…f5

One week in already!

Despite a few early teething issues (specifically jetlag, accommodation falling through, and an unnecessarily nasty message from an ex’s sister here) the process of refreshing my memories of this marvelous state is working a treat.

Still in Washington at this stage, I rented a car and then settled into my temporary home in Olympia up near the Capitol Building. Got real lucky with this one and my 3 night Airbnb has now turned into something more long term with a super cool Californian family (zoologist and graphic artist) , their 2 year old son and their houseful of one-eyed and ragged rescue cats (plus Riley the dog).

**More on Amber and her Animal Rescue non-profit to come – living in a cathouse is awesome and Ive never seen such a variety of one eyed rescues in once place  đŸ™‚

Slipping back into the familiar territory around Olympia here was a good idea and getting tuned into the weirdness of American life was much easier than I expected.

Day 1 was a tired, confusing tangle of getting shit done, tip calculation and left handed “uh oh” moments, but after a good nights sleep and a few hours walking around, I was back in business.

Day 2 was much better. Rent a car. Get some jerky at the Markets, see the last day of the Olympia Lakefair. Time to explore.

It literally took only 10 minutes for me to adjust to right hand driving again. After the sweaty palms and abject fear of learning to drive here last year it was a welcome change.

So where to start?

Well of course I have to go back out to Union Deli for my usual. 

Heading out to Union again to catch up with my friends felt like I’d never left and the last year hadn’t happened. It was like driving into my home town (which was totally weird) and I don’t think that I’ve ever been made to feel so welcome than here (well…apart from the initial hiccup with J’s sister – although it upset my apple cart briefly, the wheels straightened, springs settled and the horse trotted on).

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Holly remembered my Americano and honey after a year or more away and the coffee was as good as ever. Bless you, Holly Jean.

Anyway my point here is that I’m here for a few reasons.
Firstly, and foremost Ive fallen deeply in love with the mountains, waters and forests of Western Washington. Something about this place vibrates at the same frequency as I do. I feel at peace here and this place has been calling me back from the moment I left. 

I dream about the woods here.

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Secondly, there’s a need to overwrite some of the bad memories from last year and replace them with good ones.  I kinda got the idea from watching a film – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – a while back. While erasing memories is beyond me at the moment (red wine aside), I thought that an enforced refresh might work – overwriting old with new memories would be just as good. It seems to be working well so far.

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…so just calm the heck down, Sarah.

 **Maybe don’t read/follow/report on my doings if its going to ‘upset’ certain peeps.

I wasn’t going to mention that but hey it’s my blog so I guess I am, huh. Whomsoever actually reads my social media/blomit now interests me and wtf should people care what I do anyway. 

One last passive-aggressive thing: there’s an unfriend/unfollow button there if you don’t want to be friends with me. I get it – it’s cool. Its not you, its me. Global peace etc. The unfriend button is really easy to use and I don’t really mind either way ( well I do actually but for the point of this argument I don’t).
Personally, I love to stay in touch with people and I definitely stay in touch with people I care about.

Like you kind folks. You are awesome.

Feel free to stay friends.

You’re welcome.

So…just to clarify.
What am I NOT here for?

Chasing ghosts and dwelling on the past. I am here to exorcise them for good and move forward.

As of today, after a week? Same sights, sounds and places, no triggers. No negative reaction whatsoever, so a perfect result as far as I’m concerned.

Mission almost accomplished.

It’s been fun to reconnect with my actual in-person friends here and experiencing this beautiful American summer for the first time is recharging batteries that I didn’t know I had.

So  – what else has been happening?

Hmmm…

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Well exploring Olympia in the sunshine is a treat, but summer nights are a different story all together. For example the Capitol building is simply stunning by night. The views from the Police Memorial over the South Puget Sound in the evenings are breathtaking, taking in the distant Olympic mountains over the water as the sunset purples into clear starry night and the lazy mosquitos fly into every hole you have.

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Ive only done some minor shopping so far (staying in the “keep it light and carryon on only” rule) – updated my worn out Merrel barefoot shoes (they lasted over a year but the superglue is failing and the soles are micro thin). Bought a tshirt and some used Levis at a thrift shop. Saw a movie! Got a mall haircut! Had the best coffee I’ve had for ages. Walked a lot.

Basically haunted the streets of Olympia until I can walk them with my eyes closed (not that you’d want to as you have to dodge the tweekers, beggers and other various loonies)

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A few days back I headed up around the Peninsula – all forests and ocean and Indian reservations and movie sets and isolated beaches..like Forks and La Push beach…(Forks is a dump but La Push area is beautiful)

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Driving around the whole Olypmic Peninsula is always fun…oh and Port Angeles also…

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Its not just going over old ground here. Just for a change Im throwing in some new experiences as well.

