The old inspiration daze

To write with reckless abandon like days gone by. Inspiration in the form of Murakami words floating up off the page and becoming entangled with the musical notes of Arcade Fire, creating a dance upon the metro as you raced home to eat peanut butter smothered on crackers in your cold-tiled apartment. You were younger then, more uninhibited. Your voice was yet to be discovered, but the one you used back then was perhaps better, funnier.

Let’s go back to that time. To days spent in a sensory overload. Days where everything was new and exciting and overwhelming, with a hint of naivety, a touch of spontaneity. Long, lost days of navigating a city for the very first time. Rushing through crowds with a beating heart and a grin, drinking beer by a lake with people from all around the globe. Eating ten dumplings every night at 10pm and two chocolate pies for breakfast every day at 8am.

If only it were that easy. To see everything through a fresh pair of rose-tinted spectacles. To ignore the ‘China Days’, the China haze, the daze that sets you on a whirlwind of complaining that spirals and spirals until you snap in half. There is a reason you came here six years ago and a reason you are still here. Let’s remember what charmed you. The smiles of curiosity at this funny foreign girl who manouevers the streets like someone from outer space. The way you can buy the freshest fruit of the season from a basket outside your house. That tea is the coffee of the day, cartoons the news. A language that feels like a game you might possibly win as words bubble to the surface and slip out, words you could never have imagined you’d be able to formulate, never mind remember and converse in. The ping-pong battle of loving and hating this place and loving it again, day in and day out. It’s like one giant labyrinth of challenges, adventures and discoveries around each and every corner.

It is that easy. All it takes is writing down a few things you feel grateful for. The reasons this place has been your home for six years and still is. Writing. That’s the key. Never stop expressing your gratitude for crazy, chaotic China and everything it has brought your way. A job you love, a new fascinating language and culture that you will never stop learning from, a fateful encounter with the one you love, friends from all around the world, and many other things, the big one being inspiration.

Take that inspiration and turn it into something more. Let it take shape, take flight and flutter out to land upon the heads of others, maybe igniting a tiny spark of inspiration in them too.

Watermelons and Positivity

Watermelons rattle and rumble in the back of trucks on every corner of every street. Competition is fierce and with a quick ‘knock knock’, the winner of the watermelon wars can be identified pretty quickly. That’s when you know you can trust a fruit seller. The simple techniques they use to distinguish the good from the bad. A sniff here, a shake there, and you’ve got the best apples in town. They care. They want you to enjoy their fruit so they’ll go the extra mile to ensure you get the best of the best. That’s why it’s nice to buy local. Fruits of the season from the fruit bearers themselves. It’s all well and easy to hop into Walmart for a bunch of grapes or a conveniently-chopped up pineapple, but where did they come from exactly? Don’t you want something fresher?

I love China for that reason. Well, as long as they’re not using too many pesticides that is. You can live your life here according to what fruits are in season. Right now it is most definitely watermelon season and I am positively devouring them on a daily basis. For some reason this fruit talk reminds me how easy it to forget where you are and how different your life is from the one you grew up living. When I was a kid, I could never have opened my front door and had my every sense overwhelmed in the way I do now. I kind of love the way you can just buy fruit from the back of trucks and freshly-baked bread from two Uyghur people who have set up a mini mobile bakery under the trees near my office. Once they’re done baking, they take turns sleeping in a hammock. They have been there for years and I love crossing the bridge and knowing that I’m getting closer as the sweet, salty scent of the baking bread wafts up to rest on the end of my nose.

Sometimes when you think about something, it just happens. This past week I think I started to feel a bit isolated from people here. I have decided to start revising all my old Chinese that I might have forgotten so that I can start having more deep and meaningful conversations again. I also thought how much of a pity it is that we often sit next to people and shove our faces into our phones instead of making eye contact or striking up a conversation. On Monday I was on the bus on my way to yoga and I really wanted to read my book. The man next to me started asking me the usual questions in Chinese such as ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you do here?’ etc. I politely replied, but then not so politely pulled out my book and stuck my nose in. I felt guilty but at the same time, I wasn’t really in the mood for chatting to a stranger.

And that is our big problem as humans. Back in the day, I’m pretty sure we would have been happy to talk to anyone. We were more community-focused, more dependent on our neighbours and fellow human beings. Nowadays we’d rather talk to our ‘friends’ who live in our phone. I don’t like this. So on Wednesday night after yoga when I hopped off the bus and saw a guy who lives in the same building as me, I immediately smiled and walked over to him, and without even asking I just walked home with him and asked him how he’s doing? What does he do here? Does he feel happy? etc etc. I could have just nodded my head in acknowledgement and continued on my merry way, and believe me, the introvert inside me was screaming for me to do this, but I decided to take the opportunity to be more friendly and isn’t that how we make friends anyway? By stepping out of our comfort zones, approaching people and recognizing that they too, are a human, just like you, and they deserve to be given a chance to become more than a mere stranger.

