The journey thus far…

It started with my alarm going off at 4am in the morning. 4am. And this was meant to be my school holidays. Although, I anticipate that Cambodians have a culture of early awakenings, so I might have to get use to it.

I said goodbye to my mum, in the normal British fashion (i.e. protracted). My mother questioned why I was taking a photo of the house.
“I’m not going to see this house for a whole year!” I told her.
“Neither am I at this rate,” she retorted.

Then my dad drove me to Birmingham International. This part of the journey was unexceptional except for an ill-adviced Burger King brunch (BK was the quietest part of the airport and I felt I needed to buy something to be there). And there was a man with one of the best moustaches I have ever seen.

Then, at 09:40 my first flight to Amsterdam departed. My stop at Schipholl was even more unexceptional (no men with moustaches, just a lot of tall people).

Then onward to Bangkok.

The flight was about 12 hours long, in which time I watched The Jungle Book; Hail, Caesar!; and The Theory of Everything. The food was reasonably good, too.

Although it was night time and we were meant to have the shutter down I did keep having a sneak peak out the window. I looked out over night-time Afghanastan. Then there was a spectacular lightening storm between Lahore and Dehli. I tried taking photos and videos but it didn’t do it justice. Columns of the cloud below us, hardly discernible and formless in the dark of the night, would momentarily be illuminated a dazzling white, veined and iridescent like marble. I wish my phone picked it up better, because if you didn’t capture it, it didn’t happen.

We arrived at Bangkok to get off the plane, knowing I would be returning to the exact same seat in the same plane about an hour later. The first thing about the outside world I noticed was the humidity and the smell. It just smelled of Asia. I can’t really describe it, but Asia seem to have a particular smell. I expect the UK does but I’m so used to it I don’t notice it. (I wonder if I’ll notice it on my return.) Bangkok airport was a slightly frustrating exercise as they led us on a half-mile circular route through various floors and security checks only to end up in the first departure lounge we passed on our arrival.

So I returned to the same seat on the same plane, hoping that the man next to me on the first leg of this split journey finished his journey at Bangkok. I arrived at my seat and for a while it seemed that I would get my wish. The plane was also ridiculously empty so no one else would have been joining me. But, alas, he returned to his seat. Blind obedience obviously transcends cultural differences, because he sat where his ticket told him to despite there being swathes of empty rows on this plane. So, I was one of two people within an 11 km radius that was within accidental-touching distance of a complete stranger. The other person being the complete stranger I was at risk of grazing my elbow against. I was also the only person on this flight whose exit to the toilet was impeded by having to inconvenience an aforementioned stranger. But on the plus side, the loos were just across the gangway.

After waiting for a suitable moment, I made good my escape. I went to the toilet, then sat a few rows back never to return to my actual seat. The sense of mischievous liberation I got out of this simple act suggests I’ve had a very dull existence until now, but, in my defence, when you’ve been traveling for 24 hours (with the bloodshot eyes to prove it), it’s the small things that count. However, I would pay for this moment of joy as I was departing the plane.

The meal on this flight was slightly more exotic. You know those hot lemon-scented towels you get given in Indian restaurants at the end of your meal? Well, I’m now pretty sure I now know what it would taste like if you were to put one in your mouth instead of using it to wipe your hands. There was an innocuous looking noodle salad with a surprising astringency to it. It would perhaps be generous if I were to call the flavour “refreshing”, but we’ll go with that for now. There was a nice coconut rice dessert and fruit salad, both of which actually were rather refreshing.

After this, I fell asleep. My slumber was peaceful and comfortable. Little did I know, as I dozed, that I was soon in for a nasty shock. I awoke just as we landed with a shuddering bump as we hit the tarmac of Taipei Airport. As I got I up I noticed a strange sensation: my trousers were wet. I will let you know this: when one awakes in a foreign country with a dampness in the seat of one’s trousers, one is inclined to feel a moment of sheer panic. Questions burst through my head, trying to account for such a discovery. Had I wet myself? (No, the dampness is isolated to the posterior not anterior of my pelvis.) Had I had a castastrophic bowel movement? Was it the Burger King brunch? (No, there was no other accompanying evidence for this, as one would expect; furthermore, the dampness was only around my left cheek.) Was I bleeding? Is this what dying feels like? (Look, I had only just woken up, people. I was dazed and confused- don’t judge me.)

