This week Passion Passport is featuring the life-changing journey (or journeys, really) of the traveling duo behind Hair Ventures. In part one, Meg explained why she decided to book a one-way ticket to Shanghai in 2007. In part two, she looks back at a fateful night in Japan.
My first year in Shanghai, a Canadian guy cracked a joke to me. He told me every time he approaches a foreign female, he thinks to himself “What’s the smell? Calvin Klein? No, no it’s desperation.” I laughed, a little, but mostly I realized it was true. That joke is still one of my clearest memories.
In the early years, when Shanghai was still a bizarre choice for a home, before the bankers, investors, and people looking for ways to get rich quick all arrived, Shanghai was full of pioneers. There were people there before us, yes, but we expats were all still a bit odd and for the most part we all knew each other. And it may sound like a stereotype but it was very much true that the average foreign man was punching well above his weight. Foreign men dated local girls, frequently, and sometimes exclusively; foreign women rarely dated local men. In my five years in Shanghai I knew one girl who dated a Chinese man. One. So a small dating pool was made even smaller for foreign women – desperation may not have been entirely inaccurate.
Years rolled along, more people arrived, the pool expanded. I remained single. It was a trip to India that lit a fire under me. In Jodpur, India the ‘official palm reader of the maharaja’ told me I would meet my husband either this year or not until I was 33. At 26, I was horrified at that prospect and therefore on a mission to meet that man. I started going out to meet people rather than just have fun. A few friends set me up, I tried online dating, but even after a few months of “putting myself out there” I hadn’t gotten much further than a third date.
“The night wore on, more drinks were ordered, friends never showed up but we had met each other and that was enough.”
The thing about Shanghai is it’s always changing. The foreigners are wealthy, the money is pink, and everyone is always looking for the next big thing, which is why I found myself wandering down a dark alley, in a row of lane houses, looking for a Japanese tiki bar. Seriously. I arrived at the teeny tiny bar to find only one other person there. I, as always, was early and my friend, as always, was late. I took a seat, ordered a hot sake and waited. As I didn’t have a smartphone at the time, I desperately looked for someone to talk to, turned to the only other person at the bar, and struck up conversation in a way that only an expat in an Asian country can.
The night wore on, more drinks were ordered, friends never showed up but we had met each other and that was enough. The man was Jonathan, an English expat by way of Sydney. He was a true expat there, with a proper job and a provided apartment, so our Shanghai experiences were very different. However, we found common ground in the bottom of a sake cup and set up a second date – Belgian beers down another lane (if I’m honest I don’t really remember it, Belgian beers are really strong). I liked him, he was cute, a bit cocky and had a world of experience I was completely unfamiliar with – he was a proper adult, I was still just pretending.
It was the third date that changed everything. A curry was called for – we both love a good curry – and after dinner we walked to a wine bar and ordered a bottle. It was then that our lives changed forever. He mentioned he had planned to do something called “The Mongol Rally” with a friend that summer, but his friend had suddenly proved reluctant to take the plunge and sign up (it seemed perhaps he was chickening out). I had no idea what the Mongol Rally was, but I quickly said I was in, let’s sign up!
He signed us up the next day. It was January, our third date and we had committed to driving over a third of the Earth’s surface in a tiny car seven months in the future. And this is from where we never looked back. In the last five years we’ve driven over 40,000 miles together, across 43 countries on six continents. We’ve lived in the same countries, we’ve lived in different countries. I studied pastry in France, he backpacked Central America. I nannied for oligarchs in Russia, he did a philosophy degree in England – but adventure always brought us back together in the end. Last year we thought it would be fun to drive from America to Argentina, so we left England, bought a tiny RV and have spent the last year traveling America.
In November we got married before crossing the border to Mexico. So the maharaja’s palm reader was right, it just took us five years to get there.
Passion Passport is featuring the life-changing journey (or journeys, really) of the traveling duo behind Hair Ventures all week. In part one, Meg explained why she decided to book a one-way ticket to Shanghai in 2007. Have you been on a life-altering journey? Are you considering one? Tell us on social media, using the hashtag “YourJourneyAwaits.”