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Personal essay (1200-word relating to interview essay)

Love, geography, vice and virtue

As I listen to the whole interview, I notice the sole time Anthony hesitated to answer was when asked if he would ever move back home to Zambia. It is only as I hear the voice recording that I understand the silence that followed the question. The easy-going conversation took a tumble down a somewhat personal alley.

I guess the way of understanding how personal it can be is by asking myself: Would I ever move back home? Hardly. But it is a question that has boggled my mind throughout my adult life. And when it does, happiness is the main focus. Isn’t it the same as questioning our whole reality, the setting which we choose to coexist in? What would my life have been like, if I hadn’t migrated when I was eighteen? Or even, if I have broadened my horizons so much by moving to Australia, isn’t the next logical step moving again so I can broaden them even more? After a ramble of thoughts, I understand how personal of a question it was, and promise to be more aware next time.

I continue to ponder on the matter once I return to Lisbon, the first time coming back since migrating. I rediscover the city as a tourist and rejoice at all the historic facades and small bohemian bars and cafes. Always something new and exciting around every corner. For the time I used to live there though, these corners ended up mostly unexplored as you just keep yourself busy, sticking to your routes, in your not-so-busy routine. But regardless of this beauty, the cosmopolitan mentality really is something else. I had lived a whole year in Australia without this beehive-like urgency, and after less than an hour of landing and ten minutes at the supermarket, I already had an elderly Portuguese lady yelling at me, seeing I wasn’t moving fast enough at the checkout. There I was, thinking about life, at a leisurely pace, very jetlagged, and during those surreal couple of hours that followed I was nothing but a bystander in the movie that was my homecoming, watching from afar. Daydreaming.

I came back to Perth after a holiday where I craved the tranquility of home, funnily enough. A few months later, I met this lovely Parisian girl who would later become my girlfriend. The main issue in this relationship was that she didn’t have a visa to stay, which made everything more complex. It is as if you know there is an expiry date to a relationship, you give yourself completely. This scorching love led to the possibility of me moving back to Paris with her. And once again the question popped up in my mind. After coming all this way to leave the European hustle and bustle, would I ever move back? It was undoubtedly love, but I hate French and decided to stay.

A couple of years passed and I met my Australian girlfriend. We had been together for a year when one of her friends made a remark that caught me off-guard: ‘We would have left if it weren’t for you’, she said, in a cheeky matter. Later on I learned that my partner was planning on leaving for Byron Bay with her friend, but upon meeting me her plans changed. She asked me if I’d move there with her. I told her I had plans to study in Perth. ‘Maybe after uni?’ Maybe.  Once again I had the geographical dilemma on the table.

I came back to Lisbon sometime after this and was over-excited to celebrate life in my old country; I was amused to understand how the updated version of me fitted into the Portuguese society. My friends scoffed at my thongs, the major influence of an Australian life. I didn’t care, and after a while neither did they. It seems Europeans can be quick to jump to conclusions about fashion, whereas no-one could give two fucks down-under. They also seemed intrigued by the amount of beer I was consuming back then. An aspiring writer with a deep Australian influence. What exactly did they expect?

This line of thought brings two terms that play a major part in my life, vice and virtue, onto the table. I consider myself a somewhat virtuous man, but even more of a happiness junkie, which brings vice into play. And this is where I distance myself from my Portuguese high-school friends. They seem too caught-up in the cosmopolitan rush, striving to keep busy. Of course the economy is nothing to be compared to Western Australia, so the never-ending steep financial climb that is their reality keeps them occupied and gives them a sense of purpose. But what would they actually do with their time if they were to find themselves in a position of economic stability? If life is not a struggle anymore, what to do with our day-to-day? This is a question that crossed my mind several times once I stopped working seven days a week. As of virtue, I have read enough philosophical works to understand how it goes hand-to-hand with vice. Or at least I like to think. If one has achieved basic survival needs, what exactly is one’s purpose?

