…holding pattern

Just submitted an application for a job – a promotion that I don’t want but will probably get – while waiting to hear about an unexpected job opportunity that I didn’t realise I wanted so much until today. At the same time anxiously watching the timer tick down to my “end of June” deadline for action.

I am the pause at the top of an inhale at the moment: my first step off the ledge. Caught in an anxious moment of breathless anticipation.

Ill hear about all of these opportunities in the next 2 or 3 weeks…

Weeks!!!! 

Tick tick fuck.

All my careful planning and orchestrations over the past year have made May/June this year the crunch months. I’m trying to control too much outside my sphere and its doing my head in at the moment.

All I can do is wait until these opportunities are either ticked off or taken – and I really hate waiting. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely grateful to have so many exciting opportunities given the current state of the world. But hey, it’s me. Activity is my heroin, remember? Complacency can suck it.

At least the Green card lottery results are in. No luck there and can tick that off for the year.

It’s actually quite an exciting time.

USA, Romania, Antarctica, South America, Dubbo. One of these things is not like the others.

More on these later as things develop. I’m being intentionally vague but there are massively exciting games afoot.

…yes its a tease, but the Interweb’s digital walls have ears.

**I found a heap of old Biggles novels at a book fair today – being a voracious reader as a kid I devoured all these titles and any other series I could find – Famous Five, Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, moving on to Tolkien, Conan-Doyle, Fleming, Doc Smith, Zane Grey, Asimov and Wilbur Smith and more. Perhaps it was these early literary adventures that set a book and movie geek on his meandering path an age ago. 

Anyway some things never change … Book Fairs rule…

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

re-entry…

So I’m back at work now. You can imagine my excitement.

Back in Dubbo, Australia now for 10 days, spending the last 5 days locked in an office, glued to a phone and computer, staring out a distant window at the sunlight, wishing I was somewhere else. Its ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’ at its worst and it’s easy as my office walls are now lined with new travel photos – a quick glance left takes me away to the forests of Olympic National Park and a distant view of Mt Rainier, a bit further takes me diving in Koh Phangan, to my teacher training class in Bali, or the Giza pyramids, or to Carthage.

I’ve led a charmed life this year no doubt about it.

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Now that’s in the past.

Settling back into Dubbo hasn’t been a lot of fun – the numbness and “dead inside” feeling has persisted and the episodic disconnection (almost disassociative at times) is still present but slowly waning. I’m getting out and about, getting as physical as I can on my current prepayday budget. I haven’t wanted to settle back in though, avoiding people and doing my own thing as usual. Walking a lot as I can’t sit still (the restlessness persists and as you know stillness is always an issue). There’s like a constant pressure in my head that I’m attributing to the instant onset of extreme hayfever (yes that a real thing  – there have been people dropping dead of asthma in Melbourne over the past few weeks).

The water here tastes like mud (algae in the river water we drink apparently), the dry heat and hard water has turned my skin to flaky crap and my hair to a dandruffy hair helmet, but the clear blue skies and sunsets in the evenings have made everything worth it.

Almost.

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In the grand scheme of things though, I can’t complain. Decent job, great money, good conditions, new work car (hopefully flame proof after the last one), semi-autonomous and self managing to a large degree. I work alone in a regional area of New South Wales, my immediate supervisor (now retired) is a 3 hour drive away, my team Manager 6 hours, the remainder of my team spread all over New South Wales. Perfect.

Almost.

You might recall that I mentioned that nothing had changed here in the past year. Well that holds true for work as well.

Starting back last Monday, a few people were surprised but most were welcoming (It was a sad day as a colleagues’ son had committed suicide over the weekend so the mood was low). I wasn’t expecting a parade but people passed by in the corridor, a few remarked that they hadn’t even realised I’d been gone.

Nice.

Walking back into my office after 11 months I expected at least SOMETHING to be different. But nothing was (except someone had stolen my 2 x new 22″ monitors and had replaced them with shitty old ones).

I settled back in, checked the few emails filtering in from colleagues who finally realised I was back, and then started catching up on mandatory training that been missed  – online talking head videos about terrorism or radicalisation or somesuch “fear fear fear warning warning warning’ nonsense –  (I suppose to be fair one of our own colleagues had been assassinated/shot point blank right outside the front door of Headquarters last year so a little paranoia is to be expected).

After a few calls from my colleagues, I was again getting drawn into the same corporate bullshit, the infighting and office politics that I’d been happy to leave in the dust. All the same personalities involved, their low morale, negativity and backstabbing once again hurled at me as the corporate factions struggled to find support and numbers. Tiresome and sickening but not entirely unexpected. I usually try to stay above it but sometimes its hard when it catches you off guard and it finds a way in.

It was then I started to feel the psychological load building again as all these familiar things reasserted control over my mind and began manifesting in my body. Pain free for the past 12 months, in this 2 day period things started to happen again. The crunchy shoulder muscles, the hypertension, irritability and anxiety. The shoulder and neck pain came back in 1 day. By Day 2, the tingling in the fingertips and wrists started up again, and lower back pain started to fire up. These things had spilled over and caused Hell  in my personal life and even in the first few weeks of my holiday, had caused aching pain and a lot of discomfort from sitting (especially touring around in Jen’s little 4WD for 3 weeks)

Usually I’d just go and stretch, chillax for a bit but ultimately put up with it. But “Bugger this” I thought – my health is important to me now – and got the local Workplace Health and Safety manager to come in and check out my office equipment. Sure enough, he measured and tested and moved things around, eventually ruling that every single piece of office furniture and equipment I’d been using for the past 4 years was totally unsuitable, too small , or needed changing out.

