Another Brick In The Corporate Wall

moz-screenshot-2

It seems to me that my new-found path in life never fails to leave people with endless questions, mostly with a regard to my mental health and whether I have lost the plot. Take for instance a repeated conversation with my brother.

‘So what are you going to do with your life?’

‘I’m going to teach English as a foreign language and travel the world….’

‘Yes but…..What are you going to do with your life?’

This seems to be the reaction from most people. A mixture of envy with a dash of cynicism topped off with a large dollop of disappointment. I get it. For years after my first TEFL contract in China I swore I would never dip my toe into the world of teaching again. Fuelled by the various comments bashing English teachers as ‘avoiding responsibility’, ‘unaccepted by their own country’ and ‘wasters and hippies with no ambition’ I gave up on teaching altogether. My 20-year-old mind had been firmly polluted by the endless jibes that come hand in hand with TEFL. Instead, after completing my degree, I pushed myself into the corporate world with dreams of a flash wardrobe and an even flashier car. And this is where I lost ‘myself’.

Hired and jumping up and down in my parents kitchen I thought my new-found success would pave the way to management heaven. Having received my contract and welcome letter as a new employee of a global IT company I could not conceal my excitement and satisfaction. The girl from the bleak council estate was well and truly on her way to success. I began my role with the enthusiasm of a new puppy, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed but still shaking in my boots at the thought of using Excel and numbers as they certainly weren’t my personal strengths. I got to work an hour early, always first to arrive and usually last to leave. Lunch times would be spent at the desk trying desperately to hide another Excel formula fuck up as I watched the days pass in a blur of pivot tables and numbers, adding and subtracting. Sometimes I would bound out the door, satisfied that my day was full of small successes. Other days I would cry at the thought of messing up another report. A report that barely anyone ever read.

You see after a few months in the role I realised that no one cared. Reports and new websites that I fawned over and spent countless hours trying to perfect were pretty much irrelevant. I realised that I had become part of the furniture, another brick in the wall of a massive corporation and that no amount of trying was going to get me anywhere. Hushed discussions with other disgruntled employees furthered my suspicion that I was going nowhere fast and the only way up was to leave and reapply for the desired new role. When I was a fresh newbie I listened as my trainer spoke about a woman on another floor who hide all her ‘to do work’ under her desk. This woman did sweet f.a for 6 months before she was caught out from the growing mounds of paperwork forming under her desk, trying to escape. At the time I was horrified. How lazy and inconsiderate. Now I realise that no one gave a shit, and for her laziness (or cleverness) to go unnoticed for that amount of time must have meant that she was both invisible and irrelevant. Something I was to become familiar with.

Once the rose-tinted glasses had been removed and I was no longer breaking into a cold sweat on report days, I found myself slipping into a cubicle coma. For 8 hours a day I sat, clicking on the mouse creating documents that would be sent into the black hole of cyber space. I had mentally left the building. The silence would descend over the office as each of us punched in numbers and wrote out endless emails, while I tried desperately to find some sense of fulfilment in a job that I should not have been in. A job that I had no natural talent for. But that didn’t stop me from pushing and forcing myself to fit the mould, unaware that I was depleting my spirit with each day that passed.

After I ‘woke up’ and realised that I had no business being in IT, never mind an office, I slipped out unnoticed. No one saw me place my plant in my bag and forage around for my shoe collection that had been gathering under my desk. I cut my notice short and left, walking out into the grey sky and damp air without (so much as) a backward glance. Now I look back at all the years I spent chasing the money signs and all I see is someone wanting to conform. Someone desperate to have a desirable CV and endless Linkedin contacts. Someone who wanted to go to work in smart clothes, reeking of success. Someone who wanted a nice monthly wage, with an even nicer bonus and a mortgage to boot.