Slacklining (thanks Guru Shay, rocking the 1″) is going to be my new thing and so far I suck pretty badly but I’m getting there. Bought my 2″ kit from REI and it’s going to come with me everywhere I can take it.


This weekend we drove up into the mountains past North Bend, dug for quartz crystals and amethysts on the side of a deeply wooded mountain, got real dirty crawling under tree roots and digging deep into the earth (the holes in the pic are from peeps digging into the hillside with small shovels and/or garden tools – sometimes the holes go in 12-15 feet)

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** here’s where we met friendly weed-smoking crystal hunting John and his blue heeler dog (such a cool dude).

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Had lunch at the RR Cafe (Twin Peaks fans will get the significance), and just relaxed and breathed in the fresh clear mountain air.

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Whats to come? This week I’m up to Mt Rainier for a bit (i5 traffic pending), then make my way up to Seattle and see the things that I missed last time. Then driving down to Los Angeles to see my sister Martha (hopefully if shes around) and a few friends i met during my travels last year. Then I’m heading off to get Lost…no fixed itinerary – Glacier National Park, Yellowstone next month (maybe), anywhere the road leads me…

Also I want to see a bear, and a cougar, and some goddamned raccoons this time.

C’mon America – how hard can that be?

The adventure continues…

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**And also a huge thanks to my Cambodia travel buddy and good friend Shay for bailing me out and putting me up here when my accommodation fell through for a few days.

Shes a talented emerging local potter/ceramicist and artist so I’ll point you to her web store when she gets it up. Buy a lot of her stuff.

 

 

 

 

time machine 2…

… it seemed a hundred years had passed since I’d heard the first whale blow and every nerve ending in my body was sparkling. Soaked in adrenaline, buzzed on nicotine and cocooned in a humming halo of nervous energy, my monkey brain overloaded – ‘eeeep!’ – then shut down.

Fight, flight or freeze.

I froze: hands glued to the rail, body completely locked in place, scanning the deep night for any signs of movement. Anything at all. Nothing stirred. Nothing.

The world held its breath.

‘WHOoosh’… 

This was really happening!

The forgotten cigarette burned my fingers, shifting focus. Suddenly free, I flicked the butt into the Canal (sorry guys) turned and bolted into the cabin like a wild-eyed child on Christmas morning. Knocking frantically on the bathroom door…”Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen,Jen….the whales are back!….the whales are back!…”. Running back out onto the deck.

She followed me out a thousand years later, wrapped up in pyjamas and towel against the cold. We stood together close by the low deck rail, staring out into the night.

More whales sounded, much closer than before.

At least 4, scattered out across the entrance to our little cove no more than a few hundred meters away.

But weird behavior. What’s going on here? They weren’t just on the way through. Something was up.

We could clearly hear their vocalisations as the Orca spoke to each other: the ‘whapping’ of finslaps, high pitched warbling whistles and deep rumbling vibrations.

They seemed to be coordinating and changing their locations, out in the black water no more than 100 meters away.

“A little bit to the left, a little bit to the right…come closer…yeah that’s it” in Orca-talk.

It finally dawned on us what was happening.

‘My God, they’re hunting!’

It made sense. There were several harbor seals that lived in and around our little Calm Cove. At night they slept on the floating pontoons and under the docks that were scattered around the canal. 

The whales hunted these seals, and years before had wiped out most of the local seal population in a destructive orgy of blood, guts and fur close to Robin Hood resort in Union. Herded them into shore and massacred them all. It is spoken of in awed whispers by the locals apparently.

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The few seals left were the smart ones.

I moved over and put my arms around Jen, lost in the moment, forgetting. When the whales were whistling to each other, I whistled back, trying to emulate the sound.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Ouch.

The pod had positioned themselves around the entrance to the tiny cove.  It seemed they were forming a loose cordon  – a net – with the aim of driving whatever prey out of their hiding places and close to shore.

Once in place, the 4 whales began to close up  – sonic ghosts, the only sign of their presence now being finslap splashes and their haunting vocalisations as they maneuvered out in the black.

Then they stopped, falling silent again.

For a minute or so, all was quiet save for the soft lapping of the wavelets against the deck supports below.

We looked to each other. “Now what?”

Then, far out towards the middle of the canal…

…’WHOoosh’

There was a 5th whale.

It passed through the cordon of Orca and entered the cove. The only physical sign a subtle warping of the reflected streetlights – a swell and surge breaking the amber ripples of light as something massive but invisible passed silently beneath. It began to slowly sweep across the cove from one side to the other and then back.

