This video is the story of the time I spent in Burma. I went there in February 2015. I went there to travel and to do journalism. I wanted to see if I could combine the experience of traveling with the challenge of trying to find stories. As a freelancer, trying to travel and hunt down stories while you do so is a fun challenge. This was my first experiment trying to do that.
The benefits of traveling in this way are many. One of these is that you travel in a different way, as you try to get beneath the surface and look deeper than you might normally do. You also meet people, from locals to intrepid expats. The other big benefit of course is financial, as stories you find and sell helps to offset the money you spent traveling.
The video was shot using a Canon S120 and edited in Windows Movie Maker.
- Burmese Days — this is the written companion to the video above
- How I learned to love life and reporting again while in Burma
- After Burma, now I’m broke
The CNN article mentioned in the video is here.
The previous video I made is: A Year In The Life of a Freelance Journalist Abroad
When I made the decision to go to Beijing, after graduating university, it was an instinctive decision. I knew that it was a choice that would have deep and long-lasting effects. And it has. It’s been a blast.
But after three years of Beijing there will come a time when I will want to make another decision. Whether to continue doing the same thing, or to branch out and pick another fig, and experience something completely new.
But how will I know, when I come to make that decision, that the choice I make, will be the right one?
The first couple of months I spent in Beijing were miserable. Lonely. Hard. This was autumn 2012. You won’t find any posts about those months on this blog because I wasn’t blogging back then. But I do remember looking at the ceiling, in my little rented bedroom, at night, feeling quite alone, and wondering whether what I was doing made any sense.
I didn’t know back then whether the decision to go to Beijing would pay off. I had no idea. I couldn’t predict the future.
The second year was better. There was more momentum, more serendipity. By the third year though, things waned. Got a bit stale. Some of that initial motivation had worn off. And I wondered why that was.
The clue was that I finally understood what the phrase “the struggle is the reward” meant.
Those initial months in Beijing were hard, but I was struggling towards something. That struggle gave a firmer narrative to life and a meaning to the misery. The struggle itself made everything rewarding, even the hardship — especially the hardship.
There was purpose in it.
A person I admire is Casey Neistat, a filmmaker. He recalled his first years in New York City, after moving there from small-town New England:
The hardest part was the loneliness, like I didn’t really know anyone in the city when I moved here. I remember going home after work to my tiny apartment and it was like, I had no-one to hang out with, I had no-one to call, I had nothing to do. And that lasted for like, I feel like years, of that kind of loneliness.
I spent a lot of time in my head, dreaming and fantasizing about the life in this city I aspired towards.
Elsewhere, on his YouTube channel, he talks about how he lived in closets, in tiny apartments, in his early years in NYC, sharing with illegal immigrants and ex-convicts. All in the pursuit of his dream, of making it in the city.
He’s now wildly successful, with two million subscribers to his YouTube channel, a tech company he founded, and what he calls a golden age, of his present situation.
But there is a sense I feel, from him, that there is a part of him that maybe misses the young, crazy, suffering, part of his life, when he was starving, and all ahead of him was wild potential and possibility.
I am not successful, not to any degree to how Casey Neistat is successful anyway, in my own field. But I’m no longer that young kid scrapping in Beijing, hungry and desperate for bylines.
So there needs to be a re-framing, a different narrative, as I transition toward a different period in my life.
Is there a conclusion to any of this?
Not really. I’ll let you know in a year or two.
I can’t predict the future.
I have been at home, living at my parent’s house. They live in a village called Ninfield, in southeast England. It’s about half an hour’s drive from Hastings, the seaside town where I grew up. Round here it’s green fields, country homes, and little churches.
It’s been raining a lot. Daffodils bloom outside due to the warmest December in Britain on record.
I’ve not had much to do. I do some editing for a PR firm. Wrote a couple of travel articles for an Aussie website which will pay well. Sent a couple of pitches out earlier this week.
But January is usually a quiet month for freelancers. Although if I was in China, I’d have quite a bit on my plate as there’s a lot going on right now.
There is not much to do in Ninfield. It’s a village so it’s a very small place. There are no cafes and just a few shops. There are two pubs and a post office. Mostly I’ve been at home, exercising a little on a camping mat I bought, and reading the internet and watching TV.
