After discovering she was pregnant, Laura Pauley quickly found herself single, homeless and jobless.
In 2010 she released a book about her struggle, My Summer Bump. Four years later Laura took her daughter Summer backpacking around Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – the subject of her new book, My Asian Summer. Laura, who lives in Birdham, is celebrating its release with a taste of Asia party open to the public on Saturday, September 15 at Lavant Memorial Hall, from 1-5pm. She would love to see you there.
“When Summer was three, I decided that I wanted to go away on some kind of trip,” says Laura who is currently on maternity leave from her job as a press officer for Portsmouth Hospitals. “I took her to Spain first to see if I could do the trip myself. It was like a week’s holiday, but the main thing was to see if I could do it. And we absolutely loved it. It was really funny. On the last night in Barcelona, we were in this rooftop restaurant and there were all these couples there having candlelit dinners, and there was me with my three-year-old! And I just thought ‘I am having a great time with her!’”
And so she started planning: “I started saving up and got the ball rolling. It took a full year to put the itinerary together. We went out in October 2014. We were away for five and a half to six weeks.
“I am just a normal person. I have got to work. I had to get the leave together. I did overtime. I had to get permission from the school. And it was great. We went to Hong Kong and then Thailand and then the whole of Cambodia from top to bottom and then got the bus into Vietnam.”
On their travels, they worked as elephant and bear keepers, lived with a local family in the Thai jungle and visited numerous orphanages, handing out toys and stationery they had fundraised for: “It was a mix of emotions. When we got back, it felt like we had been away for months. A typical day was getting up at six in the morning and then getting back at nine or ten at night. It was like every day was the equivalent of three days. And Summer was totally different when she came back. She experienced so much. She had so much she had to get used to. People weren’t used to seeing little girls like her, and people would surround her and want to touch her hair. After a while she adapted to it. I kept saying to her that it was like she was a celebrity off the TV! Summer quickly adapted to the ever-changing languages and new cultures, learning how to interact with people with different beliefs and changing her behaviour to not offend. Despite being so young, she learnt about wildlife, nature, architecture and history. Working as elephant and bear keepers, Summer learnt about their mistreatment and rescue attempts.” And Laura changed massively too. She believes she has come back much more empathetic. She sees holidays in a new light now, that it is not a good thing to travel to Thailand and sit on the back of an elephant: “It is just not natural. We need to educate people so that these things go out of business.”