trapped…

There a war of sorts going on here in Thailand. Its an urban battle fought house by house, corner by corner, street by street. Every man, woman and child armed to the teeth, ready to engage.

Pickup trucks full of masked combatants prowl past the safety of the hostel windows. The wail of ambulances echo through the streets which are starting to fill again after an uneasy ceasefire overnight. 

Here in Chiang Mai today, shellshocked Chinese tour groups wander aimlessly – all colorful dazed and confused – dragging large clattering suitcases on wheels over the rough concrete roadways looking for escape much like a gaggle of geese crossing a busy freeway.

Don’t panic.

It’s Songkran 2017. Thailand’s New Year Water Festival celebrating the end of summer and the start of Wet season – and the largest shit water fight on the planet. 

The only way to survive is to submit.

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Songkran is a 4 day party where most Thais head home to their families and celebrate a New Year. Tourist (and drunken asshole) numbers swell unbearably. Many shops are closed but the bars are open late. Alcohol runs freely even as hostels run out of fresh water.

Seriously, Thais take this water festival concept to a whole new level of batshit crazy.

The Moat surrounding the Old City drops a foot from the water consumption as the streets and gutters run ankle deep wet from the water fights. 

High pressure water cannons, fire hoses, bathtubs and garbage bins, massive 44 gallon plastic drums of iced water, blow up swimming pools, large eskys – anything that will hold/throw water – line the streets and are set up on most street corners and traffic lights where a pedestrian, scooter or Songtaew must stop. Then the flouro-coloured cackling crazies descend and a watery battle ensues.

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Riding in a Songtheaw (red truck)? Tough luck. the driver will pull up at a corner/traffic light/roadside and let his passengers get completely ‘blurged’ (thats my new word of the day). 

Riding on a motorcycle? Too bad – you will cop a thorough ‘blurging’ at 60km per hour . It’s deadly but hilarious to watch .

Chaotic doesn’t adequately describe the level of dangerous mayhem.

The papers post a Songkran daily death tally – last year over 400 people died (mostly in Chiang Mai area) and over 2,500 people injured in traffic accidents directly related to Songkran celebrations.

This year’s stats are in and its not looking great (although deaths are down. Yay less death!).

Sobering, you would think . Nah. Each year it’s about the same.
In Chiang Mai the entire Old City Moat several kilometres around – both sides – is filled with little booths and stalls selling food, drinks, water pistols, plastic bags and hats as everyone tries to make a quick baht and have a good time.

Roadside stalls sell huge blocks of ice to make sure the water freezing cold.

All the alleys and side streets are covered. There is absolutely no escape.

And this shit happens all over the country!

Amazing.

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What to do?

Firstly – Pray to your Gods.

Secondly – Prepare.

So Day 1: (quick cut ‘gearing up’ montage here)

Phone wrapped in cheap plastic bag. Check

Quick dry t-shirt, shorts and sunglasses. Check.

Wallet and cash in a cheap plastic bag. Check.

I head out onto the packed streets with the aim of my usual walk from Nimman down to the Old City, around the moat and then back, just to see what the fuss was about. Usually takes about 90 minutes there and back.

A few steps out the door of the hostel I was hit in the face with a bucket of ice cold water – and this kept happening for pretty much the rest of the day.

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2 hours later I stumbled into the Starbucks at Thapae Gate and gave up. It wasn’t even 1/3 of the way. Sunbaked, crowdshocked and soaked to the skin in a fruity cocktail of warm green mucky moat water and freezing cold ice water, my inadequate plastic protections leaking and damp, and feeling ill from the gallon of green moat water that had been forced into my nose/mouth/ears.

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I lasted 5 hours on the unforgiving streets and then retreated to the hostel, slinking back through alleys like a gunshy dog. Unfortunately, my sleepy hostel Bed Addict – Nimman ( 350 baht/night, close to Maya, my beloved cinemas, vegan eateries and some cool coffee shops) had been invaded by a group of loud party hard American students that had trashed it like a college dorm room.

With no dry clothes and no escape, I was trapped in my hostel kitchen – the quietest place I could find. Outside, the artsy part of town had turned into a techno-pumping foam-partying disco-lit aqua-nightmare.

Add to that the several competing foam parties, massive dance parties, and a dude in a tuktuk with enormous WHOOMP WHOOMP speakers parked just outside my dorm window and my night did not improve.

