Back for Two Months: Katie's Reflections

Back for two months and it feels like I never left. What was I doing before moving to Korea? Well, I was living at home, job hunting and spending most of my time wearing pyjamas and drinking tea. What have I been doing today? I have been at home, trawling the internet for career inspiration, rocking the "just got out of bed" look and drinking sweet chilli tea. From time to time I find myself reminiscing about the past 18 months; casting my mind’s eye over the breathtaking rice terraces in Banaue; my mind’s ear over the hustle and bustle of the busy Hong Kong markets; my mind’s nose over the incredible smells of street food in Taipei; my mind’s skin over the crisp, cold air on my cheeks as I stared in wonder at the snow-topped Mount Fuji. I am trying desperately to keep hold of these sensual memories, but Asia already feels like a dream and I know soon I will need photographs and the words in this blog as a mental catalyst.

Back for two months and I feel both more at home, and more lost than I ever did while I was away. Being back with my family is brilliant. Not seeing them was the hardest part of being abroad and I am so happy to be back at home. I’m not going to lie, I did enjoy living alone in Korea and being back in my parents’ house does feel like a bit of a step in the wrong direction but fortunately I like living with them, sitting on their sofa, watching their big television and eating out of their well-stocked fridge! Being in a home, rather than just a temporary accommodation, is a lovely feeling. That said, I can’t shake this feeling of being adrift, aimless, lost. What do I do now? Where do I want my life to take me? How long will this limbo last before I start my next adventure…whatever it may be? I’m not talking about my next holiday but rather, about the bigger picture. I strongly believe that life is about the journey, not the destination but I can’t help but feel the need to at least pinpoint my next pit stop. I don’t need to know exactly where I’m heading, but I would like something to aim for and right now “getting a job” feels far too vague. All around me, friends are making big steps – moving in together, getting engaged, buying houses, starting a career. It’s hard not to be a bit jealous of the certainty they must be feeling.

Back for two months and my diary is already full! I didn’t have a diary at all while I was away but I’m so glad I bought one when I returned. Almost every weekend between now and December has something penned or pencilled in, and it’s not exactly going to get quieter as we approach Christmas. The real world has been easy to readapt to for the most part, but getting used to making plans that involve more than two people was one thing that took some practise. Thank goodness for facebook events and instant messaging! For the last five months of my trip I was constantly on the move. The longest I stayed in any one place was a week, and that only happened twice. Making plans and having weekends away should satiate my itchy feet for a while, which my bank balance will thank me for. So I shouldn’t complain about having a busy social calendar, as I imagine it’s the one thing that will keep me sane in this jobless, directionless, tea-filled limbo.

Bank for two months and my room is already full. How is this possible? Before going away I assessed every trinket, ever piece of clothing in my room before throwing it away, sending it into the loft or giving it to my cousins. I was expecting to come home to the bare minimum of possessions, and yet somehow, with half of my things still in the loft, my room is already cluttered. This is partly due to James having relegated me to the smaller bedroom, but I suppose I must be more of a hoarder than I realised. Living out of a backpack was freeing, but that’s because priorities are different when you’re on the road. Being able to pick up everything and leave on a whim is essential. But now that I’m back, for me at least, minimalist living just wouldn’t feel homely. I like shelves full of books and memories cluttering every surface. I appreciate not having to ration my socks, although I’m finding choosing what to wear quite difficult now that I have more than four options. Don’t get me wrong, I have developed some of the usual post-travelling hippy mindset and I do have doubts that most of this stuff is bringing me any real happiness, but I’m not going to throw away things I already own, just to make a point. I could donate clothes and books to charity, and I may well do so, but how much of that money would the people of Laos and Cambodia really see? I do feel a need to help, but I am going to have to really consider how I can best aid the bomb-riddled lands of South East Asia. I’m not just going to guiltily throw money at the problem to make myself feel better. I need to find another way.

This post has developed more of a sombre tone than I expected but I assure you, I am over the moon to be back and relishing the silver lining of any cloud that crosses my path. I am also relishing the rain and cool temperatures that the clouds bring too! Besides, I’ve only been back for two months and the next adventure is already planned.

Watch this space, because the summer of 2013 is going to be spicy!

One Month Gone By: Dave's Thoughts On Returning

We have been back a month today so I've decided to try and express how my attitude has changed after living in Korea for 12 months and having been on the road for another 5.

