Apparently ‘Awe Walks’ is a thing now, I read about it in an online article suggesting ways to feel better about our current situation and the approaching winter. I thought it seemed strange at first, because my own experiences of experiencing awe during a walk were for me the first step on my ‘spiritual journey,’ rather than an end in themselves. It reminded me of when everyone started getting into mindfulness and businesses started using it for their employees; some Buddhists commented that it was being practised without any underpinning theory or spiritual foundation. But I still think most people would agree that practising mindfulness, with or without anything underpinning it, is a good thing. So I’m supportive of the idea of Awe Walks, however they are conceptualised by the person experiencing them!
Let’s go for a walk… or, How to find Heaven on Earth
I plant my feet on the ground, about hip width apart, my weight equally balanced on both feet and on the balls and the heels of each foot. I soften my knees, bending them ever so slightly so that the soles of my feet seem to stick to the ground as if I am fixed, rooted to the ground as surely as a tree. Connected. I am connected to the ground, to the Earth.
I feel the breeze play on my face, feel the wind lifting and moving my hair. A strand of hair falls across my face, in front of my eyes; lit by the sun, it is tiger eye, spun gold. It is still winter and the sun is white and hazy but I can feel the warmth on my cheek, feel the energy warming me, bringing me back to life.
Everything seems interesting. Almost anything can be of interest if I notice it and pause to observe it. I used to march without pause down the street, across the fields but now I walk steadily and stop often. The sight of tiny leaves of ivy growing up a fence; brown pinecones on a bush silhouetted against a blue sky; a holly bush, impossibly shiny, almost plastic looking; all these and more stop me in my tracks.
The trees… one looks like a peacock, one looks like a creature from Where the Wild Things are, standing guard in front of the village church; one looks like an old man with flowing beard. Best of all I like to stand under their branches and stare at the old ivy limbs winding their way around the trunk, dusty and hairy and beautiful.
Halfway along my walk I come to a stream that runs through a small patch of woodland. I stop, facing along its length. The tall trees are reflected in the water. At the top as far as I can see, the trees disappear down. In the middle, their reflections overlap and join with those of the trees nearest me, giving a sensation of depth. A ripple appears, making the image iridescent with sparkling light. I follow the river down to my feet where the reflections travel into darkness, deeper below than the trees are high above.
I could stare into the river for hours. Even in this ordinary little village, there is so much beauty. The summer evening sunsets. At night, the stars.
Thank you very much for reading
Please feel free to share your awe walk experiences
About the author
In 2018 in our forties and fifties my husband and I sold up, gave away most of our possessions, and went travelling for a year, mainly in India, and also to Thailand, Tokyo, Nepal, Cambodia and Vietnam. My personal/spiritual/travel memoir of the year is completed and out with agents. I live on a narrowboat in rural Northamptonshire UK with my husband and two cats.
Picking up the things of beauty: Delhi before Nepal (October 2018) Draft chapter for book
On the train from Pushkar to Delhi, two young men gave us advice about a better Delhi station to get off at, closer to the airport where we were staying. It was also their stop, and near the taxis they even looked for us to check we were okay. ‘You are guests in our country,’ they said, when we thanked them.
A French woman we met in Pushkar said she usually brings her daughter each year to India, one year her daughter aged six had got very ill in Delhi, they had to go to multiple doctors and she lost a lot of weight before getting treatment that was effective. Since then, the woman said she only eats at one particular hotel when she is in Delhi. Even though guidebooks direct western tourists to Main Bazar (Paharganj), and all the shops there are geared to tourists, tourists seem to often get sick there, and middle class Indians told us they wouldn’t eat there and don’t understand why tourists go there… So, having got sick both the previous times we’d stayed in Main Bazar, we took a leaf out of the French woman’s book and booked a hotel near the airport, for the one night and one day between Pushkar and Nepal.
Our taxi driver struggled to find our hotel and after driving around and asking directions he dropped us off and rushed away. It was the wrong hotel. It was late in the evening, we were tired and fed up, but as we began to walk, people came to help and give us directions; people actually ran after us to offer help. This happened again and again in India, people went out of their way to help us. Thank you so much.
We finally found our hotel, it was the slowest check in ever, we were tired and impatient, but managed not to show it. Our intention always was to spend most of the time in the hotel room and eat hotel room service, this time the Delhi air quality was just ‘unhealthy’ rather than ‘hazardous,’ as it had been last time.
