stainless steel trays they serve lunch on in school.

The boy who ruined Christmas

The children are all making little conical Santa ornaments to hang on the Christmas tree.

I enjoy being an art teacher at Christmas time. The classroom takes on a whole different atmosphere during December, and there’s something about all the red and green and snowflakes and glitter and sparkly things that takes me right back to my own happy childhood of Christmas crafts and carols.

One little girl has somehow managed to make her Santa look more like a Viking than a jolly old St. Nick, but hey, I’m all about freedom of expression and creativity.


I congratulate her on her somewhat bizarre (but highly original) effort, and attach the string to her ornament. Next!

They’re all bringing their finished works to me so that I can help them with the tricky joining part and add the hanging strings. My attention is thus focused on one child at a time, so it takes me a while to become aware of a kerfuffle at the other end of the room. Jun is throwing another tantrum – remember Jun? He’s the little brat who cries at the slightest sign of not getting exactly what he wants. I know I’m meant to love them all the same, and I know it’s very, very wrong to have actual feelings of dislike for a 5-year-old, but gahhhhhhhhhhhh!!! That child makes me want to put my fist through a wall.

Anyway, this time he appears to have misplaced his Santa. I have them all search under the desks as I finish the last child’s ornament, and try to remain patient as my constant queries about Jun’s Santa’s whereabouts are consistently ignored. I don’t like Santa!! is all I can get out of him, his voice becoming increasingly high-pitched as his glare becomes more and more poisonous. Eventually, I dismiss the rest of the class and turn to him, trying to hold on to my festive spirit as I look at the screwed-up little face with the eyes that look like they want to slowly laser-beam me to death. Jun, I say for the dozenth time, as gently and patiently as I am able. Where is your Santa?

I don’t… like… Santa!! he screams into my face.

Why? What did Santa ever do to you? I ask, realising that I am possibly losing my cool as I hear the words coming out of my mouth. Jun kicks the wall. No! he replies. This conversation is not really going anywhere, so I turn from him to scan the room for the missing Santa. I really do not give a tiny flying rat’s ass where the fecking Santa is, as I have far more important issues in my life, but if he is the only child to leave the school without an art project, questions will be asked and Hayley Teacher will be in trouble. And so I search for Santa.

Santa is nowhere to be found.

Right, I say firmly, and with zero patience now as it is lunch time and I am starving. What did you do to Santa? 

I… DON’T… LIKE… SANTA!!!!! The whine has become a scream, accompanied by crocodile tears and a pouty lip.

I…. DON’T…. CARE!!!! I retort, abandoning all pretence of being the more mature party here. I don’t like Angry Birds, and I made 63 of them the other week. WHERE…. IS…. SANTA?

Jun senses that he has perhaps edged into dangerous territory, so he hesitates momentarily before making a vague gesture with his hands.

What are you saying? You crumpled him up and threw him away? I asked (after 3+ years in this job, I am a total expert at interpreting every possible mime a child might perform). He nods, his bravado fading slightly as he watches my face take on The Look. He attempts to bolt from the room, but The Look stops him, so he stands there trying and failing to look nonchalant as I rummage through the paper recycling bag like a woman possessed.

I find Santa, or rather, I find what remains of Santa. It is a sad sight, and one which is not conducive to keeping my festive spirit alive. Jun has killed Christmas in one selfish, symbolic act of vandalism. How does that feel, Jun? Hmmm? DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF?

I march him down to his homeroom teacher, ’cause I’ll be damned if I’m making him a replacement Santa to take home and pass off as his own. He attempts to viciously kick me in the shins as we approach his classroom, so that I am in the process of completely losing the plot just as we encounter his surprised teacher. I thrust the woebegone Santa at her and point accusingly at Jun, who is of course howling pitifully now. He gets a comforting cuddle. I get a “what the hell is wrong with you?” sort of look. Jun smirks at me over his naive teacher’s shoulder.


This is not over, Jun.

Sure come on in, why don’t you?

You do realise, don’t you, said my friend amidst the laughter around the kimbap restaurant table, that if any of this happened in our own countries, we’d be taking legal action, not laughing about it?

This remark has stayed with me over the past week. Much like the issue of being stared at and singled out for being foreign, and how we pretty much just accept it, there are things that happen to us here which – in our pre-Korea lives – would  have been a very serious issue, if not illegal.

The topic under discussion was apartment living. I am not sure if this experience  is unique to foreigners, or if it happens to Koreans as well, but it does feel rather as if we are being treated like kids. We don’t speak the language, we often appear stupid because we don’t understand how things work… I sometimes get the impression that Koreans see us as slightly dim-witted, overgrown children, and not fully-grown adults with rights.

