The Twelve-Week Challenge: Day 43

I know most of you will be expecting me to tell you that today my dissertation was finished, bound, and handed into one of the security guards at my university, who will have given me a stamped piece of paper back, confirming that the 10,000 little nightmares that have been haunting me the last two years is done.  Sadly, I cannot tell you that.

Nor can I ask you to give me a high-five: because in some fluke of events, I got it handed yesterday.

What should have happened today did not happen.  I cannot tell you why today the words failed to come, but they did.  And that has hurt me more than you will know.

Tomorrow I had intended to use my plane ticket to Shanghai, to go on a slightly-altered trip.  I had planned to spend 72 hours in China, the maximum I can stay without a visa, and then head to Singapore, and maybe Malaysia.  I had some crazy idea about a week ago that Singapore is the place I should go to; I can’t tell you why that either.  I think it has something to do with the fact there used to be UK air force bases there.  Somebody, somewhere in the world, at some time, must have told me they used to live in Singapore, and as such, it has always held an idea up to me as somewhere a British expatriate could go and live.

What I realised today, when the words to my dissertation’s introduction just wouldn’t form, not even with the help of Virginia Woolf, is that without my dissertation being handed in, I couldn’t physically go anywhere.  And the likelihood of that, at least before the time I was due to fly from Manchester International Airport tomorrow tea-time, was slim.

What I also realised, is that going to Singapore on a whim, is something that is just so me.  Like my doomed trip to LA in November 2011, where it was the beginning of the end of what should have been a straightforward degree, and my even-more doomed trip to Boston in February 2012, where I spent all my money on not seeing a great band, this holiday is ill-timed, ill-prepared and ill-advised.

I had hoped to be announcing, in this very blog, that having handed my dissertation in, I would be jet-setting off to Asia.  I think it is the thought of the exotic, the out-of-the-ordinary, the wanderlust of it all that makes me want to do such things.  But while I had friends, or friends of friends, in both China and Malaysia to meet, free accommodation and assistance with travel plans, I would have been leaving with less than £100 cash in my pocket, and nothing in my bank account, once I pay for my flight to Malaysia/Singapore.  I would have accessed £250 more cash on Tuesday, and maybe £150 more a week later from cheques that will have cleared, but if I’m completely honest, and I haven’t been, with myself or anyone, I have been worrying about the money side of things, both while I travel, and when I get back.  While the next instalment of my student loan, my maintenance loan, arrives the day after I’m due to set foot on English soil, I’m pretty sure I would be coming home with moth balls in my purse.

While the money side is just one issue, another is the lack of planning, or rather structure, to my trip.  Maybe it lacks structure because I haven’t been able to confirm my flights from China to Singapore.  And that is based not so much on money, but on getting my dissertation done.  And while I think two weeks in the Orient, most of it spent in the heat of Singapore, which, like music to the sound of my Seasonal Affective Disorder’s heart, lies just one degree away from the Equator (it is recommended for people who suffer with SAD to live within 30 degrees of the Equator), I’m just not ready for the stress of an unstructured trip.

But the thing that really got me, and I think is maybe the reason I called STA Travel and cancelled my flight, before I could change my mind, was that I just didn’t want to make this trip alone.  Even with the friends and friends of friends I would meet, I would be travelling alone, and having done so several times before, there is nothing lonelier in the world, than being somewhere in world alone.  And honestly, I couldn’t face that kind of isolation.

As I waited on hold for STA Travel, whose assistants were all helping other callers, I opened up YouTube and played California Dreamin’, by The Mamas and the Papas.  Feeling inspired to learn just why they were called that, I looked them up on Wiki, and having been inspired to find out more about their larger-than-life member, Cass Elliott, I then played Dream a Little Dream of Me, while reading more about her.  I learned that she died “happy” of a heart attack, at the age of 32, back in 1974, having played two sold-out solo shows at the London Palladium, and receiving standing ovations at both.

While she was hugely overweight, and had lost a huge amount of weight in the four months beforehand, due to four days a week of fasting, it is thought that this extreme weight loss technique is what contributed to her death.

Before each music clip, I’d been forced to watch an advert, which, although you have the option to skip after a few seconds, on this occasion I didn’t.  Both adverts were for Singapore.  One showed the things you can do in Singapore, to make you say ‘Shiok’, which means a feeling of sheer pleasure or high quality, and one showed what a great family holiday destination it was.  These were not your average YouTube video length clips, each must have lasted as long as the music videos did.  Everyone on that video was having so much fun (like they’re meant to on Tourist Board-induced adverts) and as I watched, I feared in my heart that I just wouldn’t have as much fun as I should have when I go on this trip.  And that meant I should not be going alone.

I’m not crazy enough to think it was a sign, I know those gremlins in your computer show you adverts based on what you’ve been looking at (thank god I hadn’t been looking at trips to watch grass grow, or it could have had a very different outcome).

Anyway, when I eventually got through to someone at STA travel, I just went right ahead and cancelled my flight, before I could change my mind.  I had enquired previously as to the possibility of getting a refund, or even changing the dates, but my cheap, student fare meant no changes, no refunds.  The best I will get is some of the tax back, and I’ve had an email from STA telling me they’ve applied for that.  Although, knowing that the tax is usually the most expensive component of any flight, I’m hopeful.

Since then, I’ve left my dissertation, had a short nap, and eaten Chinese Hot Pot with my housemates and two other Chinese friends.  Chinese Hot Pot is basically a huge, plug-in pot, full of water, to which is added meats, fish, tofu and vegetables and which cooks in front of you, and each diner just helps themselves.  It can last for up to five hours, although I usually get to around two before I’m totally full.  While my friends spoke in Chinese most of the time, they did translate for me, or question me about various things, ranging from UK history, to EU history, to Attila the Hun, to the origin of language and whether there are 50 million German people in the USA.  When asked whether Celtic is pronounced kel-tic or sel-tic, I couldn’t answer, and when I finally admitted defeat, to both the eating and the questions, I suggested that with anything else, they ask Google.

Chinese Hot Pot is always fun and it’s a great social event, but when you can’t understand the majority of the conversation, it just doesn’t quite have that ‘Shiok’ feel.  Which is what I realised that a trip to Asia right now would have been.  I know I would have had fun, I would have enjoyed it, but the opportunity for reflection and loneliness would have caused less enjoyment and more heartache on my part, something that not even 27 degrees centigrade (81 Fahrenheit) could ease.

After Hot Pot, I slept for a few hours, snoozing the Have You Blogged Today?! reminder that starts at 9pm and has been going off ever since, until I started writing this blog, which was about an hour ago (11:30am).

Tomorrow, well actually today, is a new day, and hopefully when I’m feeling less groggy from dozy sleep, I’ll get my dissertation finished, and handed in before Monday’s 4pm deadline.

I definitely will make a trip to China in the future, when Fen finally gets her visa.  And Singapore is definitely on my list now.  But it will be with friends.  I’m tired of travelling alone, and not having the fun I should have.  I want true Shiok.



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