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Excessive Expectations

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

*This entry has been called ‘Excess Expectations’ for ages. And I call myself an English teacher? Ouch.

Whenever I travel I usually look with disdain at expat enclaves, shut off from local life, their denizens mingling only at work or when playing tourist on their off-days. But it is amazing with what speed things can change when you take a suitcase along instead of a backpack, move into an actual flat and hang your office garb up in the wardrobe.

At that moment you enter a dual existence, and I have found out that living a dual existence can be dangerous for those of us who are not either bi-cultural or superheroes with secret identities, or else have a very solid social base (hence the enclaves). This is because the two worlds will clash and the expectations of one will run up against the demands of the other. And this can affect a person’s sanity.
[read on]

Drinking from the Dragon Well

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

The Longjing tea that is grown in Zhejiang Province is the most famous tea in all China. The original bushes were fed by the still and clear water of the Dragon Well, and maybe one of these days I will get to taste this water for myself.

An account of my adventures in China can be found here:

Final Preparations

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Is it really this long ago since I’ve last blogged?

Anyway, I’m almost done with the prep. I’ve developed a headache from playing Chinese character games and working through almost a hundred newbie lessons in Mandarin and downloading lesson plans and activities whenever there was time. Today the school has emailed me to say that the papers are on their way.

This means that next week may well be my last in the UK. I’ll attend a novel workshop, a graduation ceremony for two friends (incidentally I might receive my own certificate after belatedly graduating in absentia) and I’m hoping for a BBQ. Not to forget shopping for a suitcase!

Then it’s off to steamy Shanghai and on to Hanghgzhou, reputedly the most beautiful city in China. The modern China, that is. I’ll expect noise, smog and glittering sky-scrapers alongside tranquil lakes, hills and pagodas.

Not long now.

Tea to China?

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Apple tree closeup

During my travels I have rarely missed things other than the odd piece of chocolate or salty liquorice. Except for—on one memorable occasion—apples.

I was about to travel through Africa on my own. The group had split up and I was somewhere so utterly foreign that it may have well been on another planet, although one where people spoke French. I was wracked with longing for the rain-streaked streets of home, picturing myself sitting in the back of our old VW Beetle, behind both my parents, and staring out of the windscreen on our way back from town.

I had to forcefully remind myself that my father was dead. But the taste of apples remained in my mouth. We’d had a lot of apple trees in the garden. The shelves in our cellar were full of tiny, wrinkly apples that would last almost all year.

I pined for a while. But returning home was never an option. And one day, when I’d continued my journey, I found some strange berries on the market and bought a few of them, since I’ve always been curious about strange fruit.

They tasted exactly like apples.

I’ve never found these berries again. But I didn’t need to: the craving and the home sickness were gone.

And the morale of the story? Other than for a few pieces of salty liquorice I’m not in the habit of taking home comforts with me because the things you enjoy at home rarely taste right when you’re travelling. The craving for salty liquorice or the odd piece of chocolate is physical and fleeting. When I got my backpack stolen in Indonesia I didn’t miss my remaining liqs all that much. But when I went to Barcelona to do my TEFL certificate, I took teabags with me. I figured I needed them, and I was right.

They worked us hard and the tea gave me comfort, just as those berries once did.

A mug of milky tea is a piece of home.

Journey of My Life

Monday, May 16th, 2011

When I was a child I made a pact with the devil. I wanted to have adventures, to discover new things, to travel to distant shores.

The devil agreed, but of course He extracted a price. He didn’t want my soul, because there is no such thing as a soul. No, the devil is a sucker for entertainment. He wanted to watch me squirm.

He granted me my wishes.

But I could never call a place home.