Tuesday, 24 March 2015

China: The one where I was literally allergic to an entire country

I was allergic to China.  At first when we arrived I was just insanely jetlagged, which is hardly the country's fault.  It was 6am when we landed, and apart from a few people getting a bit of a nap, none of us really slept on the flight so we’d been awake for 20 hours or so already.  In our minds it was time to be dropping off, so when we eventually arrived in our hotel at 8am or so, and had breakfast simply, to misquote the explorer Mallory; “because it was there,” none of us were quite with it.  The fact that the breakfast consisted solely of what we understood to be evening food confused us further, and it was a miracle I didn’t faint when I finally caught sight of my amazing bed.  Instead, being gluttons for punishment, we put on all of our woollies and headed to Tiananmen square where we were filmed by a group of Chinese students wanting to practice their English.

On no sleep, this entire episode was deeply, deeply bizarre, made more so by the cloud of pollution that loomed ominously over the city.  

It was like being in a dream.  I was lucky enough to have a quick nap after we returned, then we went to a long, relaxing dinner and I slept through the night.  The next day I felt like I was going to, not just faint, but simply dissolve into the floor for most of it, but I slept through the night then too, and I was fine.

Of course, then the cold started.

I’d, like an IDIOT, managed to forget to bring paracetamol and lemsip and all my various medical gubbins over with me from Europe, and I didn’t understand anything in the chemist.  Of course, if you were after birth control they sold the equivalent of morning after pills over the counter for £4.50 but simple, normal medicine was very confusing to find and I was too nervous to mime anything, like that time in Germany three years prior when I was worried I was pregnant and hadn't yet learnt any of the language; I ended up miming a pregnant belly followed by a helpless shrug to a staff-member and they seemed to understand me.  Of course, it turned out that I was under a lot of stress and my body had helpfully decided that, to make me less stressed, it would stop my periods and make me even more stressed.  *SIGH.* TL,DR; I'M NOT PREGNANT, SO STOP PANICKING.

Anyway, it was one of the nastiest colds I’d had in a while, and throughout my first week of China performances almost every one of my lines would have been punctuated by a loud sniff, and at one point I actually saw a drip of my nose mucus fall onto Polonius but I subtly found a reason to touch him and wipe it off before he noticed.  He will never know! BWA HA HA HA HA HA-oh.

A trip to the great wall of China and sliding down in a toboggan (possibly definitely in the same toboggan once ridden by Michelle Obama!) cured literally every ill in my body, however, and we were excited to move south and explore different parts of the country.

During the first week we also started having these really messed up dreams about each other.  Due to the weird sleep patterns and, quite frankly, bizarre activities we were getting up to, even my mental dreams were crazier than usual.  One in particular stood out.  All of us apart from Horatio were out at a lovely restaurant in dresses and tuxedos partaking of champagne and incredibly sophisticated conversation.  Suddenly, Horatio walked in, dressed head to foot in a hot dog costume.  He looked embarrassed for a moment, before his face turned into a scowl, and he said angrily:

And walked stiffly out, slamming the restaurant door behind him.

That was when we all started throwing up.

It wasn’t quite simultaneous; that would have actually been pretty cool, apart from the fact that when an entire company of actors IS actually throwing up constantly, it’s surprisingly not that funny, as happened in one of Horatio’s previous casts with this company:

Laertes was the first to go, unable to sleep during the night before we left Beijing.  Gertrude swiftly followed.

Now I am the first to admit that I am somewhat of a hypochondriac, to the extent that my mother used to hide our family's medical encyclopedia so that I wouldn’t learn anymore names to diseases.

However if Ben Goldacre has taught me nothing else, (he’s actually taught me a great deal, but that’s another story,) it’s that psychological illness can be just as real and threatening as so called ‘real’ illness, so, once Laertes and Gertrude were throwing up every night and spending the whole day gaunt and pale next to a bucket, I started to feel sick too.  “It’s just psychological.” I kept telling myself. 

