Draft extract from my travel memoir
One day on my own in the restaurant I watched someone kill a fish at the side of the road. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first- was he just chopping it up, or did it move? I watched the next one fully- he lifted a fish out of a covered container attached to the side of his moped- ingenious- a fish tank attached to his moped- and hit it over the head. People stopped, he reached under the cover, got out a fish, killed it, weighed it, cut it up, put the pieces in the ubiquitous thin plastic bags, like you get at independent grocers or market stalls, thin flimsy plastic, blue, often, or other colours. The fish I watched struggled, tried to escape, he pulled it back and hit it again, its gills still moving on the weighing scale, then he cut it up and put it in a bag.
When all the customers had stopped, or he’d run out of fish, he packed away his things and left. A short while later a woman walked past where he’d been standing, a plastic bag of groceries in one hand, and a live duck in a bag in the other, one of its feet pushed through a hole in the thin blue plastic, paddling frantically, its head and beak sticking out the top of the bag as she walked on down the road. But its not as bad as factory farming*, or slaughterhouses.*
On the fourth day, the last day, it was not foggy. I went for a walk a different way. It got busy with tourists and a few people selling but up until then it was quiet.
A puppy with a curled tail was chained up. A big Doberman style of dog was loose, dragging its own chain behind it. The puppy was barking, excited. They started to play. Round and round, the big dog’s chain got caught up. For a moment I wondered if it would tether itself. Both dogs ran around and around each other and their chains. The puppy rolled on its back, submissive, the big dog must have nipped it as it yelped.
Near the puppy was another dog, a small white dog, loose, a little involved with the barking at first but outside the playing. A pigeon was watching from the corrugated roof, it flew down as if to take a closer look. The big dog saw and chased it and went to catch it, the pigeon escaped, the big dog went after it barking and lost interest in the puppy. The puppy was barking as if calling to the big dog to come back and play, the puppy chained up, the big dog free and gone.
In the quiet area I went past a cafe. I thought I saw a television screen of mountains. I looked again, and thought it was a lit up picture. Then a mirror reflecting a picture of mountains. But it was actually a hole in the wall. Outside beyond the hole was a blue crumpled tarpaulin with a covering of grey dust, blue-grey in the light. The light must have caught it just right, for me to see it as a luminous mountain scene.
I saw chickens with little chicks, and chickens and ducks in round wire cages. I saw a black pig with black piglets and a big pregnant pig trying to eat food near the chicken pen; people shooed her away. Her teats and belly were hanging and touching or almost touching the ground.
I stopped for coffee and to write everything down. I’d numbered the things in my head, 3-pigs and piglets, 2- the screen, 1- the dogs. Again it was like those overwhelming insights or too much beauty. Those three things kept slipping away even as I was writing them. They were so special, so important to capture and yet so slippery. Unusual for me, usually I can remember things, especially if I count them. It was hard but so powerful especially the light screen/television thing.
‘Grey houses made colourful by washing.’ I was thinking of my favourite Kolkata line and at same time I saw grey dwellings/outbuildings with washing, opposite where I was having coffee and writing. Or did I see them first and that sparked the line, without me noticing consciously? But I had been saying that line to myself so much that day and the day before it was not that surprising. Still, it was a nice touch to be seated opposite a pictorial version of it!
The cafe was wooden with a low wall beyond which was a river. Outside there was a waterfall, or river over rocks anyway. There were swallows outside and swallows inside- I could see a nest. The roof was made of frosted glass like tin foil, the same as the restaurant roof at the accommodation. Writing and coffee. My coffee came in a glass, a metal percolator and saucer forming a lid on top.
Why do I so often deny myself when to stop somewhere and write with coffee is so nice? The activity, and the coffee same, but the view, the table and chairs, the percolator/cup a little different each time. Most days I didn’t even take money, when I did, I walked past places, making excuses not to go in. Shy? Social anxiety? Money? But maybe I stop at the right places and appreciate it because I don’t do it so often and I find the right place?
On the way back, the puppy and the little white dog were asleep, the white dog lying flush against the chained puppy, even though the white dog was free, unchained.
I paused to look at the view: little wooden shacks, rice terraces, hills. I saw one of the strange grey animals, like a very big pig or a yak, with their baby snuggled beside them. If you pause, even for a moment with intention, you see. Further on I didn’t even pause but saw anyway, a big beautiful orange-brown moth on an orange-brown door frame.
Sitting at the cafe with coffee, writing, looking at the waterfall. This feeling, not high happiness per se, perhaps it is better than that. Maybe the aim is to feel in power again, like the best most powerful version of me. Walk first, alone, coffee, writing, calm. Recharging self. Simple. Don’t forget to do.
For pics and more about SaPa see blog post with photos
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.
* What’s wrong with slaughterhouses and factory farming? Watch Earthlings on Netflix. If you are in the UK or Europe and think ‘that doesn’t happen here/that’s only in the USA’, watch Land of Hope and Glory on YouTube (film from 100 UK facilities including ‘organic’ ‘free range’ and ‘RSPCA approved’)