SO – now I have a standup desk! (at least temporarily)  – IT’S THE BEST THING EVER…and it’s gone a long way already to stop the aches and pains.

Short story is I’m doing ok. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Daily, I’m examining and reframing all the negative thinking, watching my mind, meditating and breathing purposefully. Flicking my gaze to next year while staying rooted in the present. Its a skill for life : less crystal ball gazing and more staying open to opportunity, but luckily I have some amazing friends in other countries that are still traveling and they are keeping me level – <Shaye, Megan, Kate, Anna, Megs, Christina, Connie, Bronnie especially> – if it wasn’t for the support of these guys (albeit remotely) I’d be a real mess.

The tiny OCD part of me still needs a plan ABC to settle down though.

So plan B is off to Bali in February to complete another 2 modules in the Svastha Yoga Therapy program. It’s something I really want to finish and after Bali there’s only 2 more modules to go and I’m certified.

Oh and I’m learning French! – met with a local tutor and shes going to help me over the next 5 months. There’s a plan bubbling away in my head to use Language study to travel the world – get an education visa for a year, study at a language school, move on. French first, then Thai in Thailand or Arabic in Tunisia at Bourguiba Language School.

It’s my plan C if the USA goes up in flames with Trump in control. (Did I mention I’m moving to the US next year?)

Next week brings Doctors visits, assessments and some work related travel to Bourke, Brewarrina, and probably Walgett. Today, I’m enjoying the Sunday sunshine, a decent coffee or two at Dahab Cafe, my new Jack Reacher novel and then who knows what the future may bring.

 

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?

 

 

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.

baguette?…

…was about the extent of my French when I hit Paris.

Well maybe not just ‘baguette’…I’d heard horror stories about the legendary rudeness of Parisians (and the French in general) towards non-French speaking foreigners/tourists and I was a little bit worried. In the last few days of Tunis (thanks to my Tunisian friends expert tutelage) I’d managed to progress to the stage where I could confidently greet someone, order a coffee (most important) and a meal, plus make extremely general inquiries. I thought I was rocking it. Obviously I wasn’t.

The first time I tried that in a classy sidewalk Paris cafe, the waiter actually laughed at me. In a sympathetic way, like you would a cute but backwards child (who may wear a bright orange ‘stakhat’ to school). Ill take sympathy over scorn any day, so I stuck with it. As long as you at least make the attempt to say ‘bonjour’ and speak even a little French (even badly) there is a definite defrosting of people attitudes towards you. Although to be completely honest, I never met any one person in France that was actually rude to me.

Maybe I was just lucky.

My first night in the hostel was interesting. After my little emotional adjustment at the Louvre, I wandered up the 2 city blocks to my hostel and checked in. The hostel was great, with dorm accommodation (bunk beds and shared bathrooms) but the building itself was several hundred years old, had excellent facilities, and I was right up top on the 5th floor with a wonderful view of the Paris rooftops. The place was the type of hostel that take large school groups and it was full of schoolkids on an excursion. It was currently a buzzing mass of kids as 2 groups had overlapped – 1 coming in, 1 going out – and instantly unbearable. The poor girl on the front desk was frazzled as she processed 100 excited kids and the wifi was getting hammered as everyone was online.

So a good opportunity to bug out and explore. With the Immigration officers words  – “most dangerous city in Europe”  – still bouncing around my head, I was a little uncertain of heading out at 11 pm, but the streets were full and the sounds of the inner city were beckoning, so I rugged up and headed out.

So where to start? I only had 5 days in this beautiful city to explore.

Retracing my steps back to the Louvre, I turned towards the distant Arc de Triomph glittering 3.5 kms away, thought ” I can do that” and started walking into the cold dark Parisian night.

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I’d gotten about 100 meters before my spider sense started jangling.

Walking through the Arc de Triomph du Carrousel (above) you are strolling down a wide barely lit gravel boulevard, surrounded by dark hedge gardens and statues.  I was wandering down trying to take photos in virtual darkness, when I noticed dark shapes lurking in the gardens beyond the lights. At first it didn’t seem like anything odd, but I then it occurred that there were no tourists in this area, just me.

I stopped and looked around, patting my pockets down looking for my cigarettes.

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Three dark figures detached themselves from the deep shadows on either side of the path and wandered out of the gardens, forming a rough triangle around me. Casually moving towards the spot I was standing. Dark jackets, scarves and beanies. Identical. Indistinguishable.

Ruh roh.

I took a moment, lit my cigarette and looked at my options, then turned and started casually walking back towards the light, and safety of the tourists on the other side of the arch.

They all instantly changed their approach vectors (fuck) and the closest guy intercepted me part way there, babbled something in French, and held out a cigarette. My heart was thumping a little and I thought “Ok here we go”. Watching the others approach closely but casually, I fished out my lighter and passed it to him, all the while still heading towards the light, forcing him to keep pace with me. The 2 guys were closer now, just strolling alongside but never more than 10 steps away.

The cigarette dude lit his cigarette, and paused. Exhaling a cloud of smoke into the night sky, he looked at me and I met his gaze with my best “don’t fuck with me” look. He nodded and held out the lighter to return it. I took it quickly, rumbled a low “merci’ and walked quickly through the remaining 2 guys into the welcoming light of the archway. Turning back on the other side of the arch, the men had gone, melting back into the shadowed gardens.

And then I was back with the laughing tourists, the lovers and the light.

So lesson learned – when someone tells you to not do something stupid in a new city, this is the sorta thing they are talking about.

Day 1 eh?

Deciding to call it a night, I wandered back through the busy Louvre complex, past the Comedie De Paris, passing through the local streets to my now largely silent hostel.

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I’ll start exploring tomorrow.

In the daylight.