I think this is a chain effect, because as I turned the corner out of my apartment complex today, I found myself walking directly next to an elderly Chinese man. I’m talking synchronized walking, step for step, exact same pace. I actually admitted to myself that this felt pretty funny and I looked at him to see if he had noticed this too. Before I even had time to catch his eye, he had struck up a conversation. And that is how I found myself walking to the bus stop today with a total stranger, chatting about life and work and the differences between China and Scotland. As I neared the bus stop, I said bye and have a nice day! I may never meet this person again, but it sure was nice to know that not all humans are cold and unfriendly. Of course, I’m not totally naïve here. I know it may have purely been because I am a foreigner and he was just curious, but hey, it’s better than nothing. And afterwards, I spotted a colleague on the bus and said good morning, and then I though to myself, wow! Even in such a bit city you can still build a little community and feel like you really belong, no matter your age or gender or where you come from.

Here’s to more talking and laughing with strangers that may become friends, to more positivity, and of course…more watermelons.

Happy Weekend!

Love,

Luna

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 Image by the talented Chhuy-ing.

You are more than your accomplishments

Curled up in a cosy little huddle around the coffee table, we listened intently as Maggie chattered away, a sparkle in her eye and a genuine smile upon her face. When our director Tre told us that Margaret (Maggie) Edson had replied to his email and agreed to Skype with us all, I thought he was pulling our leg. Why would a Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright want to Skype with a group of random actors in Shenzhen, China? Well, probably because she is one of the kindest, most down-to-earth people I have ever had the chance to meet (if meeting over Skype counts). For some reason when we think of someone famous who has won prestigious awards we more often than not assume that they have no interest in speaking to the little people (us). Why would we think in this way? As I ran into the room and plopped down on the floor, cross-legged, Maggie immediately greeted me and it was with real interest that she asked me questions, not just out of nicety. She remembered all of our names and she listened to our questions and thoughts intently. She seemed as happy as we were to have this unique opportunity to discuss her play and the production we put on of it. It felt like talking to an old friend, someone we had known our whole lives. Everything she said, regarding both the play and real life, really hit me hard. This woman is wise I tell you. So wise. I couldn’t stop smiling and nodding along with everything she said. And she is funny! I may have laughed a lot during the ninety minutes that we all chatted. Now I feel more inspired than ever and I wanted to share a few things that she talked to us about because I feel that these are things we all need to acknowledge.

Firstly, we need to slow down. I mean, really slow down. This is particularly important in our modern-day technology-fueled ‘go go go’ lifestyle. We never stop. We wake up, go to work, work all day, go home, sleep, and then we do it all again. We say ‘yes’ to everything. We fill up our schedules until they are positively bursting at the seams with both work and social engagements. It’s almost like we’re scared to stop, scared to stop ticking things off a list of never-ending activities. Why must we do something every single night after work? What’s wrong with going home, cooking a delicious meal, climbing into bed and reading until we drift into sleep? Nothing. There is nothing wrong with that, and yet still we inject our lives with such chaos, until before we know it, we are having an absolute meltdown. This is very true for Shenzhen. Living in such a young city filled with budding entrepreneurs, this city is our playground. We are the generation that has been put in charge of creating and developing the image and future of this baby city. And we don’t know when to stop. We can’t stop. We are addicted to accomplishing things. We work full-time, we party full-time and still, we are hungry for more. One more business plan, one more TV commercial, one more drink.

Well, this past weekend I realised enough is enough. After a magically-inspiring but busy week of performing ‘Wit’ every night, I decided that this weekend was ‘my’ weekend. I told the TV commercial people I needed to rest. I sold my ticket for the music festival I’d been so excited to attend. I ran to the supermarket and stocked up on all my favourite foods. I lit my candles and pulled out my fairy lights to create a more Christmasy mood. I played relaxing music, watched movies, read a lot. I didn’t go anywhere until Sunday night when it was time to Skype Maggie and it was probably the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in a long time. But I need to admit something…

I felt guilty. Should I have gone to the music festival even though I was tired and it was raining heavily? What about the TV commercial people? Had I let them down? Maybe I should be writing instead of watching movies? I better go outside and exercise a bit.

Those were the thoughts than ran through my mind continually. Then it struck me. Have we actually forgotten how to slow down, how to relax? What happened to us that made us want to accomplish so much? All I accomplished this past weekend was some much-needed rest, and let me tell you, I feel happier than ever. I woke up smiling. My skin has a glow again. My head isn’t so fuzzy and my heart feels inspired. Maggie told us that she currently has an elderly relative staying with her at the moment and she was intrigued to watch this older lady just doing nothing. Just sitting in an armchair with the cat on her lap. And yet, she looked so content. Content doing nothing. I believe that is something our generation have no idea how to do. We do yoga. We meditate. We sleep in on the weekends. But do we really ever fully relax? Is there a way that we could somehow remind ourselves that it is totally OK to just lie on our beds and stare into space. To sit against a tree in the park and read our books without having to run to catch a bus, a train. To engage in a real conversation with someone without checking our phones or letting our minds drift. Seriously, we need to revert back to a slower-paced life if we want to strive for what we’re all really looking for- that of happiness. We think that if we fast-track that new business of ours we’ll be happy. If we drown ourselves in a decade of debt just so we can have the latest, fanciest car we’ll have found what it is we’re looking for. Goals are gold. We should have goals. But they should not consume us to the extent that they do. As Maggie so kindly reminded us all yesterday, “you are more than your accomplishments.”

