Good Morning Vietnam!! (Hanoi I)

-The chaos that is Hanoi hit us like a truck as we arrived in Vietnam’s capital.

Although we were pretty stressed about getting into Vietnam with our online visas, we actually had no trouble at all! It was definitely worth me printing off proof of our onward transport out of Vietnam (it just made life easier at check-in), but other than that showing the visas we had sorted a couple of weeks earlier online was absolutely fine!

-Landing in Hanoi

Landing safely in Hanoi after a 1hr flight (Bangkok Airways) from Chiang Mai, the stunning views that I had glimpsed on our descent left me absolutely buzzing to hit the city! We had a minor hiccup in that our pre-arranged taxi was nowhere to be found; luckily, an information booth allowed us to make one phone call to our hostel, and we were soon on our way.

-View of the crazy Hanoi roads from inside Flipside hostel

Nothing could have prepared us for the outright chaos of the Hanoi roads. Weaving through lanes, no seat belts, using a phone, scooters driving literally anywhere they wanted- our journey ticked every box! We were therefore incredibly relieved to arrive safely at Flipside hostel and be met with a cold beer; the chilled-out atmosphere and amazing staff (the lovely Eoin from Ireland gave us a warm welcome) made an immediate positive impression on us, as did the clean, comfortable dorm beds (which all have a privacy curtain, plug socket, light and storage space).
We decided to explore Hanoi while getting lunch, as well as changing some money into VND (the currency is MAD- £1=30,000 dong! We did learn pretty quickly, though, that everyone basically just ignores the 1000- £1= 30K- which makes everything easier).

-view from the rooftop bar: Hanoi

Just as we realised the chaotic scooters are actually all moving really slowly, Hanoi may initially appear to be an absolute maze, but is in actual fact highly organised and easy to navigate (the streets are clearly named and numbered). We did, however, still have difficulties finding somewhere to eat; my travelling companion was very anxious about food poisoning, to the point that we spent around an hour wandering around aimlessly…

I persuaded my friend that our best bet was to go wherever was busy (a guiding philosophy that I think is, as they go, pretty good when it comes to foreign food). Our first experience of Vietnamese food was ‘Bun Cha’; consisting of rice noodles, salad leaves, some kind of broth and pieces of grilled pork, we soon learnt that it was a DIY operation, using chopsticks to serve yourself from the main plates into our little bowls.

Struggling as we sat amongst the fumes and oppressive heat of a Hanoi Street, oh how I missed the Pad Thai of sleepy Chiang Mai!! In hindsight, my limited appetite definitely didn’t make the most of the popular ‘Bun Cha’. However, for 75K dong (just over £2), we could hardly complain!!


Squeezing in a cold shower (I was literally dripping with sweat minutes after leaving the hostel), we then headed to Hoàn Kiem Lake (which is relatively easy to find, in basically a straight line from Flipside hostel). It was nice to get at least a semblance of fresh air coming off the lake as well as some easy entertainment; a couple of students came up to us and asked if they could practise their English with us?! This seemed a bit weird to us, but the girls were really sweet (one of them recommended that I try egg coffee, which again sounded a bit strange…) and generally harmless.

Hanoi is absolutely nuts. What I liked most was that it was EXACTLY how I had imagined a Vietnamese city; with scooters everywhere, a multitude of electrical cables crossing the sky like scars, thick fumes, women carrying baskets full of fruit to sell on the streets, it provides a constant bombardment of the senses! 

My night took an unexpected turn, as my travelling companion explained to me how much she was hating South-East Asia. I had also found Hanoi a bit of a shock to the system, but she said it was making her physically sick- after we ordered some food, she left me alone in the rooftop bar to go to bed at 8pm?!

I decided that I had two options- either go to bed or try to make the most of my evening. Remembering the philosophy of one of my closest friends PG, “You don’t remember the nights you got lots of sleep”, I opted for the latter. Rather sheepishly approaching a group of four girls at the bar, explaining my situation and asking to sit with them, I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming and sweet they were.

