They call me buddha girl with an AK47 in Aveiro.
One moment I sit there working and meditating, calm and in peace.
Next minute I unleash my inner wilderness, dancing and singing like nobody is watching.
Five months of living in Aveiro is serendipitous and surreal to me. Tourists often consider here a Portuguese Venice for its canals, traditional boats (moliceiro) and unique natural landscapes.
But to me, I consider Aveiro as the salt city, as most locals do, because my grandfather was born in Salt City (盐城, Yan Cheng) in China. And watching the sunset at the Aveiro salt pans is one of my favourite activities, and I felt a subtle connection with the name and sentimental sense.
My story with Aveiro started with a random encounter in Madeira. I met a Chinese digital nomad in Madeira who introduced me to using Workaway to find my next destination. I registered, browsed around, and found VIC Aveiro Art House stand out from other places for its multiple functionalities as the art centre, guest house and label brand.
I messaged the owner and art director, Hugo Branco. Soon, I received his email to find someone with my skill set and professional background to help them with marketing and communications. So I made my trip to Aveiro, a place I had never heard about.
When I arrived at this historical Art House, I noticed two Maori mascots at the door’s entry. As a Chinese Kiwi, I hardly find any NZ elements in Portugal. The feeling of seeing something connected with home was elastic! After all, it’s been over three years since I left Aotearoa.
Hugo explained that his grandfather Vasco Branco was involved in various arts, especially in ceramic, painting, cinema and literature, winning numerous awards worldwide, including a couple of trophies from the New Zealand Film Association.
Vasco Branco, a prolific polymath artist, was honoured as a legend in Aveiro. If you walk along the streets and lanes here, you can find many ceramic installations and art projects he left that became beautiful landmarks in this city.
Talking with Hugo about his grandfather reminded me of my grandpa Qi Kaimin, a scholar and artist from China. Both our grandfathers made achievements in arts and literature and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in their late years. Another connection between Aveiro and me that I didn’t expect.
When I arrived, an Argentina musician Santi Lesca also landed to help Hugo with the upcoming music projects. Hugo took us to tour around a house, and I was amazed by this legacy house his grandfather left for him — a gallery, secret cinema, art studio, guest houses and countless art pieces from corner to corner.
While walking around the house, I kept thinking about my grandpa, who left many books, poems and memories to my family, guided me through my life, and set up the foundation of my roots. I miss him so much, and I understand Hugo’s vision to develop this house in his grandfather’s name.
Not long after Santi and I settled down, we started to plan the VAGA Festival, the first unclassifiable music festival in Portugal. Working with Santi was blissful because his energy and devotion to music and life constantly impacted me. His knowledge of Yi Jing and Dao De Jing impressed me the most. He made a music installation that combined Yi Jing’s philosophy with the Dart Game to tell oracles, which was super successful at the music festival.
Santi’s Argentina background brought me back to a miracle time while I was travelling in Buenos Aires. Back then, I was in a toxic relationship and tired of my corporate job. I didn’t realise how depressed I was until my body broke down with a panic attack. I escaped to Argentina to learn Tango dance under the influence of Wong Kar-wai’s movie, Happy Together and Tim Ferriss’ story about his Argentina life.
When I connected my mind and body with intense and emotional dancing moves, I started to get a clear vision to save my life. I broke up with my boyfriend when I returned from Argentina and felt the urge to leave New Zealand to pursue my literature dream.
It took me another ten months to quit my fat-salary job in the corporate finance world. Once I got enough savings to prepare for my upcoming uncertain life, I left immediately. I could still taste the freedom of the moment I jumped out of the successful life with a stable job and a beautiful place to live. So I purchased a one-way ticket to London.
However, my new life didn’t go as planned due to the global pandemic, but it rewarded me with a large chunk of solitude. Since I lived near Hyde Park, I had the lifestyle of Henry David Thoreau in Walden, walking, writing, and living with nature as a daily routine.
Living in a foreign country as a newcomer during a pandemic sounds challenging. Still, I followed my interest to visit writers, poets and artist residencies, watched a couple of football games live in stadiums, and published one memoir and novella during the lockdown.
After living in England for more than two years, my itchy foot led me to go on the road again and started to seek my next destination. Portugal popped into my mind because
1) it’s the first choice of the digital nomad;
2) my favourite writer Fernando Pessoa’s home country;
3) my birthday was the exact date when Macao returned from Portugal to China (a subtle connection between my Chinese root and Portugal);
4) one of my online friends I admired mentioned he’d move there soon.
So, that’s how everything started, and I ended up in Portugal.
Training with Madeira Fitness Friends, attending regular Purple Friday at the digital nomad village, hiking between two peaks, swimming in the Atlantic sea, embracing the first sunrise of 2022 on a boat, experience a profound psychedelic trip in the forest, celebrating Christmas and birthday with Portuguese friends, dealing with countless paperwork with SEF, and finally having a base in Lisbon.
Now I’m settling in Portugal, though I have no idea how long this settle-down will last with my serious commitment issue. I want to listen to my therapist’s suggestion to forget about all my backup options, behave like this is the only country I can stay in, and try to attend regular meet-ups with a fixed group of people to deepen my relationships. Never quit or escape because of stupid reasons like the road is dirty, I’m moving away, or this friend uses an odd perfume, I don’t want to talk to her anymore etc.
Here I am, waiting for a flight to Madeira to revisit those lovely people I encountered on this magical island. I started to realise once I reached out to a certain point to experience the width of life, now it’s time to dig deep into the length of human relationships.
As a person with thousands of masks, including contradicted identities like buddha girl and Chinese snipper, I’m still on the road to exploring my identity and finding a group of soulmate-ish friends to walk the journey together.
Portugal treats me well with its open-minded and friendly environment and gains the power to attract digital nomads and remote workers worldwide. I’m here to stay, to create, to stick around with friends and if I’m lucky enough, maybe form a family.
This is not a typical giving-tips post of a digital nomad living in a foreign country but an honest reflection on my journey to settling down here. And last but not least, as a retired ex-food/travel blogger, I do have tips to share to make your Portugal life more colourful. Enjoy!