It is with this never ending dilemma that I organise to meet up with Anthony once again. We go on to have an incredibly complex conversation about energy and other spiritual matters. As I listen to him speak, I keep on thinking to myself how much of an incredibly virtuous individual he really is. Which leads me to think about vice again, and I remember how much of a drinker, smoker and overall party animal he also is. Would he be as virtuous if it weren’t for his vices? What do his childhood friends make of his ways when he visits them back home? I go on to make the relation between virtue and the brain, and vice and the soul. It is a fine balance which we all dangle in. Can one be virtuous without one’s vices, and vice-versa? I can’t see myself as the most virtuous of men without celebrating this virtue by indulging in the hazy-like comfort of vice. And I don’t want to fall into a downward spiral of vice without enough virtue to level it out. As I said, it is the finest of balances.

I write these thoughts as I prepare on going back to Lisbon for a holiday. I haven’t been back in almost two years. The funny thing about going back nowadays is that I have gotten used to this change-of-airs, this craving to see something different. Australia is relatively quiet, and I appreciate that, but after a year or so of routine you need a getaway. And going back home for me is always symbolic, in a way that after usually less than a week I am already missing Australia. A self-reminder of my rightest of choices. But that is human nature after all, right? To crave change and immediately wanting to replace this change with more change that brings you back to square one, wondering what was the point in the first place. We are simple creatures with complex needs, after all.

Interview portrait

The first time I met Anthony was at one of the biggest hippie lifestyle festivals in Western Australia, and I remember finding his energy contagious. He was the embodiment of what that festival was supposed to represent. This period was marked by a rhythm of partying not for the faint hearted.  Three years onwards and we lay on the grass for this interview under massive trees in front of an outback tavern. Whilst his massive Rhodesian Ridgeback wanders around, we smoke some rough tobacco Anthony grows in his bush property to get the conversation going. His long hair and beard are obfuscated by his contagious smile from ear-to-ear. Nowadays he seems to live a much quieter life, having chosen to migrate out bush full-time to get away from ‘all that’. ‘Lately I have become more abstract, more aware of myself as an individual amongst others.’ That was the first answer I got when asking Anthony to tell me about himself. He goes on to explain how everything around us is energy, and how nowadays he is much more aware of his. Not that I ever got the slightest trace of bad energy from him, but he always dwelt deeper into this line of affairs than most. His chicken-feet tell the stories of many smiles under the sun. ‘Talk about energy, scientific matter as the basis of everything’. It isn’t midday yet and Anthony already has more complex conversation starters than most. He does indeed carry a much calmer demeanor than in the past, but when he stares into the abstract, his kind, icy-blue eyes are a window into a soul which has paved the road less travelled. We have been friends for a few years now, but I’ve always listened to every single phrase he says as if I were interviewing him, drinking from his bottomless chalice of wisdom. The forty-five-year-old Zambian born is one of the most interesting people I know. I feel like the twenty years or so he has on me have been lived to the fullest. An extremely cultured individual, someone who you could chat to for hours without losing topic. He has been to the other side of the moon and back many times, and when he explains you one of his viewpoints in a sea of complex, philosophical-like matters, you get to understand how much he has learnt from his travels.

Observation portrait

It was just another day at work, and the hotel was quite busy due to a Union conference. I was pushing a trolley past the main entrance like I had done many times before when something caught my eye. Directly in front of me was one of the main faces in Australian politics, stepping through the automatic glass doors. I was in awe considering I had seen this long wrinkly forehead many times on television, and there he was, out of nowhere. I felt belittled when realizing I was directly in his path, and felt like a commoner who bows in a royal’s presence. He made his entrance spearheading his team of advisors, and carried a deadly determination in his step. We exchanged looks for a split of a second, and I kept on walking somewhat awkwardly beside the retinue, still shook by the surprise. My first conclusion was that he isn’t as short as portrayed by the media, and I felt intrigued to get to know the man behind the persona a bit further. I ditched the trolley somewhere and sneaked into the conference room, fueled by curiosity. When I came in, the party leader was welcomed by the crowd, being introduced as ‘The next Prime-minister’. I have never been an avid follower of politics, considering I never believed in the whole circus around the campaigns of false promises. But during the speech that followed, the Opposition Leader stood ten-feet tall and didn’t misspell a single word, nor broke a sweat. The speech was exceptionally well written for this audience, and Bill resisted the urge to look down at his notes. He went on to make very bold statements including the need for an all Australian Head-of-State. The interesting thing to note is how fast I changed my view on the politician, almost charmed by his composure and confidence in every motion. The crowd seemed as hypnotized as me, with a speech that touched all the right notes, like watching a suitor seduce its prey. His energy filled the room. Some political promises were made. Handshakes were given all around, but I can still remember Bill’s calmness dealing with the whole apparatus. This unusual encounter will go down as the first time I really looked up to an Australian politician, in what felt as a breath of fresh air in a sometimes very polluted industry.

