Killing Time in Familiar Places: Notes on Learning to Enjoy Enforced Stasis


It’s like this, except the opposite.


It’s been raining for about three days now. The kind of rain that comes with leaden dark white skies, streams of water everywhere, and cacophony on metal roofs. Yesterday, near hurricane winds led to all ferries to and from the mainland being cancelled. A wheelbarrow in our yard blew over and crashed through a basement window. I stayed in bed all day, groggily nursing the tail end of a cruddy cold, watching water squeeze through a screw hole at the edge of the bedroom window, slowly saturating an old, ripped towel that I had scrunched up on the window sill.

Last night, we emerged from hibernation and watched an Anthony Bourdain episode about Andalucia.

Conversation went something along these lines:

“Screw the UK visa. Let’s move to Granada”


A few minutes pass.

“We could run a tapas bar there. I’ll cook!”

“Sounds good.”

“We could live in a converted hillside cave and learn to dance flamenco!”

A quick flurry of google action ensues while he looks up flamenco rhythms and measured attempts at various hand claps in SoleáAlegría, and Bulería timing tentatively flutter forth.

Before Bourdain, there was a program about holiday disasters abroad. A nurse went to Mexico and had her arm and leg eaten by a shark.

‘Oooooh, let’s go to Mexico!”

And another tourist went to Jamaica and was nearly paralyzed after cliff jumping.

“Oooooh, let’s go to Jamaica!”

And so on.

I should note at this point that my passport is somewhere en route to Sheffield, where the UK Home Office will hopefully soon receive it and start the 4-12 week process of determining my worthiness to live there as the spouse of one of its subjects. The lady at the Vancouver biometric scanning office told me that I’d receive an email as soon as my application arrives in the UK, then at some point afterward, unspecified, I’d get another email saying approximately how long it would take, then eventually, an email declaring Yea or Nay.

So, basically, that means I’ll be sans passport until the end of October at the earliest and end of December at the latest.

*Insert sinking feeling/mild panic here*

Now, I know a lot of people live their entire lives without ever even owning a passport. Millions of Americans, for example. Hundreds of millions of Chinese. Many never leave their home towns, much less their native countries. I’ve only been back in Canada for 6 weeks and already I’m going ever so slightly stir crazy.

But then again, maybe I’m not. I’m not really sure any more.



I even miss the fake dyed tiger fur poacher dudes on Fang Bang lu.


You see, I’m really enjoying being home again. I’m delighting in all the cheese. And bread. And hey, look, a full sized oven! Breathable air and lots of trees!  The ocean! Family! A vast, uninterrupted, totally excusable chunk of enforced unemployment partially subsidized by being able to live in my parents’ basement or up-island in the house in the forest that I grew up in. Days where I don’t have to get out of bed until lunch if I don’t want to.

Do you know how nice it is to be nearly 5 months pregnant and not have to commute an hour each way through Shanghai traffic to a job where you then have to stand and teach for a half dozen more hours before returning to battle that same grim, grey, sloggy traffic (or impossibly crowded metro during rush hour) home?

But shouldn’t I be, like, away? Somewhere I am barely literate, where my attempts at communication provoke embarrassed titters or blank stares? Somewhere I can easily get lost. Somewhere that scares me ever so slightly, though I’d never admit it. Somewhere that specializes in hallucinogenic spicy soups or which is mind-fuckingly hot and humid with slow turning ceiling fans.



Mmmm, spicy hotel breakfast soup!


I worry, ever so slightly, that I’ve conditioned myself to never be satisfied with my current situation, no matter what it is.

You see, if I’m travelling, I secretly crave stability, a home, a base, an oven, family, blah blah blah. I beg my travelling companions to slow down, to stay extra days wherever we are. I start looking at real estate listings. I get annoyed that I must depend on restaurants, cafes, street stalls for all my meals on the road. I grow tired of living out of my backpack (hello all of my 20s!). I just want to stand still and breathe deeply, finding my centre.

And so now I’m unpacked. Have been for ages. There’s a gorgeous home baked steak and ale pie in the oven, making the kitchen smell fabulous. I have all the time in the world to breathe, to stand still (or rather, to lie still, under the duvet, with tea and cookies), to find my centre. I can’t think of a single thing, objectively, that is wrong about my current situation.

Except for that annoying fact that I don’t have my passport and I don’t know when I will get it back.

Oh, and the fact that the trajectory of my next year or so rests solely in the hands of the UK Home Office and their big old Yea/Nay rubber stamps. I’m not used to having no control over the course of events. I can’t even say fuck it, I’m off to Mexico. No passport and all.


I want to go to Mexico.

Or Spain.




He is so outta here.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.