Part of the G Adventures Indochina tour, I loved hearing all of their adventures, and took them up on their offer to spend the evening out in Hanoi with them. 

We went back down to the lake, where we saw a HUGE crowd watching some Vietnamese boy band perform on a temporary stage space. We then ordered some food and drinks in a nearby restaurant called “Flower”- it transpired that this was apparently the restaurant’s last day of business; almost nothing was in stock, and the waitress genuinely couldn’t have cared less! Still, 2 vodka lemonades and a bottle of water for the equivalent of £1 cannot be knocked!

-Hanoi comes to life at night..

Hitting what seemed to be Hanoi’s ‘Pub Street’, we pushed our way from a PACKED Street into an even busier tiny little bar! Seated on tiny plastic chairs outside the bar, we soaked up the atmosphere of night-time Hanoi; I think this was a turning point in me falling in love with the city.

Returning to Flipside for a few more drinks before going to bed, I was extremely grateful to the group that let me tag along for the evening! (I was also really proud of myself for being brave and turning my night around… thanks PG 😉 )

-Hoan Kiem Lake by night
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Elephant Nature Park!!

Enjoying experiencing my lifelong dream- and 19th birthday present from my parents!

Having got out of bed early to squeeze in a shower and a sumptuous breakfast before heading to Elephant Nature Park, we soon realised that an 8-8.30am pick up does not mean that in Thailand! Accosted by a multitude of tuk tuk and songtaew drivers as we waited on the side of the road in central Chiang Mai, we were relieved when our minibus pulled up.

Surrounded by Westerners (an American, a Canadian and two Australian couples), we watched a documentary introducing the horrifying backgrounds of the animals we were about to meet, as they recover from the atrocities of the circus and logging industries. Spotting a few elephants on the (less-than-safe) drive was exciting, but it wasn’t until ‘feeding time’ that I felt the strength and dexterity of the elephants’ trunks (they go bananas for bananas!) that I really appreciated them for the unique creatures they are.

-Feeding time!!

I was a little put off by the crowds of tourists (myself included) snapping shots of the elephants as we toured the park. However, hearing that the park buys all of its rescued elephants, sometimes for up to $100,000 , I can understand why income from tourism is essential.

I felt sorry for those who had only paid to come to ENP for one day; it really is a very forced experience, feeding the elephants from a high platform and following the crowds round to take photos in the park. I was glad that we had paid to stay overnight, as it was totally worth it!

We checked into our room: a surprisingly nice little house on stilts which backs onto the sanctuary. We then spent the afternoon walking some of the rescued dogs (the sanctuary also has a ‘Cat Kingdom’ for rescued cats!) before enjoying a luxurious Thai massage- 1 hour for 150B (under £4)?!

Opting for a plain dinner after a weird and wonderful combination of colours and flavours at the buffet lunch, I was feeling pretty relaxed at ENP… comedic highlights of the day included learning about how the ladies can’t stay away from ‘Jungle Boy’ and his huge tusks- to the extent that he even impregnated a female through the fence (?!), and a hilarious (as well as interesting) talk on Lanna culture in the evening.

Fun fact: when Thai people see eachother, rather than ask ‘how are you?’, they ask, ‘have you had breakfast/lunch/dinner yet?’ -my kind of people!!

-Close up with the elephants- the young male on the right had his foot injured when it got stuck in a snare 😦

After a pretty good night’s sleep (despite my friend freaking out about the presence of bugs and lack of air-con..), can anything beat having a shower while watching elephants from the window?! Accompanied by trainee guides ‘Mini’ and ‘Gan’ (as well as ‘Apple’ who was fantastic), we had the chance to see the elephants again; this time we had them pretty much all to ourselves as the majority of tourists had departed the day before. This was a real privilege, and I left with a wealth of information about the poor creatures’ lasting physical and emotional damage from logging, riding, street-begging and forced-breeding- as well as the amazing work of ENP in establishing a safe haven for them.

