Thursday, 27 February 2014

Grandma's Project

Not only is this visit home turning into a trip down memory lane*, it has also become a bit of a history project. Since I extended my stay here my Grandma asked me to help empty out her shed. Yesterday the two of us spent hours clambering over piles of precariously balanced junk, brushing off cobwebs to open dusty boxes which haven’t seen daylight for at least twenty years and rearranging gardening tools to access musty, damp filing cabinets. I loved every second of it. Partly because I got to spend some quality time with my Nan, but also this is one of my absolute favourite activites to do. A history lesson that you’re part of - you can see, feel and smell the results of an art project (a vase?) that your mother did when she as six. Or coursework your grandfather completed some 50 years ago. 

Whilst digging through this absolute treasure trove of debris, collected from at least three generations we came across several cool things (or at least I think they're awesome). My new favourite pair of sunglasses - Willson round eye protectors, complete with leather sides to stop dust/sunlight, pre-1920s. This brought back some lovely memories for my Gran - she suspects they belonged to 'Uncle Ernie' who was apparently 'a right character'. He used to be very into cycling - hence the glasses. She told me that on a weekend he would cycle from his house in Essex all the way to a family house in Knutsford on a tandem bike, with his daughter - some 200+ miles!! 

I think my Grandma enjoys reliving these memories - I certainly love hearing them, especially when they're told with an artefact that you can handle. I've never seen a picture of Uncle Ernie, but I know from the glasses that he must have had a slim face and been fairly eccentric to wear them. 

What else was in there? My favourite stash - in an old leather travelling case there was a huge stack of magazines, dating from 1937 to 1961. I briefly skimmed through them - it's so interesting to see the development of ideas through the pages, for example the front cover illustrations and adverts. Even the stories told within are a fantastic glimpse into life in London during the WWII era. 

And the most interesting part? My Grandma had an old friend, Rose, who used to go to dancing with her. Sadly Rose passed away many years ago. On her death, my grandmother was given a stack of letters written between Rose and her husband, while he was away fighting in WWII. As Rose had no surviving family, my Grandmother was given the letters as they were close friends. I have been reliving one of the saddest, most endearing love stories I've ever heard. This will be a long project - there are over 100 letters written in a fantastic cursive which we no longer learn. Many of the individual letters are long - amazing considering the censorship and the little amount of information a soldier was allowed to share. The longest letters I have found in the collection go up to twenty pages! It’s such an exciting find, I can’t wait to understand Rose and her husband – the problems they must have had with such a long distance relationship over a long period of time – Rose had to manage at home with air raids, rationing and working while Bill was sent away for training in 1940 and doesn’t seem to have been given any home leave until -

Who wants more? Well I won’t spoil anything. If anyone’s interested in hearing more about Rose and Bill I am planning to start a separate blog to record their story for future generations.

Talking with my Grandma about history and her family has made me realise how little I actually know about her past. This has prompted me to start another project – our family tree! It’s been very interesting so far, learning about my ancestors. For example, discovering that there are two capped rugby players in our family. So far, anyway – I haven’t gone back very far!

To conclude then - everyone should always write in fountain pen, for the historians of the future it is much more romantic and secondly everyone should write. A letter, a postcard or even a poem. That is your homework, until next time! 

*sometimes I seem to have a worrying lack of memories, considering I've only been away for two years. I've started to feel like an amnesia patient - people remembering things that I used to which I have no recollection of ever doing! Of course, I was expected to not remember where things are, like kitchen utensils because I was always fairly rubbish at that. I was trying to get somewhere, in the car a few days ago. It is, at most, two miles from my house and I couldn't remember how to get there!! I drove around in circles a few times then gave up. 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Home vs home Home

Home vs Home Home

Just before I return to the flooded valleys of England, I re-visit my Thai family, which makes me wonder about the differences between my two ‘homes’. Although I’ve stayed with and met other local families along the road, my Thai family tolerated me for the best part of a year, ensuring that I know them better than anyone else I’ve met on my travels.

The main difference between this home and home home (to the same people that use ‘out out’) is the fact that I chose my Thai home. More or less. Obviously I had no idea they would take me in – and the family would be so lovely, but I did get to choose the country, climate and general geography of the local area. Whereas my home home was somewhere that I always took for granted – it’s always been there and felt like it would always be the same.