Now I’m no longer that somebody, but it took me years to wake up from wanting that dream. I now wait to begin my English teaching role in Bangkok where I can go back to the hustle and bustle of the uncomfortably humid streets. Where the various smells of the street stalls attack my senses and where everyone seems to be on ‘Thai’ time, walking at snail pace and coming to classes late. And as for people who question my dreams and ambitions I say simple to mind your own. My dreams, wherever they may lead, are none of your concern. Let me enjoy the fact that at nearly 29 years old I may have found my calling and thank fuck for that as it has taken me to hell and back trying to find it.

Dear retired Passport…..

2000px-Flag-map_of_the_world_svg_

We had some fun didn’t we? 10 years have passed since you landed through my letterbox. I took you out of your envelope and cradled you with love and affection. I marvelled at your empty pages and the swirl print that decorated each page. You did well, I’m proud to say. You fought the elements and the random spillages (we both remember that custom officer saying that you smelt bad from a recent coffee wash) and were forever faithful when we boarded another plane or when your pages were fondled by yet another customs officer. I heard of other owner’s who’s passports strayed. Badly behaved one’s that chose the day of traveling to play hide and seek. You never tortured me like that.

We filled your first page with a visa for America and you took your first trip in your stride. You were proud and clean, ready to take on the world, full of naïve optimism. We set off to China and weathered the bleak cold and blistering winter winds. That was the time you were taken from me and held hostage, but I fought for you of course and as soon as we were reunited we ran for it, back home to safety. You slept in a drawer full of broken dreams before deciding that indeed you felt bare and naked with your empty pages and wanted a few more decorative pieces. I am not one to mess with dreams so we filled you up with multiple stamps from Australia, a visa for Laos, a visa for Thailand, another for Vietnam. A stamp here and a stamp there, like Kisses. I showed you off by taking pictures, showing your latest and greatest decorative piece. Yes, we did have some good times you and I.

It pains me that you are retiring. Don’t take the trim off the edge of your front cover from that frightful passport renewal officer to heart. You took on more than most passports I can assure you and just because there will be someone newer and fresher taking your place does not mean you were not loved. Yes the new passport may have more pages and a fancy chip but it has nowhere near the experience you have. It is a newbie, a real young’un compared to you. I can only hope that it continues your legacy and takes on the world as you have. May you be a lesson to the new passport and others (particularly my parents passports as they have never been anywhere). You have set the bar high and I know in years to come you will indeed come out for those occasions where any future children and hopefully grandchildren will look at you in wonder and delight at all the places you have been, touching your colourful pages with all their beauty.

Yes, take this time to relax with the various other retired documents. Reflect on the good times and all that you have achieved as you will always be my first real passport. The one that took on the challenges, faced the fear and did it anyway.

Reviewing the suitcase

I have temporarily put a pause on my wanderings in order to obtain the documents needed to teach in South Korea. Filled with promises from various people claiming South Korea to be just ‘awesome’ I have decided that’s my next port of call, even though it looks colder than anything the UK could possibly fling at me. My partner in crime (well, my gay travel partner) could not stop going on about his obsession with k-pop and his need to find a Korean husband….Immediately. Not one to interfere with such a fab goal, I have decided to help him in his quest for love, and maybe find a hot guy in the process myself. So as I unpack, back with the parent and the promise of Tesco’s delights, I have decided to review my suitcase, mainly the ‘what was I thinking’ items.

Shoes

After spending the entire duration of my trip in either flip-flops or canvas trainers, it is a fact that I really did not need to be lugging those wedges and black work high heels around the world with me. Did I throw them? Hell no. Once you find a good pair of shoes – especially the wedges – that are pain-free and go with anything, they are with you for life. Or until they fall apart in over wear which doesn’t bear thinking about. I did, however, wear the wedges once. This was purposely so I could justify them taking up room and weighing my suitcase down. And no I did not care that the roads in Hanoi do not cater for wedges.

model-falls-gif

Bikinis

I took four and wore none. Dreams of soaking up the sun on a Thai island, sipping cocktails were non-existent. Being a person that tries to ‘go with the flow and just see what happens’ I just seemed to travel north throughout the duration of my trip. My shorts, bikinis and summer dresses didn’t get a look in. Instead I wore the same grey jumper for the entire trip as this was the only ‘winter’ wear that I had managed to bring. By the end of the trip, I was sure it was ready to sprout legs and make a run for the door.

