Some lions having a laugh on the riverbank

It’s 17th November, and so it’s been a month since my feet have touched British soil, a month since my lungs last breathed in the air of the Empire. But it feels like I’ve always been here. Like this dinky apartment on the 5th floor with harsh lighting has always been mine. When I stand under the shower, flooding the uneven kitchen floor, and then afterwards in a towel and flip-flops, squeegee-ing the water upstream to the drain, it’s like that’s how I’ve always showered. What lazy barbarian stands in a bathtub? Why put your faith in an invisible demon like gravity to drain your water, when you can just as easily spend 10 minutes seeing to the job yourself?

There’s no way I could sum up my first month in a single word, or sentence, or blog post. So I won’t try – instead I’ll just write about what I get upto, hopefully you’ll get the gist of what it’s like here.

I will say though, as my previous entries attest to, there have been many ups and downs. Okay I’ll probably describe a little of what it’s been like. The ups have been crazy – not the emotionally fuelled up I imagine you feel when you first set eyes on your newborn babe, and not the jubilant kind of up you feel when the underdog wins on X Factor (come on McManus). But sometimes the most random things give you an up, like a bus driver impressing you with his skills by shouting ‘Helloooooo!’ at you from his seat as he stops to pick up passengers. I was impressed, and his delighted face made my day! Something as everyday as seeing someone walking their dog in the park, or squeezing for firm potatoes in the market, can give you an up. Whether that also gives them an up or not is for another day. You start to see the everyday things on life from a new perspective. Ups are the little things that amuse you, that make you smile, that refresh and reawaken your senses. Cheese is an up (this week I found, and purchased, 1.3kg of cheese).

Then there are the downs. Like ups, downs are usually triggered by the mundane, the everyday. Getting off the bus one stop too early but not having a clue where you are can be a down. Walking along the road and feeling the eyes of every person who walks past staring at you can be a down. Going to a supermarket and not being able to find salt because you forgot your dictionary can be a down. Basically, anything that can be an up can also be a down. It’s all about perspective. The right attitude can turn a major down into an adventure.

Last week I had a bit of a down after a bad lesson. I was trudging through the campus on my way home, the background drone of the student radio bleating through the speakers on the walls, when Kelly Clarkson came on. Apart from one Beiber song a few weeks ago, I’ve never heard any English come from those speakers, and my ears hook onto the words. My step quickens slightly so my foot falls on every other beat. My hips sway a little more, and I find that when the chorus kicks in, I’m singing along. Out loud. Damn right Kelly, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s like this song is playing just for me. Suddenly I’m strutting down the path in my very own cliché scene in the style of terrible Katherine Heigl romcom and I love it! This cheered me right up – I was delighted at my own unashamed embracing of the Clarkson.

The whole of today was an up day. Yesterday, we waved goodbye to autumn and the last day of temperatures above 0°c, and woke up to lots of snow. The only call for wearing my snowboots up until now has been to make room for the other 23kg of essentials I needed to pack in my bag during the flight. Today they knew their true purpose. I ploughed through the snow to the top of campus feeling like Arctic Barbie to the front gate, where I was meeting two Koreans to get the bus up the road to get Chinese facials.

The snow continued to fall all day, and everywhere looked beautiful. As soon as we stepped through the door of the salon, the Chinese beauty therapists were pointing and fussing. It turned out it’s a women only salon, and so, rejected, the Korean guy had to sit for an hour on the sofa whilst Su and I got in our dressing gowns, lay back and had our face assaulted. I’ve never had a facial, so I don’t know if this is a Chinese thing or just a facial thing, but it involved a lot of slapping. The lady squeezed my temples and pulled my hair and kneaded my cheeks. In between, lots of applying of lotions, damp cloths, and masks. It was amazing. I went in with the skin of a hormonal woman whose current diet includes a lot of oil in her food, and came out with skin that could be easily mistaken for a baby’s bum in a nappy advert. After an hour, we got the bus back, the biting cold attacking our raw skin, and had Korean food for lunch. Mine was basically a pot of vegetables with a fried egg on top, but it was delicious. In Korea, they eat with chopsticks and a spoon, which seems a sensible idea especially when eating rice. Here, when chopsticks fail, the method is to simply tilt your plate upwards and lower your face until the two meet.

Anyway, the snow is very cold but beautiful. I was planning on taking a walk this afternoon to a forest that this uni apparently owns, but it gets dark around 4pm and time ran away with me. Google Maps tells me it’s more of a cluster of trees than a forest, but I’ll be the judge tomorrow. Another long post – fair reader you should make the most of this. When winter really hits and I’m unable to leave the house for fear of Sir Ranaulph Fiennes type frostbite, I’ll have nothing to write about. And if I do venture out in search of a muse, when I return I’ll no doubt be missing the necessary digits with which to relay my findings.


P.S Look at this rug!! I made it in one week. It’s a shame that they only had grey wool in the market – any other colour and it would have made a fine blanket, but as it stands, it will only ever know a life underfoot. Who said this world was fair eh?


3 thoughts on “Up

  1. Poor Sir Rannulph, all those expeditions, all the suffering, all the courage and endurance he showed, yet all anyone associates him with is frostbite.
    I can picture him reading this blog and sticking two fingers up at the screen, then wincing, and weeping inwardly as he realises he’d had to use both hands to do it…


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