I tried to exit the plane calmy and efficiently, shielding my rear with my bag and hoody as much as I could (I had little idea how evident my problem was to the rest of the world). I considered what I would do. I would find the nearest toilet and I would inspect the damage. I would try to discover the source of the substance and then I would decide what to do next. I reminded myself that I had bought a change of clothes and wet-wipes in my hand luggage.

After a short walk and one travelator later, I found myself in a clean and spacious toilet cubicle. At least I could investigate in comfort. Through thorough imperical experiments (poking and sniffing) I ascertained it was probably a beverage, most likely apple juice or Chinese tea that had been spilt on my chair and I had gradually absorbed it as I slept. That will teach me for moving seats.

Braced by this news, and cheered by the cleanliness and sophistication of the toilets, I felt ready to tackle Taipei Aiport, which was to be my home for the next 18 hours. If worst comes to worst, I’ll just find a spcaious cubicle and sleep there. I thought I would find somewhere to sit, hopefully with Wifi, and then perhaps get a drink or something to eat. However, I found myself in hell, a circuitous, airy, beautifully designed, orchid-filled hell. Every orchid-lined corridor just led to another orchid-lined corridor. Then after a while I would find myself at a wide, brightly lit atrium with arrows pointing you towards immigration, which was a queue of hot and harrassed looking people. Every corridor I tried I would eventually find myself back there. I probably walked a mile and a half of corridors, each with those endless orchids. I did consider for a brief moment the possibility that I had died in an airplane disaster and I was simply waiting to move on into the afterlife.

I decided that I would dare it. There was nothing for me left on this side; I had no choice but pass on through. I joined the queue. A border control employee directed me into a queue that stood motionless for around twenty minutes. I was hot and sweaty, I had bloodshot eyes and I’m not sure how fresh I smell at the moment. I probably looked like a drug addict. Someone else must have thought so too, because two customs guards came, one with a sniffer dog. However, the dog was not concerned by me and they moved on. The queue, however, did not.

It did not help that the man in front was emitting some very irritating sounds. He seemed to be suffering from sleep apnea, only he was awake (or a very talented somnabulist). The noises that came from his nose had the same sonorous quality of an accordion falling down a flight of stairs. I was not sure how much longer I could take it.

Fortunately, the queue suddenly picked up the pace. The Republic of China became the proud owners of what can only be a rather unflattering photo of me and a record of my fingerprints and I was swiftly ejected out into the arrivals hall. I wandered to departures and I’ve positioned myself in a reasonably uninspiring food court. However, there is not an orchid sight, so I’m happy here for now.

School’s out

Everybody keeps asking me how I’m feeling usually followed by some suggestions. Excited? Nervous? Ready? Sometimes I nod in agreement but most of the time these words don’t seem to deal with the complexity of how I feel. So I thought I’d try to write into words some of those feelings. So at the moment, I’m feeling a little bit heartbroken.

This is something that I’ve not heard people talk about. Maybe it’s because I’m the only one to feel it, or because it just is difficult to articulate. There’s a slight fear that these words may be misconstrued and that if you give something words then it has power and significance. These feelings don’t have more importance than the joy and anticipation I have about my trip, so this is not to get anyone worried. But I’m wanting to be as honest as possible here, so I thought I would write about these thoughts as well.

Time for some context. When I was applying for this trip I was really ready to leave my job. It would probably be an exaggeration to say I hated it, but it was not something I was prepared to do for much longer. My classes were hard, my increase in timetable seemed impossible and I was exhausted and pretty miserable most of the time. I wanted to escape and applying to live in Cambodia seemed a good way to do it. Again, to simplify my reason for applying to just that would be inaccurate, but the timing felt right and that was one of the factors. This was the case up until October half-term.

Then something terrible happened. Something that I still have to come to terms with.

I fell in love with my job.

I fell utterly, devastatingly, irreversibly in love with with being a teacher at a rather difficult school. Yes, it has been a complex love-hate relationship at times, but, for the most part, I’ve loved it. I work with some of most brilliant teachers I know, as well as some fantastically amazing support staff. There are many colleagues that will have my undying respect for what they do and the manner in which they do it.

And then there are the students. I’m not quite sure how they do it but they really get under your skin. The school I work at I full of the loveable rogue types; diamonds in the rough. Yes, they can be a bit sweary, unpredictable and challenging. But they’re also fiercely loyal, joyously lively, and hilariously perceptive. They make you tear your hair out, but give you a laugh or two while you’re doing it.