That dress

I have a lacy little number that always makes me feel good, covers enough whilst sucking everything ‘in’, sexy but classy. That too came along for the journey, never to escape the suitcase. Thoughts of great bar scenes, eligible gentlemen and fancy restaurants was replaced by chanting in a Temple, shivering from 4.30am winter mornings starts, 21 hour bus journeys amongst questionable body odours and dribbling noodles over myself. Wearing every layer of my suitcase to shield off the cold ensured that not only did I not bother with any beautification ritual or fancy outfits but I also didn’t want to. You could barely get me change out of my multiple layers.

i-thought-you-said-it-was-cold-out-here

Nail Varnish

Taking at least 5 bottles in my favourite colours, I assured myself that I would mix it up, colour coordinating and generally making my nails look pretty. No need to be a rough and tumble traveller, I said to myself. Just because you are ‘backpacking’ does not mean you don’t put effort in. Bahahaha. Oh the lies we tell ourselves. The majority of the journey was trying to get the damn stuff of my nails, particularly when I was living at the temple. Forgetting the nail vanish removal, I spent my time picking at the colour in a bid to rid myself of any sign of beautification (which was not allowed). Finally I manage to use some removal at the monks wife’s home and breathed a sigh of relief to finally be rid of it. Moments later M looks at me all excitedly and tells me she wants to paint my nails. Not one to dash someone’s delighted and hopeful expression, I proceed to let her do her worst, which was to paint my nails in garish colours with added flower prints. So much for looking natural.

tumblr_m6f3d8bXB61r0dq7qo1_400

Ah, I said natural….

Those skinny pants

Yes, I admit it. I took my skinny trousers in the hope that a few months hauling my luggage around South East Asia would melt inches from my thighs. Who knows when I would have the opportunity to eat, therefore bring the pants! Well its true, I managed to get into them and apart from being a bit snug, they did fit. Although by this time in my travels and with a whole new perspective  to boot, I suddenly thought – arse catapulted into the pants, why the hell am I doing this to myself?! Yes life is far too bloody short to spend my time wanting to fit into a pair of trousers! How absurd that a piece of material could have such a hold on me. So I bravely left them behind – to be donated of tossed, free to make someone else just as miserable with their unforgiving lack of elasticity.

tumblr_m3iw26oyX21qcb58yo2_500

They fit!!!

Now, I am back to parents house with all its questionable odours such as mould and dog farts. My days will be spent curled up on the sofa, devouring Netflix like a pro and in the process observe my mind as it turns to mush. I will indeed relish the art of doing nothing.

The moment I ‘weally’ knew

When I think about it, I know I should have done it sooner. It was always meant to be but something I shied away from for a long time. Reason for this is I always thought I would never be any good at it, with my past experience leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I believed that I would not be able to make any difference, however small.

At 20, I made my escape from the UK to the smog filled Beijing. I was running not from home but mostly myself, not wise enough to realise that wherever you go there you are. I was riddled with loneliness and culture shock that gradually became worse with each day that passed. My days were filled with DVD’s in a bid to escape my reality and I slowly but surely lost my mind. I was also a terrible teacher. So completely absorbed in my own pain and misery that I could barely fathom a smile, never mind provide entertainment at a school that relished an all singing and dancing foreign English teacher. The grey sky and the sun – which was barely traceable through the polluted air – added to my constant state of melancholy. I tried desperately to ‘stick it out’. Ashamed to admit defeat and have family view me as some sort of disappointment, I continued to go through the motions, teaching a few short hours a day and rushing back home to climb back into an unmade bed. As one of the only foreigners in the entire area, having any social interaction was difficult and as the days went by, the urge to meet people diminished. I finally cracked and went back to the UK – tail between my legs – promising myself that I would never go into teaching again as I was awful and no student should have to suffer having a teacher like me.