The hotel staff didn’t speak much English, breakfast was included but we struggled to order it when they phoned to ask what we wanted; one meal came first then we ordered the other when they brought the first. Anthony had an omelette and I had milky coffee like children’s coffee, with four slices of toast which I dipped in, which was actually really nice. For the other meals the staff came into the room and copied our order with us showing them the item on the menu. We had finger chips, and veg sandwiches with thin cut cucumber and tiny amounts of shredded lettuce, which were also very nice, and milky tea in a pot. We got what we got, we were hungry, the food was actually fine, and it didn’t make us sick.
Anthony wasn’t feeling well and stayed in the whole time but I did go out for a little walk. We were on the fourth floor, I used the stairs for a bit of exercise. There were unusual wall designs in that hotel in brown tiles and shiny brown wallpaper, on the stairs one side a mosaic design, on the other side giant pebbles, elsewhere there were even giant buttons. There was a round window to outside, I looked through; the wall opposite had a hole in, like where a fitting had been removed, making a messy circle. Inside the hole were a pair of pigeons huddled up together. I thought it looked like one bird’s wing was out of position, but when I came back upstairs, it had gone and the other was still there, sitting all fluffed up. Beyond the wall, on the roof of another building, I could see a terracotta saucer with a bird at it, someone had put water out.
I was nervous about getting lost, but on my own I was able to look and needed to really look; an OYO sign, a hotel sign at the end of our road. A tiny shop, a crossroads, side streets; the road was broken and bits of it were flooded a little. Men’s groomers, two juice stalls, more tiny shops and street stalls. On the way back I bought water. Looking back at the crossroads, there was a momo stall, 15 rupees for half, 30 rupees for full. I could see a room behind the street stall. To one side was the little shop where I had bought the water, to the other the road. Above the shop and across the road was a perfect bird’s nest of wires. Down the road was a sign saying Health and Hygiene Institute. To the left of the road was a block of faded flats. A little girl stood on a balcony holding a red balloon or was that my imagination? Definitely there was washing out. The little girl on the balcony, the washing, the Health and Hygiene Institute, the bird’s nest wires, the little shop, the momos stall. I tried to take a picture in my mind.
On my way out I’d made a point of saying Namaste and Good Morning (even though it was the afternoon) to the man on the hotel door. I got back to the hotel then decided to go on past it a little way. There came a man and a dog which I thought was on a lead, but then I felt its wet nose in my palm. It was quite a big dog, with a collar, but not on a lead and not with the man. The dog started being super friendly and started to hump my leg, I tried to shoo it, but I didn’t want to be too forceful in case I made it angry. I quickly walked back to the hotel and asked the doorman for help, he opened the door and shooed the dog away. ‘Friend,’ he said. ‘Too friendly,’ I said. I was on my period, the dog’s attention was embarrassing.
The area was made up of faded buildings interspersed with hotels. From the window by the pigeons, looking sideways and above I could see two flashier buildings. I could see washing hung out but otherwise it was a really non India view, and the view from our room even more so, ‘Our least India view,’ as my husband said, it could have been a faded area of any city.
I fed bits of the previous day’s train journey samosas to sweet little birds on the windowsill, poking the pieces through the bars. I thought, Give me a song (in return) then immediately chastised myself for thinking that- but then they did! Asking for more? I gave them more, and later pigeons came too.
I wanted, needed, to see the strange giant button design again; sometimes I look at something but I don’t stop long enough to feel I’ve soaked it in or made the most of it and then I regret it. Am I a pleasure denier? And then I realised that the same wall covering design was in a corner of our bathroom!
I told Anthony about the t-shirt I saw when I went out for a walk, then later I spent a while sitting on the floor, going through all my papers and notebooks, chucking out and decluttering to get the weight of my bag down, and what did I see, the very same phrase: ‘Fortune favours the brave’ that I’d noted down from a billboard on a journey at another time weeks or months ago…
Can it be like this in future, just picking up the things of beauty as I go without on purpose seeking any more? ‘No more temples.’ And just putting in the blog? So as to keep current; not like now, in Delhi and writing about Kerala, but maybe I should just accept that this is my job.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house, left job, 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.
For more photographs of the trip see Instagram travelswithanthony
For SMUT and Self-Esteem, a very wise and perfectly written blog. Reflecting on everyday experience through tools such as mindfulness and Buddhist teachings.
Even at the age of forty seven I was scared about telling my mum of our plans to give up work and go off to India, particularly about selling the house. And on the way to telling her about the boat I was as nervous as if I were on my way to hospital for an operation. I played the song above, ‘You say you can’t, I hope you can, I hope you can…’
My mother is an astonishingly capable individual, potentially a lot to live up to, and who has very strong opinions. But feeling as if I’m not free to live my life as I wish to because of what she might think or say isn’t on her, it’s on me.