Key things that stood out: a 25 year old elephant recovering from a broken ankle via hydrotherapy (she loves swimming!), an elephant who tore half her own ear off to escape after it was chained to her feet, and a 100 year old elephant who, after 97 years of work, is doing all she can to stay alive and healthy in order to enjoy as much time as she can at ENP.

-This 100 year old beauty enjoying peace in her final years after a lifetime of work.

Lunch was spent at a BEAUTIFUL spot up the road, set against panoramic views of the green mountains and valleys, before it was time to give the elephants their lunch (I can really relate to the elephants, who spent 18hours of each day eating in order to fuel their bodies correctly!). I felt really sorry for Tilly, a gentle elephant who refused to eat the bananas we were offering her as she swam in the river; her refusal to eat exemplified the very real fact that these animals are individuals in their own right, and not merely there for our entertainment.

-Lunch with a view!

We had slightly more luck with the rice-balls (made by mashing banana, rice, Tamarind paste, salt, oats and corn by hand), which we fed to the older elephants. In the wild, their lack of teeth would otherwise lead to death of starvation 😦

Despite getting covered in mud and running from water buffalo (!!) I really loved getting my hands literally stuck right in to help the elephants, as well as getting some real contact.

-Nice to meet you Tilly!

As we left ENP, I am determined to return at some point for a longer period in order to spend more time with these amazing animals.

One final thought: the elephants at the park all have their own families; whether these are blood relatives, adopted sisters and daughters, or just close friends, they stick together and care for eachother. For example, we saw a pair of totally blind elephants who had previously been in a trio; after one of their family passed away, they remain near where she was buried all day every day.
https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ (we paid about £130 each for 2days/1night, but they now have a variety of longer-duration volunteer programmes)

Chilling in Chiang Mai II

-Another day, another adventure in Northern Thailand…

For our final two nights in Chiang Mai, we had booked Lanna Dusita Riverside Boutique Resort for a little bit of spa luxury! It was pretty much the same price as our previous hotel (£15 each per night), but we realised upon arrival that breakfast wasn’t included… and they wanted to charge us a crazy 300B each per day- £7.50 for breakfast in Asia?! No thanks!


Though more expensive than the prices in town (we spent about 200B each at dinner), the food in the hotel restaurant was absolutely fab- I can totally recommend both the chicken with cashew nut stir fry and a yummy fried noodle with seafood!! Lanna Dusita is extremely picturesque, with the restaurant right on the riverside, a large pool and even a little pond/lake (complete with ducks and TONS of frogs) around the reception area!

-Delicious chicken and cashew stir fry

A bit of a panic about our Vietnam visas (the friend I am travelling with insisted that we needed to get passport photos taken), meant that we cancelled our plans to go to Doi Inthanon National Park. I was pretty upset, but at least it gives me a reason to go back! Instead, we got the free shuttle from our hotel to Chiang Mai at 10.30am.

First stop was breakfast. We found a cafe called ‘Black Canyon Coffee’, which is probably not particularly authentic Thai, but did offer an impressive choice for breakfast, and an even better variety of coffees and teas! I had a declicious bowl of muesli, fresh fruit and granola, a croissant and a cup of tea for 105B/£2.50 (SO much better than the hotel price!) 

-The best breakfast I’ve had in a long time!

Well-fed, we tried to find the elusive Watoros market (that we had spent an unsuccessful couple of hours trying to find the other day!). Luckily, we noticed a (very obviously) American family on a street nearby, and were able to use their Google Maps to locate it. The market is pretty damn cool, with stalls selling literally anything and everything!! I bought a stunning Thai silk sarong for 190B (under £5?!) and some silk boxer-style shorts for 160B (£3.75).

-Watoros market

Having exhausted a lot of the temples on our first day, we looked for something interesting yet fairly relaxing for the afternoon. Travel Hub, outside which our shuttle bus had luckily stopped that morning (just opposite Thapae Gate), was absolutely fantastic. The staff were very smiley and spoke excellent English; we were happy to book a 2hour River Cruise with them for the afternoon (600B/£15 each).