Although my nomadic existence is on hold, I’ve decided that I don’t want my new perspective to change; I’m going to try to stay in the same "explorer Dave" frame of mind. This doesn’t mean infrequent washing, and only wearing one pair of shorts. It’s all about mindset.

I want to continue experiencing life with the same wonder and excitement as I have been doing during the last 17 months. I refuse to be bogged down with buying and owning things rather than experiencing. I have lived out of a bag for 5 months, survived without a mobile phone, with limited internet access (I only really used it to update the blog), very limited TV, and only a handful of clothes. And it was great. I was unplugged from advertising and negative news networks, and started to think for myself. The lack of outside influence meant I was more free thinking and I didn’t suffer as much from the manipulation that a constant, sometimes unconscious bombardment of adverts, slogans, and jingles has on a person.

Yes I’m sounding like a bit of a hippie but I tell you one thing; I am a lot happier for it. My self esteem has improved and I have a very clear vision of what I want from my future. And for the first time, it isn’t about money. It’s not about owning things and buying the next big thing to give me a glimpsing moment of joy. Obsessive possessing is a survival instinct – one we no longer require but one that seems to take up an increasing amount of our lives. I refuse to get sucked back into the consumerist lifestyle – it doesn’t bring me sustained happiness.

I’m not going to update my phone until it breaks. I’m moving away from some past addictions that have held me back. Life should be about experiencing the now and enjoying the present rather than worrying about the future. I’m sure most people will agree with that last statement but how do you go about implementing it?

I think the major obstacle in most people’s lives is a need to rush and be busy. This mindset isn’t too common in Asia outside of Japan, Korea, Singapore, etc. I remember rushing around in my car getting pissed off at anyone that dared to slow ME down by a fraction of a second, or being annoyed at someone for taking longer than a minute with the bank teller. What was so important in my life that a second or a minute delay would irritate me?

I remember people asking me how I was doing and I would respond, “Busy.” I was complaining, but really that wasn’t all I was doing. I was gloating about how much I had going on. As if being busy is something to be proud of. I’m only justifying my own existence by spending my time on something as worthwhile as taking a two day dump. We fill our lives with meaningless tasks, and I don’t mean meaningless on a nihilistic, grand scheme of “everything is meaningless” level. I mean meaningless on a middle level. A level where if I didn’t do it, would it really affect anyone? For example, how many jobs are essential to running a stable society? We kid ourselves into thinking our work is important when really our job was only created so we would have something to do, to earn more, to buy more and keep the machine chugging along. I’m not just talking middle management either. Take recruiters, they arrange meetings with their clients (people looking for work) even if they don’t have a job to give just to keep themselves looking busy. How many of you, at work, basically spend half your day appearing to be busy? All I’m saying is that society has made itself needlessly complex in order to satisfy a need for employment. And to keep everyone working, you have to keep everyone wanting new things.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all bad. It has led to economic growth, longer lives, a higher standard of living, better healthcare, etc. But I feel like we have lost something along the way. We have lost the freedom to enjoy ourselves in the long term in a stress free environment. We have probably never had this as a species but shouldn’t we be striving for it instead of the latest iPad? Mechanisation of production lines and the industrial revolution was supposed to halve the working hours of everyone. But it didn’t, instead they sacked half the workforce.

How else can you go about enjoying the now and forgetting about the worries of the future? I think a lot of it is rejecting fear. Fear from strangers brought on by mass media and a few rogue minds. If someone says hello to you, you are more likely to think they are a rapist, begger, or mugger than a friendly person - what does that say about our culture!? Batman once said, “To conquer fear, you must become fear”. Now I don’t like to disagree with Batman, but I believe to conquer fear we have to realise that some of our preconceptions may be incorrect. I think that 99% of us are fundamentally kind (Damn the 1%!!!) but we sometimes lose track of this because of our own fear induced panic attacks where every hoody is a mugger and every stranger is a pervert.

Fear brought on by a negatively focussed media network epitomised by the Daily Mail but present in all the major news corporations. Fear brought on by worry about our lifestyle of debt and consumerism, and fear brought on by isolation from real human connection due to social conventions. How will I combat these things? Fear is easy, I’m not going to read the tabloids and I’ll become sceptical about every news article. Not worrying about debt when I took out £25,000 worth of student loans will be a tough one – not buying shit I don’t need is a start! Viewing student debt as a graduate tax is a good way of looking at it. If I don’t earn, I don’t pay… If I do earn, I'm paying for the great years I had at Manchester.