Again and again people say, no one can have power over you without your consent, and such like. Certainly in the run up to going away I said the same kinds of things to myself and tried to deal with it on an intellectual level. I did what needed to be done, but I made a big palaver about it, putting things off and getting stressed out, and expending a lot of time and energy on it all.
On Thursday of last week we made our first trip back to Norfolk to visit people. Firstly we went to see our dear friend K, who made us a lovely lunch*, let us go on about India, and was very supportive about my book and our ideas. She asked us each if and how we thought the year of travel had changed us. We both said we felt it had, but that we didn’t know exactly how yet.
Then we drove over to see my mum. Towards the end of the year of travel I had had dreams about this meeting, and woken feeling anxious and intimidated, as I was when I visited before I left. This time, I didn’t feel even a flicker of nerves on the way there, and sailed through the visit authentically and confidently. We showed her photographs, she made us a delicious meal**, and we chatted about general topics. We all seemed happy to see each other, and had a nice time.
In the past I had involved her too much in my life, and I had felt shadowed by her strong opinions. The year away provided the opportunity to reset boundaries. I’m sure she doesn’t approve of everything I’m doing but she appears to have accepted that I’m doing it anyway, and didn’t question or comment.
I know it’s because she cares but I have to have this bit of separation in order to fully realise my own personal potential.
I wasn’t fake friendly or fake tough, I was totally myself during that time, and that is best described as relaxed and powerful. And it just happened that way, that’s how I’ve changed. (Just got to keep it up!)
Then we went to see my son. He’s not, as far as I’m aware, working on the same things with me, but I know he’s done better the less I’ve been involved in his life, culminating in him being offered, while I was away this year, the chance to exhibit in New York in May.
(I still have to work on resetting habits and expectations re money though, now that he is almost thirty and I am not working at the moment.)
We all acknowledged that he’d done the best all by himself, and I told him what the Swiss shaman I met in Kerala had told me, that when you have a baby it is your job to ‘Give them the bliss,’ but then when they grow up you must set them free. The shaman said I must set my son free so that he can become a great artist.
*beetroot and chickpea burgers, pasta in tomato sauce and broccoli
**vegetable curry, rice, samosas, and apple crumble and (soya) custard
We were thoroughly spoiled that day!
Thank you very much for reading
It kind of looks like it’s in transition, like it used to be more hippie-ish but has been taken over and is in the process of being changed. The toilets used to be compost ones, the instructions for them are still painted on the wall, although the toilets are all newly fitted ordinary Western style ones. The bathroom walls are decorated with murals of wildlife.
There’s an alternative pharmacy, now closed, and a very smart newly refurbished restaurant.
I found a ‘creative space,’ a big table, some art, positive messages on the wall, now unused. Nearby was another smaller table, I cleaned it up and made it my work space.
Each morning we go out to one of the cheaper places and get breakfast (beans on toast, fruit salad, the most enormous coconuts), maybe have a short walk, then we come back and I write (first) and do any internet stuff (second) for a couple of hours.
Then snacks, or chips and Sprite at the on site restaurant at lunch time; the only thing that stops me coughing is Sprite or water with copious amounts of ice. Then I rest in our hut for a while- I am currently watching Billions on Netflix. God knows why I like it, but I really do.
Then later we go out for dinner (vegetarian Khmer soup with tofu- a delicious clear soup with lots of veg). On the way home we pass a pop up stall selling vegan energy bars and, wait for it, vegan Snickers! (a homemade version of, but the most delicious, and guilt free thing I have tasted since March last year!)
One of the subjects my husband and I spoke about in the sea in Koh Rong (see previous post, and the red pill blue pill definition in The Matrix post previous to that one for more context/supporting info), was, is the whole ‘spiritual journey/search for meaning’ a trap, or at least, a cul-de-sac? There’s nowhere to get to, and nothing to find. Does even beauty fall into that category? Is even the luminous beauty that I notice and document every day all part of the illusion?
Maybe it’s okay if, like everything else, it’s not taken too seriously. So, like, ‘That’s nice, now get back to work.’ And maybe, well, ‘Whatever gets you through the night.’
I don’t know exactly what I believe right now, but here’s some pretty things I noticed about the place. I seem to have a thing about shells, specifically crushed shells under foot on beaches, or in the design of corporate hotel lino, but any shells will do, as well as mosaics. These all come up a lot in the book, I’ve noticed.
The above were all taken where we are staying. The photo below is of our bathroom door in Hampi, just to prove some kind of point about themes.