She is right. You, me, we are so much more than the sum amount of all that we’ve achieved in our lives so far. I am so proud of all that I’ve accomplished in my mere 28 years on this planet, and yet do you know what I am more proud of, or at least should be more proud of? Who I am. For being a kind, caring, compassionate human being. For always being honest and never harming anyone else. For being able to feel and in return, express these feelings, and for that making me who I am. For all my flaws and quirks, because they are unique to me. When I die one day (sorry, but come on, we all will die eventually. Wit reminded me of that, and we shouldn’t be scared), noone is going to remember me for the things I’ve accomplished, the gifts I bought them, the houses I owned, the countries I travelled to, the bicycle I rode. They are going to hopefully remember me because of the relationships I created and allowed to flourish. For being a real friend, an ear that was always ready to listen, a shoulder that was ready for any tears or laughter that came its way. For loving unconditionally and making people smile. For inspiring, if only for a second. These are the things I hope I am remembered for and the things you may also hope to be remembered by. Achieving amazing things in one’s life is awesome, but loving other human beings, laughing so hard you snort, watching little humans you brought into the world grow and blossom into big kind human beings, that is what matters. Relationships, with both yourself and others, and of course the world around you. Nurture those, instead of your greedy little materialistic desires.

Wit. A play that at first glance seems so full of arrogance and an overwhelming urge to want more knowledge, more recognition, is actually a play about kindness, about the human touch. Once you push all that 17th century metaphysical poetry aside and really engage with what is going on under all those complicated big words, you will notice a vulnerability, a gentleness that is buried within all of us. And sometimes it takes something like dying to let that out. Vivian Bearing is a professor who spends her life buried knee-deep in a pile of John  Donne books. Then she gets cancer. And who is there to comfort her? Well, noone actually, because she spent so much time and energy on John Donne papers that she never truly formed a real relationship with another human being. Thank goodness for the character I played- Susie, the nurse, or we might have all left the theatre in an even bigger pile of tears. Susie brings that element of kindness back into Vivian’s world. It was always there, lurking in the shadows of all that poetry and philosophy, and yet she couldn’t quite see it. E.M Ashford (her professor in university, a wise, kind woman) tried to instil it in her, but in that moment all she cared about was gaining more knowledge.

Moral of the story? It’s perfectly OK to follow your path in life, to ignite that passion within you, but please never lose sight of who you really are- that of a human being with a heart made to love and spread kindness wherever it goes. When you’re on your death bed strive to spend your last days surrounded by the people you love and who love you back, because those thesis papers and contracts and business plans sure as hell won’t be keeping you company. That’s not to say that success in what you love isn’t important too, but it’s all about finding a balance. Sign that contract, but at the same time turn your phone off on sundays and take your kids out for ice-cream in the park. Hold meetings all day and write until your hands might fall off, but at night have dinner with your loved ones and really listen to what it is they’re saying. Slow down and enjoy all of those little moments because they are so much more meaningful than anything else will ever be. Those are the moments that will flash across your mind. The faces of your loved ones, the way they sounded when they laughed, the smell of lavender growing in your garden, the taste of birthday cake.

Thank you Maggie for not only writing an incredibly, insightful play that struck such a chord within us, that brought a diverse group of talented people together from all around the world, but also for reminding us that we are far more than our accomplishments add up to. We are human beings and we are capable of the most magical thing in the world- kindness.

Let’s all slow down, be kind and learn to really appreciate life again.

Love,

Luna

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All the world’s a stage

The way your heart thumps in your chest, pumping blood through your veins so fast that you can feel it pulsing in your ears and prickling your eyes. Suddenly you have no saliva and every hair is standing on end. Your eyes are wide and bright and there are swarms of butterflies tickling every part of you. As you walk towards the stage every sense is heightened. Your heart beats so loud you imagine every audience member can hear it. But it doesn’t matter because you can’t see them. They are a blur. Then once you get on stage they disappear entirely. The thumping subsides and everything slows down and you are there. In the moment. In a parallel world, not so far from your normal world, and yet at the same time so, so far away. All those lines you thought you would forget, all the audience faces you imagined would distract you, all the bright lights you felt might blind you, all of this just dissolves and there you are, in a hospital, and you have a job to do. You are no longer Siobhan Lumsden or Joseph Lambert or whoever else. Who are those people anyway? Forget them. Now you are Susie Monahan and you have a very sick patient to care for. You are Mr Bearing and you have a very curious, intelligent daughter on your hands. You are Vivian Bearing and you are dying of cancer and it is one hell of a journey you are all about to undergo. Action!