The walls of the hostel were vibrating as was my head. I jammed in my earplugs and tried to tune everything out – the thought of engaging and going out into this nightmare was unappealing. I wasn’t here to party.

But I’d finally figured out the main problem – I was resisting.

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So Day 2. (slightly less enthusiastic quick cut ‘gearing up’ montage here)

Recheck my attitude. The key? – gotta get involved.

Upgrade the plastic bags to waterproof cases for phone and wallet (on sale everywhere). Check

Get a cheaparse sunhat for 25 Baht. Check

Buy a kickarse water pistol. Check Check Check.

Fillup, lock and load.

Lasting 6 hours on Day 2, I had a much better time of it. The best advice is rather than fight it, just go with the flow. Accept that you will be wet and hot and cold and covered in white paste for hours on end. Its all in good spirits and is actually a ritual blessing, so feel free to return it as often and to as many people as possible.

The lovely Thai people will (mostly) respectfully splash you or gently anoint your face with white powder or paste, the kids will love a waterpistol fight, and the littlest kids will giggle and smile like angels (right up til the point that their older siblings sneak up behind you and dump ice water down your back – after which everyone bursts into hysterical laughter). It’s so much fun.

It gets trickier with the tourists though.

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Usually some screaming psychotic tourist (see example above) with a massively expensive water cannon will run up to you and blast you in the face, knocking your sunglasses off or half drowning you before yodelling off into the crowd. Best to steer clear if possible.

But if you are up for a water war, then there are plenty of other soldiers here that will accommodate you.

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Day 3. Flick to Saturday morning and its an uneasy ceasefire – the celebrations are winding down but the odd water-pistol bearing straggler refuses to let go. Its still impossible to rent a scooter in this city as there are so many tourists, but the traffic to the airport is increasing as the tourists vacate.

The crowds are still there though and accommodation still hard to find. The mood is high but the celebrations are winding down from crazyassed to an almost manageable level.

*Still no sleep as the partying Americans have been replaced by partying Chinese students.

Day 4. Ahhh better. Now is the time to hit the Sunday Walking Markets, chill and explore the spiritual side of the festival as the craziness abates, with early morning happenings at the 50 or so temples around town, or better still up on Doi Suthep peacefully overlooking the city.

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Songkran 2018 – it was so much crazy fun, but next year remind me to be on top of a tall mountain, anywhere but here.

P.S

*so tired today I rinsed my glass in a sink and then drank a glass of tapwater today without thinking. Lets see how that goes.

**written over the 4 day festival but finished on Monday morning after no sleep for 3 days and totally stressed out by the frenetic pace of the holiday weekend.

***reminder to self  – never do this again.

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Back to the present…

I’m travelling overseas more and more frequently now as my last real anchor to a conventional life was buried with Mum in February. 

All that remains now is a need to keep moving, and the notion of settling down and making do is vanishing behind me.

So… this ‘Travel’ thing eh? 

I’m totally lost to the addiction and it seems to be the only way to stay really connected to the present.  

When I’m “home” I’m unsatisfied/unsettled and constantly planning an escape but when travelling I can easily slip into the “now” of things. It effortlessly brings me back to the moment. 

Travel-based yogic mindfulness, maybe.

So another quick catch up – after 2 weeks of Svastha Yoga Therapy training in Bali, I came home and felt the familiar dip begin.

Luckily a good friend Shay was travelling into South East Asia for the first time (we’d talked about it for ages whilst I was in the US last year) , and she was so close to Australia – I made the call to take some leave (yes somehow I still have a job), bought my one way ticket to Chiang Mai, booked some dental work at my favourite dentist (is that a thing?), counted the hours, and then after several weeks of listlessness, finally left. 

Chiang Mai was instantly welcoming, smoky and hot – but no more so than a Dubbo summer. I caught up with a few friends here and settled in. Walked the familiar streets, caught a First Class movie ( Ghost in the Shell – really good actually),  found my fave coffee shops and vegetarian eateries, took a breath and finally relaxed. 

There was a brief window of opportunity to fly to Cambodia and meet Shay there instead – she had a girlfriend leaving and her partner coming over but there was a 10 day period in between that we could reconnect. 

So…easiest decision ever.

A quick flight to Siem Reap via Bangkok , and voila! 

Hello Cambodia!


What a fascinating place. 