After not visiting Thailand for a year, it felt like coming home as soon as I stepped out of the airport into the heavy and humid Bangkok night air. Which was incredibly welcome after the frigid dryness of the aeroplane cabin. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Bangkok, but just the smell of all that delicious street food mixed with the burning incense in the temples and shrines plus the fumes of the chaotic traffic is unique. Bangkok was the first city of my trip, so it was a fitting place to return to the UK from.

The familiar sounds of the Thai language welcomed me – along with the functioning Bangkok transport system! It’s a refreshing change after the mayhem of trying to get around Manila. Everything is noisy, dusty and crowded but somehow it all works.

One of the great things I noticed about being back in Bangkok is the security checkpoints at the entrance to each of the MRT/skytrain stations. After walking through a metal detector a guard casually motions you to drop your bag on the table and open it for a search. I have no complaint with the security – I think it’s great that they do it. But it used to annoy me no end when you’re carrying a heavy backpack with whatever other baggage and they only want to see inside the smallest top zip. What would I put in there? At least if you’re going to search my stuff, do it properly! Going through at least three of these checkpoints with an extremely full back pack plus wheelie suitcase and two ‘hand luggage’ bags I was hoping that the guards wouldn't want me to unload everything. Amazingly, all of them seemed content with a brief look inside my hand luggage bag. I know this doesn't sound very interesting, but actually it’s a huge relief when you’re travelling in rush hour in one of the busiest cities on the planet.

Meeting my family again was great. As expected, I had an unpredictable but fantastic time with them. As far as I can tell, it’s useless trying to have any input into activities whilst out with Asian friends. You’ll never know the full plan, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride! And so it was that myself and Harpa (Miss Iceland, from the boat) got taken to picnics by waterfalls, met the kids at school again (a spontaneous hug from 30 kids is probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me), being taken to a factory for last minute super discount present shopping NOT TO MENTION all the delicious eats which were involved. We also had to go on an emergency airport run to take Kung to catch his first commercial flight. It was hilariously good fun.

After taking Harpa to the bus station the next day I accompanied Kru Goy to go and meet her mother, in a nearby field. We took a large, empty plastic bag with us. On reaching her, we found she had a basket full of molluscs which she’d spent hours digging from the mud in an empty shrimp pond. We tipped the basket into the bag – leaving her an empty basket to carry on with. After lugging the bag back to the motorbike, I went back into the field to catch up with Goy. She introduced me to her elderly auntie, who saw my hands full of the molluscs Goy had just given me. Motioning me to drop the snails, we squatted down in the muddy field under the baking sun while she read my palms.

Through Goy, I was able to understand various facts about myself – although I’d been born and raised in London, Auntie determined that I’d spend my life travelling and working in other places. It will be a long time before I get married, although right now I have two secret admirers (although disappointingly this didn’t equate to any surprises on Valentine’s Day). 

I went back to Bangkok by coach the next day, of course for a last whisky/beer street party before my early morning flight to LONDON TOWN!!

Arriving back it was great to see some friendly faces at the airport – MASSIVE THANKS to Lauren and Megan for meeting me. I definitely would have been in trouble negotiating my way home with all that baggage AND a tube strike to work around! Seeing my family was slightly surreal, as my youngest brother appears to have grown two feet since the last time I saw him, but nobody looks too different other than that.

Something I was thinking about before my return – the smell of home. I remember being on Spanish exchange way back in school and realising that the Spanish kids smelt differently to us (not in a bad way, they just smelt like Spain). I wondered if I would smell different on my return (not that I’d be able to notice) or if anyone’s scent would be more noticeable as I’ve been smelling Asians for the last two years. Although this sounds like a crazy train of thought, it does makes sense. Whilst unpacking I realised that a scarf which had been given to me in Thailand now had a much stronger exotic scent which I hadn’t noticed whilst in Thailand! Also there are some smells that just don't equate in other countries. Like fresh rain in the UK is not the same as the smell as rain elsewhere. But then again, maybe I just got to smell more rain in the UK. :-P

Unfortunately my time at home has already flown by – meet ups in pubs with friends, a wonderfully relaxing spa day (shame my manicure was totally wasted on the slopes), dinner out, a day trip to Dover with a surprise visitor (Vtec I really appreciate you making the effort to come down to visit and I'm super glad you made me play tourist at home! Thanks) and lots of quality down time with family and friends.