It’s hard to explain how I first knew. I think I was nine years old, but it could have been earlier. I was in primary school and once a week a colourful-clad, bubbly old lady with wild white hair would come to our gym/ dining hall/ assembly room/ concert hall and teach us this thing called ‘drama’. I remember the first time she asked me to stand up with a boy in my class and ‘pretend’ to have an argument over who stole the football. Pretend? OK, I thought, I can do that. I do that all the time with my sister. We are always playing make believe games. And so I did it. I felt shy to stand up there in front of everyone but the minute the teacher said “OK, you can begin…”, I didn’t even hesitate. I forgot who I was and suddenly all I wanted to know was why this little boy had stolen the football and why did he think it was OK to do such a thing? From that day onwards, I was hooked. I joined private drama lessons after school. I told everyone that when I grow up I want to become an actress. My granny laughed at me. She said my imagination is too active, and I better not make it even more so. She told me to read books, become a nurse (oh, but granny, I am a nurse now…well, at least in the play!) or a lawyer, and forget this ‘drama malarky’.

But I couldn’t just forget.

I absolutely thrived from being up on stage. I wasn’t and still am not, one of those overly-loud, limelight seekers. I don’t crave attention. I’m actually quite shy and introverted. I abhor competition. But despite all of this, I still absolutely love acting. I think some people think to be an actor you need to be a show-off, someone who likes prancing about on stage or in front of a camera, ‘pretending’ to be someone you’re not. Well, as I soon came to discover, acting isn’t about ‘pretending’. It goes much deeper than that. Those raw emotions, those traits that make a character who he or she is, that takes work. You can’t just turn it on at the flick of a switch. Well you can, but not if you want to really ‘feel’ that character. You have to dig a lot deeper, create a life for this person who is in no way or shape ‘you’. It’s very intuitive work, especially if you want to create the most realistic, vivid portrayal of your character for the audience, which is of course what we should all be aiming to do. There is nothing like being in an audience and being swept along on the journey with the actor, where you forget that it’s your friend up there, and instead you float along with the flow of the action and sometimes forget where you are- in a plastic, yellow chair in a chilly theatre in Shenzhen, China. For a second there, you might have thought you really were right in the centre of a cancer centre.

That’s really what it’s all about, for both the audience and the actors, for everyone involved. Creating another world that is so realistic that you actually forget for a little while that it’s not real. Or is it real? It’s a blurry line. A space where emotions jump from actor to audience and are fully absorbed, inspiring within both a chance to learn something, to feel something they might never have felt before or to acknowledge a part of them that they didn’t know existed. It’s about putting yourself out there, flying that flag of vulnerability and hopping out of your comfort zone. Simultaneously, it’s about feeling safe, knowing that no one is there to judge you. It’s a very intimate moment- the one between an actor and their audience. If you’re not breaking the fourth wall, you want to blur them out, but you also want to soak up their energy and spread yours, fueling the performance into the most ultimate experience.

There’s a difference between performing and being. Which do you want it to be? The one where you pop a stethoscope around your neck and perform as a doctor. Or the one where you pop a stethoscope around your neck and become a doctor. Nine times out of ten, it’s the latter of course. If you don’t believe you’re a doctor, how can you expect a theatre full of people to believe you. That applies to life in general too. You have to believe in yourself first and foremost if you expect to have other people believe in you too.

When we first began this journey of ‘Wit’ written by Margaret Edson, directed by Tre Tennyson, Tre invited us over to his apartment for a first read-through of the play. High above the city in his New York style apartment, we sat in a circle around his coffee table and we read the play out loud from start to finish. Afterwards we started working independently on developing our characters where we embarked on answering a series of questions set by Tre. These ranged from talk about a memory your character will never forget about his or her parents, to when was the last time your character made love? Was it a remarkable experience? So, here, you see what I’m talking about. It’s not as simple as just reading a script, memorising a bunch of lines, walking on stage and reciting these lines and robotically going through a series of actions. It is SO much more! It is about creating an entire past for your character, including his or her deepest secrets and desires- from what they are most scared of to what they daydream about when they are sitting on the train. It is everything. Of course, if you don’t want to do so much work, you don’t have to. But then what are you really getting from the experience? If, like me, you get a thrill from fully embodying another personality and making it come alive on stage, then you will want to do your homework. If I enter the stage with any remnants of ‘myself’ still lingering, it’ll be extremely obvious. There will be a sort of glaze across my eyes and my lines will sound like lines, as opposed to the real, natural dialogue between another human being that it should sound like. I might stumble or I might just be blank. That isn’t acting. When it’s real, you know. You can feel it in your very core, but also you can’t feel it, because it feels so real that you don’t even ponder for a second that it’s not.

It’s a special feeling, and it’s one that I haven’t felt for a long time. It’s not the kind of feeling that fades when you exit the stage. It stays. I can still feel it today, even though last night’s performance ended almost 24 hours ago. It’s the greatest form of adrenaline that inspires and ignites everything within you. I want to act every single day now. I am lucky to have a job that involves acting but it’s not quite the same without a live audience. There is nothing quite like that. And it’s absolutely not about the elation I feel after being on stage. It’s about how the audience feel. It’s about knowing that the world you just created tapped into something in the audience’s hearts and minds. That maybe, just maybe, the feelings and lives you just embodied may have seeped out and echoed around the room, entering the audience and giving them something to think about. That’s what theatre is. And literature, and films, and art, and everything really. It’s about giving, teaching, and ultimately feeling. If you felt something, even if it was just discomfort or a light relief, then we, as actors, as directors, as stage managers, as lighting designers, as sound guys, did our job.