So saying goodbye to the school has been really hard. A lot of the students and staff I will see again. But there are some I won’t. It was saying goodbye to my year 10s that was particularly hard. I feel like I’m missing out on a really important year of their lives.

But, to sound ridiculous twee, difficult goodbyes remind you that you have something worth missing. And those students and that school is definitely worth that.

Three days

It’s three days until I depart (you what?!). I’m wildly swinging through a crazy range of emotions. At the moment, I’m feeling actually quite settled and somewhat prepared. This is what clinical psychologists call denial- but, hey, who is it hurting? There have been a few sad goodbyes this weekend, mainly with family members. This mixed with exhaustion makes for a heady cocktail of feelings. (I did nearly cry in Sainsbury’s. And I love Sainsbury’s.)

It was a lovely weekend, doing quintessentially British things (cream teas, garden “tennis”, walks by the sea). I even got to catch up briefly with an old friend. It has been good. But like I said, emotions were strained in places.
I’ve begun the packing process. By this, I mean I have a suitcase that I’ve been throwing things in. It’s a bit strange putting your life into what is essentially a small fabric box. In a way, though, it’s somewhat liberating.
I’ve bought a new laptop. It’s cheap, cheerful and I won’t be too bereft if I leave it on a bus traveling through rural Asia. It’s only to do admin work at the school, to type blog posts and to Skype, really.
The weather here has been preparing me somewhat for Cambodia. It’s been quite hot and muggy (although nowhere near the heights that Cambodia sees). I went to bed to a chorus of mosquitoes, so that’s another thing to get used to, I suppose. Only these mosquitoes just give you annoying itchy bites, not dengue fever.
I just need to sort out my school classroom, the remainder of my clothes and my car. Not much for 72 hours!

Many thanks!

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for the support. I’ve received some really amazing gifts and cards and well wishes. It’s been lovely to feel so appreciated (unless everyone is just making sure I’m actually going).

Some puntastic gifts

I’ve receive a lot of (medicinal) drugs and hygiene related products. I’m not sure if that’s a comment on my usual state or not…

The thought and love that has gone into these gifts is really touching. So, for everyone who has supported me, shown an interest of given me gifts, I’m exceptionally grateful.

Thank you.

Supportive parents

I moved back in with my parents for the final few months before Cambodia. When people find this out, a concerned look falls over their face and they ask what it’s like. I don’t know if this gives any idea to the answer.

I was moaning at my dad yesterday, which led to this exchange:

Dad: I was just about to transfer money into your account for Cambodia, you know.

Me: Oh I see, just throw money at a problem and hope it goes away.

Dad: Well, it’s worked, hasn’t it?


Final countdown

It 24 days until I go. I am now incredibly stressed. This is not because I will be in a foreign country where there are a ridiculous amount of unknown variables (like where will I be living? etc.). That I don’t mind. In fact, I’m looking forward to the next 24 days being over. At least the plane journey will be relaxing. What is stressing me out is the demand of life in the UK. I have to get loads of things sorted for my job (3 work experience visits, 1 school trip, write 2 schemes of work) and I’ve filled out my weekends with a ridiculous amount of things. I’ve got friends visiting, BBQs, picnics, family things. In the meantime, I’m also moving to a foreign country. (In case I haven’t mentioned it.)

It hasn’t been a leisurely, calm end to this stage that I imagined. Yes, a lot of it is really, really good stuff, but it’s also exhausting. Being an introvert with hosting anxiety (everything needs to be perfect), it’s also incredibly stressful. To make problems worst, my body deals with stress by becoming incredibly lethargic and shutting down. I also tend to get poorly.

I don’t want to end this time is a disorganised mess and leave a trail of destruction that others have to sort. That’d be wrong. But I also feel like I’m under extreme pressure due to the various expectations that others have on me. I doesn’t help that I say “yes” to everything.

However, I have just finished making twelve bottles of apple wine to lubricate the process. So, I may be incredibly busy, and I need to get a lot sorted, but at least I’ll be happily tipsy for most of it. (Just to clarify, I don’t drink in excess, before you’re worried…)

Black hole

I’m back in term time! So, once again I have been sucked into the inevitable black hole of school life. In goes my time, energy and, apparently, my ability to hear.

This would be fine, because I have the summer holidays to recover. It’s not as if I have signed myself up to moving to another country the day after we break up. No. That would be insane.

At the time of writing, I have 36 days to go. Click here for a second by second countdown.