I won’t go into the politics: Pol Pot, the genocide, Killing Fields, land mines and cluster bombs or the aftermath  of it all – it’s relatively fresh and has scarred this country deeply. I’d recommend you do some Googling before visiting if you aren’t familiar with these terms and get a solid dose of perspective on the horrors that occurred here in the 70’s. 

At first glance,  it’s an unusually weird amalgam of American icons and SE Asia. The US dollar rules the streets, prices are high (this is a real tourist town), scarred and limbless land mine victims haunt the tourist areas, cars drive on the right hand side of the dusty roads, tuk tuks and scooters “meep meep” and dash madly around confused pedestrians, trash and plastics cover the roadsides and floats along the sludgy surface of the Siem Reap river, mingling with the rainbow coloured oil slicked algae and water weeds. 

Parts of the city are charming but a lot of it is not. The amount of garbage is surprising, as is the dust and spotty internet. Neither the Hard Rock Cafe, Palacial 5 star resorts with plastic bag shanty towns, or the ubiquitous McDonalds and Starbucks improve things much, but the more you explore away from the tourist traps the more interesting it gets. I’d love to head to Phnom Penh, but Siem Reap is it for me this trip.

Someone asked me today about the food there and how was it different to Thai, but to be honest I couldn’t answer the question. I can say generally it is EXPENSIVE (all in USD$) and that the markets have a massive variety of dried, fried, fresh and absolutely toxic foods available – (like deep fried spiders, crickets and snakes). There are plenty of Western style coffee shops, quite a few French Boulangeries, and plenty of other upmarket options. 

We were railroaded into a small cafe at Angkor Wat for a $1USD soda and a $5USD fried rice with vegetables/Khmer sausage which we only survived by ditching the gelatinous weird pale red sausage pieces (whew!) but was otherwise yum. $1USD Draught Cambodia Beer was the drink of choice and wasn’t a bad drop at all. 

I tried a few traditional Khmer dishes at The Peace Cafe  (http://www.peacecafeangkor.org/ – an awesome vegan and vegetarian spot in Siem Reap ) that were amazing but I can’t recall their names…damn Draught Beer again. 

At dinner in the second night , there was a mango-like fruit that dropped from a tall tree with a SPLAT just near our table  – the waitress picked up the split pale yellow/orange splatted fruit but when Shay asked what is was, it didn’t have a English name but she kindly  offered us some to eat…it was yellow/orange flesh – sweet but chalky and totally delicious.  

The nicest food I’ve had so far : a simple stir fried Morning Glory Salad with some boiled rice. Next time I’ll explore the food side more for sure.

We’ve been travel buddying around for the past few days now though  –  Shay, Dick, Puk and myself – Angkor Wat at dawn, tuk tuk rides, Dr Fish Massages, Siem Reap arts, crafts and shitty tourist markets, off track Hare Krishna compound, smiling kids – always wandering and discovering, roaming the back alleys and secret nooks of this dusty city.

… and the temples. My God – the temples.  Stunning ancient ruins and a history lesson in one, swarming with tourists but somehow still accessible – allowing space and time to find a quiet corner and experience their ruined beauty.

*ditch the shoes and flip flops – climbing the treacherous steps and exploring the temples barefoot is both safer/easier plus the feel of the sandstone is incredibly grounding and connecting.


It’s not hard to connect to the places and the people here in this busy tourist spot, even though this city is a revolving door for tourists – the hostels turn over backpackers of all ages every few days. Last night was games night at the bar, which was a great way to meet and greet – then most people went out for a big night. I stayed in – boring but I don’t like to fly hungover.  The parade of arguing couples and loud rambunctious drunks returning at 5 am is always a bit of fun to watch though.

I’ve made many new friends in the hostel here and as usual HostelWorld recommendations are proving the best way to find a bed. (The Living Quarters in Wat Bo Road is excellent – No. 543, Wat Bo Road, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia )

Anyway I’m back to Chiang Mai today for the next week of two. Getting a wisdom tooth pulled and a crown done tomorrow so that should be a lot of fun.

Shay and her partner are coming up to Chiang Mai in a week or so – itll be cool to explore northern Thailand again, especially Pai.

Then I have to think about booking a flight back at some stage.

Oh !!! I’ve been fortunate enough to get shortlisted for an IT job working in Antarctica next season (with the Australian Antarctic Division) – interviews, psych tests and medical are in May. 

