Shakespeare has played a big part in my life; it has been difficult to avoid the Bard (and believe me I’ve tried), as I studied English literature up to my bachelors. It’s not that I particularly dislike Shakespeare, I just prefer modern and contemporary literature. After I graduated, I put my Shakespearean anthology away as I believed that I was finished with that part of my life.
However, on a recent trip to NYC I saw that there was a troupe called Drunk Shakespeare performing off Broadway. The tickets were cheap, so I decided to check it out. The troupe were energetic and they painted a refreshingly modern gloss over Macbeth. It was a very lighthearted performance with topical jokes – I’m sure that a lot of them passed over my head.
Despite drinking copious amounts of alcohol, the actors still performed really well. Their interactions with the audience were quick and witty and they maintained a jovial, raucous atmosphere during the evening. However, they were more than comedians as they performed Shakespeare with so much passion, and their interpretation competed with the more serious plays that I have seen. In particular, Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy was outstanding, and it made my hair stand on end.
Perhaps the highlight was the location; it was a really small stage, which provided a very intimate atmosphere to the show. The walls were lined with shelves filled with beautiful books which made it look like an old fashioned library. The audience basically sat on the stage and they were included in many of the scenes. They did exactly what they claimed to do and got drunk whilst performing Shakespeare – it was a far cry from my days studying it in a dusty library.
I love eating out. I adore walking into a restaurant where I have never been before, scouting out the best seat and analysing the menu for the most appetising items. It’s the thrill of the unknown. Even in Korea, where I am potentially the only foreign face to grace their establishment that week (or perhaps even longer), I enjoy trawling for the best restaurants.
However, there is a certain off-putting aspect to Korean dining, and that is the rules of eating. I enjoy experimenting with my food in order to combine the best tastes and textures, but it often feels as though there is a set of unyielding regulations for eating Korean food, (ironically, this country also boasts a bizarre array of snack flavours and pizza toppings). There have been multiple occasions where the restaurant staff have instructed me on the correct order to put the food into my mouth. Admittedly, there have been times when I’m faced with something obscure, and I am grateful for their interruption. However, when it comes to basic Korean food that I regularly consume – and I don’t always comply with the rules – the altercation can be a little frustrating. After it feels as though the waiters are closely watching me to ensure that I eat correctly, and I feel concerned that my refusal to comply is rude.
My Korean friends have also informed me on how to correctly consume food when we go out for dinner. Recently, a friend told me that the chilli spice on the table was for one of our dishes, but not another. When I questioned her on this idea she told me that the spice only complimented one of the meals. I tried it with both and I beg to differ, which leads me to ask who creates these regulations, and why are they continuing to be enforced?
It’s deepest, darkest winter. The air is so dry that it sticks in my throat and has transformed my skin into a crumbling wreck. If I touch something metallic, I’m likely to receive an electric shock. The landscape resembles something post-apocalyptic, with the dry, desolate mountains and the skeletal trees. The wind is pounding against the balcony windows of my 13th floor apartment. I roll over in bed and glance at my phone, it’s 6 a.m.; I still have a couple of hours before I need to drag myself out from beneath the covers. I wrap myself up in a cocoon as I settle back down.
Suddenly, the PA system, that’s located above the bathroom door, cheerily pings to life. The security guard surly voice grumbles something in Korean, a language that – despite the time I’ve spent living here – I do not speak. I put my head under the covers in a half-arsed attempt to block out his incomprehensible stream, but it’s impossible. He continues for an indefinitely long period, and then the cheery ping signals that he’s finished.
I carry the curse of being a light sleeper, so now sleep completely evades me. I fume as I thrash around in bed before deciding to face the day. How can this man, who signs for my packages when I’m out, storm into my apartment at 6 a.m. and rouse me from my bed? I really didn’t sign up to live in an Orwellian nightmare.