Fast forward eight years and I am sitting in the ‘farangs’ Temple living room area. The table we sit at is made of solid wood, carved with various elephant figures wandering the Thai jungle. The seats that we sit on are so heavy to move that usually I don’t bother, and merely slide myself between the table and chair. They are solid and are also carved into elephant heads, each detail finely perfected. It is bitterly cold and we are both wrapped up in our scarves and woolly hats. I – with my great suitcase planning and bringing mostly summer wear – am wearing every layer, including my pyjamas under my 8 precept whites. Nursing my coffee to counteract the cold we begin our lesson. It’s all about grammar and today is all about the should, shouldn’t and couldn’t. I had managed to scrape together some sort of lesson from the paperwork I had lugged from Bangkok to Fang. Using this we sat, starting with general conversation before getting into the nitty-gritty.

My lovely student – a 41-year-old Chinese woman who has lived in Fang all her life – is able to hold a conversation at elementary level and has no idea how to use these words – should, shouldn’t and couldn’t – in a sentence, never mind their meaning. We get to work, with this being the opportune time to put my CELTA training to work. We sit side by side in the cold. Two Temple dogs sit, nibbling their flees at our feet and looking up at us expectantly with their big brown eyes. I hear the other ‘farangs’ chatting away under hushed breath. The sweeping of the hand-made broom echoes through corridor into the meeting area. With each completed task my student looks up at me, needing reassurance. I tell her that she is indeed correct. ‘Weally?’ she asks, eyes widening in disbelief and a glimmer of hope. ‘Yes. Really’. And in that moment something happens. I begin to fill with a warmth that starts from my head and runs right through my toes. I have never felt so good. Better than any night on the town with the promise of more alcohol. Not the dancing or flirting with random guys. Not the belly aching laughter of a night with friends. Not grabbing the last ‘must have’ item in the sale. No, nothing compared to this feeling of knowing that my student was ‘getting it’. Feeling her hopeful energy that lingered in the air. We both looked at each other – glowing – and in that moment I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I am meant to teach.

Cattle in transit

I say my goodbyes to the hotel staff while practically running out of the door. Get me on that bus. Hauling my great blue suitcase onto the bus, I found myself a seat by the window and sighed in relief. Sorry Ha Long bay but obviously our timing to meet was just not that great. Winter time is certainly sleeping time and wandering around in the cold, foggy mist was beginning to have a negative effect on my brain cells, as my options for entertainment came down to sleeping or eating. I chose both in equal measures.

So, huddled in the corner of my window seat – the only passenger so far – we round the corner to pick up a herd of other travellers, who I noted were looking slightly dishevelled and furious. They could not wait to get on the bus. Strange, I thought. Why are they so desperate to get on? The Vietnamese bus driver was either having an off day or permanently has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. He fumed, beeped the horn and got off the bus, huffing and puffing. Communication break down ensues, with the passengers frantically trying to get on the bus and the driver taking his time to open the door – probably relishing in their frustration – until I pulled the leaver and let them on. Mass pushing and shoving over, all passengers were aboard and strangely all were sighing with relief. I could feel the irritation and frustration lingering in the air, and it turn out the toxic atmosphere was certainly justifiable, as I were to find out.

It turn out that some of these amazing 1-2 day cruises around Ha Long bay are not all what they seem. ‘What? False advertisement? Never!’ I hear you say, but the truth is in the pudding. Or the dishevelled, angry faces of those travellers who had been duped.