The end is in sight for completing a half decent draft of the Kerala section (23,000 words- that’s like two dissertations you know!). For anyone struggling with writing, editing or doing their dissertation, this is my advice: ‘Get yourself a cup of coffee, put your hair in a bun, and handle it.’ (I’m sorry that only long haired people may get that.)
We leave here (Otres Village, Sihanoukville province, Cambodia) on Friday night for a twelve hour sleeper bus journey to Siem Reap, where we will stay for six days before leaving Cambodia and going to Vietnam.
These photographs were taken by my mum on a recent holiday. Once a month or so she’ll send me a photo of something of interest with a few lines. I do the same.
My son and I communicate mainly via messenger messages and occasional video calls. We exchange news, everything’s going okay. A couple of times recently he’s needed money and I’ve sent some.
It’s been a source of some anxiety and a fair amount of guilt that these relationships aren’t as close as, as what? As some other people’s family relationships look from the outside? As my idea of what these relationships should look like? (except that I have no idea…..) As what they were? No, that had to change.
Anyway, in the midst of my painful illness I had a moment of clarity: I realised suddenly: Maybe they are happy with it being this way.
When I went to live and work in New Zealand for a year I had a similar experience of interpersonal conflict to that which I wrote about in my post ‘Every day beautiful, Every day shit,’ only without the self awareness to deal with it or take any responsibility for my part. I emailed my mum, she emailed me back a long pep talk, and was probably quite concerned. Even when things were going well, I used to phone her from New Zealand a lot. I was thirty-five years old.
My son seems to do better the more independent he is from me, without me worrying about him.
I’ve written about my relationship with my son here: This is life
Because of her own experience; property, security, inheritance were pillars for my mum. Again due to her own experiences; as a child, teen and young woman I was conditioned to be anti-marriage, anti-men, anti-relationship. Anti creating a world with another.
And yet that’s exactly what I’ve done with my husband and it’s amazing. Right now, reading Krishnamurti, discussing ideas, being on a joint quest…
Here is a blog post summarising the life changing decisions we took to dismantle our previous lives and get to India here: Orientation
But what can I do, what is my part in fixing or accepting responsibility for these relationships? Mother and son. Past and present?
And what about our decisions?
I’ve been a big fan of the idea of illuminating the darkness, and taking responsibility for everything that’s ‘wrong’ in one’s life, for any sadness.
But I’ve realised that it’s also about accepting responsibility for my own happiness.
My husband and I discussed, Could we live with later thinking that we had gone crazy and regretting it and own it, the good and the bad? We discussed the charge of, will we regret it? worst case scenarios and solutions, but still I say, It’s better than dying without having lived.
What, pregnant at eighteen, getting a career to support me and my son, getting a mortgage at thirty-five years old that would last until I was sixty, so that on my deathbed I’d say Well I couldn’t have done that (any of the exciting things- I imagine possibilities flitting through my mind on death), and then realising, Oh my God, you could have done! You could have done! You could have gone out and done x, and x, and x, there wasn’t anything to worry about. There was never anything to worry about. Your life is your life*, best message for all even with kids.
We had lunch and talked about keeping hold of this attitude to life once we return to the UK. How? Manage fear. Don’t take life too seriously. Remember the people we’ve met travelling and how it works for them. I wrote a post about some of them called Sab Kuch Milega (everything possible).
We’ve cemented voluntary simplicity minimalism and ideas about reducing consumerism, by having bought a boat to live on. There’s no space to accumulate. There’s a physical check on it! The moorings are in a completely new area of the country. There won’t be any old influences. We’ve given ourselves the best chance we could.
So if the reason for doing all this is the pursuit of enlightenment and the definition of enlightenment is to see things as they really are…
Can you have light in some areas and not in others, just as some bits of life can be going ‘well’ and others ‘not so well’?
While we were in Pushkar my son had his teeth done. It was such a good thing (after ten years of rotten teeth and poorly gums etc the problems are gone, and he quickly recovered and was so over the moon about facing his fears and it being resolved); but at the same time it was so sad (that they ever got that bad, that it went on for so long, and that he had so many teeth removed).
I spent that night talking, processing, again, wishing to go to a place that can’t exist, where he’s an adult with no teeth problems, or to go back to his childhood and somehow do it all again correctly whatever it was that I did or didn’t do that could have altered it. I don’t know what that would be and I don’t know if I could do it even if given a chance, so impossible, pointless….
Just days after, even hours after, he seemed okay, and a month later, it was as if nothing had happened at all. It doesn’t escape my notice that he was able to finally take charge of himself while I was away.