I hope I’m the right kind of crazy . Wish me luck!  

If that comes through for me, then I think I’ve finally won the Oscar for best  “Get Me The Hell Out Of Here” performance for 2017. 

I’ll keep you posted.

wall…

I’ve hit a brick wall with my creativity in the past few weeks. A dry spell to match the 36+ degree days and hot summer nights here now that summer has kicked it into high gear.

I’ve run out of stories to tell and the fancy words just aren’t there. They are definitely in there and are aplenty but they ain’t coming out easily like they used to.

Being back at work hasn’t helped, although its nice to have a paypacket again see the bank balance increase for a change, I’m certain now that its time to move on. March 2017 is the month and all I have to do is make it through Christmas and New Years intact and save, save, save.

My works’ Christmas lunch was Friday, out at Lazy River Estate – it was nice to see my coworkers together but I felt like an outsider and left fairly quickly – shouldn’t have gone but I committed so…meh… my own fault really.

It was my daughters birthday on Friday and I’d finally gotten hold of her after weeks of silence (her Mum and I don’t communicate well) and we chatted for ages. She’d been in Thailand!!! Of all places to be, her and her Mum had gone to Phuket for 2 weeks and we’d probably been at the airport at the same time at some point. Shes a traveler also – been to the US, Fiji, and now Thailand and shes only 12. Maybe that damn restlessness in me is in her as well. Happy Birthday Bella.

French lessons are going well and so much fun to learn something new, but apart from long walks, I’ve been virtually hibernating at home. It’s been theraputic to pick up the guitar again and doodle though  – I’d forgotten the joy and flow that music gives me. I’m also toying with night photography and star trails again – recently discovered some functions of the GoPro that were surprisingly effective for that.

But for now, I need some greenery and mountains soon as this dry dusty place isn’t for me.

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My office is wallpapered with photographs from my travels and many people seem to like them. It easy to get lost in them and that’s why they are there I guess.

Maybe I should pursue that as well.

I don’t know.

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I was asked to write something for the local newspaper last week (happens from time to time when they need a piece quickly)  and I threw something together from a brief they provided – basically who am I and my travel motivations etc etc – I think I’ve overshared but its too late as its gone to press – what do you think? To much drama? I did take a little literary license at times with some things I guess (apologies Steve and Sandy)

“Adopted at 6 weeks old into a loving family was probably the best that I could have hoped for at the time, even if I had been given a choice. It was in an era where such things were kept behind closed doors and nunnery walls. My biological parents were 19 and 18 at the time – a beatnik hippie artist from Melbourne and a cute neurotic private school girl from Adelaide –  and although they at least waited for me to arrive, they hit the road shortly after and got on with their lives.  I got lucky though with my adoptive family, growing up in regional bliss on a small farm in the South West Slopes of NSW, near the village of Wombat (population 102)

 As most people will tell you, farm life can be both tough but enormously rewarding. I can’t think of a better place for a child to spend their formative years but there was always something missing for me.  My sisters and I spent our childhoods working on the farm; droving sheep for months on end during the droughts (living in the back of a truck), breaking and training horses (hence the broken nose), competing at country shows and gymkhanas, tending market gardens, shearing sheep, drenching and marking lambs, plucking meat turkeys and picking cherries for pocket money at Christmas.  You know, all the normal stuff kids do.

 We weren’t a particularly close family – not having blood ties will do that to you I later discovered. It was that disconnection and a general dissatisfaction with my place in the world that fueled a search for identity that I hadn’t even realised I was on.

 A total bookworm as a child, I was never a farmer at heart and always knew it (much to the disappointment of my adopted parents). Spending too much time immersed in books, film and science to ever be satisfied on the farm, I needed more. I left small town NSW a few years after High School, gravitating to Canberra and the lure of Public Service work. It was the 90’s. There falling into IT at a time just before the Internet was booming. Working for Dept of Foreign Affairs and Dept of Defence in specialist roles, I was able to travel internationally for the first time and immediately something ‘clicked’. Experiencing new cultures and exotic places opened my eyes to many truths and the experience quickly became addictive.

Eventually headhunted into private sector consulting, I volunteered for every travel related project I could get, lucked out and deployed operationally with the Navy, sailing around Australia, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf implementing command and control systems and training their personnel at sea. It was this last stint of risky and slightly dangerous travel that locked in my permanent condition of wanderlust. But then I met a girl (as you do) and the next decade was spent focusing on things that ultimately didn’t work out. Marriage, houses, money, possessions, a nice lawn, fancy car. Social norms. You know the drill. 

