I might never have dreamed of being an earthbag builder, but I did always harbour a lust for writing. So while some vocations might be unplanned, others are locked in our hearts from the word go. I think I’ve wanted to write since I was about six years old. Yet, it has always seemed so dauntingly out-of-reach. There are publishers to convince, cynical editors to win over, networks of the ‘right’ people to circulate among. I’m not really a circulator. And I’ve never felt particularly congruous with the literati, nor am I able to see the world in the ways that journalistic convention necessitates. I have often felt I must have been born with alien lenses grafted onto my retinas. So, I buried that little dream years ago and became a teacher instead. But it was there, it was always there. And then along came the internet.
You’d think that my writing would have immediately found its expression in a blog. Yet, I never saw myself as a blogger. I’d got it into my head that blogs were the diaries of bored housewives, or the ramblings of conspiracy theorists. My hands, all callouses and scratches, were too dirty for all that typing, my brain not wired for the information technology required. I was completely computer illiterate. But underneath that bank of preconceived ideas subsisted the cornerstone of my prejudice. I thought writing was an art confined to books and newspapers, not something that flashed up on screen. And then, as usual, something in my life went ‘wrong’, and I was forced to reconsider all of that.
It is just now, as I tip over the first birthday of The Mud, that I remember how and why I started. It all began a long way from my remote mountain roundhouse in Turkey. The Mud actually took off in Taiwan.
It was January 2012. Winter had dug its icy claws into my hillside. The house was up, the roof was on, but my mudplaster wasn’t working. I was out of physical energy and out of cash, and a well-paid teaching job in Taiwan was as available as a waiter in Kuşadası. If truth be told, I had no inclination to go East at all. I wanted to finish my house. But with only a thousand dollars left in my account, reality was staring at me hard. And it had a face I didn’t like too much, one with haggard jowls and a mouth full of scurvy. So, I buckled up, gritted my teeth, and braced myself for a stint of school teacher confinement in Asia. I have to say, after a year of living under the wide, blue bowl of the Turkish sky, it felt like doing time. Yet, how grateful I am now. Because it was in Taiwan, land of sleek high-speed rails, and hi-tech madness, that my Mud blog was born.
There really can’t be two more opposite places on Earth than Turkey and Taiwan. With the exception of Istanbul, which is nearly a country in its own right, Turkey is all boundless space and rural wilderness. It is hirsute men and voluptuous women, exploding emotions and laissez-faire, tea breaks and ‘tomorrow’. Things take their time to move upwards in Turkey, just like the olive trees in the fields. And nothing goes to plan. You either learn patience, or you leave. Taiwan, on the other hand, is cluttered and fast. It is an island the size of Belgium with a population dense enough to make a mountain nomad’s eyes water. Metropolises back onto each other the length of the west coast. They form long trains of cuboid urbanity, and their streets are tight braids of scooters tied with colourful ribbons of fluorescence. Wherever you go, clouds of people (neither hirsute nor voluptuous) are going there too. Taiwan is convenient. It’s also workaholic. At least, I’ve never worked in any other country where a teacher grafts from 7:50 am until 5 pm.
So, a little over a year ago, I was sitting in front of my classroom monitor in Taiwan repressing the urge to keel over from boredom. The question of why a teacher spends hours in front of a monitor is one you have to go Taiwan to find out. But that’s how it was. And instead of just swiveling right and left on my chair and clawing at the window, I decided to do something constructive. I taught myself how to build websites. And I can tell you, this was quite an undertaking for someone who two years prior hadn’t even known what a PDF file was.
Slowly but surely, The Mud emerged from the swamp of my ignorance. And low and behold, a niche for my dream of writing was sculpted into the ether. Thus, one year on, it’s time for a little gratitude towards Taiwan. The money didn’t last all that long, and I’m almost certain I’ll never teach in a school again. But I thank you Taiwan for technologising the hillbilly, so that she can live every aspect of her wildest dreams. And I thank all these things that go wrong too. Where would I be without them?
Atulya K Bingham
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