I sometimes feel that my chosen path in this world is actually just about living. I chose acting, or maybe it chose me? But either way acting is just living. It’s about highlighting aspects of our lives that we might choose to hide from because it makes us feel uncomfortable or intimidates us or scares us. It’s about facing up to those things. It’s also about making people smile and cry and laugh and shift in their seats. It’s about feeling ALL the feelings. It is teaching and learning and reflecting and observing and being. It is life. That’s all it is. It is quite simply just living.

To Tre, our director, thank you. Thank you for choosing us to undergo this incredible, transformative journey with you. For trusting us and believing in us and allowing us to have the freedom to create these characters for ourselves. I will miss the rehearsals, even the ones in my tiny apartment where I’m pretty sure the neighbours thought I was murdering someone with all that yelling (haha!). From a beautifully written script by Margaret Edson, to intimate moments shared between the actors, to actually ending up in hospital in the process (oh, the irony!), to riding the metro and sharing taxi rides with you all after our late-night sessions, and of course actually ‘living’ up there on stage with you, I will miss those moments. I am so grateful to have this chance to work with you all and to be reminded that acting is what makes me who I am. It’s not about being the best or competing with other actors, it’s just about being. Being ‘me’, being a character in a play and blurring the lines. It’s the most rewarding process, truly. You get to have fun, whilst learning- about both yourself and your character and the worlds you both belong to. You get to teach, to spread a profound, meaningful message. Sometimes though, you just want to laugh and make someone else laugh. It’s the middleground- somewhere between striking a fine balance, of entertaining but also moving someone so much that they leave the theatre thinking. Their minds open a little, their hearts beat faster, the hairs on their arms stand on end (and not just because the theatre air conditioner is blasting freezing air, haha!). They felt something. You felt something. That is theatre, and finally, life.

Here’s to life, both on and off stage. It’s a sweet, precious thing. Let’s enjoy every moment.

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Winter Song

Those chilly mornings where you alarm clock goes off and it’s still pitch black outside and you’ve barely slept because life.is.busy. But you jump out of bed anyway and run to the hot shower shivering and smiling. You are healthy and even though you only really sleep in your apartment at the moment, that’s totally OK because that just means life is good and fulfilling and fun. It really must be winter now because the nosy neighbour across the road who usually stares into your apartment each morning hoping to get a peek at a naked foreigner is not in his usual spot. He must be huddled up indoors. Hopefully he doesn’t own a set of binoculars. You should keep your curtains closed, you tell yourself, but then you would miss out on the beautiful rising of the sun and the pretty view of trees blowing in the breeze. You keep them open.

On the way to work you spot an elderly Chinese gentleman grinning. He is carrying a McDonald’s brown paper bag and you chuckle silently to yourself. It’s funny how the West has just crept in here, almost overnight. Back home if you saw an old Scottish gent nibbling on some noodles for breakfast, would you giggle too? Another man cycles by with a plant the size of a jungle on the back of his bicycle. No one bats an eyelid. Everyone zigzags along the path, the rat race to get breakfast before anyone else. You skip the baozi stand and opt for a bowl of hot porridge instead. It really is getting cold around these parts and you can’t help but smell that Christmasy scent, just around the corner. Or maybe it’s the copious amounts of cinnamon you just sprinkled over your porridge? Either way, Christmas is coming! You started to feel it this past weekend as you wandered through the flea market in the local art district. Two big, beautiful trees decorated with ballerina cutouts stood smack bang in the centre of the market. People looked happy with their little red noses and bobble hats. You drank warm fresh fruit tea under the trees and ate mini heart-shaped chocolate cakes with a tiny spoon and talked about your plans for the Christmas holidays. Scotland and Ireland for two weeks. It can’t come quick enough and yet at the same time why on earth is time ticking by so fast? How can it be the 1st of December tomorrow already? Slow down please.

The weekend always passes by in a blink of an eye. Sleep Party People graced the stage dressed as bunny rabbits to mark the start of the weekend and you danced and closed your eyes and let the music scoop you up and warm you from the inside out. You slept like the dead and awoke bright eyed and healthy and set about having a productive weekend filled with lots of walking and talking and good food and good people. The perfect mix of relaxation and fun before a week of performing.

Here is to health and happiness and cosy winter days with lovely people.

When Life imitates Art

As ten white-coat clad men hovered around my bed giggling at the crying foreign girl, I almost let a little laugh slip out. The irony was uncanny. A mere two days before I had been standing where those white-coated men were standing, but it wasn’t real, it was art in the form of acting, a play. I guess you could say I take my acting seriously, so seriously in fact that I actually found myself smack bang in the middle of a hospital, for reals! One day I was the one in scrubs taking temperatures, the next I was curled up in a ball in a pair of striped pyjamas, crying my eyes out as Chinese doctors prodded and poked at my stomach. A perfect example of life imitating art and now when I’m up on that stage, a little bit of art imitating life as I bring what I learned from those hospital days onto the stage.

The night when the pains really started was while I was waiting for a rehearsal to start. I had been in bed all day but seeing as the opening night was only two weeks away, I dragged myself onto the metro and sped across the city. As the other actors started to appear, they could tell something was wrong. They were already kitted out in their doctor’s coats and as they knelt over me asking me what was wrong, I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. I was supposed to be standing up there with them in my purple nurse scrubs, not cowering below in the foetal position.