On the third night after Laertes got sick, however, I was lying in bed with stomach cramps, unable to sleep, for a good many hours.  Eventually I gave in and threw up everything in my tummy, but, alas, there was not much in there, so I spent a solid two hours running back and forth between the toilet, my poor stomach retching and retching trying to rid itself of the emptiness that lay within.  “There’s nothing left!” I wept to my body, “why can’t you understand that?” This all fell on deaf ears.

By this time, Laertes and Gertrude were better, and the show the next day was fine.

It was the following day where I was an UTTER FOOL.  Because I felt better, I naturally bought and consumed almost an entire tube of sour cream and onion Pringles, because why wouldn’t I? My tummy was still a bit achey, but the show went fine.  At least most of it did.  It was in one of my mad scenes, when I had to yell and punch a coat (you had to be there) and then fall to the floor, that I realised I was going to be sick.  It was there, in front of an audience of several hundred people, all looking at me, that I had to make the quickest executive decision regarding vomit I will probably ever have to make in my life.

“I have three options.” I thought to myself.  “Obviously the easiest would be to just throw up.  They may think it’s part of the play.  However there is a sword fight later and I don’t want Hamlet or Laertes to die in real life due to slipping and ending up impaled on a sword in a pool of my vomit.  There are surely better ways to go.  The other option is that I run off stage and throw up, but I don’t know if the people who have lines next are ready to come on and I know there’s some music in a bit and also I would worry people and I don’t want to worry people…”

These thoughts occurred in the space of one second.  It was becoming rapidly clear to me that I had to do something.

“The third option is that I say all the lines as quickly as possible and walk off stage without upsetting my stomach further.”

At the time, this seemed to be my only option.  My colleagues must have thought I had gone absolutely dotty because my next set of lines which I usually made last for a minute I squished into about five seconds flat before wandering oddly from the stage.

I then looked from side to side in a panic before running to the mercifully close toilets and evacuating the contents of my stomach into one of them.  I came on stage one minute later again as if nothing had happened.

The next few days were un-eventful, until Hamlet got sick too.  Polonius, Claudius and Horatio avoided the whole thing, which I think means there is some plot afoot.  Gertrude’s theory is that it was something on the pitch pipe, but we will never know.

The days were uneventful, of course, apart from the ridiculously eventful day which immediately followed.  I was feeling okay, but a little gassy.  Not being one to hold in my farts, (which will definitely be the opening line of my epitaph,) I let one out about 10 seconds before five of us were about to gaily caper on for the Players’ scene in Act I.  Alas for me, for this wasn’t a fart at all.  My face drained itself of all colour and expression.  Claudius stood next to me.  I simply whispered:

Before we had to start singing and dancing onto the stage. 

I got several doubtful looks from Gertrude throughout the scene because of the smell, and Claudius was unable to keep a straight face.  I simply hung my head like an embarrassed dog and continued the scene with a hilariously awkward gait, trying not to allow the mess to spread.  Offstage I stripped my entire bottom half off and used baby wipes, scrunching up all my dirty clothes and putting them in a plastic bag to be taken home like some disgraced school child, all under the watchful eyes of the bemused fire officers. I had to do the entire rest of the play completely commando, and extremely ashamed of myself.

Later on that evening, Hamlet came by my room to give me some of his special tea for bad tummies, and I greeted him with a cheery:

I hope that a lot of potential employers reading this will take this as proof of my absolute sheer professionalism, and I never even mentioned the time when I started my period over one of my dresses and had to wash it in a sink in the interval.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

China: The one where we're all really attractive

I went to China recently.  Twice, in fact.  It was rather interesting, and I’m going to spend the next 10 blog posts discussing it in detail.  This is a wee introduction about my visits.

I’ve always known that I’m beautiful.  I can’t help it; it just happened.  In fact, I went through childhood feeling remarkably ugly and it was only when I got to university that I realised I was kind of hot.  Here is the evidence:

Enough of that. 

So people being fascinated by my appearance is not unusual to me, however the degree to which people were fascinated by me in China was alarming and disturbing at times.  It wasn’t just me either; it also happened to the rest of my friends and colleagues.