 Skip ahead to 2012. 

 After multiple career hops and several different lives, I’d met my biological families and sorted that out, had a wonderful daughter, moved cities and states, fell in and out of love, but the traveling had stopped.

 I ended up here in Dubbo, working for City Council and caring for my adoptive parents as they transitioned into a retirement village and eventually Aged Care. Dad passed away in 2014 and Mum is still hanging in there albeit at the mercy of a devastating dementia thats robbed her of speech and mobility. The experience with my parents in their declining years had driven home the importance and the fragility of life. I’d also realised a few critical lessons: that my parents were just people, that life was short, and that I wasn’t immortal. Time was short.

 Wanting to keep my brain alive in the unholy dullness of country NSW, I began a Sociology/Psych degree at Charles Sturt University via Distance Ed. I embraced local theatre with the Wesley House Players, took workshops and acted in play festivals, got involved in the Midnight Cafe Committee for a few years, even tried my hand at playwriting.  It wasn’t long though before the restlessness kicked off again and the day to day travel of my work wasn’t enough. I needed to address it.

 A now ex-girlfriend introduced me to yoga by way of me being a guinea pig for her Yoga Class programs. It resonated immediately, and through a progression of coincidences I found myself on an unexpected path. I took time off and jumped on a plane for the first time in 10 years. Traveling through the Himalayas, I stopped in Pokhara, Nepal for a time and was turned on to Tibetan Buddhism at the local Buddhist Centre there. The 3 day philosophy course with traditional yoga and pranayama practice was really only an Intro, but it raised more questions than it answered. There were many elements that rang universally true to me. More lightbulb moments, like attachment leads to unhappiness, finding meditation and mindfulness practice useful in daily life, and to do no harm. Or is that last one Google. I always get the two confused.

 From there on my travels became more focused as my life became less complex – I began looking for answers in other cultures and religions – I knew it was the key – moving through Nepal and India exploring Buddhism and Hinduism. Needing a shortcut, I jumped into a more traditional Hatha (Svastha) Yoga practice by undertaking an intensive teacher training in Bali. I didn’t totally drink the cool-aid but it did give me a solid backgrounding and more importantly the language or vocabulary to unlock key concepts of the practice.

 After the Teacher Training my perspective on yogic practice shifted course. Originally aimed at helping myself heal and getting answers to life’s big questions, now I wanted to know more about using yoga and mindfulness training as a theraputic tool to help others – specifically dealing with mental health issues (stress and addiction, anxiety and depression in particular).

 I started on a well respected Svastha Yoga Therapy training program under Dr Ganesh Mohan and the sheer practicality of the course captivated me, illuminating yet another pathway. Asana, meditation and pranayama practice were essential not just for physical but also emotional well-being. Not in a ‘hippie bell ringy flower child’ way but a practical “Hey I’m moving and breathing and Wow! I feel good” way. My new goal was to start a Men’s or ‘Blokes Yoga’ practice initially in Dubbo and then perhaps take it overseas.

This year I have been particularly fortunate to have taken a sabbatical from work – to get ahead on my degree and do more travel to broaden my experience and to help deal with the restlessness.

 Earlier in 2016 I strayed from my chosen path a little while living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest up near Seattle. I faced some challenges there that ultimately turned me back in the direction of my neglected yoga and mindfulness practice. I bolted halfway around the world to Chiang Mai and reconnected with my yoga buddies there to reframe my life.

 Living in Northern Thailand for the next 4 months was a powerful perspective changing experience in many ways. I volunteered briefly alongside Burmese Refugee Support workers: helping out by hand building adobe mud brick housing with a local Women’s group who were providing a refuge centre for burned out Foreign Aid Workers up in Chiang Dao. Sharing their powerful stories and life experience while slogging away in the heat, mud and cement was such a challenging but uniquely rewarding experience as well.

 When Asia got a bit ‘same same’ – the restlessness had kicked in again – I jumped on a cheap flight to Egypt and travelled the Nile valley to explore for a while and play tourist, before tiring of the noise and pollution, moving on to Tunisia for my birthday.