Well anyway, I learnt a lot. Like how to use a stethoscope and how to take someone’s temperature and that the dynamics between the nurses and doctors in the play are very similar to those in real life hospitals. I also learned that I can successfully stay in a Chinese hospital for almost three days and survive, and on top of that, by only speaking Chinese. I have no idea how I did it. I speak Chinese, but I’ve never been to a Chinese hospital by myself, let alone actually stayed in one overnight! It was weird, and I wanted to leave the entire time I was there but when the doctors actually released me, I felt sad. I would actually miss these people who had graced my life for a few days.

While I was there I shared a room with a young Chinese lady who had a similar mysterious stomach problem (oh, by the way, I’m fine now, don’t worry!!) and we actually got on very well. Hospitals are the kind of place where I think it’s quite easy to get close to people quickly. As soon as I entered the emergency ward at 3am in hysterical tears, I left all my dignity at the door and immediately a thought bubble popped out of my head screaming “I am vulnerable and scared!” And I carried it with me the whole time. It was there when on the second day the doctors told me I couldn’t go home because the hospital data systems had crashed and they couldn’t get me the paperwork to leave, it was then when I realised you have to fend for yourself in a Chinese hospital and that you’re just expected to know to bring your own water and toilet paper! It was most certainly there every time the doctor came to update me on my test results, where we would pass my phone back and forth in a flurry of translations of weird medical terms.

Then friends brought me flowers and cookies and made me laugh, and I remembered I’ll be OK and that this is just another of life’s misadventures. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that I end up in these kinds of situations. In those moments you need to laugh more than you normally do, and tell people you love them and just be grateful to be alive. I know three days in a hospital isn’t really a big deal, but it still put everything in perspective. For almost a month I let doctors tell me I was fine, even though I knew there was something wrong. I could feel it. I just knew. But something held me back. I told myself it’s too expensive, that I’m just stressed. Well, always listen to your gut (literally). It’s usually right. Your health comes first and no amount of money (or lack of) can change that. I’m so grateful I went to the hospital when I did, even if I terrified the guards where I live by sprinting through the garden at 3am clutching my stomach and crying in the back of the taxi the whole way there.

I am feeling so much better now and the rehearsals for our play just feel so much more vivid. Ah, life is a funny thing indeed.

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 Image sourced from here.

On Spontaneity

This year has been one of the most spontaneous years of my life. I like to believe that I’m quite a spontaneous person in general, but yesterday as I booked a flight ticket for TODAY, I thought to myself, wow, who even are you?! Two weeks ago my Mum got offered a trip to China for work and she jumped at the chance. Because I’m going home to Scotland for Christmas next month we thought we’ll just wait until then to see each other. However, over the weekend I started thinking how can I possibly not go visit my Mum when she is in the same country as me? China is huge, but still. So yesterday I woke up, came to the office and immediately booked a ticket. I GET TO SEE MY MUM TODAY! Wow, that feels so surreal and amazing. It’s even more exciting because normally what I love about travelling is the anticipation and planning that happens before a trip. This time though, I have no time to plan. That makes it all the more awesome because I have no expectations and I don’t have to wait. I am flying today!

My Mum has been to Beijing and Xi’an so far, and today we will meet in Chengdu in Sichuan province. I have been there once before in 2012 for my friend’s wedding and so this time I will get the chance to finally meet her little girl Tekla, who was born 3 years ago. My Mum has quite a busy schedule, but it’s all fun stuff, such as visiting the Big Buddha in Leshan, going to the panda reserve, frolicking in ancient villages and experiencing the local spicy hotpot cuisine. I can’t wait to see all of these place with her and I can already imagine the amount of hysterical laughter that will ensue. China never fails to amuse and every adventure is guaranteed to be hilarious.

Also, seeing my Mum is just what the doctor ordered. It’s so special for us because usually we only see each other twice a year when I go back to Scotland. Lately I’ve been feeling a little tired and uninspired, but after I get to see my Mum who oozes calm, everything will be wonderful. I just know it.

It’s funny because last week my work spontaneously took us on a weekend trip to Hunan province. It was freezing but beautiful and just the kind of typical adventure you’d expect from China (more on that story later). Anyway, after I got back, I told myself and everyone around me that I won’t be going anywhere until Christmas, and yet here I am, a mere week later and I’m already flying off somewhere else. Haha. Well, that is life and what better way to spend it than to grab every opportunity that comes flying your way. I know I won’t look back when I’m an old poor lady and regret that I used my credit card to pay for this trip because I ran out of money from ‘too much travelling’. Most likely I would regret it if I didn’t go! And so, here I go again, off on another adventure which I’m sure will be filled with funny stories, cute pandas and lots of magical moments with my Muma!

Love,

Luna

p.s. Have you ever spontaneously booked a flight? Have you ever just turned up at the airport and chosen a random destination? I would love to do that sometime!