‘Did you do the cruise?’ Asks one English girl. I tell her no, to which she quickly goes into an angry account of their experience. ‘Good, it was shit! They lied to us and told us that it would be All Inclusive. We would get to go kayaking, fishing, that all the drinks were free. None of it was inclusive. None. Not even the drinks were free, even though that is what we paid for’. I could hear people throwing in the odd comments ‘And I paid for a single room…Like hell did I get it’ shouts a young, very cute Swedish guy. ‘Yeah, we were practically sleeping on deck’, cries another. ‘Oh and there was no hot water and no heating. The boat was falling apart and the food was awful’. The English girl finishes her – very justifiable – rant. Ah, so that’s what’s with the glum faces. She shows me the brochure of the ‘dream cruise’ and I can only look at her in amazement. Amazement that the brochure is so bloody beautiful and seemingly legit. Every page showed delicious food, beautiful decking and gorgeous interior, red bows on the chairs like something out of a wedding reception. I too would have been pulled in by the romantic, classy ‘sell’ of it all. No wonder they practically fell onto the bus, dying to get back to the game of ‘crossing the road’ in Hanoi.

A silence falls upon the bus as we make the journey back. I can see through the front window where the driver is sat and watch as two lanes miraculously turns into six. How efficient and time saving, I think angrily as I hold onto both the seat and my breath, watching as cars, lorries, buses and mopeds weave in and out of the lanes, coming within inches of each other. Three hours into the journey we are carted off one bus and onto another as the one we were on now has to go to a wedding (?). The next bus we sat like cattle, practically on each others laps with the lack of room and the whole ‘lets try and squeeze a few more passengers on, even though there is no room whatsoever’ attitude of the bus company.

Finally I make it back to the hotel to haul myself up five flights of stairs and greet my travel buddy with relief. A quick dump of the luggage and we are out, back onto the chaotic bustling streets of the old quarter. I actually feel content to be back, feeling the energy of the people vibrating through my soul. Noodles steaming in front of me and a beer in one hand we cheers to the craziness of it all.

Next time, travel with boyfriend

This is what I was told by the hotel manager. Obviously the staring and random foreign comments thrown at me were not all in my head. I did believe for a moment that I was being rather sensitive, with my previous post blowing off steam. As it stands, actually I’m seen as just weird.

Being-alone-sucks
Welcome to the world of the single female traveller. Not all places of course but here in Ha Long bay I am seen as something of a rare species. With thoughts of writing, reading and relaxing before beginning my teaching career I thought what better way to spend it than on the coast of Vietnam. Maybe I was just a little bit naïve and failing to really check out the weather forecast – believing anything is better than the weather in the UK, I have found myself wrapped up in a scarf and woolly hat, eyes squinting through the fog.

So after a conversation with the manager of the hotel which involved me being sheepishly embarrassed of my single status, I have decided to do myself a favour and head south for warmth and sangria. I don’t take what the manager said to heart, as when I look back on holidays when I did have a partner, all I can remember are tears, arguments and silent treatment.

Holiday with boyfriend number 1

It was my 18th birthday and my first time on a plane. Me and my boyfriend touched down in Cyprus for a week of dinning, dancing and having plenty of…….cocktails. My excitement and enthusiasm was immediately popped like a balloon when ‘C’ didn’t want to do anything. In fact we barely left the hotel as he was terrified of the locals. Instead we were in bed by eight. This lasted a week and involved multiple arguments and sheer boredom, which lead to more arguments for something to do. Arriving back in the UK we broke up in the car on the way home from the airport (only to get back together and repeat the same shit for another 3 years).

Holiday with boyfriend number 2

Exciting stuff, with a whole campervan to take us through Europe. I painted the inside a ghastly yellow, and hung up flower power curtains. He put up shelves in what would be our new home for the next 6 weeks and off we went. The campervan, the cities, the mountains, the lakes, the beaches, the history, the architecture were all incredibly. Apart from him. ‘T’ decided that the best way to take in the sights and sounds of our adventure was to chase European skirts. He was also something of a ‘cold’ fish which didn’t fill my heart with the warmth and giddiness of young love. The trip itself was amazing. It was just a shame he was there.