500 word feature article:

I first heard about Sal when there was a fundraiser at a friend’s house. Everyone was invited to join, have a ball, and donate for a good cause.

He wasn’t even in Australia at the time, but the donations were meant to help him recur to alternative treatment for bowel cancer abroad, seeing the chemotherapy in Australia was the only option.

Only later on would I get to meet him, and when he told me his story I couldn’t help to relate, seeing my father is also fighting a different form of cancer back home.

I conducted this interview in the same backyard that held two-hundred people that came together to help this young and skinny but always smiley man.

The issues first started when Sal had some abdominal pain, back in February 2016. He went to the hospital and they suggested it was the appendix acting up. The next month he had the same episode at three o’clock in the morning, and once again, he was sent home.

The third time he went to the urgencies and a colonoscopy was finally scheduled. This process would result in a diagnose for Chrohn’s disease, and a prescription for some very expensive pills. Crohn’s is an inflammatory disease that puts you at risk of contracting bowel cancer, so a biopsy was made to get to the bottom of it.

When the results came through, Sal was at a pub, enjoying some beers with his mates, and he got a call from Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Now, when you are diagnosing someone with a condition that kills approximately eighty Australians every week, I believe you should at least have the tact of calling them in to break the news. Well, Sal got to know over the phone, whilst having his beer that he couldn’t finish, understandably.

This discovery changed his life completely. He stopped smoking and drinking, becoming a vegan. He had some surgery done to remove part of his intestine and started chemotherapy.

It was around this time he started recurring to alternative treatment, cannabis oil, which isn’t easy to get by!

He is still doing chemotherapy but also takes the oil whenever possible. The effects are evident, without the energy draining effects from chemo, whilst curing the nausea from it. In an act of sheer kindness, considering the prices of producing the oil, one of his friends who lost a couple of close relatives to cancer is being kind enough to help him.

Bowel cancer usually strikes after fifty, and a very good screening program is in place for all Australians, but it still is one of the top seven causes of premature deaths in our country!

Nowadays, Sal is still undergoing chemo and natural treatment, and I can only hope that an article like this not only raises awareness, but also gives him the strength to overcome whatever life throws at him!

800 word short story:

Drunken in victory

It was the peak of summer in Europe, and I was spending holidays back in my hometown, running away from Winter in New Zealand.  One of the many excuses I had given myself to travel home was that the European Cup of Football was on, and, as a good patriot, I flew back there and took a month to myself.

On this particular summer night, my national team was on the final of the Championship for the second time in history (I still remember the defeat on the first one), and the capital was booming. I watched the game in the suburbs with my family, and as soon as the final whistle blew, with Portugal lifting its first-ever cup, we rushed downtown to indulge in celebration.

Everyone had rushed out onto the streets, in a party that I will never forget. Even tourists (and there was a fair bit of them) couldn’t help but rejoice and celebrate this achievement that brought so much happiness to literally millions in that city.

We made it to the main plaza in Lisbon, and after a few hours of celebration with my family, they decided it was time to head back home. With a moment like this in history, and with no chores or work in sight for the next week, I stayed back to enjoy it. I called my cousins and friends, who took roughly an hour to arrive, seeing that the town was in total chaos. During this hour of contemplation, I understood that wherever you are in world, even if you are surrounded by thousands of people, there are always moments of loneliness. This gave me a feeling that I can’t really put into words, as if whatever the world threw at me, I would be ready to face it and cope it in the chin.

When I finally met with my cousins and friends, out in town we were, raising our glasses to the sweet taste of victory. Since this was unprecedented, and considering this is a country that doesn’t have reasons to celebrate too often, it was inevitable that the party turned sour.

