What next…?

[Photo: tegalalang rice terrace, Bali from mine and Shelb’s travel this summer]

Planning for the future is a scary thing. Making decisions about your life is a terrifying concept. What if you make the wrong choice? What if you end up missing other opportunities due to the path you chose? It’s inevitable that you’ll always look back and say “Ow, I wish I could have been there for that.” Or “Damn it, I should have done this instead.” You can never cover all the bases that you wish to. You’re always going to have to choose one side of the coin. My coin currently has a few sides; it’s more like a triangular dice, or cute little (intimidating) cube…

A co-worker sat down with me the other day and discussed in great lengths her options and thoughts for the end of this academic year. It sounded exciting, adventurous, and fuelled with purpose and passion. I guess it helped that there was a love interest thrown in there to help aid and focus her attention, but still, she had a plan (vague as it was), and it could work [for her]. It was so easy for me to sit there and encourage her to follow this dream, to book the flights, to plan her trips. “Just do it!” I cried, “What have you got to loose!?”… Why is it so much easier for me to have that much faith and trust in someone else’s life and travel plan, than I have in my own? I have very little/no faith that the decisions I make at the end of this academic year will lead me to exactly where I’m supposed to be. I feel like I’m being torn across the globe. Pulled in all directions… I have to go there. I have to be back for this. I should think about that. I need to do it…

In all honesty, I feel selfish for what my thoughts and possible plans are. I can’t call them plans; they’re, at best, ideas. I know people repeatedly say “Your 20s are your selfish years. Do what you want. Go where you want. Be who you want.”… but I feel like I have to have some sort of structured plan right? Like, I don’t want to get to 29 and suddenly be like “Oh crap, I’ve had a great 8 years, but what now?! I’m not qualified to do anything; I’ve got no money to start my life. Is it time to whack out the old Maccies uniform and cap?!” I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, I feel like I’ve screwed up my chances of becoming a Medical or Clinical Photographer because I’ve had one year (the start of many I feel) out of photographic employment. Is that something I should be worrying myself about at the grand old age of 23? Probably not… “I’ve got plenty of time to start my career.” I keep telling myself. But it’s proving pretty hard to make myself believe it. However, I’m very good at playing ignorant.

Back in the days of MSN, I had a photo I used to use a lot, at the time I wasn’t really sure what it meant fully. It was a cartoon of the 3 Wise Monkeys with the words “Ignorance is bliss” around them. It really stuck with me, those 3 words have been ringing around my head for 10 years, and I think they’ve really played a part in who I’ve become and especially, how I handle situations. I’m not saying it’s the best advice in the world or the best quote to live by. In fact, it’s probably the opposite, but it works for me. Some people ask me how I’m able to throw myself off of bridges, out of cable cars, out of planes etc. How I’m able to just pick up and move to the other side of the world, this year, all on my own. Even over the summer, we had a Parker adventure day down in the mines of beautiful North Wales. We were hooked on by a couple of ropes and carabiners as we traversed the sides of internal cliffs, zip-lined across darkness, and abseiled down rock faces. A lot of people would happily take on this challenge, and love it. A lot of people wouldn’t even see it as a challenge. But others do. To others, it’s one of the most challenging and difficult things to overcome. Everyone has their own limits, but some people like to push those limits and see where they end up.  Whenever people ask me how I do some of the things that I do (not that I’m claiming they’re anything amazing or out of the ordinary) I always give them those three little words: Ignorance is bliss. If I just ignore the big fall to the sheer rocks underneath me, I could bloody well skip-hop-and-a-jump across the decaying and falling apart tracks suspended in the caverns. If I’m ignorant to the dangers or things that could go wrong, if I put all my faith in the rubber bands attached to my feet and harnesses around my hips, I’ll 100% jump off into oblivion for a laugh. I literally get through life ignoring all the things that could go wrong, that have gone wrong, and the big things that could get in the way of an easy life.

Now, I know that may seem a little contradictory with my move and life in China. China isn’t a place to go if you want an easy run of the mill everyday life. But, it kind of is… I made the decision to stay in China and move to a different city on my own, because I wanted a challenge. Last year was great, don’t get me wrong, but it was easy. Life in Suzhou and Dulwich was not hard. I didn’t feel challenged… I had an amazing time, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, there are even times when I miss Suzhou and my life there, but, I made the choice to make things “harder” for myself; to take on something new and see how I manage. Now, I know it’s only December, and I’ve only been here in this end of China for 113 days (as of Thursday 15th), but I’m actually coping pretty damn well, enjoying it even!  I mean, thank god right. How awful would it be if I’d moved here, struggled like mad, and hated every second… My family would have been begging me to come home and probably booked me a flight out of here if I’d have been that miserable. The two main challenges I took on at the end of August were:

  1. Moving away to live on my own and make a new life for myself.
  2. Becoming a teacher with close to zero experience.

So far, I think I’m not just coping, but fully embracing and enjoying myself with the 1st one. I’ve not done anything crazy or made any big life changes, but it’s definitely a nice feeling to have a little place to call my own, be completely in control of my own daily life, even the small things like buying a new tea-towel or something for my apartment makes me so happy: A– because I’m spending money, and shamefully that makes me pretty damn happy. B– because it’s for my place. I know that Worlda are technically the ones renting it, and I’m just a squatter in there until the end of my contract, but it feels amazing to invite people round to my apartment, filled with my things. And it’s even better when people compliment my teeny place on how colourful and homey it feels.