Living in Tunis for several weeks I was in heaven: exploring the clean modern city, its cathedrals and museums, the Medina and then stunning Roman and Punic ruins. Roaming ancient Carthage and then abandoned Star Wars sets deep in the Tunisian Sahara, camping in the mountains near El Kef, hiking remote Jugurtha’s Table near South Western no-go zones on the Algerian Border, making new friends and learning so much but ultimately I barely scratched the surface of this rich traditional Islamic culture. I’ve fallen in love with this country and its people. North Africa has set yet another path for my future and reignited the wanderlust in a big way.

Being used to being alone was so useful! Traveling solo has allowed me to join and leave groups of travelers on similar journeys, buddying up and going it alone when it suited. The disconnect and lack of roots actually came in handy for this nomadic existence – it felt so perfect for me as everywhere was home.

 Recently I’ve met many amazing people from around the planet who were of a like mind; artists and musicians, doctors and psychologists, from physiotherapists to surfers. Everyone I’ve encountered having much the same questions or were on a similar journey.  Who am I? Why am I…? What is my purpose?

 It was a “found my tribe’ moment of the purest kind for me – a global community of like-minded gypsies, connecting through shared experiences and in many ways more of an actual family than I’ve ever had. 

 I’m using my time back in Dubbo to prepare for the next stage of my journey. Learning French to prepare for a trip back to Tunisia sooner rather than later (hopefully). Rebuilding my personal yoga practice and getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, until I feel I have something concrete to offer others.

 I’ll be hitting the road again soon, exploring still but this time with a more defined sense of purpose.”

Yep definitely an oversharer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

reframe…

“Whats Next?” is a big question that’s been driving me forward for a while now.

 Sometimes you can provide the answer, but most times you cant and the universe decides on your behalf. For me, circumstances back home have aligned unexpectedly to give me a small window to return and cut short my year of travel.

Its been 2 weeks of anxiety, sleeplessness and indecision but I’ve made the call to head back to Australia, even though I still have 8 weeks of “make a decision” time before the deadline to return to my old job lapses.

My reluctance to walk back into the cage of my old life and relinquish this magnificent freedom is manifesting itself physically and mentally. I’ve been sick, tired, happy, depressed – every emotion struggling for dominance. If it wasn’t for the planned 2 week safety net of Chiang Mai to settle my head down I’d be lost. Being able to prepare for reemergence into the real world is invaluable especially when you’ve been existing in an absolute freedom dream state, living for almost a year abroad. The comfortable calm that this city brings me is immediate.

Chiang Mai has been the place that I gather my strength after this rollercoaster year – get my chipped tooth fixed and some overdue dental work , a new tattoo, read a few good books, see a few films, catch up with friends, and meditate on lessons learned over the course of the year.

A friend asked me a few days back what has changed about myself in the past year, and I couldn’t really answer the question. It’s hard to pin down. I thought this would be a year of answers but I have only found more questions. The only thing I’m sure of is that I am not where I am supposed to be. 

What did surprise me is that when it was darkest, I found comfort and strength in a spiritualistic Faith I didn’t realise I had. 

*Notre Dame Cathedral minus Quasimodo.

Anyhow…I’m sure it’ll pass. 

Much like going to the dentist and distancing yourself from the pain, this week Ive completed the process of reentry in a numb,  detached state: contacting my old employer <shudder>, seeking accommodation, transport, flights, logistically getting from point A to point B etc etc ad nauseum. Inside I’m screaming at myself to stop this madness and head West again, but luckily the rational part is in control for a change and has made all the arrangements for reentry into what has become a new Global World Order in all of the worst possible ways.

I am extremely grateful to have had the chance to experience the world over the past year, meet amazing new friends and experience life fully but I am not ‘lucky’ as some have said. It was just good management. I planned and worked hard to save enough money to see me through the year, then tried to roll with the punches as they landed. It was a massive gamble, but it wasn’t luck.

Now for some reason my ‘live to work’ ethic has flipped to ‘work to live’ completely and I’m embracing the concept. We all only get one life and it passes all too quickly. It’s for this very reason I’m never going to be trapped in a meaningless job nor rot in an office ever again.

But as of today, unlimited freedom-wise, it’s done. At least for a little while.

This is my last Sunday in Chiang Mai and Monday afternoon I fly out.

In a week I go back to work.

There is a longer term plan however and this is a temporary means to an end. That has been the only thing keeping me on track. Rationalisation and reframing the negative.