We were picked up from the Travel Hub office at about 1.50pm and taken to the pier. We were a little concerned that we were literally the only people there (lol), but actually it was really nice having our boat driver/guide totally to ourselves! The scenery along the Mae Ping River is of undeniable beauty, but what was even more interesting was asking our guide hundreds of questions; we learnt that the people of Chiang Mai identify as Lanna rather than Thai people, discussed the price of fish and petrol, and debated the development of hotels in the area. We even sailed past our own hotel, which was pretty cool!

-Mae Ping River Cruise
-Lanna Dusita Resort viewed from the river!

The Mae Ping River cruise stops at an ‘organic farm’ before turning to go back to Chiang Mai. We enjoyed walking through the farm and seeing all the different plants growing there; our guide pointed out lemongrass, aubergine, rice and mango to name but a few. Our cruise also included unlimited free fruit and fresh juice at a nice of a little touristy on-site cafe. The juices included ginger and lemongrass (and were pretty weird to be fair), and the pineapple and watermelon they gave us was amazing.

We were a bit stressed about getting back to our hotel; the shuttle only ran one way (out of the hotel), and it was 5km out of the city centre. While we had its address, we didn’t have a map or any knowledge of the local roads. We therefore decided to head back early, and luckily the Travel Hub staff were happy to help; they googled the hotel address, wrote it in Thai, and then insisted on hailing a songtaew for us, explaining where we wanted to go and even negotiating a good price for us (200B/£5). We were so relieved to get back safely to our hotel- and very grateful to the Travel Hub Staff for their outstanding care. With hindsight, I would definitely encourage people to look for small, family-run guesthouses in a central location (i Lanna house was just perfect; the larger ones are not only usually out of town and thus harder to get to safely, but also tend to be more concerned with making money rather than customer service. 

-View of Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

Overall, Chiang Mai has offered a fantastic introduction to South-East Asia. I have felt safer than I have many times in London; though the roads seem crazy, if you cross very slowly, the drivers will stop for you. I have been pleasantly surprised that genuine Thai food is pretty similar to what I imagined/have had back home in the UK. And of course, the people have been incredibly kind, smiley and helpful! I am sad to say goodbye after such a short period of time, but am greatly looking forward to our adventures in Vietnam.

Chilling in Chiang Mai I

-We got our first taste of Asian culture in the Lanna region of Northern Thailand.

After receiving many recommendations of Chiang Mai’s beauty and culture, we were excited for the first stop of our trip. Having arrived at Bangkok Airport at around 10am, we went pretty much straight into domestic departures ready for our 1hr flight north to Chiang Mai.

Upon arrival, the tourist desk inside the foyer was helpful in sorting our bus tickets for 20 baht each (50p)- this allowed us to make a beeline straight for the blue City Bus through the taxi drivers that swarm outside. We were given the option of waiting 20 mins for a bus direct to our hotel, or getting on one immediately that would take about an hour. Not knowing if 20 mins really means 20 mins in Thailand, and already boiling, the bus’ air-con won us over and we enjoyed a scenic tour of Chiang Mai!

I was a little concerned that neither the info desk nor the bus driver recognised our hotel name (i Lanna House); however, the bus stop was actually directly next to a sign directing us down a side street to the hotel. We couldn’t believe our luck. It looked just like the pictures, the staff were lovely and friendly, the pool was small but basically empty except for us, the room was beautiful and the bathroom was better than my one back home! For £15 each per night, we really couldn’t complain- and the complimentary buffet breakfast was also excellent!

-i Lanna House Hotel
Our first night, we chose a small but packed little eatery along the main road  called ‘It’s Good Kitchen’ (just round the corner from i Lanna House). I enjoyed an iced passionfruit shake (highly recommend!) and a delicious prawn pad Thai for the equivalent of £3: a great first Thai meal!

-Our first meal in South-East Asia!

