Friends O’Clock?

If you are like me and approaching the big 30, you may remember those days at uni where you and your housemates were “working on dissertation research” aka, drinking endless cups of PG tips with co-op own brand digestives and E4 blazing Friends on repeat. My flatmate and I would be cocooned in our duvets, hungover and unwashed, and talk about the ‘one day’ when we would be living in our cool Manhattan apartment where we would live our own personal season of Friends. I was Rachel (although she thought I was Phoebe) and she was also Rachel and EVERY DAY would filled with comedic scenarios and canned laugher.

Until, very recently I still held that bubble of a dream in my head. I would move to New York, live in a really trendy warehouse in Brooklyn (Gossip Girl was to blame for the location change), with a cat, have a high-earning, cool job where I basically just meet people Downtown for coffees and had endless leisure time for walking around central park and eating in expensive restaurants. The only thing in ten years that changed in my head-bubble, was that I replaced the cat with the boyfriend.

 

Last month, when the opportunity came about for me to actually go there, finally visit the city my whole idealised future was based upon, I was over-joyed. I guess I could have been sooner, but I didn’t think I needed to. I was going to eventually live in New York, and that was that. It’s the best city in the world – David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston told me so, and they don’t lie.

NYC skylineA free business-class ticket from my recently resigned job (long story), and my Mum in tow, off we headed with a mixture of Frank Sinatra and Beyonce singing in our heads to see my future residence in all it’s glory. I returned six days later with a slightly different view. The New York dream-bubble had been burst.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved it – great city – I just don’t want to live there anymore. Let me explain:

  1. It wasn’t like Friends. I think I actually expected the air to have that slightly saturated, grainy look that 90s TV had. People did not wear crop tops. I didn’t have a coffee in a huge mug. The hotel room was tiny – apparently New York is short on space – no big apartment for me. No-one even looked that friendly (apart from the ancient, peroxide-haired air-hostess, who talked to me in great lengths about honeybun, her cat, and I am not sure I’d want her as a friend).
  2. cold nycIt was bloody cold. I know it was the middle of winter, I know we arrived in the midst of a huge blizzard, but still… I do not get on well with cold temperatures. I only like snow for approximately five minutes; to try catch a snowflake in my mouth, then to throw a snowball at my unassuming dad/friend/sister. After that, snow no longer entertains me and I find it a sludgy, disgusting inconvenience and it can bore off.
  3. It’s just another city. What I mean by this, is that I didn’t feel that magic I have in other cities. In Paris there is a certain je ne sais quoi (sorry), in Phom Pehn I felt so akin to my surroundings, I could have happily stayed there for an inmeasurable amount of time. New York just didn’t hit it for me.

So, all in all, I am actually glad that I have erased that *slightly* unrealistic dream from my head. It would never have worked. My boyfriend looks nothing like Joey.

 

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Dear Traveller…

Here is a list of things I am grateful for

1. When you made me laugh till I cried

2. When you made me cry (it made me move on)

3. When you cleared up my sick

4. When you drank with me until you were sick

5. For dancing with me

6. For singing with me

7. For the photos

8. For sharing my sweatyness

9. For giving me hope

10. For helping me like myself a bit more

11. For letting me share your room

12. For letting me share your bed

13. For swapping flip flops with me when my feet hurt

14. For giving me rides on your motorbike

15. For taking me to hospital

16. For making me realise some things

17. For talking to me

18. For carrying my bag for me

19. For all the drinking games you taught me

20. For letting me win at cards

21. For pretending to enjoy my Dubstep dance

22. For telling me it didn’t look that bad. When it did

23. For being there when no one else was

24. For the lonely planets and books

25. For having the best time of my life with me

xxxx

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Travelling to stand still

So often in our lives, we find ourselves constantly moving towards the future. How often have you said to yourself, things will be better when… I get that promotion, or I move house, or I find my dream partner. We are perpetually running towards that goal post that shifts every time we get close. It’s tiring. The path of life is set out in front of us and we dutifully trudge onwards.