Into the night we went, drunken with pride and amazed at the total chaos the city was in, when we noticed this group of teens sitting at a park bench, with a shirtless guy standing in front of them. As we were walking past, this big bloke started slapping and yelling at them, feeding on their fear. Dozens of people were walking past, simply pretending to ignore it, as this was a buff, angry, up-to-no-good guy. As I look back, I realize a night like that one can get people to try drugs they haven’t tried before, or to drink until they forget how miserable they feel about themselves.

Seeing this was a night for celebration, and watching the helpless look on the teenagers faces, I couldn’t help to intervene. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to let them be. As he was turning around to face me, I felt I was in one of those movies scenes where the big guy looks down with a sickening grin on the guy he is about to destroy. The look of relief on the teenager’s faces was immediately worth it, though. I told them to get out of there, and off they went, their night marked forever.

Soon I realized this gave me the bully’s undivided attention. I looked him in the eye and told him I wasn’t looking for trouble. Seeing the teens were gone, I started walking away, being showered by provocations. There were a couple of moments that I turned back, and we found ourselves within punching distance, with the anger in his eyes leading me to believe a fight was unavoidable. Somehow, I kept my calm (even though my heart was pumping out of my chest) and kept walking.

I have never been one for fighting, but once again I managed to talk my way out of it. I would say to avoid conflict, or at least injuries, one must stand tall, without being provocative in any way. After two long minutes that looked like an hour, the drugged-up bully finally came to his senses, and apologized, acknowledging respect.

I was utterly disgusted, not so much by this guy, who clearly had some issues, but at the dozens of people who just stood aside. We have all been those teenagers, one way or the other, feeling defenseless. It may sound like a cliché, but I can say this was a night of many victories, as there is nothing more satisfying than going out of your own way to help people in distress!

 

Article for Better Yoga marketing:

Boost your mental power with Yoga

When asked by a friend to join her for a yoga class, I must admit I was somewhat sceptical, not about yoga itself, but the sort of scepticism that kicks in when someone invites you to go jogging. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.  And I’m glad she didn’t.

As soon as we made it to Better Yoga, I could smell, hear and more importantly, feel the calmness and self-acceptance in the air, like a contagious cloud that filled my lungs and made me feel at ease. Everyone seemed relaxed, and that enabled me to unwind and get down to it, this yoga thing I have heard so much about.

As we started with the exercises, I did not feel any sort of pressure, the kind that kicks in when you start practicing a new activity and try to fit in. These exercises, a combination of positions that you slowly work your way through while inhaling the lovely scent of incenses, seem to calm your mind in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. My friend describes it as ‘inward-looking stretching’.

But what is yoga? As soon as I got home, after founding my new passion, I looked into it. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, and it simply means ‘to unite’. Turns out this ancient mind-body system of wellbeing aims to still the mind, and the benefits are never-ending.

Yoga not only relaxes you (my favourite part), but it also improves posture, flexibility, blood flow, bone health, muscle strength, as I said, a never-ending list of benefits. All of these are proven to make you happier and help fight depression, whilst achieving peace of mind and getting a better sleep.

When taking all this in consideration, many might say you can get some of these benefits in other sports or activities, such as Pilates, for instance. Well, while Pilates is indeed good for strengthening the core, what won me over was not the benefits, but the purpose.

At its essence, the purpose of Yoga is spiritual development, something harder and harder to achieve nowadays, by practicing to train both mind and body to become aware of their own nature.

Ever since I started, I seem to have a clear head about what I want I life, and I feel healthier both mentally and physically. Turns out it also gives you an instant cognitive boost, by keeping your mind focused in one task. Combine this with some relaxing music and a group of self-loving people to keep you company on this journey, and you have a winner on your hands.

So choose life, and come down to Better Yoga to grab a 30-day money back trial, and they will even give you a free yoga mat. I can say from personal experience, Yoga enabled me to unite body, mind, and spirit, and it truly changed my life.

 

Article for Men’s Health on the benefits of fresh seafood consumption:

Get some fish on your dish!

Whether you are looking to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle in the upcoming year, the benefits of eating fresh seafood are never-ending.