A sudden dread enveloped me. Gone was the wonder, replaced by a primitive irrational fearfulness. I knew it was larger than the others by the sheer menace of the thing. It radiated danger.

Now it was coming closer to us and the deep waters edge. Unseen. Impossibly close. Once, twice, three times it moved across the cove, closer and closer with each pass.

Directly below us lay black, freezing water that at high tide we could bend down and touch at arms length. Just ahead, barely illuminated by the low voltage Christmas lights on the cabin, bobbed a series of buoys about 20 meters out – where the neighbor usually moors his jetskis and canoes.

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Halfway to the closest buoy in the rusty pool of light, the black surface surged upwards.

Completely silent save for tiny tinkling splashes of water, the tip of a black curved fin broke the surface with barely a ripple  – up and up and up it came. Massively tall. Improbably close. A gleaming obsidian blade followed in slow motion by the glistening head and curved back of this enormous predator.

I felt my heart tear as this wonder emerged from the invisible, rising silently in the semicircle of light before us.

“WHOooosh”… a shower of misty silver, tinkling tiny splashes.

It checked us out. I’m sure I felt its dismissive gaze pass over us – the boring little monkeys standing huddled and frozen up on the deck.

And then it was simply gone. Slipping quietly back under the surface with nothing to mark its passing but the oilslick swirl of the icy water.

It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.

…………………….

After the bull had swept the cove, the pod became chatty again, and one by one moved off around the point to the next cove along. It was obvious now that they were systematically working their way down though each cove searching for food.

We never saw the other Orca – only what I’m assuming was the big male.

As they moved around the point to the left, their slaps, blows, chirps and whistles became fainter and fainter until finally we couldn’t hear them any more.

After a few minutes, the world around us exhaled and came back to life.

A seal barked loudly just off to our right, scaring the crap out of us both and breaking the spell. We jumped and laughed – that was the luckiest seal in the world tonight.

It splashed into the water and got the Hell out of there as fast as it could swim, heading in the opposite direction to the pod.

……………………

So why am I sharing this…

Well for one thing, these stories would eventually be lost unless I write them down.

I spend a lot of time in this memory and I love the physical and emotional sensations it evokes. Even writing this today has the hairs on my neck standing up and I’m buzzing. 

Secondly, one simple comment recalled now speaks volumes.

“If you must hold me, at least be quiet”.

Who says something like that?

Seriously.

That shitty recollection popped randomly into my head the other day as I was going through some pictures from last year. 

This time it didn’t sting – it just made me a little sad.

Scientists and Romantics simply don’t play well together I guess. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

time machine…

Few positive events in your life burn themselves into your minds eye so deeply that whenever you return to that moment, your body immediately reacts – chemically, viscerally : your heart races, your breath catches in your throat, nerves tingle -racing up and down your spine. Even the tiniest hairs on your body prickle into goosebumps like you’ve been caught outdoors naked in monstrous electrical storm.

You are there, transported.

It’s actually a post traumatic stress reaction, in a way. One that is not debilitating but can be addictive. Taking pleasure in past experience to escape the present. Trauma doesn’t have to be ‘bad’ to have a lasting effect, I guess. 

Hmm…discuss.

I’ve been living in the past a little bit lately, purposefully re-examining some events with the benefit of a year’s emotional distance.

OK. Stay with me. I aim to wander.

Flip back to mid May last year. 

One of the highlights of last May was getting to watch a pod of killer whales transit the Hood Canal near Union WA – followed by a flotilla of small water craft. The pod were virtually chased out of the area by excited locals. There hadnt been a pod here for years.  But Killer whales! Man!

I was staying with my ex gf at their family’s cabin on the Canal at Union.  Oysters, whales, seals, forests, mountains…luckiest guy in the world no doubt. 

Beautiful place. 

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I didn’t know it at the time but the relationship was winding down – she was heading in another direction, I was definitely in denial. Maybe I wasn’t. That’s a longer story for another time.

Anyway…

Jen had a job interview in Portland as an archaeologist for one of the big Utility companies; an unexpectedly awesome opportunity and everyone was excited for her.  I’d gone with Jen for support (and shopping) and we’d stayed in Portland overnight. After spending the day shopping, the evening apart and staying in separate hotels (she needed to prepare) it was an odd night. The next day as it turned out the Interview had gone well, and she was elated. We decided to do a road trip out to Eastern Washington where she had gone to college, lived and worked for a time. Explore more of her past. Long story short, I met more of her friends and saw even more of her WA life than before.