Occasionally I go out for a walk. It’s muddy and wet and the grass is very green. I’ve enjoyed the British weather and the countryside. I went walking one day and I was taking photos on my phone of the scenery. In front of me there was a field that sloped downward toward the horizon, with a farmstead at the bottom, and horses in the field.
One approached me after I had stood there for a while taking pictures. He probably was wondering what I was doing and wanted to take a look.
I am starting to get antsy cooped up at home. Wanderlust fills me. I am kinda glad I am not in Beijing right now. I know it well enough to know that Beijing in January is a dangerous place and I’ve always tended toward a bleak and depressed mood in the city at this time of year.
On Christmas eve, my old school friends and I will usually meet at a pub and have drinks. It’s a kind of tradition. We’ll also meet up at one of our friend’s houses for a catch-up and we’ll go play football. That’s also become a tradition.
We don’t see each other very often. Sometimes just once or twice a year.
One is in the army, having returned from Afghanistan. Another works for a medical company with wife and newborn son. Another works for a water company up north. Another is well traveled and often abroad.
I find that a lot of options tend to run in my head. Projections of what I will do in the near future.
All these options are available, and making a choice means snatching one of the choices in my head and making that choice real. Sometimes it’s easier to just project the image of that choice. To bathe in the glow of the possibility that I have made that choice.
Tomorrow I go to London. And the day after I go to a national newspaper’s office to meet editors with whom I’ve corresponded but have never met.
I’m also reading a book by a Norwegian. I’ve not read him before. I came upon a passage, in which the author writes about his experience having just moved to the north of Norway, to teach at a school, while he writes, at the age of 18. And I remembered a little how I felt at that age.
“All the books I liked were basically about the same topic…Books about young men who struggled to fit into society, who wanted more from life than routines, more from life than a family, in short, young men who hated middle-class values and sought freedom…Everything they wanted I wanted too”.
- Write a Novel
Even if it takes two years, the sense of completion I’d feel would be worth it. That I started and finished a novel. More than that, I think of how much I’d learn.
I am increasingly convinced that strong storytelling is the key, whether it’s in marketing, advertising, speechwriting, blogging, journalism, or “content creation”. That a deep understanding of narrative, story, and essence is the fundamental skill needed.
I already have a “model book”, that is, a book which I’ll study chapter by chapter; analyzing line by line what’s going on, after which I’ll produce my version. It’s writing-by-numbers you might think, but by learning the infrastructure and superstructure of a novel like this I think I’ll indelibly absorb something useful.
How do you tell a story, what are the mechanics of narrative, constructing a plot, creating a character, developing a character, describing a believable person with spark and breath on a page — dialogue, mood, and tone. All this I have some sense of from the dozens of novels I’ve read but I won’t know until I do it myself.
I think I’ll be able to better tell a story, write an article, design a campaign, once I understand the bones of something as large as a novel intimately.
2. Be a more global writer
Go to South Korea. Tokyo. Bangkok. Around China. Taiwan. HK. Try to be an Asia correspondent. Join the dots. Put the pieces together. How things relate. Write and report more from more places. Have a different experience.
3. Work on one or more “big stories”
An inspiring, romantic title, a journey, an adventure, a deep study of a subject worth exploring, something inspiring.
4. Consume less
I won’t be buying more clothes, unless I genuinely need it or I really love it. I won’t spend extra and indulge in food unless I actually feel like it. Spending–buying stuff are just boring, displacement activities that don’t mean anything. So I’ll cut down on this.
5. Connect with more people
Just put more effort into meeting more people, making genuine effort, and getting to know people.
6. Go to America
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, especially checking out the national parks, the landscape and some of the cities. If anyone wants to be my guide, let me know. In general, I should do more of the things I’ve always wanted to do.
…As it applies to me currently
I don’t get to have a “normal” routine. I don’t get a decent, comfortable salary. I don’t get benefits. I don’t get to meet celebrities. I don’t get as much access. I don’t get a clear path of progression. I don’t get to move to other countries, on someone else’s dime. I don’t get to have office chitchat and work friends. Or a regular sense of togetherness. I don’t get company trips or parties. I don’t get to take part in the editorial meeting. I don’t get to report daily. Or to be in that press conference. I don’t even get free coffee.
But I do look forward to Mondays more than most people.
I do get to wake up on Monday the 4th of January and idly wonder what the day will bring…