A Hayley Moment

Writing for a living seems to mean that writing for fun takes a bit of a back seat.

Just to give you a taste of Coffee Helps in the meantime though, here is a typical wee moment from my day.

So, I was walking down a street in Belfast, sipping on a Diet Coke and trying to remember where I parked the car after leaving my poor sick Macbook at the Apple store. Someone was approaching from the opposite direction, and I couldn’t help noticing that Someone was in fact a very attractive man. Very cool clothes, unruly hair, stubble, tall, scruffy, undoubtedly listening to an incredible band that has yet to be discovered. “Try to also be cool, Hayley”, said my natural Hot Man Approaching radar. I changed my walk from a confused and lost shuffle to a confident saunter, held my head high, and smiled knowingly about something.

It was all going very well.

Then, as we were just about to meet and do the typical Irish make-eye-contact-nod-smile-comment-about-the-weather thing, I took another sip of Diet Coke.

ERROR.

At that precise moment there appeared from nowhere a paving slab 2mm higher than the others. I tripped. I stumbled. The Diet Coke bottle made rapid and unexpected contact with my nose. All hell broke loose.

The Diet Coke (whose name was Chloe) promptly erupted in a volcanic aspartame explosion all over my face, while I staggered around in a desperate attempt to remain upright. In the process, I managed to fall off the pavement into the path of an angry taxi driver, who yelled something insulting about the unattractiveness of drunk women, mostly drowned out by the blaring of his horn.

Getting back on to the footpath, I obviously tried to pretend that nothing had happened, and attempted to recoolify. Hot Man and I were now about to meet. I smiled at him in the sexiest way that one can while staggering around Belfast with Diet Coke running down one’s face and an angry cabbie yelling insults in the background.

Unfortunately, foam from the Diet Coke explosion was also up my nose, and just as Hot Man opened his mouth to speak, I sneezed rather violently. Really, I have to admit, there are probably not all that many things less attractive than a girl who can’t walk in a straight line and greets you by blasting a soft drink through her nostrils at you.

Hot Man and I did not fall in love at first sight.

The Diet Coke was not even worth it as there was no vodka in it.

I found the car after another hour and returned home alone.

The End.

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Reverse culture shock

You look just like everyone else – no one is staring at you. A tenner is about 17,000won. Keep to the LEFT on escalators. People can understand what you’re saying, so shhhhh. Don’t go out in a t-shirt just because it’s the end of May. You can’t just stand at the side of the road and hail a taxi when you get lost. Keep to the LEFT when using doors in public buildings. Smile and say hello to random strangers, because just walking past is rude. The fact that it’s broad daylight has absolutely no relevance to what time of day or night it is. Keep to the LEFT on crowded footpaths. It’s footpath, not sidewalk. Lift, not elevator. Trousers, bin, rubbish, crisps, bap, handbag, car park, flat, toMAHto. Just because the timetable says 4:35 does not mean a bus will actually show up around 4:35. For the love of all that is holy, KEEP TO THE LEFT when driving. It’s OK to talk at a normal volume on public transport. Just because you realise you can read and understand the newspaper of the stranger next to you does not make it socially acceptable behaviour to actually do so. Yes, there are “cows crossing” traffic signs. Absolutely no need to bow respectfully when you accidentally bump into an older person – this can in fact be seen as “taking the piss”. Keep to the LEFT on the stairs. Diet Coke bottles now have a different name on each bottle, which is a great marketing ploy except it’s never Hayley and I feel reluctant to buy a bottle with someone else’s name on it. Don’t speak Korean to shop assistants. It’s fine to keep your shoes on in someone’s house; in fact, they tend to prefer it. Eating noodles with a fork instead of chopsticks is normal behaviour. Keep to the LEFT, in general.

If you only know one phrase in English…

“Eeeepuh,” says the taxi driver hesitantly, making eye contact with me in the rear view mirror. “Uhhh…. eeeepuh…”

I look uncertainly at him.

My conversations with taxi drivers here have been entertaining, confusing, embarrassing, and (mostly) very trying. The drivers usually fall into one of three categories:

1) Wary of foreigners, refuse to speak at all, even in response to “thank you” or “goodbye”. I used to hate these men on account of the sheer rudeness of not even bothering to acknowledge someone’s existence, but they may now be my favourites – purely because they require a lot less attention and effort than the other two (much friendlier) kinds.

2) Eager to show off English abilities, regardless of skill level. Entire journey will be spent in the role of an English teacher, despite your early morning tiredness / attempts to write an email on your phone / hangover.

3) Very excited to have a real, live foreigner in the car, seizes opportunity for thorough interrogation, entirely in Korean. It doesn’t matter if you attempt to answer as best you can in your clearly terrible, broken Korean, or if you flat out say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Korean” – this taxi driver will continue to talk rapidly at you, pausing for answers to questions you don’t understand after the standard first 5 (where are you from, is Ireland in England, what do you do in Korea, how old are you, are you married).

So, tonight’s taxi driver falls into category number 2. He apparently speaks no English, nor has he attempted to speak to me in Korean, but he keeps looking back at me and he has that nervous, self-conscious look about him. It’s the look they get when they’re trying to psych themselves up to say something in English but are scared of making a mistake. Finally, he clears his throat several times. Here we go! I think to myself. I prepare my best encouraging smile for the impending “where are you from?” or “do you like Korea?”.