Now my fellow Hamleteers are all stunningly beautiful and wonderful in their own ways, but there was nothing about them that would make British people run up to them in the street and take selfies with them, unless Horatio was wearing his hot dog costume, but that’s another story.  If I ever saw any of them in the street, however, I would run up to them, clutch them round the legs and not let go until they physically beat me away, because these people are the god-damned salt of the earth.  Let me describe each one in my own special way:

Hamlet liked to tell random people about our banal plans for the next few days, realise they were random people and subsequently walk away.

Claudius liked dirty words, and this was a constant source of hilarity for both of us.

Polonius was probably the only person to have ever worn a poncho in Jerusalem.

Gertrude likes to take a word, ‘x,’ and change it to ‘x’-y mc- ‘x-y-son.’

Horatio is Northern and makes a noise like a train whistle when he gets excited

Laertes doesn’t look where he’s going and likes to pluck guitar strings really loudly.

If you live in London and listen very carefully, you might hear an agonised yell and the sound of a computer keyboard being snapped in half.

Despite being pretty ordinary people, we faced a lot of interest where ever we went.  It struck us as odd because if people were ever singled out like that in Britain it would be quite alarming.  For example, in St. Andrews where I went to university, there are fewer black people in relation to the population than there are western people in China (or so it seems anyway) but you'd never see this happening: 

It would be somewhat problematic.

I'm not trying to say there is a double standard here, because Caucasian people do not have a history of being racially oppressed, whereas pretty much every other race does, so it's probably good for us to be the minority every now and then.  Although nobody goes up to black people in St. Andrews and asks for their picture, they must receive quite a bit of unwanted attention and harrassment as a result of their genetics, most likely involving amateur theatre companies who want to put on Othello.  I wasn't at all offended by the attention we got in China; it was just really, really, really weird. 

At least until these two teenage girls tried to grab my hair.  Then I was pretty scared.  To be fair to them, it is dreadfully pretty, but if I went around trying to grab everything I thought was pretty, I'd definitely be in prison for assaulting Robert Downey Junior by now.

At one point Polonius was standing in the street and this man stood a few feet away from him, literally just pointing at him and hysterically laughing for about five minutes! Very strange.  A lot of people wanted photos with us, and to do this they would simply run up in front of us with their phone on selfie mode, click one, and run away with it.  Sometimes we'd get asked and the tone they would use made us feel like celebrities, so it was kind of okay.  On our last week, we were lucky enough to find a splendid restaurant and eat like the kings that we were.  However our meal was interrupted at various intervals by the serving staff coming up and taking pictures of us while we were eating.  At one point the chef even came out to take one.  I tried to take a picture of them as well but they got nervous and hid their faces.

I almost wish that I did feel confident enough to go up to people doing unusual-looking things and take pictures of them, or even join in with what they were doing, because there was plenty of that going on in China, notably, this:

Gertrude and I just couldn’t figure it out…were they practicing at being models? If so, why? I can understand that dancing is fun, but when does the opportunity come up where you need to have experience in walking backwards and forwards repeatedly in unison with four other people along to a stately pop song? They seemed to be having fun, though, and that’s the important thing.  Perhaps if I'd had less British inhibition I would have joined in and I'd be a model by now.

You may not know this, but there are quite a lot of people in China; like; over a thousand.  Maybe, as a result of this, group activities and finding your place in a society seem to be much more important than individual growth.  In Chinese parks everyone is doing really wacky, fun things and don’t seem to have any inhibitions about it.  In parks in England everyone would just be sitting separately on their phones or something, or, if they were having fun playing sport, it would be a group of people who already knew each other.  (Now I’m the LAST person to criticise anyone spending time on their phones, but at the same time if I were to go up to a random person in a park and try and play a game with them somebody would probably call the police.)    I may have deviated slightly from how attractive we all were there, but the main thing is that the Chinese don’t seem to have any of these social boundaries or inhibitions, and that is my favourite thing about China.

There were a lot of not so good things as well, but they are to come…