The night I asked myself all these big questions about my family relationships, I dreamt about going round to my mum’s old house (a sixteenth century farmhouse that she’d lovingly restored and lived in for forty years (true)) as she was preparing to sell (true), and her pointing out memories, including a bit of plaster on the wall where a butterfly had landed and made a print (dream only!). Maybe you could get someone to cast it, I said, in the dream. Her so attached to bricks and mortar, making that house her whole life. She regarded herself as custodian of the house, she put it above a relationship (she said she couldn’t marry or live with anyone as they would be able to claim half the house if they separated).
I thought about what I could have done differently on my part. The thing would have been to keep separate, not share boyfriend details, not spend each holiday there, not run every decision by her, not do everything she said… yet at the same time it was hard as I was nineteen with a baby, twenty and single mum of a toddler….. So maybe like with my son’s teeth there’s nothing that could have been done differently by me at that time.
And of course now there’s definitely nothing that can be done. No time machine. It- things, all things, can only be fixed in the present.
So exchanges of emails with photos, a few lines, and me living my life, in India, writing a book, discussing Krishnamurti and deepening my relationship with my husband, really it is the way things are.
For photographs of our trip see Instagram travelswithanthony
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Part of a reflective review inspired by illness, our return to Kerala, and by being eight and a half months into our twelve month trip.
* Your life is your life, go all the way (Charles Bukowski)
For photographs of our trip see Instagram travelswithanthony
Getting in touch
Comment on posts (comments are public)
Send a message via the Contact Box (private message via email)
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‘I don’t feel anything,’ I said to my husband as we stood in the midst of a perfect Instagram/Facebook photo opportunity, standing at the top of a viewing platform with the sun rising over the Himalayas. I felt more about the cat on the wall in Chennai, I thought. The mountains did their work on me though, even if I didn’t realise it immediately.
We’d set the alarm and got up at six am to walk a short way to a half-finished hotel that had a viewing tower. Before we went down we did a kind of half-hearted meditation, focussing on our breath whilst looking, half-hearted as it was cold, our feet ached, and there were two other people about.
As the sun rose it lit up little pieces of one peak, then another, then more and more, first tinged pink then lit white and silver. In front were pine trees, some fuzzy to look at, as if my eyes were blurred, reminding me of the trees I saw in Tokyo. I saw an animal in a tree, I thought at first it was a monkey, then I realised it was long and slim, more like a big black stoat. A man back at the hotel later said it was a mongoose.
If you’re looking for enlightenment, The Hotel at The End of The Universe could be a good place to start. Conversations with the beautifully named Oasis, who owns the hotel, help to shine a little more light upon the path. The sight of The Himalayas, trees all around and the clean mountain air provide restorative relaxation. Wooden chalet style accommodation, a restaurant, bar and sunny terrace provide everything you need.
We got back, had breakfast and I stood outside in the sun, near the others but alone, I had to keep moving to stay in a sunny patch.
The others were talking with Oasis, I listened for a while before moving a chair to join them. Oasis, a Buddhist, seemed to have an easy relationship with death. Maybe also because of the earthquakes, and the mountains. ‘So I die,’ he said. ‘What about the people left behind?’ my husband asked. ‘Two, three days, then they okay, okay, he die,’ Oasis said.
We all talked about the journey towards self realisation. I expressed that maybe once you find it* there’s nothing left to do but die, so maybe it’s best not to get there* until death. Oasis said, ‘You can just enjoy yourself. There are so many ways to dance upon this Earth. Drink, don’t drink, it’s all the same. When you live in the moment you don’t concern yourself with death.’
The night before he’d played cards with us and two other tourists. When someone said they wouldn’t be able to play because they were drunk, he said, ‘You’re still the same, it makes no difference.’ There was much laughter that evening with people forgetting it was their turn and getting confused whilst learning a new game. Oasis sat laughing and smiling like a Buddha.
And during our discussions the next day, he remained so totally centred, even in the midst of disagreements and comments that I perceived as almost rude, although, as I reminded myself later, maybe it’s only rude if you allow yourself to get offended. ‘Focus on yourself, not what others are doing,’ he said.
‘You have to manage your thoughts, because when you get to a certain level, what you think about, comes.’ I told him that I was at ease with that now, because I felt good and I see how it all works, but that in the past I’d been anxious about that concept, getting into a panicky loop of worrying about fearing and manifesting spiders.
‘That’s why it’s so important to maintain wellbeing,’ I said. ‘Even a tractor, definitely a dog, and people, operate best when they are ‘well,’ well maintained and happy.’