Backpacking hills

Travellers have a different outlook. Constantly moving yes, from a to b to c to d, but true travellers don’t know where they are going. The road is our home, not leading us to it. We are in vacuum of uncertainty, but it’s that uncertainty which sets us free. With no notion of where we might end up, we can enjoy the ride.

Ask any traveller what their favourite moment was, and chances are they won’t be able to answer you. Our lives are not that linear or structured. Our happiness is not measured by life achievements but a patchwork of stolen moments; the feeling of the cool breeze as you stand on top of a peak, breathing in the view, laughing till you cry with a friend you met two hours ago as your order another arrak and sprite, the papery feeling of that old locals hand as she gives you a cool drink on that scorching hot day, seeing the sun rise over the ocean as you realise you have danced the whole night through. There is no ‘things will be better when’, there is no reason to want to be anywhere else then where we are right now. We are travelling, but we stand still in the moments that make up our journeys.

Of course, not all of us can live in this constant state of freedom forever; our trip ends and the realities of working life mean the binds of having to strive forward to succeed come seeping back into our idealist mentalities.  Don’t forget it though, and from time to time, step off the path, get lost, because not knowing what the future holds is the best place to be.

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South East Asia and Sri Lanka mash up

phone 119Backpacking video

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Existentialism and Satsumas

Sometimes the sheer reality of my own own existence comes hurtling down and hits me square in the middle of my eyes.

This often happens in the middle of Sainsbury’s Local whilst looking for something to eat for dinner. I will just be sauntering down the cheese isle or comparing Satsuma prices and – WHAM!

I’M AN ADULT!
NO ONE IS SUPERVISING ME!
I LIVE IN A FLAT IN LONDON WITH FRIENDS!
I HAVE A JOB (how the fuck do they trust me with responsibility?!)
ACTUALLY, I DON’T HAVE A JOB (fuuuuuuucckk!!)
I CAN BUY WHATEVER I WANT FOR DINNER AND NO ONE GIVES A SHIT!

I have these episodes once in a while and become momentarily paralysed. Then someone will knock into me reaching for the reduced chicken Korma and I will blink and come back to reality. I normally follow this by purchasing a bottle of rose and a packet of chocolate caramel digestives for my dinner before contentedly trotting off home.

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Massage: Relaxing or Torture?

I’m not sure how to take massages.  Let’s take them out of context of being “oh-my-god -so-super-relaxing’. A complete stranger slowly rubs your almost completely naked body in strange and often painful ways while you lay on a table with your face poking through a hole. You desperately try to think of soothing thoughts whilst this sadistic stranger punels your calf sending shooting pan up your leg and it takes all your concentration not to kick them in the face.

Still, I keep going back for more. I am on an endless quest to find a massage that leaves me calm and zen like rather than red, dazed and slightly sore. A recent Ayurvedic massage in Sri Lanka introduced me to a few interesting techniques which I shall outline for you below (NB: I wouldn’t try these at home on a partner without risk of causing permanent damage, unless of course, they have been a bad boyfriend/girlfriend, in which case, go for it):

1. The Sausage. This involves raising the participants arm at a right angle to the table, starting at the shoulder roll the arm with both hands as one would make a piece of plasticine into a sausage, vigorously working up to the wrist (Warning: bingo wings WILL flay).

2. Socketing. If carried out correctly, this will achieve the same effect as putting the participant’s finger in a live electrical socket. Soak hands in oil (cooking will do), working in a circular motion, scratch the scalp first clockwise then anticlockwise until hair stands upon end of its own accord.

3. The Bruiser. Holding your hands in two loose fists, hit participant as hard as you can everywhere. If you do not cause bruising you have failed this technique.

massagefart

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“I’ve got the Travel Bug”

Getting sick whilst travelling is part of the parcel, it happens to all of us in varying degrees of seriousness. I proudly called myself a non-puker. I would boast that I could count the number of times I have been sick on one hand. That is, of course, before I came to Asia. My first experience of food poisoning after a Phi Phi burger left me green and shaky after a roller-coaster of emotions.