To be honest the trip confused the Hell out of me, but I got see see where they filmed Northern Exposure (Roslyn) and Twin Peaks (Snoqualmie, North Bend…coffee and Damn fine Cherry Pie at Twede’s cafe) so, you know : swings and roundabouts.

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Anyway…

We’d gotten back after our weird 3 day road trip, talked our asses off and our issues to death, endured the awkward silences that followed, but ultimately had a good time. We visited her parents in Shelton on the way back through. Then it was late and we were heading back to the cabin.

Still with me? I’m setting the mood here hopefully.

It was past 11pm when we got out to Union.

The canal was moonless dark, winters day cold and unusually silent. Apart from the odd barking of a seal and the distant “shHHhh” of a passing car, it was graveyard-still. 

As we were in a little cove, so the road curled around the waters edge, following the shoreline. The streetlights threw long rippling shafts of soft amber light out along the surface of the black water – delicate grasping fingers that reached blindly out into the darkness. A mile away on the other side, the scene was a perfect mirror – distant pinpoints of houselights, rippling reflections, softly glowing streetlights, and silence.

Jen went inside and jumped in the shower. I stood out on the deck and rolled a cigarette, contemplating the Universe and marveling at the night.

I leaned on the deck rail and took a drag of the cigarette, enjoying the nicotine buzz. Pale smoke curled out over the low deck railing down to the dark water lapping a few feet below.

…now: take a single big breath, hold it. Purse your lips, and exhale forcefully, push all your breath out at once…

‘WOOoosh…’

Soft. Sounding like it was a million miles away but crystal clear in the night air, the deep sound whispered across the canal…

Did I imagine that? What the Hell was it?

I couldn’t see a thing in the inky darkness so I froze – held my breath and waited.
It came again. Closer this time.

‘WOOoosh…’

A massive exhale, followed by the tiniest series of tinkling splashes. Another, further to the right. then another even further along. Right out in the middle of the canal but definitely coming closer.

The hairs on my neck stood up.

I forgot to breathe.

Oh my GOD!

The whales are back…

tbc

 

 

 

 

 

homecoming…

I’m back where I started 11 months ago and the only thing that’s changed is me.

Leaving Chiang Mai on Monday was just another flight, just another airport and I guess didn’t really even register as a “this is over” moment as far as my travels for 2016 was concerned. I’d tried not to dwell on it but the shadow of real life was a threatening figure looming over my sometimes forced positivity.

Fake it til you make it, remember?

So my AirAsia X plane out of Chiang Mai was 3.5 hours late, which gave me about 15 minutes to make my connection to Sydney at Kuala Lumpur International – just enough time to run to thru the transfer hall, 2 security checkpoints, and quite literally to the opposite end of the terminal. I made it without breaking a sweat. Settling into my economy seat, surrounded by young families and crying babies, it occurred to me how lucky that I made the plane. It also dawned that there was no way my bag would and so I had a 7 hour flight to prepare myself for the inevitable.

Arrival in Australia was a bleary, early morning red-eye experience as I was jolted awake by a dazzling dawn over Lake Ayre and its tributaries, which was either full of water or deathly dry (I couldn’t tell), reflecting the early morning sunlight and melting my corneas as I yawned and glanced out the window.

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Drifting in and out of snooze mode, I was aware of the aircraft coming to life around me but tried to imagine I was elsewhere – back in Chiang Dao listening to the morning rain, or in Tunis listening to the 5am call to prayer. Here the 5am call was a crying baby and a hawking cough from my neighbor. 

Something inside me was off but I didn’t catch it at the time. 

Flying in over Sydney I usually get a patriotic buzz about seeing tiny Botany Bay, the miniature Harbour Bridge and the toy Opera House sweeping by, but this time it left me cold. Flat. Nothing was coming through and I was completely numb. 

“Weird” I thought, gazing out at the city below and wrote it off to lack of sleep. Sydney grew larger and more substantial, until finally the wheels hit tarmac and with an anticlimactic puff of smoke I was back.

Sydney Airport was as bad as I’d remembered – expansive, crowded, unfriendly; efficient but largely uninteresting. Smiling photoshopped Australians glared at me from the advertising posters, inviting me to come and swim with dolphins, or climb a mountain. Customer service, politeness and good manners vanished. Anonymous Uniforms yelled rudely at people.  Airport security, black domed cameras and warning signs were everywhere. “Don’t do this – Don’t do that. Don’t stand here. Warning Warning Warning. Fear, Fear, Fear…The terrorists are coming”.  I could already feel the doeskin jackboots of fear and oppression that New South Wales wears proudly pressing down on my throat and chest.

Why so much paranoia? So many rules and regulations? After the freedoms of the road, this was becoming stifling already.