Reducing my isolation in life by not limiting myself to a few choice groups of friends, i.e. Jews in North London, middle class university educated smart-arses, etc. I believe that segregation in these groups within society breeds contempt for one another, as well as enforcing ignorant stereotypes.

I knew a year and a half ago when I stepped on the plane to leave for Korea that I would come back a different person. I'd like to think I'm a happier person and one who is more attuned to the world and its workings. I'm also aware that I'm being very idealistic at the moment. Maybe you can't change the world around you, but you can certainly react differently to it.

Okay I’ll draw a line under this and call it finished. Well done to anyone that read all of this – you deserve another ten minute break off work.

Dave's Fringe Experience

This was my first Fringe and I can say with certainty that I will be returning next year. I only went for two days and my god I had fun – I loved the mingling with the comics after a performance, which makes it a much more personable show. Edinburgh Fringe 2012 rocked my world…

The first day we went was still part of the preview week, and we got free tickets for a drama called Proof (Official Link). It was about the daughter of a recently deceased mathematician who had been suffering from dementia. She and her sister are concerned about her own mental health and how she is dealing in the days following his death. It was an insightful drama, brilliantly acted, particularly by the main woman and her father. It had moments of comedy and we all left having been thoroughly entertained for an hour and 20 minutes. Great show and I recommend it, especially if you have any interest in Maths.  8.5/10

Next we went to The Pin (Official Link), which was written and performed by three young comedians. This was my favourite show of the day. It was sublimely funny and brilliantly acted considering we saw the first performance of the festival. It was a sketch show with a twist – the scenes connecting the storyline were told in reverse meaning it was backwards, like a comedic version of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Please go and watch this if you are at the Fringe this year. 10/10

The final show of the day was a stand up comic called Rhys Darby (Official Link), best known for playing Murray in Flight of the Conchords. He was funny with some clever observations about hand dryers and his performance was full of energy and sound effects! I did think he had the least polished show of the day and the comedy fell away at times. Still it was very entertaining and will only get better after a bit of improvement in his routine. 7.5/10

The next day was the first official day of the Fringe and therefore prices skyrocketed and performances improved. First up was a free show called The Nutters (Official Link), which was about spotting various type of weirdos in the UK. It was a good idea, which was poorly executed and a little too obvious. But for a free show, I guess you can’t complain too much. 5.5/10

We didn’t think we’d be seeing another show as the three we had tried to buy tickets for were all sold out. However we managed to scrape some more free tickets to a stand up comic called Chris Stokes (Official Link). His stories centred on his nerdy personality and the run of bad luck that occurred to him on a daily basis. He had some really clever observations and managed to tell a story about him being mistaken for an alleged peado, with a 12-year-old directly in front of him in the audience – tough work for even the most experienced of comics. 8.5/10

We managed to get tickets 20 minutes before this sell-out show started by begging someone in the ticket office. It was David O’Doherty’s (Official Link) new performance and it was brilliant. It was hilariously funny and at times too fast to hear all the jokes. His songs were top class as well, especially the first one. 9/10

The final show I caught was a stand-up performance, admittedly billed as a work in progress, by the great Reginald D Hunter (Official Link). I’ve always loved him on panel shows and have never seen any of his stand-up performances so was dead excited. He rocked my world with some hilarious stories coupled with some emotional stories about how fame has ruined some of his relationships and caused a lot of tension in his life. He even ended up asking a woman whether she enjoyed spanking and spoke to her in some detail, before he realised that her son was in the audience… comic awkwardness hilarity. The show was a fantastic end to the Fringe and I cannot wait to return next year. 9.5/10

The Long Way Home

After leaving Korea, having been to Japan and China, we spent 5 months finding our way home. We visited Taiwan, The Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Borneo, Brunei, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. It had been a long trip and there was a sadness that it was now ending.

The journey home started with a flight from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur. Our flight home from KL had been cancelled because AirAsiaX has stopped their flights to London. They had moved us to a different airline with an earlier flight time, meaning we had to arrive in KL a day earlier. I had tried numerous times to contact AirAsia and arrange some compensation because it meant we would have to fork out for a hotel in KL rather than just get a connecting flight. They did not reply…numerous times.