It’s not all bad – I’ll get to see my Mum, my beautiful daughter Isabel, and some of the few remaining friends that I feel close to. But that’s about it.

2016 has been a trial run with a mix of success and failure but more importantly it’s been a year of exponential personal growth.

2017 will be my year and I’m getting excited already.

Reframe. 

 More about Paris tomorrow.

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 grâce. 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…

 

 

 

 

 

nothing is something…

Sometimes I have nothing to say.

Its extraordinary…shocking even and for the people that know me well, quite disturbing.

It’s the “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” Star Wars moment.


I welcome it when it happens, it just doesn’t happen a lot.

The restlessness of my mind usually generates a constant background hum and a need for continual motion.  As a good friend recently noticed, it even supplies an audible soundtrack to my daily activities. I hum and ‘doo de doo’ a lot,  sing sentences at times even though I don’t realise it. Talk incessantly. And that’s my resting state.

Now…imagine that after 2 or 3 Americanos. Crazy and annoying to more enlightened, grounded types I’m sure.

Honestly, in my life moments of actual stillness are few, but when they come, oh boy…

So in lieu of a regular conversation I’m blomiting (‘blog vomiting’ – there you go I’ve created a new term) these thoughts out of my limited headspace for your enjoyment.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this so just come along for the ride. Let’s digress…

Stillness. I struggle with it daily.

Moving from my day to day routine to hanging with calm minded yoga people is like running full tilt into a wall of custard and trying to slowly push through it. It drains me of momentum…doesn’t quite stop me dead in my tracks but thickens the space around  me…I feel this as an almost physical sensation … a “slowing”. It’s disconcerting and such a different energy…also quite frustrating as I generally function at full speed (vibrating at a different frequency maybe, I don’t know) and it takes a real mental effort to throttle back.  As a lot of my friends are yoga teachers it is challenging to say the least.

(I recently had a yin yoga session at a friends studio, accompanied by Tibetan singing bowls – during this I experienced this ‘slowing’ again as well as an unexpected but defined energy flow up and down my spinal column – a friend remarked that after this I seemed the most grounded that I’d ever been since we’d met- interesting eh? Imagine if that could be a resting state. More on this another time … Remind me ok?)

Yes I know it takes work and yes meditation will help. Thanks. I’m a work in progress.

…Stillness.

How do you know when it happens?

One notable moment for me was on the Bremerton ferry from Seattle a few months back after a late night out with Jen (yes that again). Sitting across from one another, gazing into her eyes… I just didn’t have anything to say. I felt at peace. It struck me as so odd I felt the need to comment “I have absolutely nothing to say to you” – yep, tactful as always…needless to say she was not impressed.  FYI that is NEVER a good thing to say to your significant other.  Looking back I can see that I was simply happy and had a moment of stillness – also how tactless that may have been and it possibly foreshadowed the events that followed. Anyway … lets get back on track.

So why am I blogging about stillness if I have nothing to say?

Well on occasion even nothing is something and it is notable by nature of its rarity.

I’ve been quietly watching my mind a lot over the past few years. We’ve become…intimate. It loves to run wild with crazy ideas and imagined conversations. It can tell the future, change the past,  read people’s minds and create alternate existences. It loves a plan and is a master of the sneaky ‘what ifs…’.

Traveling alone gives my chattery mindstream unparalleled access and power – gazing absently out the bus or ferry window, these random thoughts sneak and slither, unchecked and unchallenged they conspire,  gather momentum, unexpectedly slap you in the metaphysical face and then dominates the inner conversation. Creates a mental pressure, drives a low mood.  When you don’t speak to anyone for days, this internal monologue cycles and builds, and then when you actually have a conversation with a human being, the experience isn’t fun (for them, anyway). Its a face full of scattered babblevomit – a burst of random thoughts and ideas that have to escape the mind but so full on and unrelenting  it can overwhelm others.

There is no mental release,  just a brief joy from connecting and then the thoughts start to sneak and slither again, waiting for the next chance to escape.

This stillness thing is tricky.

But watching the mind is a fascinating practice. And it is a practice – the more you do it the better you get and the more you see.

Maybe that’s the way to find this elusive stillness that everyone’s talking about .

Which brings me to … Hmmm ..Oh yes – TRAVEL and the visiting yoga buddy!