An early night helped with our jet lag as we prepared for our first full day of sightseeing! There is such a multitude of temples in Chiang Mai that it was hard to know where to start. We headed down Soy Ratchadamnoen and began working our way through the major temples indicated on our map. Most were free to enter, and though a couple of the larger ones were charging for entry, it was only about £1 and so we really didn’t mind! It was crazy just going from beautiful temple to beautiful temple; they all have an air of tranquility and respect that is quite remarkable. My favourite complex was Wat Chedi Luang which was HUGE; it contains a number of beautiful buildings as well as a jaw-dropping 12/13th venture temple. To make it even funnier, there was a trio of what we assumed to be ‘tourist monks’ visiting the sight and posing for photos- they even asked us for a photo with them!

-‘Tourist’ monks at Wat Chedi Luang!
-After enjoying a mixed fruit yoghurt-based shake in MoRooms Art Cafe (a trendy, Western-style little cafe down the road from Thapae Gate), we decided to make the most of our afternoon with a trip to Doi Suthep (which was highly recommended in almost every guidebook). We haggled with a driver, who agreed to take us there (40min drive), wait for 2 hours and then bring us back to our hotel for 500 baht. Weighing in at about £6 each, this was quite a lot more than some of the day tours we had seen advertised; however, we were happy to pay it just for ease. 

Doi Suthep is situated on the top of a hill, with windy, precarious roads (especially viewed from inside one of the ‘songtaew’- which are like red pick-up trucks that work like taxis, with two benches for people to sit and completely open backs! We didn’t envy some of the crazy people we saw on the way attempting to walk/cycle up to the summit though. Upon arrival, on top of the 30 Baht entrance fee, we decided to pay 20 Baht for a lift one way (we did the stairs on the way down, which probably would have been ok). The temple deserves its great reputation; shining in the bright sunlight, it really is beautiful. However, what I found even more stunning were the panoramic views available while walking around the outside of the temple complex; along with a multitude of stunning plants, it really was breathtaking.

-Doi Suthep
That evening, we decided to try the night market! Although we were pretty scared as we ended up down a dark side alley offering ‘sexy massages’ (….), the night market is actually pretty easy to find: just stick to the main roads. The first thing we noticed was how touristy it was- you can’t imagine how many pairs of elephant-print trousers were around for sale!! The food, however, was fab. We went a bit crazy, ordering chicken pad Thai, chicken satay skewers, spring rolls, dim sum, Nutella crepes and a coconut to drink! We had a lovely evening sitting in the covered seating area provided, spending less than £4 each!!

I know it is early days, but so far I am absolutely loving every part of our trip! Bring on the rest…

I’m on my Wai!!

-Gap yah-ing in South-East Asia.

When my parents, at 18, decided to defer their university places for one year in order to travel the world, they were trailblazers in their jet-setting ways. Sharing stories of their wild (and quite often dangerous) adventures over the dinner table throughout our childhood, my brothers and I were brought up believing that travelling the world is a tremendous aspiration. 

inspired by Asia from day one!!

Thirty years on, however, it has become something of a cliche: heading off to ‘find yourself’ on the other side of the world. Though my ‘gap- yah’ was somewhat unusual (in that six months of it was spent in full-time dance training!) and completely unplanned, I still seem to have somehow ended up travelling to South-East Asia to do the classic backpacking tour.

Travelling for just one month with a friend from school, our trip really is a whistle-stop tour of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Though my friend went inter-railing last summer, this will be my first time travelling for more than just a couple of weeks. With this in mind, and the fact that I know very little about Asian culture, I think it is fair to say that I am pretty nervous!! 

With a combination of flights, buses, trains, hostels, hotels and tours already booked I am setting off with the backpack my mum took with her almost THIRTY YEARS AGO. I am totally looking forward to seeing the sights and getting a flavour of these countries… some elephants along the way won’t hurt either!!

-Mum’s bag is packed and ready to go!

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.”

Reflections on ‘King Lear’ (Shakespeare’s Globe, seen 14/10/17)

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N.B. Standing for about 3 hours of Shakespeare is pretty tough!!