As some aussie ex-pat army guy told me in a dentists waiting room in Thailand a while back,  “We are a nation of laws and need all this to safeguard ourselves from the terrorists.”

No dude sorry Australia isn’t a “nation of laws”, that’s stolen from America and you are confused. Australia seems to becoming a backward nation of ignorant, drunken, racist fools masquerading as “aussie larrikins”, of slow expensive internet, extraordinary taxation, human rights abuses, poverty, homelessness, corruption,  overpriced real estate, and rubbish overrated food. Of course I didn’t actually SAY this to him – but I thought it at him real hard while smiling politely and trying to disengage.

Fingers crossed, I waited in the baggage area for my backpack. Who knew? I might have gotten lucky and the bag made it. A waify Japanese lady had the gall to take out her phone in the baggage claim area and a pompous slicked-back-hair uniformed guy (who could’nt even be bothered to go over to her or check that she spoke English) screamed at her across the hall to “put the phone down” like it was an automatic weapon or a knife and he was Supercop. She of course ignored him which further fueled his rage, and so the saga continued.So rude and unnecessary.  The carousel stopped, the passengers for the next flight started arriving. Still my bag didn’t appear.

Dang it.

Naturally the airline had lost my bag somewhere between Chiang Mai and Sydney.

After 11 months of travel through countless dodgy airports and several dangerous countries, it took an Australian crew to lose my bag.

Coming in through Immigration/Customs was easy (electronic passports make it a 5 minute thing) after which I had to do the mandatory “lost my bag” reporting at a desk where the Aussie “larrikin” (who couldn’t be bothered to tuck in his shirt or brush his hair) barely smiled, nor glanced at me or even said “G’day Mate”.

So feeling strangely calm – numb – I wandered through the airport, caught a train into Central Station, and listened to the sudden clutter of English conversation that invaded my headspace. It’s amazing how much you tune in and out to other peoples conversations. The luxury of not hearing English spoken everywhere was gone and the Aussie accent was like a powerdrill boring painfully into my brain.

It still didn’t feel real. I was in a homecoming state of denial and culture shock.

Of course Sydney started picking my pockets immediately : $20 for an Opel card, $4 train fares, $3 for bottled water, 2 bananas and a takeaway coffee $10. My last $100 was disappearing fast. 

I picked a dirty cheaparse hostel ($34 a night) close to Central, went into Police Headquarters in Parramatta to pick up some gear for work next week (meeting my new managers and doing some schmooze groundwork for my return to work)  and then wandered into the city to meet my good friend Kate for a drink at some inner city bars.

Walking between the bars I realised how pretty Sydney can be, especially at night. This time of year is lovely and for a change the city didn’t disgust me. It was a fun way to end the evening but after 3 drinks  ( $30+ – thanks Kate) I was slightly hammered.

The next morning, after stepping over a few random backpackers on the hostel floor, a 7.18am (what an odd time) train to Dubbo – 6 hours – would give me time to reframe all the negativity that I’d been projecting over the last 24 hours. It was time well spent.

Some meditation, reframing, read my books, peace. ahhh.

6 hours later.

Alighting from the train at Dubbo train station just after lunch was very, very strange.

As I walked down to Church Street Cafe to get my regular Americano, nothing had changed:  the streets, the smells, the sounds –  all instantly familiar. Little gangs of aboriginal kids roamed the streets on bikes and scooters, a few scattered drunks were camped under the shady trees in Victora Park, a young kid called me a “white cunt” before I’d even made it to the main street.

Ahhh. Now it felt real. Too real.

It was like the past year hadn’t happened.

I bumped into many people I knew and they seemed genuinely happy to see me, which was a welcome surprise and helped. But I’m struggling. Everything reminds me of Jen here. So far, at least. I wasn’t expecting it to hurt so much. The last few years came flooding back. The house, walking past Jens old work, then my workplace, my normal walking path home. Magpies. Jasmine. Hayfever. Cats Eye burrs and stickers, familiar and painful. Sorting through all this and discarding what will hurt the most is going to be hard. It was good to see the housemates though and the weather is great.

I went to see Mum in the Hi Care facility and she recognised me at least, but the dementia now has upped its game and robbed her of coherent speech – her tongue is constantly flicking in and our making everything messy – communication is hard but I think she understood I was back.

Coming back has been harder than I’d imagined and I’d drank myself to sleep last night with the last of my duty free Jamesons, feeling adrift in the world.

This feeling is still with me today, and its Thursday. A deep detachment and numbness that I can’t shake. I don’t belong here.

I know now that this place isn’t my home, Dubbo and Australia.

I am not where I’m supposed to be.