Holiday with boyfriend number 3

A trip to Portugal, travelling from Wales by car. I long ass journey but involved rocking to various music and eating baguettes and salami off the boot of the car, Mediterranean sun hot on our necks. It was our first holiday, in which we had only been dating for 4 weeks. We stayed at ‘K’s aunties villa, surrounded by fig and olive trees. It was stunning, except all was not as it seemed with the man in my life. As I observed this new Casanova with all his words of love and affection, I noticed that he would change personalities, depending on who he was talking too. How bizarre, I thought. The holiday went in a haze of alcohol, fine food, walks on the beach and me trying to detach his face from mine. Which was permanently attached, slobbering over me and removing layers of skin away.

yuck_gif_pagespeed_

Get off my face already

He would not leave me alone for a second, watching my every move and spraying his territory with every glance from another male. I came away from the holiday mentally exhausted, hung-over and overwhelmed with the ‘love bombing’.

So Mr Manager, travel with a boyfriend next time?

whatever_gif_pagespeed_ce_cJ4osxly7u

All eyes on me

Again I wandered out of my hotel into the sleepiness of Ha Long bay. All market stalls were closed and the fog still drowned out the scenery. Again the sky met the sea in a blanket of silver with just the faintest edges of the mountains in view, watercolour in a haze of shades. I walked along the beach front, wandering aimlessly and trying to calm the increasing feeling that I was being watched. Constantly.Eyes on me

I am in a tourist destination where hundreds of ‘farangs’ get dropped of weekly, if not daily to explore this gem, a world heritage Site and popular travel destination. So if this is the case can you please stop staring at me as if I have grown multiple heads in the space of seconds. I feel like I have become something of a freak show as I walk alone along the hidden streets where groups of local people stop and gawk, before turning to their friends and having a good old chin wag about my presence. It doesn’t help that I have come in the quiet season (aka the freaking freezing season).

beetle juice

Do I have something in my teeth?

I am not immune to the staring. I spent a year in Huairou – Beijing, teaching English, which was a very quiet place to be situated. With only three ‘farangs’ – myself and two guys – we were something of a novelty. There, it was a whole different ball game of staring. Shopping trips became a constant game of hide and seek where, basket in hand, I would try to lose the groups of local people amongst the aisles as they followed, curious as to what I was going to put into my basket. My shopping was scrutinised and commented on, especially when I would stock up on multiple chocolate bars in some sort of desperate attempt to cure my home-sickness. Tube rides became a photo opportunity for locals, who would sneakily hold up their camera phones to take various snap shots of my hung-over state.

Did you get my good side?

Now I find myself battling those familiar feelings which I had long forgotten about. Can I just accept that they may be curious? Can I just let it slide and feel overjoyed that I don’t blend in? Can I just saunter down the streets with the careless freedom that comes with wandering in new and unfamiliar territory? No. At the moment I feel like doing this, if one more person stares at me.

x

Just look at me once more……

Hoodie up and scarf wrapped round my face, I was still recognised as a foreigner. What is it exactly? Do I have a particular ‘farang’ swagger that I’m unaware of? Guys on mopeds frantically turned their heads in shock at my presence, before shouting only God knows what. I’m hoping it was all sweet words of ‘welcome my dear long-lost friend’ although I might be just a bit optimistic there. Whilst I was with my travel companion I could handle it and took it as innocent curiosity and no more than that. Now, alone and feeling vulnerable, I notice every stare and hear every heckle, which makes me want to kick off and throw random, clumsy Kung Fu moves on the unsuspecting audience.

Forcing myself to eat, I found a small restaurant to eat my beloved noodles. I sat at the back and felt all eyes on me as I battled my way through the use of chopsticks and slippery noodles, which of course made me even more self-conscious and therefore had me dribbling, dropping and slobbering over my bowl of deliciousness, much to the amusement of the multiple pairs of eyes as they watched my discomfort.

tumblr_lwbw4kOhSN1qbnnkuo1_500

I have now retreated to my hotel room, feeling comfort in my sanctuary and away from preying eyes. Tomorrow, I shall again brave the curious stares and random comments thrown my way, that I do not understand. I will keep smiling through gritted teeth and try to take it all in innocent jest and when I eat my noodles I will dribble with abandon, relishing every splatter that covers my face. As I say, Vietnamese food is there to be thoroughly enjoyed, audience or not.