Friday, 16 November 2012

What can happen in a year?

It's funny how much can happen in one year.

People whose birthdays I celebrated with last year have come back around, even though it feels like it was only a few months ago.

A Halloween which was planned for weeks in advance last year, was a last minute job this year.
A weekend camping in the sunshine by the river, now a wet weekend painting my nails all pretty.

Never would I have guessed that in a years time, I would be living in Spain, learning Spanish and still teaching.
But it's different this time. The school is much better organised, and they make you feel valued. You are a priority and everything isn't immediately your fault.

This time two years ago, I was on the first tour of Taiwan, by train, going around the coast. I saw the ground on fire - a natural crack in the earth's crust causing a gas leak.
With still relatively no Chinese, clueless as to the treasures that Taiwan had to offer.

Halloween 2010 was a lot of fun. So was Halloween 2011, but during the time in between, I hadn't really progressed, and that the difference between Halloween 2011 and Halloween 2012 - I've done so much in one year, it's hard to believe how quickly time has passed!

And essentially, that's why I left Taiwan. As awesome as it was, for all the comfort and familiarity, I need more than the odd party now and then.

This last year has been full of ups and downs but I've been to 5 different countries, studied two diplomas, had lessons for three different languages, caught up with friends and seen every family member, which is no mean feat in itself.

It's been a wonderful adventure. When I look back to two years ago, I see a younger more naive version of myself. In two years time I hope I will think that I am naive now!

Friday, 26 October 2012


Ah, I think I'm feeling homesick.

We learnt about Culture Shock and it's five stages in university to prepare us for our year abroad.
The five stages being:
  1. The Honeymoon Stage
  2. The Disintegration Stage
  3. The Reintegration Stage
  4. The Autonomy Stage
  5. The Interdependence Stage
*source: The Five Stages of Culture Shock: Critical Incidents Around The World - Paul Pederson 1995

The honeymoon stage is easy to recognise as you feel like you're still on holiday. Everything is beautiful. Everything still is beautiful here. I am so happy to be here. I look at my desk with the mobile phone plan in Spanish and a easy to read story book in French and I feel lucky. I'm learning new languages, which I'm discovering is a hobby of mine, living in a new country, in a beautiful city, with a happy warm family. I know I am in the 1% when it comes to favourable fortunes.

Yet for the last 2 weeks I've been feeling sick. But not the cool respectable sick, like flu. No, it's the kind of sick you get when you're sad. Can homesickness be literal? Like seasickness? And is there a pill I can take for it? Because it feels like I'm on a beautiful cruise ship but I can't appreciate the experience while I'm in the bathroom spewing.

This article on the CNN website says that homesickness isn't really about 'home' but about our need for love, security and protection which we associate with home. Thus when we are away from these things, we miss them, and home.
But then it goes on to say that previous experience being away from home inoculates against a future bout of homesickness.

Now if this were true, I should be so immune that doctors are using my blood to make the aforementioned pill to cure homesickness.

This is the seventh time I've moved away from (a) home for a period longer than 2 months. I should be a pro at this.

But I'm not. I find myself thinking about my family, my friends, my exes. Wondering what they're doing with their lives as I begin yet another life experiment. I drift in and out of conscientious consciousness.

When I am confronted with Facebook, I see people eating dumplings and going to the mountains in Taiwan, I miss that.
I reminisce about good times, friends I miss, happy days that we shared. 

Carries stoop in New York with Taz

Cherry Blossom season

Dominick's in Chicago - our local supermarket

My first meal in Taiwan

Going to Green Island

Riding the 'L' in Chicago

Love in the Philippines

The road trip

Spring Scream in Kenting

The Statue of Liberty

Going to the beach
Maybe most of all, I miss the family I had in Taiwan. I really do love these guys. The five of us in that apartment had such a great dynamic, probably impossible to ever replicate. If I feel homesick, it's probably homesick for these guys.

The article is right; I miss the familiar. I need ol' familiar to come and give me a great big hug right about now.

It's probably why I've found comfort in the songs that I used to listen to while I was in Taiwan including the playlist in the previous post.

It's strange for me that after all this time, I still miss Taiwan. I don't think I missed England for this long. Is Taiwan the one I let get away...?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Flightless Bird

Autumn has announced it's arrival!

The leaves are changing colour and littering the landscape, and the weather is decidedly colder.

Mandarins, pears and pumpkins are in season. Whispers of who's wearing what for Halloween.

Scarves are seen, hats and gloves will be soon, jackets seeing daylight for the first time since summer.

A timid sun plays peek-a-boo through the leaves.

The world has turned in to a blend of browns, oranges and reds.

Oh Chicago, I miss you.
For many it's their favourite season, and it's not difficult to see why.
Autumn turns the world a sentimental sepia.
My most beautiful Autumn was in America. All these photos were taken in 2007 when I lived Chicago and a couple from a camping trip I took in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. I have such happy memories of that time.

Autumn also brings the chill with it. And on those days when your brain is running slower than usual, and you're feeling a bit under the weather in general,
where do you seek comfort?

A mug of hot tea?
A long hot bath with scented oils?
A movie under the duvet?
Junk food?
A cosy nap?

Maybe even all of these over the course of a day.