Upon arriving at KL airport we went to the help desk and explained our situation. We were informed immediately that there was a four-star hotel, complete with golf course and swimming pool, waiting for us and we had free airport pickup and drop-off. We had been concerned we would be spending the 15 hour layover on an airport bench so this was absolutely golden news!
One of the nicest rooms we stayed in on our trip with
THE BEST shower Katie had ever had!
After a short swim, we went down for our courtesy free buffet dinner…You could say we took full advantage.
Round 1: Salad, soup, sushi, and bread
Round 2: Ceasar salad, squid, prawns, potatoes, and meat!
Round 3: Lamb, lobster, ham, turkey, etc
Round 4: Cake and coffee
Round 5: More cake and coffee and some healthy fruit
There wasn’t much more to do than have a lovely shower and get some sleep… waking up in time for a buffet breakfast!
A few hours later we were aboard our 14 hour flight back and were inundated with even more food, courtesy of Malaysia Airlines. It was a very comfortable flight where we watched a lot of films and reminisced about the good times.
It had been an unbelievable 17 months full of highlights, a few struggles, the odd accident, and it all ended on an absolute high in Thailand. All this, plus a super freebie at the end, had ensured that we made it back safe and sound, eager to travel again soon. But first it was time for some much missed cider.
Cider time! 
Katie got asked for ID when we ordered!

Thailand In My Mouth

The Curries
White curry. Like your typical Thai curry but with absolutely
no chilli - what's the point?! It was a bowl of coconut milk.
Right: Green curry.  This is usually quite mild, but for some 
reason this particular green curry was fiery hot. 
Dead good though.
Yellow curry. Next step up on the heat scale. Flavours were 
still the same and since we got each one from a different place
the chilli situation wasn't really comparable. Quite hot though.
Red curry. Supposedly the hottest, but in all honesty I 
started to lose track. They were all lovely and fragrant but 
it was hard to really notice a big difference between them 
(apart from the white, which was rubbish).
Here's another red curry that Dave had, with squid instead of
the usual chicken. Apparently it worked well and I am a big
fan of the tiny pea aubergines that were used in this one.
Massaman curry - my favourite. Deep flavours and a rich
sauce, which was great with the potatoes and chicken/beef.
Penang curry, which was mild and sweet, with a thin sauce
and was served with a dead cute bear shaped pile of rice.
Three curries that I can't remember the names of, from a
restaurant we stumbled across in Chiangmai that claimed to 

serve "The Best Curries in Town" - not bad, but apparently
not so memorable. Dave thought they were excellently delish!
The Rest
Thai green papaya salad, which wasn't bad but nothing like
I expected - it was tangy but not at all spicy.
Pad Thai: the traditional, Thai street food dish of noodles,
chicken/prawns and veg. Simple, and delicious.
A fancy platter of meats and veg, with a spicy, fishy dip.
This was from a highly rated restaurant, but sadly the food 

was overpriced and disappointing.
We didn't try them - we've eaten enough 
weird stuff this year, don't you think?
Lovely spicy salad with tofu and star fruit.
Tangy and sweet with a kick - yum!
Khao Soy - a lovely curryish noodle and chicken soup.
Sweet and sour chicken with loads of veggies. Really tasty.
Street food in Pai. Pizza & lasagna that looked and tasted fab.
The only time I've ever known Dave to order a meat-free meal!
Marinated tofu steak with a mushroom sauce. He loved it!
An unexpected free feast on the night-train to Chiangmai:
Curry, rice, pork dumpling, cake and green tea jelly!
More food than we could manage. Chiangmai sausage salad,
Thai fish cakes and sweet & sour chicken. Delicious!
Spicy Chiangmai sausage on stick.
Yellow watermelon shake (not as nice as red).
 If I'd eaten this on the first day, I wouldn't have had anything
else the whole time! Sweet, coconutty rice with mango. WOW!
A banana, rolled in cake and covered in chocolate and nuts.
Eat your heart out George Michael Bluth!

Weird & Wonderful: Thailand

Facebook joke!
Some of the t-shirts in Thailand are just plain offensive...
...And some are just massive!
Asian Jack Sparrow!
Yep, I'm riding a moped with no hands!
Fuck Burger King
Say, that's a nice bike
Strange performer
Someone used google translate...
Pink eggs!
Now House is finished, this must be what he's doing
Final bit of nature...
Where are the dreads?
Amazingly photogenic man part 2.
He was making a cocktail when I took this
Notice the ladyboy in the background.
This was known as the boob... Interestingly, "Nom"
 is Thai for boob... so "nom nom" is boobs
Some things are best left unexplained