Tag Archives: travel

From Shuangjing to Mudanyuan

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I’m standing outside the metro station, in a queue of fifty or sixty people, waiting for the metal grate to scrape open, admitting the next group of us.

I live in Shuangjing (双井) which is in the South East of Beijing (北京市) and work in Mudanyuan (牡丹园) in the North West.

Each morning I follow the same routine: Join the queue, wait and then scramble towards the train doors. Usually it takes two or three trains before I can get on.

While I wait at the station doors I watch the train come in, my early-morning mind compiling a list of things I need to get done that day.

The train doors line up with the station’s and both open together. No one exits the train. I’m looking at a solid wall of flesh and cloth. Someone behind me scrambles forward and presses themselves into the wall, bumping and jostling so the doors might just be able to close. I watch as the person’s identity vanishes in front of me, as they are moulded and absorbed into the wall.

It’s just past eight, I’m not in such a hurry. I’ll wait. The train pulls away.

A few trains later it’s coming up to eight twenty and I can’t wait any longer.

The doors open, the wall stands strong and I tentatively take a step towards it. As if they’ve been waiting for my first step the queue behind me makes its move too. I am pressed from behind into the wall and I can’t concentrate any more. The world blurs into a kind of fleshy brown and I’m knocked and squeezed on all sides. I imagine it’s like the opposite of being born. Soon I come to a stop, one foot on the floor, my body off balance. The doors shut and we move on.

I can’t move, and I have a problem. The next stop is Guomao (国贸), a major transfer station. I am pinned somewhere between the door and the middle of the train entrance. Around me people are pushing and sliding past one another. I feel hands, and stomachs and backs press against me. My nose and mouth are pressed into a woman’s hair, I feel someone much taller than I looming behind me.

We arrive at Guomao and the door opens. I’m lucky. I’ve managed to grab hold of a metal bar in the centre of the entrance. People flood out past me, like liquid fleeing an overturned bottle. I’m caught in the flow and hold on for dear life. Shoulders and arms bang into me as people barge past as if I am an obstacle that can only be overcome by force. My feet are snatched off the ground and I feel like I’m being pulled from a starship’s airlock.

The flow abates and I find my feet. New passengers embark. But I’m okay now, able to push myself into the aisle where I’ll be a safe distance from the doors.

Here I settle in for the rest of the journey, about forty minutes or so.

I feel pressure all around me. Smell the scent of sweat and perfume and breath. I find my mind wandering and I can’t seem to focus on what I’m doing there and even who I am seems hazy and unsure. I feel a rhythmic pulsing in my mind and all thought seems to fall away. We are breathing together, creating great fleshy waves that press against the sides of the train. My body dissolves and I am soaked into the whole. We are a single organism, pulsating and rippling together. Falling, swirling and morphing. Settling into the long tube-like shape of the carriage. A great, stinking worm with a thousand mouths, all groaning and grunting and leaking hot, coffee and cigarette scented breath into the recycled air.

We are blood, clogged and clotted in one of the city’s grubby arteries.

Each time the doors open some of the lumpy, sick blood spills out into other parts of the body.

Slowly, as my station approaches the carriage thins out and I’m able to move independently again. When I disembark the train I feel, at first, a kind of loss. Like I’ve just let go of something. I feel slightly dazed, unaware of where I am and what I’m doing. But soon, sense and thought come back to me and I remember.

I am Jack Owen. I’m on my way to work. I live in the city but I am not a part of it. I am a single entity again, with my own life and experience.

I let go of a breath I’ve been holding for god-knows-how-long. Relief floods over me as I exit the station into air that I can’t call fresh, but is at least more spread out than that of the train.

The experience is vanishing from my mind and will soon be all but forgotten. In those last fleeting moments of consciousness I thank life itself that I’m off that train but dread, albeit with an odd sense of longing, tomorrow’s journey, when the cycle will repeat itself.

Thou shalt not doubt thyself. Also; blog.

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WeChat Image_20170706095042My last update on this blog was posted about three years ago. I stopped writing because I suffered a blow to my self-confidence.

Without going into too many details; a job loss, a broken heart and other not-so-little things hit me and my resolve faulted. The problem is that when such things occur I have a bad habit of trying to undo myself, something I will write more about at a later date. So, through teary-eyes and a hammering heart I deleted my personal acting and writing website, gave away my book and film collection and basically sought to remove myself from a life that had brought me pain. A little dramatic, I know. But I am an actor after all!

Throughout the past few years I thought about starting up my blog again but was always haunted by the thought that perhaps I didn’t actually have anything very interesting to say. Is my life even worth talking about? The problem has always been that although something cool might be happening I’ve had the lingering thought that it might all fall away the next week and I’ll again be stuck with nothing to say.

That was three years ago and since then I moved to Barcelona to spend two years performing in different towns and cities throughout Spain and Portugal, pretty much every day. I performed with a brass quintet. I did a tour in Moldova and Romania. I finished writing my first book and then followed it up with a second, and a third, and a forth. I rediscovered my heart and gave it to someone else and, as of writing, it remains whole and happily pumping along. Then I moved to China where I’ve been living in Beijing for a year teaching drama and directing my own shows. Soon I’m going to leave China to set off on another set of mini-adventures before trying to settle again in another country, I don’t know where yet.

