Hey guys. So, I recently participated in the World Nomads Travel Writer Scholarship programme, where I wrote a piece on the theme ‘a place that is unfamiliar to me’. Devastatingly, I didn’t win the scholarship (next year, perhaps?), so here is my entry published here instead, entitled Chasing Home:
When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I described the city as a sensory overload.
Fresh durian and fermented bean curd in the steaming streets of Mong Kok. Strobing neon signs on Nathan Road. Soup noodles slipping from chopsticks held between clumsy fingers. The telltale salty tang of MSG. Tonal Chinese languages with staccato one-syllable words.
I loved it.
The longer I spent in the city, the more it felt like home. Weekends spent hiking in the New Territories or lapping up the sun on the trio of Tai Long Wan beaches. Evenings spent in TST or Central or Wan Chai, drinking overpriced cocktails in tiny bars or sitting on the waterfront with cheap beers from 7-Eleven.
Summers were coated in a thick layer of smothering humidity, while winters sparkled in red and gold, auspicious signs for the coming Lunar New Year. The sunlight was thick and creamy like milk tea in the day, then deep orange like the peel of a mandarin in the evening. Read more
Dictionary: A book or electronic resource that lists the words of a language (typically in alphabetical order) and gives their meaning. Inspired by a long (and sunny!) weekend in the home of Oxford University, here is a day in Oxford city as told through Oxford Dictionary definitions…
Muggle: A person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill. Can often be found touristing around Harry Potter filming locations in Oxford.
1990s: from mug + -le; used in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling to mean ‘a person without magical powers’.
‘she’s a muggle: no IT background, understanding, or aptitude at all’
Ashmolean Museum: A museum of art and antiquities in Oxford. It opened in 1683 and was the first public institution of its kind in England.
‘no, despite the empty tables you may not have a drink in the Ashmolean Museum Restaurant because of some vague excuse about an event or maybe allude to how it’s members only, but probably we’re just a bit snobby.’Read more
I feel as if spring has really snuck up on us this year. It’s officially time for people living in Britain (or anywhere temperate in the Northern Hemisphere) to come out of hibernation and start enjoying the extra hours of sunshine. And so, I have written this guide for spring foraging in the UK.
Despite living in a city, spring is palpable. It’s still light at 8pm, the warmth of the afternoon sun is beautiful but there’s enough of a morning chill to still need a scarf.
We’re very lucky in Cardiff, having so many large parks and green spaces to explore. Walking through the grounds of Cardiff Castle, Sophia Gardens or Bute Park, it’s so easy to forget you’re in the middle of a city. It’s difficult to hear the sound of the traffic through the birdsong and trees rustling in the breeze.
One of my favourite things about spring in Wales is that my favourite edible plants are sprouting up everywhere right now. I had no idea about edible plants until about four years ago, when I was introduced to foraging in the UK by a friend of mine. Read more
I’ve been back in the UK now for four months. I’m still reluctant to say ‘back home’, but I’ll admit that it’s slipped off my tongue more than once. Like travel writer Pico Iyer says in his TED talk, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Where is home?’ are more complex questions now than they once were.
In fact, I’ve been wrangling with that word ‘home’ even since I breathed it in along with the crisp, British air outside Birmingham Airport.
I’ve tried on the word ‘home’ like you might try on a pair of jeans at a high street store; they don’t quite fit, but you try and justify the purchase anyway because you’re planning to lose a few pounds, right? So, they’ll fit in time, right?
And I’ve written. My lord, I’ve written about it! I’ve always found it easier to articulate through the written word than through the spoken word. I’ve typed the word ‘home’ and then hit the backspace key, paused, and then typed it again with quotation marks wrapped around it.
Trapping the letters between two floating apostrophes, like pegs on a washing line, is exactly how the word feels to me.
I meant what I said when I wrote that moving back to the UK is so much harder than moving away – so much more than I anticipated. There were parts I left out from that post. As personal as it was, there was stuff going on one level down, down in the basement, that I didn’t want anyone to see.
Because it is a struggle and it’s a work in progress and it’s more complicated than i thought. I’m rethinking everything. My goals. My dreams. How I should work towards them. How I’m going to get there. What I need to sacrifice in the short term for what I want in the long term.
Anyway, these four long months have been dragging and yet they’ve gone by in the click of my fingers. I applied ferociously for jobs for two months, but then stopped because it wasn’t the right approach and I was getting no where.
I worked on my CV and was more careful about the jobs I applied to. I worked on this blog. I visited other British cities to try and find my feet, eager to play the tourist and find a place to call my own, but I was back in that high street store. I can’t get anything to fit right.
I gave myself a deadline of three months to find a job before I would implement plan B and look at moving away again. But, then I found myself counting down the days until it could be a possibility. Because, if I was being honest with myself, wasn’t it always plan A instead of plan B?