First came shock as I sat up on my bed at 4am and did an re-enactment of that scene form ‘The Exorcist’. Then courage as I tired to reach the bathroom before I completely covered the dorm room wall with vom. Next came sheer panic when it wouldn’t stop. I looked at my friend with fear in my eyes saying she may have to call an ambulance as I was convinced I was dying in a cruel and brutal way. When I realised it was here to stay it was just a game of tactics as it started affecting both ends. Luckily the sink and the toilet were close together.

I love talking (after a few beers) to fellow travelers about their experiences as it makes me feel like I am now part of a sacred community of possibly the most violent short term illness there is. I look in awe at those who have had bouts lasting three days or more and will buy them a drink out of pure respect.

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It’s getting hot in here

I never thought of myself as much of a sweaty person. Even on a summer’s day packed on the tube at rush hour, I was reasonably dry. But travelling around SE Asia in the hot season has shown me a different side of my body. Right now I am sitting in my hostel in Nha Trang, Vietnam, waiting for an overnight bus and when I stand up, I know I will have to peel my arse off this plastic seat.

I first discovered the extent of my body’s ability to sweat on my first day of travel in Bangkok walking around the temples in 40 degree heat. My friend and I would kneel respectfully in front of a buddha to stand up leaving pools of water behind us where the sweat had poured off us. The situation was made worse as we dutifully wore long-sleeved tops and trousers. At one point we were fully perturbed at a rhythmic squelching sound coming from close quarters before we realised it was actually coming from our sweaty armpits. The first time I encountered a mirror later on that first day I got a huge shock. The hourly application of factor 50 sunscreen on my red nose and face had simply melted giving my face the effect of a shiny tomato splatted with white emulsion paint.
However, sweat seems to be a bonding thread between all backpackers. We become closer to each other, whilst the Asians are strolling around in jeans and jackets we melt together in a smelly unity. As I travelled Laos from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng my friend and I were fortunate enough to be squished up in a minibus meant for nine with thirteen boys. With the aircon broken and the driver averted to having the windows down the boys stripped off the layers. It was an experience close to what I imagine it would be like in a gay sauna.
Two months into my trip I simply accept my sweaty state of affairs and raising my hand to wipe my sweat moustache has almost become a tick. I comfort new backpackers with words of reassurance that they will get used to the constant sheen and that they may as well throw away any grey items of clothing now.
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Doing nothing in Vietnam

In Hanoi, anything goes. The roads are deathtraps, the streets are jam packed with tourist shops, street food and people trying to get you on the back of their motorbikes. However, take a breath, and there is a resonating calmness in this city, which, unless you accept the craziness, you wont feel.

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Despite this being a country still raw from the recent war, the people are not as hardened and bitter as you might expect. They seem friendly and genuinely interested in us Westerners, and not just trying to wangle us out of our money.

Along the banks for the lake you will find hundreds of concrete benches each with at least one little Vietnamese person quietly sitting and contemplating. Coming from such a city as London, this truly baffles me. Young couples, the girl’s head gently resting on her boy’s shoulder, middle ages business men, girls in their beautician, nurse, or coffee house uniforms all sitting in the shade of the jacaranda trees, not talking, not on their phones or listening to music, not waiting for anything or anyone, just sitting and being in a quiet unity.

I don’t know if I could actually do that for more than five minutes. Even now when I don’t actually have anything to do, I would still have to get out my book, or my phone or a map, just so I didn’t feel like a lemon. And in my London life I wouldn’t even have the time to sit down and do nothing.

I might give it a go today, join the Vietnamese on one of those little concrete benches and contemplate.

Later…

I failed. I sat for about five minutes, just getting into the swing of my doing nothing, when a Vietnamese guy called Tuan joined me and preceded to chat to me for the next hour. We became great buddies and he wanted to take me on a personal tour of Hanoi on his bike, but I settled to be his facebook friend.

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