*although there’s nothing to find and nowhere to get to
A travel blog type bit:
On the way there (Kathmandu to Nagarkot), we paid our guesthouse man to drive us in his car. We had to pay men at two separate points along on the way up, for the entry, for the road. It was only a few pounds each time but it was relatively expensive and because it was unexpected it was annoying. However there is nothing to be done by arguing, we tried! On the way back we got a bus, these are plentiful and frequent, firstly from Nagarkot to Bhaktapur then Bhaktapur to Kathmandu. We did not have to pay the extra road/entry charges and the bus fare was way cheaper than a car or taxi. The bus was bumpy and rather exciting, as was the car, with the sheer drops down the side…
Thank you very much for reading
Photographs taken by my husband
For more photographs of our trip see Instagram travelswithanthony
Getting in touch
Comment on posts (comments are public)
Send a message using the Contact Box (private message via email)
Follow/message me on Instagram: Sadie Wolf so_simple_so_amazing
Yes to everything: ThailandPart Two (very rough draft chapter for book)
I’d even thought of saying to M about the anthem (in Thailand they play the national anthem in public places and everyone stands up), and certainly I’d vowed to be more aware of my surroundings… But lost in conversation with M I didn’t notice the anthem and everyone standing up. M and I were at a cafe upstairs, my husband had gone downstairs to find a shop, he said he could see us just chatting away, totally oblivious.
I dragged myself away from the feeling of burning shame, it was an accident, I was totally absorbed in conversation. I decided to let myself off, we were at train station with backpacks, we would have looked like we’d just arrived and didn’t know. I was actually looking at language learning with M, trying to do my best to be a good tourist! I do have to focus on things, I struggle to read a menu whilst someone is talking to me, or to talk and pay attention to directions. I can be engaged in conversation and completely oblivious to what’s going on around me. Good for the person and the conversation, can cause occasional glitches, like this one.
As well as panic buying snacks from the 7/11 for the journey, packets of crisps, pastries and something chocolatey called Euro Rolls, we went to eat a meal before getting on the train. In the restaurant we met a young British man, he said of Thailand, ‘It feels safe; I didn’t think I would but I do.’
Is this how I felt in India? But then to come to Thailand and realise that maybe I didn’t? Or is it just that Thailand provides such an elevated level of comfort? Was this our reward for five months of India? And for thinking India was fine, which it was, but Thailand, oh my God I felt so safe, so easy, so at ease…
It’s like its all laid on for tourists. They even make the beds for you on the train. The seats are soft anyway and then they put a mattress on top and then they put the sheet on. There’s a lovely blanket in a bag, white with square raised bits, like a towel but soft, warm to the touch, it holds the warmth of your body and is big enough to really wrap yourself in and cover your feet right up.
The upper beds are a bit smaller, but the lower ones are almost big enough for two. So cosy, plenty of space, and there was even three little mini metal pegs that fold out from the wall to hang your stuff on.
The train was full of Westerners and we met a nice Irish man who was travelling with his wife and young son. A lovely friendly woman member of staff taught us Thai and took our orders for breakfast.
As usual I was too excited to sleep, and sat up writing in my little cubicle long after M and my husband had gone to sleep.
The train arrived early the next morning, and after a coach, a ferry and a taxi, we arrived in Haad Rin, Koh Phangan.
There were lots of healthy looking dogs of all different breeds, medium-small, fluffy, Golden Retriever types, but many with a ridge, even small fluffy dogs that were not like Ridgebacks at all. We saw a woman on a white bicycle with two dogs balanced on her lap/the handlebars, and two dogs in metal crate like side car. Dogs sat on the top of the two tier round white tables that were often outside shops.
We saw what looked to us like a giant cat stretched out long and fluffy on a table. We saw a woman entering a shop, pick up cat, squeeze it to her and kiss it, she did this three times. Where we were staying we saw cats held like babies, being carried back to staff’s room, ‘My cat.’ One sturdy, whiteish, one orange with bright eyes, one Siamese with a collar with a plastic bow and a name tag; all well fed and healthy. The orange cat visited us for an hour while we played cards and was fed banana cake left over from the train, all we had. At night we often heard the meowing and fighting of the various cats.
Most of the staff were from Myanmar/Burma, we should have learned Burmese not Thai. One of the staff sounded like a cockney. ‘I copy Danny Dyer, he’s my favourite actor,’ he said, and he and my husband discussed Danny Dyer films. One of the staff showed me their tattoo, ‘It means freedom, I used not to have freedom, but now I do.’ We played pool with one of the Burmese reps, he coached me and M.