So, I figured I might at least have some slightly interesting things to share and thought now is as good a time as any to get started again.

I don’t know why I’ve always worried about being uninteresting but I do realise that it has always stood in the way of owning my own achievements and experiences. In the past few years I’ve learnt that no one is uninteresting and every journey is unique. The only thing that ever says otherwise is our own self-doubt, which can be hard to overcome. But overcome it we must. And in an increasingly scary, divided world which sometimes seems geared towards discrediting the ‘average’ person, I think it’s important to share our thoughts and opinions; our stories and experiences of a life that can, and should, be celebrated.

So, I’ll start blogging again. Read if you fancy it.

Leaving for Poland – Part 2 of 2

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It is roughly 8.50am and I am rising steeply and quickly into the sky.

The air outside my window is foggy and as we take off the land becomes almost completely invisible in a matter of seconds. Instead of the land then, I focus on the wings of our craft. Its simply incredible that these flimsy pieces of metal can lift and then hold us miles above the ground as they do. Watching them move and retract in that mechanical, robot-like way, I can’t help but visualise a Gundam model kit that I’ve been working on at home. It’s that sort of high-tech/lo-tech aesthetic. Something that came from the future but looks a hundred years old.

After a few minutes of grey wind and turbulence the sky suddenly brightens and the air clears. Blue sky reflects off of the wings and sun beams through the windows. I peer down out of the window and all I can see is an impenetrable ocean of cloud, a sheet so dense it looks as if you could walk on it. Above us, there are yet more aircrafts flying even higher than us, leaving a trail of visible air behind them.

I love flying. I don’t think I could ever grow tired of looking down at the clouds and feeling as though I’m a part of another world previously forbidden to humans. Or looking through the occasional breaks in the cloud cover at our land, which looks like a strange collage from way up here. A patchwork blanket of field, woodland, city and lake. I always sort of imagine myself, at this point, dissolving through my chair and the plane floor and tumbling back down to Earth. Through cold, wet, tangible cloud, cushioned by the speeding air and brought down, in free fall, to the soft ground. In my head this is a calming, meditative and almost enlightening experience, I suppose in actuality it would be kind of weird, then terrifying and ultimately very messy…

Just now I saw a wind farm in the distance. Obscured by cloud and mist I couldn’t see the land or sea that they emerged from, only what seemed like hundreds of tall, majestic structures, barely visible, spinning rhythmically miles and miles below.

I have been on the flight for about an hour now and have no idea where I am in the world. Ryanair doesn’t have one of those computer screens to show you what county you’re passing over and I couldn’t begin to guess.
So for now, I think I will sit back, close my eyes and just enjoy the strange sensation of levitating.

Leaving for Poland – Part 1 of 2

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It’s 4am and Stansted airport is heaving with activity.

The shops and currency exchange stations are open an doing good business, the overhead announcements are chiming in from all over the place and there are endless queues of people lining up to drop in their bags. Around me several other bleary eyed passengers are waking up and frantically checking their phones or watches to make they haven’t, by some cruel trick of fate, slept through the morning and missed their flight. Upon realising the time they look up, just as I do, and look slightly perplexed.

When had it gotten this busy?

I was awake, deciding to catch a moments rest only half an hour ago and the atmosphere had been almost the exact opposite of how it is now. Of course it had still been light, stuck in that perpetual artificially induced daylight that makes airports seem like another world altogether, but there had been no rush, no bustling travelers and excited holidaymakers.

In fact there had been almost no activity at all when I arrived at about 1.20am through until 3.30.
It had been quiet, the only sounds being the buzz of electrics and hushed voices emanating from a Pret at the back of the airport. Bodies had lined all the walls as people slept or waited or hid themselves away. It seemed to me as if there was some unwritten rule that no one would (or should) invade the centre of the vast space. Instead everyone huddled, either alone, in couples or even in the occasional group, close to the walls. Or they  lay underneath signage, behind bins, computer terminals or in any other nooks and alcoves they could find.
I remember feeling exposed walking through the centre of these low down, silent crowds as I searched frantically for a plug socket. Most of these had already been claimed by other creatures like myself who marked their territory by setting up whatever piece of technology they had, making that area a temporary home. Like them, I too retreated to the corners and edges of the room, found somewhere suitably safe, and buried myself between bags and under clothes.

But now, as I awake to find the place alive and bustling, again I feel exposed, this time for the exact opposite reason. Because I am not a part of the noisy eclectic crowd rushing around. I feel exposed as those tall, noisy crowds loom over me, throwing dark glances my way.

Shocked by this sudden change of atmosphere, as if I had just tumbled through a looking glass or stepped into a magic wardrobe, I stand, collect my belongings and slyly join the crowd, getting caught up in the tide of people searching for cheap coffee and tax free chocolate…