I left Dali on 8th Dec and flew to Kunming and then onto Beijing. It was strange to be travelling alone after being together with Chris for so long. In Beijing, I was very fortunate to have people to stay with right in the heart of Beijing, and had a day to explore the vast city.
Beijing is huge, but quite similar to other big metropolis, lots of traffic, skyscrapers and the usual hustle and bustle, China style! I visited Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, which was interesting and I had fun using a disposable camera for the first time in years. It was also a lot colder than I realized and to the delight of the stall holders, I had no choice but to buy a pair of woolly, fleeced lined gloves.
I flew home to the UK the following day, via Moscow and landed back at Heathrow around 9.30am. Home!! Having been on a Russian flight for the last few hours, I still hadn’t heard anyone speaking English. As I entered the baggage area, two men in high vis jackets walked passed and I got to hear my first bit of English… which went something along the lines of “You’re such a c**k” with the unimaginative reply of “F*** off!” Ah home sweet home!
It was exciting and surreal to see my Mum and brother as they arrived at the airport. After such a long time away, it was so nice to see them again. This was followed later by my brother’s wife, my little nephew Joshua and my Dad. With champagne, a wonderful leg of lamb and roast potatoes to welcome me home, it was a very celebratory evening and we talked until late.
In addition seeing my family, the other reason for returning home was to work and earn some more cash to keep us going. I was very fortunate to have picked up some freelance work back at the BBC where I’d previously worked for 7 years. And I was starting in 3 days time! So with 2 days to get organized, I dashed to the hairdressers to sort out my rather neglected hair and return it to some sort of recognizable colour. This was followed by a sprint round the shops to find some clothes to wear (the entire contents of our house were in storage at Chris’s mums and I’d need to go and search for my belongings at some point). Having lost quite a lot of weight whilst being away, I was delighted to be buying size 10s again! So I returned feeling like I’d been on one of those makeover TV shows.
On Monday morning I went straight into an all day meeting and workshop in the centre of London, for the project that I had joined. And on Tuesday I headed to BBC Television Centre with a spring in my step. It had been 4 years since I’d left and I was excited to be back and see some familiar faces. Funnily enough I was working back on the same floor that I worked a few years ago and it all seemed pretty familiar. That said you still feel a buzz of excitement as you walk through Television Centre!
I was pretty shattered after that first week, travelling to work and being in an office all day isn’t as tiring as cycling but I did feel quite tired by Friday. My legs were stiff from sitting down all day and my eyes were twitching from looking at the screen all day. I’m definitely out of practice!
Other than that I found it pretty easy to slip back into ‘normal’ life. I guess I expected more of a culture shock, coming back. However perhaps because everything here is what I’ve always known and is so familiar, really, being away is still the stranger of the two. It’s a bit like meeting up with an old friend who you haven’t seen for a few years, and being able to pretty much pick up where you left off, like it was yesterday. I also think it’s easier to hit the ground running when you’ve been on the road for a while, because you are used to everything changing all the time and are constantly adapting to the environment and people around you. When you’ve been out of your comfort zone so much, it leaves you feeling quite versatile and able to go with the flow, without freaking out.
Despite feeling relaxed about being home, I do feel I have a heightened sense of awareness and appreciation for things. Being able to turn the tap on and drink the water without even thinking twice – what a luxury – after 9 months of having to boil, filter or treat water in order to drink it safely (or buy it), I certainly appreciate this simple, yet fundamental thing.
Stepping into a hot shower and standing under it for longer than you need to, or running a bath and soaking, just to enjoy the heat and luxury of it all. Yes we do have showers on our travels and hot water, but after camping for several days without washing, cycling in the heat with road dirt, sweat, mosquito repellent and sun cream all over you, a shower will always be one of those amazing luxuries that I won’t ever take for granted now!
It goes on… sitting on a sofa, rather than the floor, eating mash potato rather than rice, flicking a switch to boil water, rather than getting the stove set up, fresh milk instead of powdered (or none at all!), soft pillows, western, clean toilets (as the norm), cider, cadbury’s chocolate. I know these are all simple pleasures and creature comforts, but to me they are all heavenly and make me feel so lucky. We have so, so much here, we don’t realise how fortunate we are, to us it’s just normal.
It’s great being able to understand what everyone around you is saying and being able to talk to everyone. It’s also nice to be able to read road signs and newspaper headlines again!
Even though our roads are less chaotic than in Asia, I can’t help noticing how fast everyone drives. Whilst walking along the pavement one day, not long after I was back, I felt myself jumping every time a car went zooming passed. We drive fast and we accelerate quickly too – at the traffic lights it’s like the start of the Monaco Grand Prix! Despite the unpredictable nature of Asia’s roads, I think there is a lot of tolerance and acceptance of other types of road users (bikes, scooters, cows, goats, buses, pedestrians, gangs of kids, rickshaws, tuk tuks etc) and common sense prevails. Perhaps this simply reflects the difference in our pace of life?
On that note, I have noticed that I am inclined to take my time a bit more than before. Normally when I leave the tube and see the train I want, just pulling into the other platform, I run up the stars, leg it over the bridge, down the stairs and try to catch it, despite the crowds of people. If I miss it, I feel stressed and cross. However now I will try to catch it, but can’t help feeling that if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world I’ll just catch the next one. But I am aware than I’m not running at the same pace as most people living or working in London, this is only temporary!
Also the UK is really expensive, I mean, how did Crunchies end up costing 75p, just to be clear, that’s 75p for one crunchie?? Not to mention a single tube fare is £4.00, a pint of cider is £3.75, unleaded petrol is abut £1.30 a litre, even chocolate buttons costs about 65p and you only get about 10 in the packet! Scary stuff.
However, the thing I’ve found most challenging is being able to keep more than 7 or 8 things in my head at one time. I’m usually the kind of person who can remember 30 things at one and flit from one to the other with ease. I guess over the last 15 months I’ve had a lot of ‘head space’ and my mind hasn’t been filled with all the clutter and day to day stuff that you have to do here…. Buy present and card for baby, book dentist appointment, call bank, contact Julie, buy nikwax, read document, reply to emails, book train ticket, get petrol, go to meeting, meet for drinks here, call baby sitter, see friends on this date…blah blah blah… Not that we don’t have things to do on the road, we do of course, and we have lists. But most of these things are just jobs that we have decided to do and mostly things that only affect us, no one’s gonna care if we do them or not. So it appears that my brain has forgotten how to hold all these tasks and thoughts at the same time. Maybe it’s good thing, I certainly don’t feel stressed… or maybe it’s just makes me a space cadet!
One of the best things about being back is babies. Since we’ve been away 6 babies have been born: Felix, Harrison, Lucas, Marcus, Charlotte, and Freya, plus there are 4 little ones, Joshua, Katie, Amy and Harriet who were tiny babies when we left and they are now about 1 and a half years old. So I’m having lot of fun getting to know all these gorgeous little ones. Other friends are also pregnant, so it’s an exciting time to be back and wonderful to share a little of their lives whilst I’m here.
The hardest thing by far, is being away from Chris, after spending so much time together, it’s strange to be apart. However I think it’s good for us to have some time on our own and for us both to have chance to do our own thing and not have to always consider the other 24/7. Chris is relishing the challenge of some tough cycling and a solo experience; for me having time with friends and family is important, as well as having some normality, and I reckon I’ll be ready to carry on cycling soon enough.