Number 2. Becoming a teacher with close to zero experience. This one I actually didn’t give much thought to before I boarded the plane back in August as I thought I was just going to be a white face to play with the kids at a small local Kindergarten in southern China. Turns out I’m a proper ESL Teacher to 46 Chinese kids, teaching them English for 20 lessons a week (nothing by proper western teaching standards I know, but not bad for a rookie). The first few weeks I was pretty terrified every day before I stepped up in front of all their little (not so little) faces at the front of the class and taught my lessons. Now though, now I’ve fully learnt their names, know their personalities, gained some respect, and got into the swing of things, I actually enjoy it (for the most part). And hopefully, I’m not that bad at it either. My kids did pretty damn good (all but a very small handful) on their recent tests, and I couldn’t be prouder of them, and, I guess, of me too. I’m not taking any credit for their amazing scores, they’ve all (mostly) worked really hard and tried their best, but, they have to have some guidance right?

Anyway, this post isn’t about me blowing my own trumpet, which it seems to have done a fair few times already, so I’ll move onto what I was supposed to be writing about… My (possible) future plans. As I said, I like to challenge myself, push myself past my comfort zone; see how far I can go. And so far, this year hasn’t been as tough as I’d expected [hoped]. So what’s the next challenge I want to throw myself into? Do I move to a different country and try a year living and working there? Do I head home and face the struggles that would bring? Or do I stick around this end of the world for a little while longer, no job, no plan, no home, just me and a backpack…?

For a short while I had decided that my rough plan was to head to Taiwan for a semester or two and make a little (short) life for myself there. It still freaks me out to image myself living somewhere or doing something for over a year, I just don’t feel ready for that kind of commitment just yet, unless of course it was something incredible (again, like Clinical Photography…). So, Taiwan was an option for a short while, no I’ve never been, but I’ve met quite a few people who have worked, lived or visited there and only have positive things to say. So that was one possible option in my mind. Another was to move back to the UK and pursue my chance of a career or gain experience in Clinical Photography. That probably scared me more than any other thought that came into my head. So I quickly stored it away for a later date… again, ignorance is bliss and all that.

I think in a previous blog post I laid out my ideal 2 year plan which is very structured and focused (if not then here’s a quick recap: another year of international living, few months of travel right after, back to Wales, get a crappy job while gaining experience in the Clinical Photography Dep, and be home for wedding prep and celebrations.) I got told by a good friend that that plan was putting too much pressure on me; it’s too solid, too perfect. I’m torn, I mean I agree, but, isn’t there the classic saying of “Shoot for the moon, even if you fall you’ll land in the stars.” So surely it’s better to have a really good ideal plan, and use it as a focus, and then, I can veer off when I need or see fit. Let’s throw another quote in here: Plans are made to be changed.

I’ve lost my train of thought yet again… I’ll finally get to the point that made me start tapping away at my keyboard. I’ve decided I need to travel. Like, proper travel, not just live abroad and have mini holidays away when I can. I want to live in hostels, meet other people from all over the world, jump from place to place, have amazing experiences, and if not now, then when? The only thing holding me back from this epiphany I had today, is money. Money is always the issue right? But I remember saying over and over “I want to travel, but work somewhere, earn money, move on, that kind of travel” as a teenager. When did I stop with that dream? I lost it along the way somewhere, but its back. I’ve been doing research on travelling for a couple of months around South East Asia, and most places say to budget yourself roughly £2000 for 2 months, not including flights. I can’t see me having that kind of cash just lying around spare, ever, let alone by July 2017. So, if I really want to do this, if I really want to travel (at least) Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and maybe more of Malaysia and Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan etc. then I’m going to have to find a way to fund myself along the way.

This is something that, the more I’ve researched and thought about (today), I’ve got more and more excited/terrified at the thought of actually doing this… Sure there are logistics I’d have to work out closer to the time: how will I get all my luggage home? Will I need to take my laptop? How will my camera cope with travel and life on the road? And so much more… But, right now, I’m feeling pretty good about this possible challenge/adventure. Image: me, Charlie Parker, backpack and camera, hopping on flights, night trains, horrendously long bus journeys, getting more and more stamps in my passport, venturing off alone around South East Asia, meeting so many new people in hostels, experiencing new cultures, seeing more incredible things… Crazy right? But I think I need to do it.

So, that’s where my head is at right now. Finish this academic year in Country Garden School, complete my one year contract with the shitty company that is Worlda, and then pick up and go… Terrifying, yet so bloody exciting. Who knows, I might change my mind in the next few months, or even few days, but we’ll see… Right now, I’m going to focus on getting to the end of this semester, and planning my Chinese New Year trip (which I’ve still yet to do… about a month until its here). Wish me luck folks…

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