My aunt had to teach me how to wrap a scarf around my neck again some weeks ago. Yup, I’m back in England.
Hopped on the bus at Wilmslow Road, jumped off for uni at Oxford Road, then went past Oxford Street for a night out later on. Wilmslow Road, Oxford Road, Oxford Street. The name changes along the way, but it’s one main road down the centre of Manchester, that I used to zoom up and down every single day. This is where I spent my first two years of uni.
Familiarity is a hell of a thing. Routine, comfortable and easy…but unstimulated. I didn’t notice it until I decided to leave England to do my year abroad (“decided”…my brother told me I had no choice and that I had to do it). Yes, I went through the first few lonely/awkward weeks…like every other exchange student who felt the same even if they didn’t show it. But the people I met and the places I went, no matter how short-lived they were, have really left something special with me.
I started to understand my life as a journey (no cheesy-ness intended). Being approached by a Muslim man in a Singapore mosque one Saturday, having a 2 hour conversation with him, finding out he had recently read the book I was reading, and tearing up together after relating in ways I cannot really put into words. Just tiny realisations and guidance in the direction I wanted to take my life.
I had friends for a single semester that I feel closer to than people I’ve now known for more than three years.
My Pakistani-Canadian hip-hop/dancehall loving flatmate (Hi Oomz)
My American-Chinese-Spanish seesta (Hi Chigga)
My ‘sneak into Yale NUS library after closing hours’ study buddies (Hi Pedro, Tom and Sandu)
My Israeli soon-to-be bride (Hi Shimmy)
My openminded Thursday night dinner date (Hi Reynard)
My Jamaican family!! (Hi RoJay, Alexia, Juan and Emma)
My Llaollao regulars (Hi Claire, Kristin and Edu)
…and soooo many more that I have not and will not forget. My friend, who was also on exchange in Singapore (Hi Paul), put it perfectly the other day. He said the people he met there were more interested in the ‘Why’ rather than the ‘What’.
I’ve settled back into Manchester life, zooming up and down Oxford Road again. But this time I understand that familiarity will only keep me unstimulated if I allow it to.
I had this longing to travel alone the entire time I was in Singapore. I didn’t know exactly why while I was there, but looking back at it now, I do. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to understand my weird thoughts, feelings, habits and overall myself. I found that being alone and feeling completely comfortable with it was important, because then I could be more aware of what was happening within and without me. I remember putting myself in some uncomfortable situations and just sitting back and soaking up the awkwardness. Little things that would reeeeally take up my headspace before, slowly started to vanish and I felt a little more at peace.
And so I decided I wanted to explore Vietnam alone! 🙂 The trip started with three other friends up North, in Sapa…
Was surprised my giraffe legs could fit in the sleeper bus
Me and my sista from another mista
No electricity…everything felt so simple
And no wifi…just some plastic chairs, pretty views of the rice paddies and a dog that kept trying to bite us
After getting fresh produce from the market (there was no fridge to store food) and wood to start the fire
It hurt my heart to turn down some jerk chicken at a Jamaican cook-up the other day. Almost 5 months vegetarian! Had no idea this was actually going to happen over here.
It all started Christmas 2015 when I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy. So many people think (and I thought) that the only reason to go vegetarian/vegan is for ethical or health reasons. But every time I ate chicken, pigs, cows, and the eggs, milk and cheese that come from them, I was supporting the biggest contributor to climate change and global warming. It’s all the water, land and energy that firstly go into growing food for them, and then raising enough of them to feed us milk, butter, eggs, sausage and bacon for breakfast, then more meat and dairy for lunch and dinner. But too much money is in it. So governments and big corporations continue to hide it from us. I stopped eating meat at home in Manchester, but continued to have that juicy beef burger on my girly lunch dates at TGI Fridays.
It felt weird not being home for Christmas for the first time, but I had a little piece of Jamaica here with me. Mommy and Daddy Hall travelled 36 hours to visit!
I’m kinda lost for words, so I thought I’d use a few of the 1500 pictures we took to help 🙂 (Thank you NUS for the November exams and allowing me to have a holiday, instead of having to study for January exams)
First stop: Bangkok, Thailand
Thai lady praying in a temple
The most peaceful temple I’ve been to. We just sat and listened to little bells blowing in the wind.
Fried insects in Chinatown
Exploring more of Chinatown. For the entire holiday, locals would look from Daddy, to Mommy, to me, trying to understand us as a mixed race family.
I forgot what living in a hot country was like. Though I did come prepared with my deodorant, specially recommended by a Jamaican woman in a supermarket back home. Gone are the simplicities of living in the UK: not having to shave my legs, wearing tops more than once and showering once a day. (I sound so unhygienic, but I promise I’m not.)
But my goodness, life here has been sweet.
Reality kinda hit when Week 1 officially started and I thought, “Oh yea, I came here to study.” Unlike a lot of exchangers, my grades matter 100%. I am taking two 6 credit modules (basically very time demanding research/hands on projects) and overall the maximum number of credits possible. Then, my single bedroom apartment with other exchangers was finally ready, WOOO!!! Only to find it was three PhD students from China, Philippines and Vietnam.
It’s so easy to get caught up in this ‘exchange student bubble’. Sticking to what’s familiar, and not realising the value of the people and even the work culture. (They can get a lil crazy though. I remember coming back from a party at 4am, going to the 24 hour Starbucks and finding a good number of locals doing work. Bear in mind this was before the semester started.)
But my situation has really encouraged me to dig deeper into my relationships with locals and other Asians. The five Singaporean guys in my Design group are COOL. Chatted away with a Chinese girl in my Dissertation group and we’ve planned to have lunch on Friday. Actually, in the middle of writing this, my Vietnamese flatmate knocked on my door to invite me to her little birthday get together in the living room (got some yummy pumpkin cake just as my late night cravings started 🙂 )
I admire so many of the exchange students I’ve met and will continue to travel and explore with them, but ya never know..maybe I’ll be studying late at Starbucks one night with a local friend 😉
I’m a real softy when it comes to goodbyes. You’d think that after leaving my parents at the age of 11 to go to high school in another parish and then leaving Jamaica at the age of 18 to go to university in the UK, I’d toughen up. But this morning, I teared up AGAIN as I said goodbye to my sweet Jamaica (It’s only because my family and I ended up doing a cute group hug 🙂 ).
This blog post was supposed to be my “Pre-Departure Thoughts,” but to be honest I had none. I’ve been so distracted by my one month au pairing in Valencia, immediately followed by an entire week of celebrations for my sister’s wedding in Jamaica (my shortest stay at home).