Saturday, September 10, 2011

Homecoming In A Strange Land

I always knew that four months would pass quickly - in the same way I know that even the best birthday party will hold some kind of disappointment. I watched the pages of my diary turn and didn't even wonder where the time was going. I knew that too. It went to Ho Chi Minh and blue/white beaches, chicken noodle soup, scooters without insurance, museums, ancient jars and tubes in rivers, questionable shakes, monks in orange, thirty cent pad thai, trekking and elephants, shark fishing, beach huts, tree top walks, rum parties, ping pong, Muslim dry cleaners and Portuguese settlements and Chinatown. From my first photo in April to the last one in August I have discovered more about the constant state of travel than I ever thought possible and my time on the road was minuscule compared to what others commit themselves to. I've said goodbye to one home and been welcomed by another and passed through many places I could happily settle but the hardest part is just beginning. With my masters at Edinburgh fast approaching and no return to Australia in sight I wonder how I'll adapt to such a normalised routine. People ask me what travelling was like but no one wonders what it was like to stop.

There are a number of discomforts involved with long-term travel, particularly in countries with overwhelming heat. Living out of one bag, wearing the same misshapen clothing, consistently losing belongings and being ripped off by lying travel agents and tour guides – it's a certain kind of person who can stay positive under such circumstances. I wasn't blessed with a great amount of patience and by the third month of backpacking I could feel my fingers slipping from the edge. Perhaps if I hadn't been confined to a very slim daily budget I'd have found more ways to ease the discomfort but I don't think the solution is that simple. Money can only get you so far and no amount of cash will help you sleep better in a mosquito infected room. What got me through was remembering that, as D:Ream says, things can only get better: there would be a day when I wouldn't have to empty my twenty litre backpack to find one pair of socks; it'd be possible that I could wake up in the morning without swimming in my own sweat; when I wanted fresh milk in my tea I wouldn't have to choose between UHT or sickly sweet condensed; and never again would my gender forbid me from adventure.

These desires sound simple enough but the more I think about arriving in Scotland the more I realise that I'm just swapping one unknown for another. I've lived many years in the UK but the last eighteen months of my life has been spent in Asian countries. I've adapted to a way of living that doesn't exist outside Asia and the habits I've formed have to be replaced with old ones long unused. It's like relearning a language once half-known. I've always felt a piece of me has lingered on the shores of Old Blighty - exactly what this piece is eludes me. Memory? Homesickness? Remaining friendships? Am I really only anchored by the physical remnants of my various homes? Perhaps I should split my return to the West into physical and spiritual halves. After all, where in the world I feel connected is more often than not completely separate from where I actually. I would often climb onto the roof of my apartment in Korea, look out over the red and yellow street lights, and miss the huge green of England's air. I've made no secret out of my love for Korea but the spiritual spark just wasn't there. I suppose that's the risk you take when you refuse to accept your life in one place. All those lovely things you lose until you return. Lucky for me my destination has pubs so ridiculously named they could have been chosen by sleep deprived gorillas.

Lara is living in Edinburgh with a sleep deprived gorilla. His name is East.


  1. "I would often climb onto the roof of my apartment in Korea, look out over the red and yellow street lights, and miss the huge green of England's air"

    So you went to Scotland because you missed England? :P

  2. Scotland is a hell of a lot closer than Korea. And admittedly, England doesn't have an Edinburgh University.