I realise that, in my failure to post on a regular basis, I now find myself having to backtrack a fair amount into the past few months… however, I would like to write down some of my thoughts relating to the various theatre productions that I experienced during that time, starting with Nancy Meckler’s ‘King Lear’ at the Globe Theatre (as well as my thoughts on reading the play as a text).

A recurring idea in the play is that of fate and Divine judgement/intervention, as exemplified by the quote from Gloucester that I have used as the title of this post. Although I have seen this idea several times before in plays, I believe I really understood its significance through live performance. The actors’ focus OUT towards the audience as they spoke lines relating to this idea suggested that, in theatre, it is the audience who play ‘God’; it is we who decide who is good, who is bad, who should be punished.

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Me loving life at Shakespeare’s Globe in front of the set for ‘King Lear’!

Having studied ‘Othello’ and ‘Hamlet’ at A-Level, I also recognised the evidence of male sexual anxiety in ‘King Lear’. This was brilliantly realised in performance through the presentation of Goneril and Reagan as having a sexual appetite. It is perhaps clear how, in the play’s original performance context, this would have immediately linked the daughters to ‘evil’; they challenge the male order of the world.

Cordelia, on the other hand, is clearly a victim- is it fair that she, an innocent, suffers the same fate (i.e. death) as the ostensible villains, Goneril and Reagan?

It is only natural that, having studied tragedy and crime for A-level, I am conditioned to challenge the conventional perceptions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters- are ‘evil’ characters in fact ‘good’ if their actions are justified?! For example, Goneril and Reagan are arguably justified in trying to overthrow the mad King- is their punishment any more justified than the death of Cordelia? Indeed, following the idea of the ‘male order of things’, it could be argued that Cordelia is justly punished for defying this (she challenges traditional gender roles by becoming a military leader, for example).

Are not all the female characters in the play, then, VICTIMS of male sexual anxiety?!

— as I have previously mentioned, it is up to US as the audience to decide our own answers to these questions.

Above all else, however, what struck me about this production was the emotional response that it caused within me. The magic of Shakespeare’s plays is their ability to be transported and transformed across the years, while maintaining the profound effect they have on the audience. This was a truly emotional and touching performance that engaged both my intellectual and emotional centres, proving (as if we need it) just what a genius Shakespeare truly was.

-A.

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We caught the tail-end of Emma Rice’s wonderful ‘Summer of Love’ ❤

Big decisions..

-What do you do when your dreams become a reality?

Around June last year, I shocked myself when I became increasingly doubtful that I still wanted to pursue dance. Dancing full-time has been my dream for what feels like forever; however, I realised that I had an equal, if not greater, genuine passion for English Literature.

Last term, I therefore put in an application to study English at Cambridge. Although I was lucky to be applying post-A levels with good grades, I still felt that it was certainly a long shot, especially considering the quality (and sheer quantity) of the other applicants.

However, on Tuesday this week, I received an email from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, offering me a place on their course. For a good couple of minutes I (quite literally) did not breathe as I very slowly read the email; it took a while for the realisation to hit me…

I can only describe my initial reaction as shock. In between classes with only a fifteen minute break, I simply could not believe what my brain was processing. As well as the expected absolute delight at getting such an offer, deep down I also felt a sense of utter dread, as I realised that I would now have to make the decision that I have been putting off since June 2017.

Yes, it has been my dream to be a dancer for my entire life. But I have also realised that dreams change- is my dream now to read English Lit at Cambridge? I’m still trying to work out which of these two is the right decision to make, and now that the latter has become a reality, I am afraid that the answer is that there is no ‘right’ decision.

And I think this is true of life generally. There are of course times at which it is clear which is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. However, there is also an awful lot of grey in the world, in which ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are blurred, and both options are totally ‘right’ and completely ‘wrong’ simultaneously.

One of the most powerful feelings in life is regret. I am entirely terrified that, whatever I decide to do, it will be the great regret of my life. But I know, too, that whatever we decide, there is always an element of regret.