Meg has been and gone. Seeing her at the airport was like picking up an interesting breakfast conversation at dinner with a close friend – easy, comfortable…normal. We fell into friendship easily a few years ago – just sorta happened that way.  A fascinating person but hard to define. If it helps, imagine a superintelligent doctor-scientist-yoga teacher -spiritualist-model-Disney princess (the one from Brave) so far out of your league it isn’t even worth fantasising about.

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Plus we know way way way to much about each other to be anything else 😉 (hopefully she hates reading self indulgent travel Blogs also)

Anyway…

We’d last said a hurried goodbye in Bali almost 2 years ago at teacher training and then I was late finishing class, missed her taxi, and she was gone.

The visit came out of the blue and as we’d both come out of some recent unpleasantness it was a welcome escape. We’d planned to not have a plan  – nonspecifically reconnecting and traveling around Northern Thailand for 2 weeks, spending a few days first in Chiang Mai getting oriented, then heading off on her first trip to Thailand, then scuba diving for her birthday in Koh Phagnan.

Ok it was a plan. I like plans.

After a few city days, Meg craved green space, forests and mountains so we grabbed an early red truck from the guest house, went the long way to the wrong bus station, grabbed and merrily confused the closest tuk tuk driver , got to the RIGHT bus station, bought our 40 baht ticket, hopped on a green bus and headed North.

First stop Chiang Dao:  An hour and a bit on the air-cooled (ie open windowed) bus. I’d been there before but a perfect introduction to regional Thailand (without too much shock) where we spent several days scoopying around the countryside along the Beautiful Road.

**this is a Scoopy  – a motorcycle named for fun. Just try saying it and not smiling.

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and blissing out at a wonderful place called Nest 2 – little bungalows nestled up against the foot of the sacred mountain Doi Chiang Dao, near the Chiang Dao caves.

Spoilt with amazing local food by a lovely chef named Oh who was happy to chat to us at length about her life and family and her passion for food. She used us as guinea pigs for some of her recipes (the sweet bamboo shoot dessert was simply amazing), and completely destroying me with some fiery Thai curries and soups. *Meg is a chili savant : her capacity to put away extremely spicy dishes both impressed and frightened the HELL out of me. Respect.

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Exploring the bat-filled catacombs of Chiang Dao cave with our Burmese guide giggling “watch out for the bat sheets” as we climbed and weaved and ducked through the inky blackness of the massive cave system lit only with the dim glow of a kerosene lamp,

then wondering at the stunningly beautiful Cave temple on Doi Chiang Dao

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and finally relaxing at the Makhampom art space when the rains finally came through in earnest was heavenly.

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Even though the weather turned on the rain for us we still got out into the last teeth of the Himalaya range and immersed ourselves in nature, wandering through the jungle trails and villages alike, talking and exploring, enjoying the silence of the stars at night and looking for elusive fireflies in the gardens over dinner.

It would have been easy to stay there for weeks, but it was time to move on so we hopped onto the green bus again and off we went, overnighting in Fang (not much to see – shitty business hotel, very industrial but great noodles at the food truck). We got out of there are soon as possible early the next day.

The next stop was the surprising Tha Ton.

The guide books wrote it off as a small town with not much to see but it was really a quietly bustling regional centre with some amazing sights and stunning views over the valley  – AND a great little coffee shop near the bridge barely mentioned in the Guidebooks but actually wonderful and welcoming.


For example Wat Thaton on Doi Thaton was simply stunning – looking like a porcelain teapot but containing the most wonderfully peaceful museum with artworks, texts, and sculptures with a heavy Chinese influence donated from around the world.

And the views! overlooking the Thaton valley with views over into neighboring Myanmar.

So we hiked around the mountains and explored the town in the brief time that we had. Ate at a shitty farang style eatery and instantly regretted it. Especially the deep fried frog.

Oh God…the horror of the deep fried frog. *Tastes like chicken.

Staying in a ‘resort’ (I wont name it – it truly had seen better days) but right on the river close to the bridge, perfect location but really rundown. It was managed by a thai version of Basil Fawlty and his non english speaking (but extremely good mime) wife. They tried really hard though so it almost made up for the places shortcomings.

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It was an adventure all by itself, but as we’d been traveling together for well over a week now the heat, lack of privacy and the constant travel had frayed us both a little around the edges.

For two people used to roaming alone, a week in another’s company was a long time.

There were loose threads hanging, waiting to be tugged.

To be continued…