This isn’t a homecoming: its just another stage of a larger journey I’d never realised I was on.

Early days yet I guess. Lets see how work goes on Monday.

 

**airline found my bag!!!!! shipping it to Dubbo from KL “in a few days”. Fingers crossed eh?

 

 

rain…

Its been almost 24 hours of solid rain here in Chiang Mai and my third soaking by traffic this morning alone. It appears inevitable that no matter what I do today, I will get soaked.

Just as well that I wore the fancy swimming shorts.

I hadn’t even had my first coffee of the day  – 9am standing at the flooded road crossing waiting for a break in the traffic, just thinking about the rain and  – DOOSH – Tourist bus got me…DANG IT  (or words to that effect) had just crossed my mind before…DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH – a stream of tuktuks carrying gaggles of excited Chinese tourists careered on through the same water, almost drowning me. I fully expected to find a fish wriggling in my pocket.

After the first DOOSH, I was like ‘Grrrr’…then after the third DOOSH it was funny, and after the 6th DOOSH it was ridiculously funny.  Certainly lightened the mood and set me on my course for caffeine (and a warm towel).

Thailand has been an experience that I am totally thankful for however. I’m loving every moment.

Thank you Big Green Bus, for drenching me at the traffic lights. It was a hoot. Thank you tuktuk drivers who delighted in hugging the curb to ensure I got more drenched  from the calf-deep rivers overflowing from the open drains, thank you waterproof laptop backpack for saving my phone and my macbook.

Thank you, immune system.

I’m house sitting another house here in Chiang Mai for 2 weeks before heading a looooong way West on the 21st of September. My days here are numbered. Flights booked, plans made. Bags packed. Affairs sorted.

This time its is closer to the old city, a lovely 3 storey family home, complete with 2 awesome cats and 2 not-so awesome snakes to feed and look after. Friends of friends have gone back to Europe for a time and needed someone to feed the animals. Its so good to sleep in a real bed again and have a place to come ‘home’ to , rather than a hostel. I’m so grateful and feel so lucky that these opportunities keep popping up. Sorta makes me feel I’m on the right path.

Chiang Mai is flooding and I’m now trapped in a cafe, so rather than wade through streets knee high with sewage, I’m determined to finish this latest entry, probably post it tomorrow or later today.

I do actually have some almost normal work to do – a while back I volunteered to be on a Committee as the IT Admin guy for Autismcarers.org back home – a wonderful organisation doing some great work but sorely in need of some assistance with their web site and content management. Time to step up I guess.

So I’ll finish that up then I’m going to hide at the local cinemas for the rest of the day.

And then maybe find an unbrella.

Later.

 

 

 

 

nothing is something…2

Yesterdays post was a blomit, (apologies) but today’s will be a little more considered, interesting and hopefully not so meandering.

After Chiang Dao, we decided to head up towards the Golden Triangle – that opium soaked corner of Thailand where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet. It seemed suitable remote and mountainous enough to satisfy our call of the wild.

We’d need to head up though Fang via Thaton, but I also wanted to go via Mae Sai and Tachilek  – to cross into Burma via the land crossing there – and then head across to The Golden triangle and back down to Chiang Rai before heading down again to Chiang Mai.

Its basically a big Northern loop and we only had a few days to get back before heading down to the Gulf of Thailand for Meg’s birthday scuba experience.

Before we’d left Fang for Thaton though, we wanted to do a day trip and get out of the city . Again the guidebooks weren’t a lot of help, but we’d zeroed in on some interesting things nonetheless.

We decided on a day trip to the Royal Agricultural Project at Ankhang. It sounded interesting as it wasn’t a Westerner tourist spot but extremely popular with Thais.

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Set up by Royal decree by the King, and used as a training facility for local Thai and Burmese farmers to develop modern agricultural techniques and practices. The primary aim being to move away from slash and burn land clearing, and to reduce their reliance on growing opium poppies (and hence reduce the drug trade that has historically ran rampant in the area).

I thought it sounded a little bit shit.

It wasn’t.

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Taking a “special tour” arranged through our hotel (which turned out to be a red taxi truck and a driver that cost a stupid amount for the day) this was easily one of the most interesting things I’ve seen in Thailand. A social experiment and research station set right up alongside the Burmese border, we wandered virtually alone through the massive site, through orchards and lush farmlands, greenhouses and gardens, all immaculately set up and maintained.

Burmese workers picking chrysanthemums or poppies.

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We wandered around for hours, taking in the silence of the hills and the beautiful countryside. Then our driver gave us the hurry up as the rains were coming and we quickly moved on up to the nearby border crossing at Ban Nor Lae to look over the battlements, as it were, into Burma.