I've been having such a day, and I've found comfort in sound. Snuggled under the duvet listening to this playlist on 8tracks.

Pop it on, close your eyes and close the door on the world with all it's worries.

It's a 31 minute mental massage for a tired and tightly wound brain that's got too much on it.

Before it's done, you'll have more clarity to face the responsibilities that don't care how you're feeling unless you're in the hospital. 

My first and last pumpkin carving!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

My wish to the universe

Have you ever felt like you go through life in a dream?
Where nothing is really real, everything is just the way it is. Routines pass days and emotions are never high and never low.

It's human nature to adapt, right? We get used to things that perhaps a few years ago we would've thought unbearable, or conversely, we dreamt about.

Does it have to be human nature to take things for granted? Because that's what it means to get used to something. You don't fully appreciate every little thing that you did at the beginning, every meal, every building, every sunbeam through the leaves because it's become normal.

I don't think there are many words that make me shudder as much as when I hear the word normal.

When used to describe someone, it's usually done in a positive way. But what is a normal person? How many "weird" people have you come across in your lifetime? Or even the last time you were meeting new people. There's always at least one person that you think, "oh, they're a bit weird."
If being normal means belonging to the majority, then are we who assume ourselves normal, actually the weird ones?

When the word normal is used to describe a situation, it acts to justify it. For example, a bank wants to charge you £$30 to transfer money to another account. That's normal practice. But you know it doesn't cost them a penny to actually perform the transaction. 

There are some things which are normal and we get used to it. Or perhaps we don't know any different. The normals where if the majority are doing it, then we'll follow almost without thinking.

Mullets were in fashion once.

What if all the banks told you tomorrow that you had to keep a minimum of $500 in your account to keep banking with them?

That's what banks in Hong Kong do.

Those are the normals that we shouldn't be used to. We shouldn't be used to a society that is dictated by materialistic goals and a bombardment of marketing that creates an imaginary need.

Then there are the normals where it's a blessing that people are able to get used to.
Things like poverty, hunger, famine, drought. If everyday is a struggle, a fight to stay alive, the peak that comes from getting a bit of food, the appreciation for clean water, that's what becomes the abnormal.

We are most apt at appreciating the abnormal pleasures.

If there is one thing I could wish for, I would wish for the ability to appreciate everyday. Not in the "man, I sure am glad that it's not raining today and I have food to eat." But I mean in the same way as those who are hungry appreciate food, those who are homeless appreciate shelter.

Think about it like this:

You save up for a year to go travel around the world for 6 months. You hold back from buying the new iPad, you restrict your unnecessary outgoings, and you work as many hours as you can to escape to a new beautiful exotic foreign land.
Then as you're on your trip, you go to 15 different places, you see waterfall after waterfall, beach after beach, mountain after mountain, city after city.
Somewhere along that 6 month trip, you start to feel like all waterfalls look the same, mountains are just mountains and beaches are just beaches.There are a couple of days when you just don't feel like waking up at the crack of dawn to make the most of the day. You'll catch the sunrise tomorrow, or the next place, where you hear it's even more beautiful.
The you come home and are relieved to be back, in your bed, eating familiar food, speaking a familiar language. Things that you couldn't get whilst you were away become fantastic, and even the feeling that you aren't going anywhere for a while is welcome.

Beauty is only beautiful when it's different from the norm.

No matter where you go in the world, seeking out pleasure, seeking out the next adventure, the next thrill, it will only ever be the difference between your last pleasure/adventure/thrill.

And to me, that's the biggest shame. I don't want to get used to living somewhere beautiful. I want that same feeling of wonder and romanticism every time I experience something. I want to appreciate the kindness of others as much the 150th time as I did the first time.
When we get used to beauty, then what was normal before becomes insufficient. Maybe even ugly.

I want the strength to think about things that are considered normal and come to my own conclusions as to whether it's right or wrong.

I hope beauty is never normal to me, I want to appreciate every day, every friendship, every act of kindness and recognise everyday blessings.
I want the ability to never, not even for a second, take anything for granted.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Living the dream in España!

3 months ago, I climbed in to the mouth of Britannia in the hope that a job would just land on my lap. Today she spits me back out for my arrogance and complacency.

And where should I go? Where nearly 400,000 other Brits have moved to - Spain!

The country might be in the grip of an economical crisis, but it doesn't appear to have hindered it's EFL industry.

That's what the EFL teachers I've spoken to have said anyway.

Unemployment is currently at 8% in the UK, that's 2.65 million people without a job. That's the lowest it's been all year. (Thank you Olympics)

Yet Spain's is at 25%! 
That's the highest in Europe for the fourth year in a row.

So isn't it a bit backwards to be leaving the UK and getting a job in a country that is struggling to keep itself running?

What's wrong with the UK? Well, nothing. The difference here is whether you'd be willing to be under-employed in one place over the other.

I'm teaching English in Spain because it's beautiful, sunny and well, what else do you need? The rent is cheap and the lifestyle is laid back (Sangria anyone?) It's a cheap flight home and you're surrounded by historic architecture and the beach is not far away.
Your salary here can provide you a pretty comfortable standard of living and it's easy to save a little at the end of each month.