I’m surprised at how expensive everything is here – I’d forgotten just how much things cost. Just travel is crazy: a one way ticket to Tunbridge Wells is OVER £10! That’s insane. In Thailand, you can basically travel on a sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for that much (ok slightly more, but you get a bed and everything!).

So what else have I missed about being home?

Obviously, not the weather. It goes without saying that people – friends and family – are right at the top of the list. Unfortunately three weeks in Europe haven’t really been enough to catch up and spend enough time with everyone that I wanted to. And so I’m expecting to see a bunch of people in Asia/Australia in the next year, ok na?

Matilda came out with a great suggestion of things that will be nice about home – dogs. Dogs at home are (with one or two child-mauling exceptions) lovely here. In Muslim countries dogs are considered to be very dirty animals so they are not really kept. Everywhere else a dog is a functional animal – used for guarding the property and not considered a friendly pet. Whilst at anchorage in Coron, we met Skip and Tally, two lovely cruisers who charter their boat around the Philippines. Skip had an incident with one such dog – he bent down to stroke the dog which had appeared to be friendly. The dog changed its mind and jumped up and bit Skip on the face, losing one of his front teeth! Which just sums up my attitude to dogs in Asia; be very careful! 

It's also weird being home - in Asia I never had an accent but apparently here I do! Please feel free to laugh if you notice it. 

Something that’s slightly sad about the nature of travel – I was thinking to myself ‘I can’t wait to go home and see everyone’, but actually I don’t mean everyone. I mean everyone at home, yes. But so many of the amazing people and families I’ve met along my travels I’m not likely to see again. Thousands of miles will always separate us – we live on different corners of the globe or we’re both travelling in opposite directions. You make such quick friendships on the road – bonding instantly with the fellow traveller who’s also stranded in a remote paradise, waiting for that next boat which isn't coming. That’s what the magic of going home is. I know that even if the next time I go back is in five, ten or fifteen years’ time there will always be so many people I love that I can see again and again. Thanks for being there, people! 

Also incredibly grateful to my totally awesome parents for making it possible for me to see everyone (not to mention the beautiful skiing we've been enjoying for the last week!!) 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Twerking, derps and neknominations

 – Coming home

After two years away from home, there are a few things that I’ve fallen behind on. Talking with my family and peers I realise there is a lot that I don’t know about modern ‘culture’ since I’ve left.

Like, for example, Miley Cyrus going all crazy on us and twerking in her underwear at every opportunity.

‘What a shame! She was such a sweet girl!’ As my Grandmother said (or would have if she’d ever watched Hannah Montana.) Ah, the sad predictability of a child stars’ downfall.

To be fair, I probably could have kept up with stuff like this. If I really, really cared.

Interneting abroad is pretty difficult – in the Philippines, the connection was at best, incredibly bad. Most of the time it wasn’t strong enough to upload a single picture. Even sending/receiving emails could be sketchy. Bizarrely (there’s probably a scientific reason for this, science geeks?) I’ve heard the signal was much stronger early in the morning, which basically meant I wasn’t going to achieve anything online until I left the country.

What else have I missed? Little things, like queues. Going into the post office I was slightly overwhelmed by the organised barriers which feed people through a short, winding tour of the room until finally they are called forward by a number flashing on a big screen. In South East Asia, this would more or less have been an invitation to a scrum.

Scones, tea and cream? Yes please! Afternoon tea has become more or less a daily ritual since being back. Before I left it was a very occasional treat - never mind the calories, I’ve practically not stopped shivering since I arrived back anyway. How do you people survive in this coldness?

Do I feel like I’ve been left behind while everyone I left here has moved on?

Yes. So many of my friends seem to be doing something serious – babies, houses, marriage, careers. Although I’ve pretty much already rejected this lifestyle, sometimes a pang of regret at the studied stability of their lives hits me. A boring but dependable job? Same faces day in, day out? I must admit I found myself wanting this after listening to one of my friends talk about their job. Having said that, I can’t imagine lasting long in any type of atmosphere where working in flip flops/barefoot is not possible.

Will I get over this as soon as I have my next cocktail whilst gently swinging in a hammock on a tropical beach? Most probably.