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Borders make me nervous. Bad shit happens at borders. Border guards with dirty great machine guns also make me nervous.

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It appeared to be closed at this point, and standing at the border gazing across I couldn’t help but wonder if some bored Burmese border guard was sighting in on my face as I gazed absently across no mans land.

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The best thing about this visit was the small Hilltribe market there – a group of wonderful little ladies in traditional Akha dress that were expert weavers, ruthless marketers and consummate professionals. We ran the gauntlet  – a row of stalls piled high with clothes and trinkets and whatnots, both of us slowly being passed of to each successive lady as we were moved along the market rows (make no mistake, we we being expertly handled) politely looking but refusing each offer (strangely enough EVERYTHING seemed to be 100 baht here).

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(not my photo – i wasn’t game to take a photo as it would have cost me a fortune)

Then as we neared the last stall, they delivered their coup de grĂ¢ce. The last stall was owned by a teeny tiny grey haired old lady, dressed to the nines in traditional Akha dress with an enormous toothless smile and a personality larger than Tony Robbins.

I never had a chance.

Quickly convinced to buy a 100 baht handwoven scarf each (it was 34 degrees and 90 percent humidity), she turned the charm up to 11 and like a grandmotherly black hole, began to hoover the money our of our wallets.

I managed a brief hug and got the Hell out, but not before almost buying several bags of fruit. Pulling out a massive pair of rusty dressmaking scissors, she insisted on hand peeling the raw fruit and then practically forced it into our hands. We had to eat it or appear rude. Mmmm dirty potentially fatal raw fruit.

Time was against us though and the sun was getting low, so we jumped back into the back of the truck and headed back down the mountain (narrowly missing herds of mules that seemed to roam free along these steep curvy mountain roads). We headed back into town as the road became treacherous at night and our driver was getting anxious.

Settling in for dinner and an early night, after fixing yet another flaky shower heater, it was welcome to hear the rain on the roof, the barking geckoes on the ceiling, and to sleep in a comfortable bed.

And so another day ended, but from the next day onwards, the mood changed slightly.

After week or so schlumping along together in cramped overheated buses, tuktuks and taxis, sharing shitty hotels and run down resorts, shonky meals and bad coffee,  despite the beauty and wonder of this amazing country, there were small hairline cracks starting to appear in our merry traveling twosome. It was only a matter of time really and to be completely honest I’m not the easiest person to travel with (I can almost hear the nodding of heads).

We developed a case of the niggles.

Long silences. Many “Hmmm” moments. Lots of staring off into the distance. There may have been some frowns at times and possibly more than a little frustration. Mostly from me as I tend to project my own issues onto others, then provoke a discussion but hey – its that restless mind of mine creating its own faulty reality again.

It was easily fixed though – after a few days of an odd growing discomfort, she basically called me on it – several times. Kudos actually as its the perfect way to snap me out of this – a quick slap and I’m back in the room. So after an open and honest chat (or two) and some alone time, we established some groundrules, fell back into the rhythm of travel and got on with having fun.

So early the next morning we headed for the bus station, with a relatively short but interesting journey ahead of us up into the mountains again, this time staying at a traditional Akha village in a adobe mud house high in the mountains.

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To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

haunted…part 1

So much weird stuff has been happening over the past weeks in the house here that I just have to tell you about it.
Where to start: lets set the scene.

I’m house-sitting for a friend of a friend who has gone back to Scotland for 3 months (yep I lucked out). She has this lovely little townhouse just out near Wat Ram Pong.  Its a nice secure  2 story 2 bedroom terrace house just a little ways out of town, one of half dozen or so all connected by common walls and roof spaces, in a nice little almost-gated community. Safe and quiet (yeah so was 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville I hear you say)

Being slightly paranoid about security (occupational hazard),  I lock the front door by a solid metal latch on the inside when I go to bed as well as all the windows and the back door. The front door has the same kind of latch that I padlock with a dirty great padlock when I  leave the house.

So…safe as houses, right?

Maybe not.

Where am I going with this?

Lets go here: I haven’t slept well since leaving the U.S back in May (insomnia puts it mildly but its improving), and in the weeks I’ve been in the house here I wake up a lot. An awful lot. The usual things – odd noises, cats fighting, bumps and thumps and noises in the night. Usually it isn’t a huge issue as I read for a bit then go back to sleep.

Last week things got weird.

One rainy night after getting home from dinner, I went to bed earlyish. As the cleaner ( yep spoilt) had come that day the house was spotless so I carefully left my shoes at the door  (its customary here anyway). Climbed the 2 flights of darkened stairs to my room, closed the door and went to bed.

