Cape Town & New Year's Resolutions
I'm trying to write more stories about people and experiences related to my trips rather than logistics/itineraries. My first "story" was about hitchhiking in Iceland.
Happy New Year y'all! This is a super belated set of pictures (since I went to Cape Town in September :-P) but my rambling felt super relevant for a new-year-fresh-start feel. Hope you enjoy!
My 30-second brief for Cape Town is: It felt a lot like San Francisco, which is probably why I felt pretty compelled to live there. Surrounded by ocean and mountains for outdoors activities, lots of trendy bars and cafes, and even wine country just 45 minutes away. Also, like SF, visible inequality and remnants of a complex history. Rent a car, venture out into the townships (e.g., Langa) for a more realistic/authentic experience, and do the free walking tours from downtown!
I wrote a story on: Finding new routines, and why my 2018 motto is "fresh over familiar"
fresh over familiar
I am the type of person that Googles everything. I call it my "online research" -- with the emphasis on that second syllable, a slight and terribly inaccurate British accent, and my right index finger pushing up the middle of my invisible nerd glasses.
I’m also the type of person that still writes in question form, even though I logically know that I could achieve the same results with a set of keywords. But whatever, I like to pretend I’m still asking Jeeves. A recent (and extremely helpful) Google search was "Is it bad to negotiate salary over email?" (Answer: Not the worst!)
I always find something to satisfy my online research needs. Sometimes, you just need some misspelled comments (on Yahoo! answers, Reddit, or whatever niche forum that exists on the interwebs) to validate why your bowel movements are just a little bit different after a night out drinking. Sometimes it’s the random mom blogger who shares her life hack of cleaning your bathtub with baking soda and vinegar. But the most satisfying, for me at least, is when I find some data or a study that totally corroborates some feeling or experience I've had.
Like the search results I got in December, when I asked Google,
“Why does time move faster when you’re older?"
Let me give a little context. Probably at least twice a month for the last three years, I’ve commented on how quickly time has passed. I say it like it’s a new realization every time. The cycle usually starts on January 1: “I can’t believe it’s 2017.” Then, once February hits, I add the month, while still emphasizing the shock of the year I’m living in: “I can’t believe it’s already November. [Notable pause.] Of *2017*.” (BUT REALLY, CAN YOU BELIEVE IT'S 2018?! Oof.)
I may be the annoying one who points it out frequently, but I know I’m not the only one who feels that time moves faster as we get older. My five-year college reunion was full of people chattering “I can’t believe we graduated FIVE years ago!” Last year, on my birthday, my almost 90-year-old grandma gave me mild dread and anxiety when she said something along the lines of, “I remember turning 26 like it was yesterday.” (26 going on 90? No thank you!)
So, a few weeks ago, after lamenting the sudden onset of November 2017, I turned to my trusty expert, Google, to figure out why time was moving faster, and how I could slow it down.
Before I tell you what I found, let me also share why I quit my job in August. I love having daily rituals, but earlier this year, I started to feel, for lack of a better word, static. My days and weeks started to bleed together, and I felt blah about my routine. San Francisco, after my five years of residence, felt too familiar. Too known. Take my commute, for example. I knew that on weekdays, it took exactly 26 minutes to bike to work if I made all the lights, and about 29 if I didn’t, and on weekends, about 21 minutes to get downtown for spin class because the lights are on a different schedule and I don’t have to wait for cars to turn right on 5th Street.
A month of travel, away from San Francisco, made me realize that my itch for change was less a desire to constantly be experiencing new and different experiences, and more a craving to create a different routine - to change what my “normal” is. Although I had a lot of fun in Iceland, where I spent each night in a new hostel and each day jam-packed with activities, it got tiring. I found myself most fulfilled and at peace when I was in Cape Town - and I think it was partly because I got to make a new routine.
I guess I should have known this about myself, because some of my favorite memories from big trips are actually those little routines. When I reminisce about studying abroad in New Zealand, I smile thinking about the weekend grocery routine my friends and I had: the specific street we walked down to New World first, the 5 minute walk up the hill to the neighboring Countdown to get cheaper snacks, and the walk back up to our apartment complex. When I think about Bike & Build, I remember my 4 AM wake-up routine: folding my sleeping pad in half and lay it for 5 minutes as both a “snooze” and a way to deflate it before rolling it up, packing my bin of belongings the same way every day and how I carried it to the trailer, and doing the routine bike checks after breakfast before riding off for the day.
In Cape Town, I stayed in the same apartment (thanks Hansae!) for 10 days, which meant I could develop a routine. Yes, 10 days is a pretty short period of time, but for me, it was long enough to build a faint sense of familiarity. The first thing I was excited to do? Go to the different grocery stores so I could pick my favorite one and find some new go-to snacks (hello, biltong!). On the first morning, I discovered a path that connected our neighborhood to the beach, where I ran along the ocean almost every morning. I began a new morning routine: put water on the kettle as soon as I got up, drink roobois tea on the patio while reading my Kindle and slowly waking up, and then go for my beach run.
I also rented a car, which meant I had to drive on the left side of the road and get used to the driver’s seat on the right side of the car. Talk about getting used to a new routine! For the first few days, my left hand accidentally hit the windshield wipers every time I wanted to use turning signals, and I had to rely on Google Maps to direct myself to and from Hansae’s office or downtown. But by the end of my stay, I knew when I needed to be in the right lane to turn into Hansae’s office complex, and that taking the second left turn into our neighborhood was a faster way to get home.
So, finally back to that article about time. The study found that most people are like me - time feels like it's moving faster the older we get. Why? Psychologists speculate that time moves faster [in the present] when you’re having fun, but you remember time [retroactively] more slowly when you’re having fun. It’s confusing - so let that marinate for a moment.
...Alright, did it soak in? Basically, the way we judge time retrospectively is based on how many new memories we create over a certain period of time - our brain encodes fresh experiences, not familiar ones.
The more new stuff we do during the week, the longer the week will feel.
This totally rings true with my experience - part of why I love travel and adventure is because it feels like I somehow have more time - the same amount of time feels longer because I’ve made so much out of it. But that doesn’t mean that I have to completely abandon routine and some consistency to slow down the passage of time.
Now that I’m in a new job, and staying in San Francisco (for now), I’ve been thinking about how I can avoid that stale feeling. I already feel exhilarated by my new commute routine (bike to work on the Wiggle while listening to the NY Times Daily podcast, and calling friends on my bike ride home), but I’m sure it will get old eventually. My new idea for 2018: a two month routine "expiration date."
This means that I am going to change my routine in a significant way - take a different route to work, sign up for an evening class, maybe embark on a new exercise regimen. Two months, because it supposedly takes 21 days to form a habit, and I want time to actually enjoy the daily rituals and routines — just not too much time that would make me feel like the routine got old.
This is definitely an experiment, but I feel optimistic. It’s not always possible to change what you do or where you live, but it’s possible to change how you do things and how you live. And maybe that can make things feel new and different, and hopefully, make time move a little bit more slowly.
I mean, after just 10 days driving around Cape Town, I came back to San Francisco hitting the windshield wipers with my right hand instead of the turn signals, as if I hadn’t been driving in the U.S. regularly for the last five years. I think if I opt for fresh over familiar, I can make 2018 the slowest year yet!