Rich in iodine, selenium, iron, and many other nutrients, seafood has been labeled as the cornerstone of a healthy diet and a strong weapon towards disease prevention.

Due to its richness in protein and low saturated fat content, it can also be a game changer for calorie controlled weight loss diets, acting as a substitute for high-fat sources of protein.

Studies indicate it may be favorable for your brain function, and some go as far as saying it may help fight depression.

It is proven to help against numerous diseases or conditions, like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, arrhythmia and high blood pressure.

So why are we still relying on meat so much? Some might argue that affordability is a main factor, but studies show that canned fish does not lose its health benefits.

The possibilities when cooking it are endless, and by keeping it simple, cooking seafood can be easy. You can steam-cook it with some veggies, or just grill it like you would grill a steak.  We all enjoy our fish and chips or prawn tempura now and then, but scientists claim that deep or pan-frying seafood might result in a loss of some omega-3 fats. Regardless of how you decide to have it, it should be integrated as a part of a healthy diet, combining it with lots of fruits and veggies.

Sustainability is also a factor, with an increased demand over the years jeopardizing the biodiversity and wild-caught stocks. To fight this, experts recommend one to four serves a week, and push for small servings, rounding up the one-hundred grams.

Fish oil supplements are also an option, but some health effects are not present in this method; claims of bulk fishing for fish oil also raise some concerns.

In short, whether you opt for crustaceans, mollusks or just fish, the health benefits of including them in your diet are just too overwhelming to ignore. The road to self-improvement is a long one, and making sure you eat healthy is absolutely essential!

 

Restaurant review:

Instant classic

Me and my beautiful wife decided to go to La Sosta on a busy Friday night. The thing about this place is, once you make it up those stairs and into the frenetic and wonderfully decorated place it is, you know you are in good hands.

We had a reservation for seven o’clock and the place was absolutely packed. Despite this, the host promptly directed us to our table, located in the lovely alfresco balcony, overlooking the iconic Cappuccino Strip.

There’s something once you make it to a place like this on a Friday night that makes it mandatory to order a bottle of wine. The wine list is just long enough, with a vast selection of Italian, French and Australian wines. We opted for a $40 bottle of Riesling, to go with the sliced tomato and buffalo mozzarella caprese. This proved to be the perfect choice, with the mozzarella almost melting in your mouth, although for $16, the serving is not too big. Quality over quantity.

After this, we ordered our main, a rock salt cooked fish of the day. We were looking forward to this, as we had never tried anything like it. It took approximately half an hour for it to make it to the table, but when it finally did, we were amazed. This dish consists in covering a whole fish, this case a barramundi, and covering it with salt. A lot of salt. If you are looking to impress your date, this is the right choice, as it requires a waiter to bring a trolley to the table and using a wooden ‘pick-axe’ to uncover the fish.

The result is amazing: the meat is so soft it can be scooped off the fish. With this you also get side potatoes and salad, for a mere $80.

The venue is big and the tables are spread apart, but maybe because everyone is enjoying themselves, it can get a bit noisy. Nonetheless, we are talking about a Friday night, and regardless of how hectic it gets, the food is splendid.

As of the service, we were tended to by genuinely Italian waiters, whose English is not that vast, but it only adds to the experience.

To top it all up, for dessert we opted for a homemade tiramisu ($16) and a homemade blueberry pannacota ($16). Once again, the serves aren’t humongous, but we did note that a pastry chef has her own bench, just to prepare desserts.

Pair them up with a real espresso, and you’ll know what a satisfying meal feels like.

La Sosta may not be for everyone’s wallets (price review at the end), or even palates, but if you are willing to give it a go, I suggest you book a table on a weekday afternoon, and enjoy a chilled bottle of wine in the beautiful alfresco. For special occasions and an authentic Italian across-the-world experience, you simply can’t beat it.

Entrée Caprese mozzarella $16
Main meal Rock salt Barramundi $80 (serves two)
Dessert & coffee Pannacotta & tiramisu $16 (each)
Wine Riesling $40 (bottle)
Total: $168

All of these articles were written assessments undertaken for a Certificate IV in Professional Writing and Editing.