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Anyway I had the usual fitful night of tossing and turning and the usual waking up every few hours, but eventually I slept.

The next morning I awoke, grumpy, with the sun streaming into my room from the single unblocked -out window near my bed (the house owner has issues sleeping also and had put up black sheets of cardboard on the windows to block the sun).

Yawning like grumpy cat I stumbled out my door towards the bathroom and stopped :

There were footprints at my door!

Little, muddy barefoot footprints stopping right on the threshold of my bedroom door, and continuing on down the stair well. They were crystal clear .

“Shit. Ive been broken into” was my first thought so I grabbed my little K-bar pocketknife from the bedstand and checked the rooms on the way downstairs. I followed the dirty footprints down the stairs. each little print half the size of my clompy size 9.5’s. Everything looked fine – laptop, phone, bits and pieces – check. Nothing missing. And then I checked the front door.

Locked. Latched. From the inside.  Say what?

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RuhRoh – “Fuck – hes still here”.

K-bar in hand I checked the back door  (locked) , all the windows (locked and intact) , rooms (empty), under the beds (clown free), in the closets (nada). Nothing.

Just muddy kid sized footprints on the stairs in a house locked from the inside.

Rational mind kicked in – “Must have been me somehow”, or “maybe footprints from the cleaner that magically appeared after the floor was dry”. Yeah, that was it. Idiot.

The human mind is a wonderfully deceptive and creative thing. I managed to rationalise this weirdness away as something like that, and then put it out of my mind.

But since then, all the neighborhood dogs bark their heads off at me as I walk around. Even the cats avoid me now. It COULD just be my imagination.

Flash forward 3 days.

Same sleeplessness, odd noises at night and the usual tossing and turning. No more foot prints, but I get ready to head out for the day, gather my things, and head out the front door. Door wont open. Locked – from the OUTSIDE.

WTF? I checked the back. Same thing. Locked from the outside.

I couldn’t get out of the house! Locked in.

THAT freaked me out, and it took me a good 5 minutes to figure out how to take the screens off, put my hand through without cutting my wrists on the sharp aluminum framing, and open the outside latch to escape.

The shoe rack out front had been turned over, shoes everywhere. The 2 motorbikes out front had been rifled through, paper and plastic bags everywhere. But apart from the mess  – nothing.

OK…time to report in. MUST be thieves after all. I let the owner know, and my friend CB and they arranged to bring the housekeeper over to see if it had been her, or if she knew what was going on.

Jump forward to Wednesday afternoon.

A triumvirate of wise local women converge on the house, concerned about these happenings. After checking with the housekeeper and neighbors they came to the logical conclusion.  “A gang of thieves casing the place, right?”.

No.

I’m being haunted.

There is a playful but benign child spirit in the house, and it wants to play. This mischievous spirit is well known in the building and gets up to loads of trouble around the block. I hadn’t been formally introduced (as is the custom apparently) and this little poltergeist wanted to say ‘Hi’ and have some fun.

FML – of course. It all makes sense.

 

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The solution is easy – fix the little temple/alter out in the front yard (had been installed but neglected by a previous tenant), burn 9 incense sticks and put some of my favorite flowers in as an offering. Then just sit down quietly and have a little private greeting ceremony – introduce myself. Things would be ok!

Its easy to forget that spirits play such an important role in Asian society, like a favorite uncle just hanging is not a big deal. They embrace the concept completely and incorporate it into their lives as a matter of fact. Its a beautiful thing.

Westerners are so dismissive in relation to things like this, myself included. I WANT to believe in so many things, spirits and ghosts and suchness, but the scientific and so-called logical mind just wants to scoff and dismiss. I firmly believe there is more to the universe than what we can see or perceive at any level. There has to be.

But I am a total pussy when it comes to ghost stories. A complete sucker. Put me in a dark corridor at night alone and every creature and ghost Ive ever seen on the silver screen or TV is hiding in the shadows waiting just for me. Horror movies and ghost stories in particular freak the Hell out of me but I just cant get enough. 

I guess I believe in spirits at least as a form of indestructible energy in the universe.

Which would explain a lot.
THAT takes me into a discussion on religion (believe me no-one wants that to happen). I’m firmly an agnostic but jeez I’d love to be proved wrong. So where does that put me.  đŸ™‚

So to be sure, I’m looking for some incense today and little Casper and I will have a get together this evening. I also might buy a few new padlocks today as well just in case.

NOW – this all ties into some more weirdness that I mentioned a while back…the Nepalese Raven episode from a few years back.

This just keeps getting weirder and weirder…

Part 2  and the raven tomorrow.