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for the love of seasons

Dusty little tangerines lie next to rosy-cheeked pomegranates, and as the moon falls deeper into the sky, the fruit man pushes his cart away and all the fruits slip and slide and socialise. I walk quickly home and sneeze once. Maybe someone is thinking of me? Superstitions aside, I must say though, I really do believe in this mercury retrograde malarky. Weird, unexplainable things keep happening. A foot-bridge in Shenzhen just collapsed, an apartment/office block went up in flames, my colleague is stuck in America because of some silly visa procedure changes, my phone deleted ALL my photos, my computer randomly shuts down whenever it pleases, I hear people fighting more often and my nose is a waterfall. But come October 9th, when mercury is no longer in retrograde, everything will go back to normal, right?

This too shall pass and autumn is here, so at least we’re not dripping sweat all over the city anymore. I love the slight chill that is becoming more present and the way the morning light coats the trees in a rusty shade of bronze. Everything seems softer and there is a warm, romantic glaze settling over the tops and tips of the buildings on my street. Is it strange that I’m getting excited for winter already? I like wearing big, cosy cardigans and being able to see my breath drift up into the air. I guess once a Northern Hemisphere baby, always a Northern Hemisphere baby. Seasons make the world go round, and mine too. I always struggled in South Africa where everything was reversed. My June birthday was spent shivering and the run-up to Christmas was a sticky, stifling bubble of heat. It’s nice to mix things up a bit once in a while, but oh my, for me Christmas should be a little snow globe.

Before I adorn my winter coat though, I will first embark on a tropical adventure to Singapore and Bali. Seriously, I love Chinese public holidays. This will be my first solo trip in a long time, so I’m really looking forward to having no plan and just going to wherever the rice paddies lead me. I want to swim with turtles on Gili Meno and read my book next to the green fields. Just looking after my wanderlust, you know? She is extremely greedy and is already mischievously plotting the months ahead, and I have to fulfil these needs she has, because she is feisty! Sometimes she books trips without me even realising…Well, at least for Oct, Nov, and most of Dec I won’t be going anywhere. There are some exciting projects taking place in Shenzhen that I’m a part of, and so during those months my wanderlust will be taking a backseat until I whisk her off to Scotland and Ireland for Christmas. Yay!

This year has been a whirlwind. Actually, this month has been a whirlwind, hence the lack of writing here. I just haven’t had time, or maybe I’ve been lazy? I’d say both. Chiang Mai was just what the doctor ordered, and in between climbing up waterfalls, eating the most delicious home-cooked Thai food you’ve ever tasted, getting massages and talking non-stop with old and new friends, there was even time for a road trip to see the incredible White Palace in Chiang Rai and the creepy, but cool Black House. It passed so quickly, and feels like forever ago, even though it was just a couple of weeks back. The fun didn’t stop there, as only a few days later my best friend popped up to China to say hello for the weekend and an early morning hike with a dip in the ocean quickly led to a moonshine-fuelled night and a hazy day spent under the dusty sun in cafes. And I get to see her again in two days in Singapore. I feel lucky. Sometimes there is no time to sleep, but that’s OK because then there is more laughter, more memories, and I have all winter to hibernate under my mountain of books.

Last weekend I didn’t really go anywhere. Those weekends are fun too. The ones where you lie in bed until 2pm just doing nothing but dreaming, smiling, reading. There might be a sneaky trip to a rooftop that doesn’t belong to you to take some photos, but otherwise you will probably stay in bed looking at the clouds, listening to music and hugging. That’s when you know summer is coming to a close, when hibernation takes a hold of you and there’s no escaping those cosy claws. Embrace it. It’s good to just rest.

Singapore and Bali await, so see you when mercury is flowing forward again. Be safe and go kick some backward mercury butt!

Love,

Luna

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Photo by my lovely friend Olya.

Five Years Time

“Oh well in five years time we could be walking around the zoo with the sun shining down over me and you…”

Or…you could still be living in China.

You blink and take a few trains, too many planes, and before you know it, you’ve been here for five whole years.  For 1,825 days, give or take a few, you have been frolicking on this Asian soil. A journey that began on a swelteringly hot day back in August 2010 with a broken-down bus in a city called Guangzhou. Fast forward five years with a skip to the south of that city and a hop to the right and you are smack bang in Guangzhou’s little sister Shenzhen. I would like to say I have spent the entire five years in one place, but that would be an absolute lie. I have mainly been in China (mainland) but there is of course my ongoing love affair with Taiwan and there was a brief but beautiful fling with Hong Kong. Oh, and there was a moment last year where I questioned why on earth I wasn’t living in Japan? I always do wonder if my university in South Africa had offered a Japanese course, would I find myself living in that quirky Murakami world instead of crazy China? I will never know, but hey, I could always move to Japan some other time…

Five years in Asia. Five years with my head bursting at the seams with all the new words, new cultural quirks, new places, new faces. Five years and thirteen Asian countries worth of stamps, memories and love. Five years older.