Many people dream of the day when they can quit their job and head off travelling for a few months or longer. I was lucky enough to spend 11 months doing just that. In the years prior to my trip I saved huge portions of my wage and planned the locations that I was itching to visit. The last day of work was an emotional rollercoaster as I said goodbye to my students and colleagues at the small private academy in Korea where I’d spent the past 20 months teaching English. Sitting on the late night flight to the Philippines, I shed a tear as the wheels lifted off the Korean soil. Korea had been my home for 20 glorious months, and at the point of leaving I was uncertain whether I’d ever visit again.
For just over 6 months I explored the beauty of South East Asia; revelling in their culture and sampling exotic food. For the final 5 months of my period of unemployment I travelled around the UK and the USA. During this period of luxury I tried to relish every spectacular encounter, but without much structure in my life I felt that the days were moulding into one. I drifted from one delicious meal to the next, collecting amazing experiences as I went.
I’m not saying that there was anything negative about the time that I spent travelling, but perhaps I just spent too long in this state of euphoria. For a long time, I’ve believed that you can’t truely appriciate pleasure without pain, and this trip epitomised my philosophy. Without the trials and tribulations of working life, I began to be desensitised by what I was experiencing.
Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm that I accepted a job teaching in South Korea (again). The time that I spent travelling taught me a multitude of things, but there’s one fact that I’ll cherish as I step back into the working world: a weeks work makes the weekend so much sweeter.
During the 27 months that I spent living and travelling around Asia I had a lot of time to speculate about returning home. It was a common topic amongst fellow travellers and migrants; many had been home at some point and grimly recounted the adjustment issues that they suffered. Their woe painted my image of home, and I began to agonise over reverse culture shock. The possibility of no longer fitting into the place that I left, and consequently feeling isolated loomed over me. I sought out blogs that narrated tales of bleak acclimatisation in a place that was once normal. When the time finally came for me to return to the UK I was torn between ecstasy and anxiety.
I really shouldn’t have distressed myself about returning home because it hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as I imagined. My family and friends are still here, and it feels like I’ve only been away for a week. We have so much to catch up on; many of them are starting families or settling into homes and it’s lovely to see their lives unfolding. Living at home is not as bad as people make it out to be; I get to be around the people that I love and have missed so much. Also, England has many special quirks and so much beauty that I was blind to when I lived here, but now my eyes are wide open.
Of course I miss lying on the beach and spending balmy nights drinking local beer. I yearn for the butterflies in my stomach as I sit on a long bus to a new, unexplored town. I’ve scattered my heart like Hansel and Gretel along the roads that I’ve wandered. I find myself feeling homesick about so many things, because I love a multitude of places, but really there’s no place like home.
If your homecoming is approaching and you’re starting to feel anxious, don’t believe all the negative stories you hear!
Unfortunately, the historical city of Bagan, Myanmar was wrecked by an earthquake in August 2016 that annihilated over 400 of the buildings. Whilst the community is obviously trying to repair the damage, there is still visible signs of devastation on many of the temples. However, this didn’t temper the resplendent aura of the town during my visit in October 2016. Since the catastrophe there has been a tremendous effort to restore many of the buildings, and there is even hope that Bagan will regain its title as a UNESCO heritage site.
More than 4,000 religious buildings abide in Bagan, and despite the destruction of the recent earthquake, there are still plenty that remain untouched by the natural disaster. The older architecture suffered far less than those built more recently, so the ancient structures are still relatively intact. Personally, I even enjoyed the appearance of the temples that were defaced by the earthquake; the red bricks that have crumbled away from the once grandiose edifice portray a somewhat macabre picture.
As there are so many buildings to visit, the best way to navigate the town is by e-bike (10,000 kyat for one day). Zipping down the narrow dirt tracks, and stumbling upon deserted sanctuaries is thrilling, and by far my favourite part of Bagan. Also, there are a few temples that offer perfect viewing points for sunrise and sunset. Obviously, the more popular ones tend to be very busy, so if you prefer a bit of peace whilst you watch the sun, go off the beaten track in search of a quieter area. Many locals will direct you to good viewpoints, but these often entail climbing up crumbling, ancient structures that were recently hit by an earthquake, so be careful.
Entrance into Bagan is 25,000 kyat, and this ticket lasts for five days. The town is well connected to the rest of the country, so you can get a bus from most towns.