Anyway, here’s the issue. I initially thought it was just my crazy landlady (from my previous apartment) who had absolutely no concept of my apartment being my own personal, private space. I’ve now heard enough stories to realise that she is by no means the only one. There would be times when I was lying in bed feeling hungover on a Saturday morning, and I’d groan and ignore her when she knocked on my door at some ungodly hour. The normal reaction to this is to assume that I’m not home or simply not accepting visitors. And then leave me alone. Right? Right?!!! Not my landlady. No, she would simply slide up the keypad lock and punch in her master code, the one that could presumably override mine.

I nearly had heart failure the first time I heard her do it, as it was the height of summer and I was – as I am 90% of the time that I am home in the summer – somewhat naked. Fortunately I had pulled the snib across on the lock, so the door just beeped furiously and refused to open. Had it been unsnibbed, she would have burst right in and there would have been a lot of hysterical screaming.

Yeah, she’s done that to me, too, confirmed my colleague. Only my door wasn’t snibbed, and I was standing there in a towel. 

You know, I’m pretty sure she goes in there while I’m at work, mused my other colleague. Sometimes I come home and things have definitely moved around. 

It’s like we’re not adults living in our own homes. We are children, and our ‘parents’ can barge into our bedrooms whenever they feel like it. There is no concept of privacy. One girl left her boyfriend sleeping in her bed when she went to work, only for her director – her BOSS!!! – to let himself into her apartment for what must have been the world’s most awkward confrontation. Korean employer trespasses in employee’s home, meets naked boy. I see no way of overcoming the level of sheer awkwardness in that scenario.

And yet it seems to be understood that your boss has the right to enter your home. My own director has been fairly respectful of boundaries, but I’ve heard numerous tales of employers and co-teachers showing up if someone has dared to call in sick. They’ve let themselves in (or refused to leave until the door is opened) and forced the poor sick person out of bed and off to the doctor – and sometimes straight back to work. Like a naughty child playing truant.

And then there’s the random strangers that just invite themselves in, and we tend to let them because we’ve no real idea of whether or not they’re entitled to be there. Another friend of mine found herself startled last week when a middle-aged man just let himself into her apartment without so much as a courtesy knock on the door. He turned out to be a maintenance man. What can you do about that?!

The icing on the cake came on Saturday morning, when I was pottering around the kitchen in my PJs. I was cooking and portioning some healthy meals for the week ahead, when the doorbell rang. I chose to ignore it, as – I once believed – is my prerogative. Sometimes a girl just doesn’t want to answer the door in her pajamas, y’know? It’s my home, I don’t have to open the door, right? Wrong. As my crazy old landlady used to do, the caller kept pressing the doorbell before proceeding to hammer on the door with alarming force, occasionally yelling in case I was actually so stupid that I didn’t realise what all this meant.

Finally, beyond irritated, I flung open the door and glared at the elderly man in annoyance. He started going on at me in a torrent of garbled Korean until I finally got something about a bad smell, and could he check out the drains. Wearily, I stepped back and let him wander in, whereupon he started poking through the utility room, sniffing the air like a police dog, and patronisingly telling me to take out the rubbish bag I had just 5 minutes ago tied up and placed by the door ready to take out.

There was no bad smell. I had just spent the morning cleaning; if anything, the place smelled lemony fresh. He was forced to conclude this, but felt the need to close my bedroom window anyway, at which point I realised that what he was actually saying was that he lived upstairs and there was a bad smell in his apartment, and he wanted to see if it was coming from mine. WHAT?! And I just let him in and listened to him giving me orders because he acted like he had the right to do so. I mean, seriously. I very deliberately re-opened my window and gave him my best withering Look. The apartment is clean. There is no smell. Please go now. I said to the best of my abilities. He grudgingly left, but not before lifting the lid of the pot that was simmering in the kitchen, and sniffing it suspiciously, like I might be boiling a skunk in there.

I’m so accustomed to this sort of thing that I now have very little concept of what constitutes ‘normal’ behaviour. If I was living in, say, Belfast or London, and my landlady let herself in to rummage through my fridge while I was out… or someone appeared at my bedside while I was having a weekend lie-in… or my boss went in for a snoop around while I was at work… or the guy from upstairs barged in to sniff everything and patiently teach me how to throw away a rubbish bag and close a window… how would I react? How would you react? What would you do? You probably wouldn’t simply laugh about it over dinner with your friends, shake your head despairingly, and let it go.

And yet what else can we do?!