“Eeeeepuh,” he says, somewhat unexpectedly. “Eeeepuh….”

This is a new one. I have no idea what he’s saying, nor do I have much remaining confidence in my belief that he is speaking English. Eeepuh, eeepuh… I search in the dark corners of my brain, but there is no eeepuh there.

“Eeepuh?” I ask gently, trying to sound encouraging.

“Eeeepuh,” he agrees. “Eeeepuh, eeeepuh!”

This is not going very well. He sees my blank expression and looks flustered. “Uhhh…. i… ehpuh… eeepuh!” he adds for clarification.

Oddly enough, this helps, and I suddenly understand. “Ahh – i… f…. if!” I say with some relief. “Got it. OK. If….”

“If!” he repeats with satisfaction. There is a pause, and he clears his throat again.

“If you do not think about the future… then you cannot have one.”

I am too confused and taken aback to come up with an appropriate response to this, so I end up saying a polite “thank you”.

He smiles shyly at me, clearly relieved to have said his piece. We do not speak again for the remainder of the journey. I am fairly certain that that is the only thing he knows how to say in English. Forget “hello, how are you”, forget “what’s your name?”. No, his one English sentence is: If you do not think about the future… then you cannot have one.

I am going to miss this place.

1000 stories later.

Starting this blog, back in May 2007, turned out to be an unexpectedly life-changing decision.

Not only did it give me the chance to do the thing that I love, but it opened up a whole new world for me. Through Coffee Helps, I began to meet people who were to change the direction of my life. Some were readers whose encouraging comments gave me confidence in my writing. Some were fellow bloggers who became useful contacts, friends, and employers. Some connections developed into cherished friendships – a couple even blossomed into love and romance.

This little online catalogue of my embarrassing moments, strange encounters, and rambling thoughts gave me something I’d been searching for throughout most of my life: an identity. I used to be painfully shy, and there was no comfort or encouragement to be had from my awkward attempts at talking to new people. If I managed to pluck up the courage to introduce myself to a new person, the conversation would simply die.

“Hi, I’m Hayley.”

“Hello, I’m X.”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

***silence***

***face reddening***

***awkward exit***

I didn’t believe I had anything to offer, and it showed. I saw myself as boring, uninteresting, awkward, and generally unwelcome – and so, perhaps, it was one of those self-fulfilling prophecies that was true only because I believed it to be true.

6 years later, I am a different person. Sure, I will always be a bit on the quiet, shy side in big groups of people, and I’ll probably never be the social butterfly who flits around the room making easy conversation with one person after the next… but I know who I am now. I’m Hails, I write, I travel, and I have stories to tell. I know this because the past 6 years of my life would not have been what they were without being able to write about them, and share my tales with an audience, however small. Turns out I’m not boring after all! You might have to work a little harder with me than with others to get the conversation flowing naturally, and maybe I do tend to babble when I’m excited about the topic, but I’m no longer scared to be myself.

This blog, and the people it’s brought into my life, has made me who I am today. The girl who realised she was not made for small town life, and packed it in to take off around Europe, writing about her experiences. The girl who learned that heartbreak and pain is all part of life, and makes for a better writer. The girl who crashed on the couches of complete strangers and made genuine, lasting friends through it. The girl who found herself housesitting in luxurious locations, sipping champagne by the pool as she wrote about her surroundings… and the girl who found herself homeless in an underground bus station in Estonia, with her clothes in a couple of tied bin liners at her feet. The girl who got travel articles published in a few different European countries… and the girl who stayed up all night writing 50 articles about dog food or green tea, and leeched off the free wifi outside fancy hotels so she could submit them and earn enough money for her next train ticket and a decent meal. The girl who went to Korea on a whim and became an English teacher there for nearly 4 years. The girl who took part in vodka ceremonies with nomads in the Mongolian wilderness, walked on the Great Wall of China in the freezing snow and ice, rang the Peace Bell in Hiroshima. That girl. That’s me!

Sometimes I can’t quite believe it – but then I can go back and read all the stories I’ve written here, and it gives me a feeling I never used to have. Confidence mixed with happiness mixed with the assurance that however bad things seem, there’s a whole world of options and opportunities out there. However much pain you’re in, time really does heal. However financially dire things seem, there’s a way to get back on your feet again. However badly your plans go wrong, you can find a way around it. However spectacularly you fall flat on your face, people will always help you to get back up again. I have 6 years’ worth of blog posts to prove it!

Life is a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and you don’t know what will happen until you make your next choice. This is my 1000th blog post, and I would never, ever have imagined where I’d be writing it, back when I was writing post number 1 – or indeed, the story that the next 999 posts would eventually tell. One page at a time. Post by post.

I might not be getting paid for it, and I might never be a published author or a known travel writer, but I am doing what I love. That’s all I need – and it’s because of this blog, and all the people, adventures, relationships, experiences, and opportunities it’s brought into my life. To someone who doesn’t write, my attachment to this jumbled collection of words and stories probably seems weird, and it’s not something I can easily explain. It’s my baby, you see. I created it, I nurtured it, I watched it grow, I’m protective of it, I’m proud of it. It has brought so much into my life. I love it. It’s mine.

Thank you, my humble little blog. I can’t wait to see what the next 1000 posts will bring us!

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