A Totally Impractical Guide to Roughing it in the Wilds of Vancouver Island

For those of you used to my usual summer missives replete with food porn photos and freshly gleaned insights and wild tales from exotic locales such as Morocco or Sri Lanka or Myanmar or Indonesia, I fear I am letting you down.

And for those of you who rely on me (desperately, I hope) for up to date, detailed information about practical daily life on the ground in Shanghai and around China‘s eastern sea board, I’m veering wildly off course. I should probably change the name of this blog at some point, or at least underline and highlight the word Impractical in the title a dozen times for emphasis.

Yeah. Sorry about that.

You know how I got married the other week, right? To a man? Remember? Yeah, still married, which is a good sign. Two weeks and counting, y’all.



We got all dressed up for it and everything


And remember how I also casually noted that I was somewhat knocked up (in a good way), which kind of altered the course of our original Burning-Man-Road-Trip-to-Mexico plans for autumn. We had to stop for a moment and rethink our itinerary for, oh, the next few years. Practical matters like finding well-paid work, a stable home and decent medical care suddenly took on an importance that nearly (nearly) eclipsed my desire for street tacos and Mexican dark beer and decorated skeletons and candy skulls. Nearly.


I presume they are filled with Cadbury Creme Egg brain fondant


Our current plan is to move to the UK for a year or two to allow for a hint of stability in our future spawn’s initial time on this planet. I’m not so good at that whole stability thing (think, 9 flats and approximately 8 jobs in the past decade, in 3 cities in 2 countries) but I’m always up for a challenge, as you know. As soon as all our required paperwork is in order, we’re applying for that elusive spouse visa, which reportedly takes between two and twelve weeks to process.

Now, two weeks I’m cool with. A month even. Maybe six weeks could be okay. Twelve weeks spent twiddling one’s thumbs (with passport held captive at British embassy in New York) is a different matter. Being in geographic limbo, hiding out in one’s lovely parents’ basement, can be a bit unnerving when you’re used to having a degree of control over where you go and how long you stay there. There are only so many books (from the library! LIBRARY!!!) you can read, so many pleasant strolls around the neighbourhood you can take, and so many muffins you can bake before you start yearning for either a tuk tuk or a fast train to somewhere brand new or a Thai bungalow on a beach or, hell, a job. Something to do; somewhere to go. A sense of purpose, however fleeting or superficial or contrived.

So we decided to relocate, just a bit.

Welcome to my childhood home, folks.


We’re heeeeeere!


We’re not in Shanghai anymore, Toto. And frankly, it’s awesome.

This is the view from our bedroom window.



The doghouse belongs to my childhood dog, long gone. No new dogs have moved in yet.


I’d put up photos of the view from the kitchen or living room windows as well, but it would just be more trees, brilliant green moss, morning mist hovering whitely above the ground, undergrowth thick enough to hide a million cats, and bright sunlight filtering through the forest canopy.



chicken yard

We used to have chickens, once upon a time. Then we ate them. But their home (and legacy) remains!


We’re house sitting for my parents, looking after my childhood home out in the forest.

It’s tucked away near a bend in the river, in a valley that makes it a mobile phone dead zone, far enough away from civilization (as it were) that there’s still no wifi access out there and landline internet is only just now starting to be available (providing you agree to a 2 year contract). As it was when I was a kid, there’s still no television reception.  There’s no TV there anyway. We’ve borrowed the family truck so we can actually get into town, about half an hour away. The nearest shop is a twenty minute drive away, mostly down winding, hilly rural roads. No popping out for dumplings and cheap Japanese plum wine, no.

Like I said, we’re not in Shanghai anymore.

We spend our afternoons for now in the public library in Duncan, borrowing their free wifi to send out job applications and do what can’t be done during the rest of the day and night when we’re pleasantly unconnected. Our mornings are spent sorting out my childhood detritus, making things a bit nicer for my parents. After twenty odd years away, my stuff shouldn’t still be cluttering up rooms. Apple bread has been baked; soup has been made; roasted yam parathas have been kneaded and rolled out.  Lots of tea and reading.

It’s lovely.

Sanity is returning, along with a full night’s rest and healthy looking skin. Drinking water comes from the well and tastes exactly how I’d forgotten it could taste. Definitely lacking in heavy metals. The air is fresh and cool and you can see stars at night through the thick canopy of enormous trees that envelop the house on all sides. It’s cozy.

The one thing that’s weird though, and which I’m still processing for a future date, is the fact that I’m back living in the same house I left back in 1992, wandering around the same small town streets that were once very familiar at a very specific point in my life. I left the moment I had graduated from high school and never looked back. I had very good reasons for leaving. There was a lot I wanted to see in the world- a lot I hadn’t even had a chance to fathom at 17- and I knew I couldn’t get it in rural Vancouver Island.  I had spent most of my life after the age of 5 plotting my eventual escape- starting with an unformed but firm desire to live in the London of Mary Poppins- and now, twenty years after I had made it out, I’m back.

Happily back.

Happy to potter around the house in the forest with no other people around; happy to wander around the surprisingly small streets of the toy like town centre.



I spent most of grade 12 here drinking bottomless coffee and writing very bad short stories instead of going to class. I can’t believe I ended up being a teacher.


The decade and a half I’d spent in mega cities like London, Istanbul and Shanghai seems like someone else’s life, someone else’s memories.

I’m starting to feel like I’d made it all up.

Were the mops really real? Was that really me in Marrakech (or Accra or Sofia or Cairo or Muscat)? Did I really eat bear paw and shark fin soup? Was I really 30 metres below the Andaman sea, off the coast of Thailand, being flung about by ridiculous currents?

All I can see right now are green low-lying mountains shrouded in mist, totem poles, pick-up trucks, trees. I can hear a raven’s call. Everyone is speaking English with an accent that sounds like mine.

It’s weird. Lovely and calming but weird.

Like I said, there is much to process.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.