We went to the party beach: little plastic buckets of alcohol and mixers with straws, loads of handwritten signs on neon card saying f***ing and c***. Is that what we sound like? We went to the Cactus Bar: a group of Burmese men and boys did amazing fire club displays, twirling, throwing them to each other, they were really good. The trees nearby were covered in lights flowing down, and when we went for a walk on the beach it all looked very nice. There were people doing UV body painting, sitting in the sand in front of big colourfully decorated screens. Beach sellers came round with fake flower garlands, light up ears, inexplicable toy monkeys in bright neon colours, and even more mysterious, Connect 4. All the bar staff were from Burma, our barman showed us pictures of his girlfriend who was from Belgium. The music was a mix of ‘inappropriate given there were little kids present;’ good; and cheesy- they played YMCA in the middle of it all. An old black dog wandered about the dance floor. The staff organised balloon games and a terrifying looking but actually okay game of fire limbo with the little kids. We had cocktails, the menu making a pretty list, Mai Tai and Butterfly and Black Russian; Sex on the Beach and Tequila Sunrise.
Waiting for 2am, our agreed time, feeling tired… At the table next to me, a woman’s foot, no nail polish, half buried in the sand. The sand so soft it felt unreal, as if shipped in, but couldn’t be, the beach is so big. Seeing my blue ring, like the room in Chennai, thinking, ‘Every moment on earth is a blessing,’ simultaneously noticing a light out at sea, one of the boats, ‘Every moment you’re alive is a blessing.’ Lots of lights but I picked just one.
There was a swimming pool where we were staying but it was often busy. We found a swimming pool further along the beach, up some steps, part of a restaurant and rooms resort that was practically empty. We ate at the restaurant and asked if we could use the pool, which was usually deserted.
Walking along the beach to the pool, monsoon clouds, the sea all different colours, green, dark blue, pale blue in patches. The beach was full of driftwood, one piece was big, worn pale, with lots of branches, beautiful. There were piles of small pieces of darker driftwood, gathered ready to burn. Lots of broken glass including terrifying broken bottles, jagged ends up, and old coconuts, dark brown coconut leaves huge like branches, and plastic bottles.
The swimming pool below the restaurant was surrounded by fake boulders, and the complex was done out like a fake temple. Grey fake stone doors led to toilets outside near the pool. There was a sink outside, in the open air. The water came out of the tap warm; there was always one or two white blossoms in the sink and standing there you looked down at the beach and the sea. There was an outside shower with a faux stone mermaid; I used to always think someone was standing there as I swam.
The three of us went swimming together, practicing strokes, doing tricks and just enjoying the water totally unselfconsciously. Family at its best are people you can just be yourself with, and be forgiven.
What do you do when everyone else is drinking cocktails, you ordered iced coffee cos you have a blog to write? Take a sip. When they can’t drink theirs and offer to you, even though you ordered iced coffee cos you have a blog to write? Take a bit more than a sip, even though don’t really want to, but don’t finish them. (Like the potion!) Return to room when all back, start blog, and keep writing until it’s the end, after everyone else asleep…
Lying on my back after yoga. ‘Why do I feel so bad about everything?’ White light above me. ‘It’s your programming.’
Tired after working hard on blog and posting it. Took a walk break by myself, to decompress, relax my body before sitting, and socialising, at dinner. On the beach. ‘Enjoying yourself can be its own religion.’ I thought of my husband. Day off tomorrow. I got back to room, my husband was listening to this song on YouTube, ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think; Enjoy yourself,while you’re still in the pink; Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!’
I thought I’d try, maybe get a short skirt and a top, or a dress, to wear in Thailand at least. The man in the shop didn’t seem all that friendly, and then when I picked something up and asked to try it on he shook his head and said no, meaning that it wouldn’t fit. I picked up a couple of other items. How about this? How about this? No, no, he said half laughing. It didn’t even seem like he would even let me try anything on, so I left. Okay, I thought, this is one of those not so nice experiences, but let’s not make it worse than it is.
On the way back there was an, albeit more expensive shop, with a friendly Burmese shop assistant and a European manager. I had a brief look and then said, have you got stuff to fit me, and told her what had happened, oh no, that’s mean, no, we have European sizes, come tomorrow. I couldn’t face doing anything more that day.
Just before my husband left to take my step daughter back, we were having last minute anxieties about our booking choices, as we had a friend from the UK coming out after my step daughter went home and we wanted to make sure where we were staying was suitable as well as not too expensive. The more we thought about it the harder it seemed to be to make a decision. ‘First world problems, where to stay on this luxury island, and how much to spend per night, £10 or £12,’ my husband said, grounding us.