The longer I deliberated whether to stay or go, the more I panicked that I was failing by doing nothing and the more I felt myself slipping into a routine that I had tried so hard to avoid. Freelance work. Sorting out rent with my parents. Doing a lot of nothing
I’ll be honest and say that the last couple of weeks have pretty much been rock bottom, most likely amplified by the passing of the three-month deadline and my 27th birthday. This was not what I imagined for myself after three months back in the UK. This was not what I imagined for myself at 27.
I was punishing myself for not managing to find my dream job and create my dream life within this ridiculous time frame of December to March. I was so frustrated that I had chosen to come home – not just because I was listening to my head, but also because I was listening to my heart – yet, the more I leaned into a life back in the UK, the worse I felt.
‘Why are you back?’ was a question a friend asked me just a few weeks after Christmas. I smiled and talked confidently about my plans, but I was surprised to see that he didn’t seem convinced.
‘Why are you back?’ another friend asked a couple of weeks ago, seeing how down I’d let myself become.
‘I don’t know.’ I tearfully replied.
It wasn’t until this past week that I really started to understand.
You know that quote: ‘Do the thing that scares you’? It’s one that I always think of when I think of travel and I think it’s good advice to live by. But, do you know what scares me most? Living at home with my parents, working two jobs and sitting still for a while.
So, Amy, maybe that’s the exact thing you should do.
I’m beating myself up for being neither here nor there; not fully committed to being back in the UK, yet not ready to just give up and move abroad again on a whim. But, maybe this is exactly where I’m meant to be. Maybe I just need to be still for a while.
That’s where Pico Iyer comes in. A fellow travel blogger commented on previous post and told me that she related to what I was saying, offering up some words of wisdom. She gave me a link to the below TED Talk by Pico Iyer and it completely resonated.
It’s 14 minutes long, so I appreciate if you don’t have time to watch it all, but his speech pretty much articulates everything I want to say about being back. Not just all the stuff about redefining home – that’s a whole other discussion for another day and he’s bang on about that too – but, what he says in the second half about stillness.
Pico Iyer says that movement is nothing unless you can be still. Home doesn’t need to be a nation or a house or even a family. It can be somewhere where you can be still for a little while. Still so that you can collect your thoughts. Still so that you can plan your next move.
That’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s frustrating because I’m so used to moving around and my feet are itching like crazy, but it’s exactly what I need. It’s what I need to do in order to collect myself and my thoughts, before I can move on.
Then, regardless of what comes out of that process, at least I know I’m not making a decision on a whim. Only when you’re still can you really listen to what you want.
I’ve lived out of a suitcase. I’ve carried all my belongings on my back. I’ve hopped from country to country literally without a care in the world. I’ve loved it all, but if you move that fast and that often, sometimes you lose sight of what you’re doing it for.
So, girl, if you can do all that then you can spend a few months at home binge-eating British food and catching up on all the TV you’ve missed! You’ve earned it. More importantly, you need it. You have some figuring out to do.
Notice that the quotation marks have disappeared.
My adventures aren’t over just because I’m taking some time out to reassess. Moving around means nothing unless I am still, somewhere, sometimes, even if it’s just as a point of reference.
So, I’ve put on a lot of weight since I’ve moved back to the UK and with very good reason. British food is not an internationally beloved cuisine. In most large cities around the world, you may be able to find a decent pizzeria, Chinese takeaway or Irish pub.
But, you will never ever find a good chippy or a proper British pub outside the British Isles.
Since being back, I have really appreciated things like Cadbury’s chocolate, fresh bread and never being more than a five-minute drive away from a pie. Who ate all the pies? Uh, me. Definitely me. With pleasure.
Here are just a few of my favourite British dishes, shared here to educate the rest of the world about the delicious-ness that is Great British food:
While the rest of the world is obsessed with streaky bacon, give me two slices of grilled back bacon between two slices of white bread and a good dollop of ketchup any day. Read more
London has a reputation for being expensive and often with good reason. A standard cup of coffee will cost you a cheeky £3-4, one stop on the tube can go for as much as a fiver and a trip to St. Paul’s Cathedral will set you back eighteen of your English pounds! However, one redeeming factor is that there are hundreds of free museums in London.
Here are just a few of the free museums in London and why you should visit them:
Yep, I’ve turned into that girl who starts all her sentences with, ‘When I lived in Hong Kong…’ My room is filled with knick-knacks from places I can’t pronounce. I can give advice on jet lag, travelling with only a carry-on and finding cheap flights online. I can speak in different tongues. If you know me, you’re probably bored of my travel anecdotes.
If you don’t know me, I should prefix this post by stating that, up until three months ago, I lived overseas. I spent five years in Hong Kong, with a few intervals in Italy (because I like to be complicated like that). I never planned to leave the UK or live in other countries, especially for so long, but it just kind of happened. Read more