I am therefore resolved that, when I do make a decision, I shall sleep easy in the knowledge that, whatever the future holds, regardless of whether I am ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, this is the path that I have taken, and chosen to take at this particular moment.

-A.

Freshers’ Blues.

-Preparing to go back to university for the Spring term, I am reminded of the beginning of my uni experience: the famous FRESHERS’ week.

Needless to say, I didn’t exactly start uni in the best possible way; coming straight off a plane after a very emotional time spent in Romania, and already full of doubts as to whether I still wanted to do the course, it was only natural that I was somewhat unsettled.

However, having spoken to many of my school friends (one of whom left uni shortly after Freshers’ week), as well as having my own less-than-perfect experience, I was really shocked at the difficulties we all were having.

I spent a lot of my time in those first two weeks pretty bored and lonely, not really knowing anyone and not really having anything to do; my experience of Freshers’ week was far from the life-changing, alcohol-fuelled endless nights that I had expected. And that is precisely the problem. Freshers is built up to be a 24/7, wild party when the reality often couldn’t be further from this.

Indeed, when speaking to my old school teachers, I was surprised to see several knowing smiles as they told me that everyone always realises this, usually, like me, too late. One of my favourite comments was from a teacher who, after listening to my account of the struggles of Freshers’ week, said to me, “But you got through it, didn’t you?”

No, I did not have the time of my life during Freshers’ week. No, it was not what I had expected. But, in hindsight, it wasn’t horrendous either. If you take away all of the expectations and just look at what actually goes on in Freshers’ week, you are left with lots of young adults feeling rather unsettled and more than a little lost, trying to take it all in.

And to me, that sounds only natural and pretty okay.

-A.

The Greatest Show on Earth

-The Society of Love lives on in ‘The Greatest Showman’.

The trailer for Hugh Jackman’s new film, featuring stunning costumes, powerful original songs and spectacular choreography, immediately promised to tick every box for me.

After practically dragging my mum with me to the cinema, the film did not disappoint one bit. From the first moment the young P. T. Barnum started to sing, both of us were absolutely spellbound for the following two hours.

GREATEST SHOWMAN POSTER

‘The Greatest Showman’ is a new musical film (a la the 2001 ‘Moulin Rouge’) telling the story of P. T. Barnum, an American showman famous for starting the Barnum and Bailey Circus (known as The Greatest Show on Earth); in short, the film shows the start of show business as we know it. 

What struck me most about the powerful story and soundtrack was the overwhelming themes of love; Zendaya’s African-American trapeze artist and Zac Efron’s white, privileged playwright dream they can “rewrite the stars” to fulfil their forbidden love; Jackman’s Barnum dreams of a new life inspired by “the vision of the one [he sees]”; eventually both he and Rebecca Ferguson’s Jenny Lind realise that stardom will  “never be enough” without the ones they love.

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In addition to this romantic love, the film is moreover a celebration of self-love and a love of all humanity; Keala Settle, who stars as the bearded lady, leads the triumphant “This Is Me”: a tribute to the bravery, resilience and power of those treated as outsiders by society.

bearded lady

A few weeks ago, a teacher asked me: “What is the function of art today?”

After debating the Romantics’ aesthetic appreciation of pure beauty without thought and more modern pieces’ clear socio-political messages, I found myself coming back to Secret Cinema’s ‘Society of Love’. With Emma Rice’s wonderful ‘Summer of Love’ at the Globe earlier this year, and now ‘The Greatest Showman’, it seems there is a very powerful, very important and very special trend emerging in film, television and theatre.

In a world that sometimes feels bleak and divided, governed by hatred, it is a real comfort to me that the world of the arts has the potential to heal wounds of division and celebrate us all as we are, where we are right now.

Pushing through boundaries, embracing humanity and championing love, ‘The Greatest Showman’ can teach us an awful lot about the world around us and, indeed, our own life: The Greatest Show of al.

GLOBE LOVE

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