And I am nowhere near done. I don’t think I will ever be done with a place that has been my home. It will always be my home even when I’m not actually living there. My ears still twitch whenever I hear a South African accent and I haven’t lived there for five years. I see Scottish flags everywhere, even in the clouds and whenever anyone mentions Taiwan my eyes light up and my heart beats a little faster. I feel at home in Asia where it’s always a little warmer, where people show their gratitude through a bow or an ear-to-ear smile, where incense coils burn in mysterious corners and float along the alleyways, the dust settling on the red lanterns that hang from every eave. Monks swim by in the rush hour crowds of suits and old people play on the swings. The pungent scent of durian pierces your senses and there is no escaping stinky tofu. It will chase you down the chaotic streets and sooner or later you will end up chasing it. Things you could never imagine enjoying will become normal. You will swap your coffee for matcha tea and you will master chopsticks like a ninja. Oh, and you will most certainly start dreaming in the local language, and maybe you will even begin to use your feet to trace Chinese characters on your sheets while you sleep. It’s a weird and wonderful land here. It’s hard to actually comprehend five years worth of Asian adventures. This blog is also five years old if you don’t count the thousand mini interludes that I took from writing…

Well anyway, here’s to the next five years and wherever they may happen to take me. For now though, I am here. And no, there is no ‘five year plan’. I’m not sure they really pan out the way you want them to anyway because if I look back to my first day in China, I certainly didn’t think that five years later I’d still be living here. But that is life. It’s always surprising us. Just focus on being happy and spreading that happiness around wherever you happen to be, and the rest will fall into place.

Love,

Luna

A staycation at Hui Hotel

Lately I’ve been craving exploration but without the stress of actually having to go anywhere. There’s only so much escaping into fictitious lands I can do before I actually have to take a trip for real. Back in May I went away four weekends in a row. To Shanghai, Xiamen, Hong Kong and Singapore. All of these weekends were so much fun, but I got absolutely burned out afterwards. The amount of time spent actually travelling to these exotic locations (OK, except Hong Kong because that is only one hour by boat) added up pretty quickly and I can’t say it was stress-free (hello China flight delays!!). So that was when I had the wise idea to go on a ‘staycation’.

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(Image sourced from here)

Originally I thought about the new Hilton Hotel in Shekou, a mere 10 minute cycle from my apartment, but the idea of being able to see the area I live from the hotel rooftop felt a bit silly, so I decided to venture further afield to the deep, dark core of the city- Futian. Whilst browsing hotels on Trip Advisor, I stumbled upon Hui Hotel. A fairly new, boutique 5 star art and design hotel with a rooftop bar overlooking the lush Central park. What more could you want? After seeing a sneak peek of their quirky room designs, and their egg-shaped bath tubs, I was sold. There’s something about a huge, soft, white bed and a bubble bath that I just love about hotels. I like the way you can slip into a hotel room and become anonymous. However, I dislike the way most hotels are designed very plain and boring. That’s why I was immediately attracted to Hui Hotel because their design is so unqiue. The hotel reception is dotted with surreal sculptures and in the entranceway they have a vertical garden growing up the wall. They have a very long coffee table filled with bird cages with real birds inside. When we asked where the swimming pool was located we were happily surprised to see that it is actually tucked right behind a long glass window, level with the floor of the check-in desk. So as we swam up and down the pool, we’d occasionally see a curious hotel guest kneeling down to take a photo of the quirky pool. All of the doors in the hotel are camouflaged with the walls so at first glance you can’t even see the door to the bathroom or to your hotel room.

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We were fortunate enough to receive an upgrade to one of their premier rooms. It was beautiful! My favourite part was the way the roof sloped down to the wall in a curve and that our window was a floor to ceiling one. It was raining quite heavily and because our room jutted out from the front of the hotel, we could hear the rain beating down and it felt like we were in a hut in the jungle. Also, the beds are extremely comfortable. I could sink in and stay for days. I loved the little random things they added, such as a bowling pin in the corner and the LED clock on the wall.

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The hotel offers two dining options- a traditional style Chinese restaurant on the first floor and a Western restaurant on the eighth floor. We tried the Western restaurant and while the food was just OK, the view was incredible! It almost felt like we were in New York as we were overlooking Shenzhen’s Central Park. After dinner we chilled in The Library Bar, and it had so many cool architecture and design books to browse. It felt so relaxing to sit on the sofas surrounded by books, whilst being served cocktails from the bar. Unfortunately due to the rain we never got to experience drinks at the rooftop bar, but the next day, Howard (one of the friendliest hotel staff I’ve ever come across!) gave us a small tour of the roof and it was amazing! I will definitely go back on a weekend to experience drinks with a view high above the city.

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The spa is also so beautiful and ‘zen’. We had incredible massages to end off the lovely weekend on a soothing high. I actually didn’t want to leave this hotel. I felt like I’d disappeared into a world of calm, far away from the dust and stress of the city. The coolest part of the whole weekend was that within 20 minutes I was home again. So the usual post-holiday blues didn’t really have time to catch me in its claws. There was no travelling time, no rush to catch a plane or a train. I just floated home in the back of a taxi, the faint scent of the eucalyptus oil lingering on my post-massage skin.

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Thank you Hui Hotel, you were magical! (This post was not sponsored, I just really loved this hotel a lot, and you will too, so check them out here.)

Love,

Luna

p.s Have you ever been on a staycation? Isn’t it wonderful?!