We booked a few more nights in the same place to give us some time, and decided to all go choose somewhere when they got back. The place where we were staying said we might have to move rooms for the extra bit, and asked us to come and choose the one we wanted. (We’d paid for a fan room, and been given an ac room, with the ac turned off. If they sold the ac room, we’d need to move.) The ac rooms were also bigger and nicer. In the middle of this, my husband’s taxi arrived and he had to go, leaving the final decision to me.
Ahh, anxiety, responsibility! I was shown around the fan rooms by Danny Dyer and picked one, the biggest. But when I got back to my room, I thought, did I check the beds properly? Our friend had a bad back, and so does my husband sometimes; what if the beds are uncomfortable? I went into a cold sweat. I lay on the bed, paralysed. I even cried. Then I stopped, I went for a walk; I remembered what I had decided: Be more aware, and if you haven’t, rectify it, if you can.
The first time I walked past the office. The second time I went in and asked could I just look at the rooms again, I was in a hurry before and I don’t know if I checked them properly. No problem, of course. Both sets of beds felt exactly the same; my decision was ok.
Back at the room I did a long, proper- as in mindful, into it deeply- yoga session, then healing, then accidental nap.
I beat myself up about not going swimming, ‘What have I even done today,’ but so tired, hence low mood, maybe PMS? I ask for time alone but it is dangerous. I pulled myself together and went for dinner. The onsite restaurant had little bells on each table to ring for service. I disliked doing this, but it only made it worse. I’d wait for someone to come, be fearful that no one was coming. Plus I often used the space for writing, which was fine, but meant that they didn’t always know if I wanted food or not. The next morning I was hopelessly self conscious at breakfast, loads of people near loud, I felt invisible, people pouring in, not ringing bell, confusion re ordered or not, who coming to take order…
It was a weird place to be alone, a party/couples/young people holiday place by myself for four days: a bit sad and lonely but safe, with the nice staff and an easy environment, and a good opportunity for writing, yoga, swimming, I told myself.
I spent the first night in a state of anxiety about spiders, having had one only a couple of nights before. I stayed out in the evening and kept the light off so I wouldn’t see anything. The second night I heard people coming back at 3am and being sick, and sick again in the morning. Even once my fear about spiders had subsided a bit I still couldn’t sleep.
The next day I tidied up and asked for the room to be cleaned, to reduce risk of spiders, writing in the restaurant while it was being done. A nice waiter told me about what its like during the Full Moon Party (the night my husband and friend would be back), more people come every day, this whole place full, kitchen forgets food orders… ahhh. ‘Crying, lost phones, we tell them, don’t take out, don’t take card, just take enough for how many drinks you have but…’ Not looking forward to that AT ALL.
Every day I made lists and stuck to them, yoga, sort out and take laundry, go for breakfast, write, swim, lunch, town, hair… Stick with the plan, the to do list, if not happy at least satisfied… Get up early, do yoga, collect laundry, tidy room, empty bins, go shopping, WordPress, yoga, hang up clothes, unpack stuff shoved in backpack while room cleaned, made space for J, breakfast, writing, walk, swim, writing, dinner…
To the swimming pool cafe, the wind and the rain got up whilst I was there, the staff rolled down the clear plastic at the sides of the covered but open sided ‘indoor’ eating area. I ordered french fries, got more than I could eat, and a pot of Liptons tea. There were a few other tourists, young Westerners, couples. I read my notes, organising my work, conceptualising it, feeling that it was okay. I had some social anxiety, which was better the next time I went, I ate lovely Pad Thai made specially for me with tofu, it was sunny and I ate it outside.
At the swimming pool, thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to be a successful writer and have a swimming pool. But I am writing every day and I am at a pool, which I have to myself. ‘I have everything already.’
Getting into being alone at the same time as looking forward to them coming.
Orange cat came by in the evening and was still there after I came back from dinner, as if keeping me company. I tried everything to sleep, all the exercises I know. The only thing that really helped me was thinking about the little orange cat sitting outside on the bench, like a talisman.
Two young Irish women who had looked after M on her last night, been dancing with her whilst we sat outside, chatted with me about travelling after breakfast one day and invited me for a drink in the evening. I’d said maybe, thinking I wouldn’t want to, then as the day wore on, thought why not? But when it came to it they were in a group with some young guys. I thought they wouldn’t want to see me, so I walked past, eyes down. ‘You’re not the kind of person people want to spend time with.’ Ringing in my thoughts. But I didn’t want to make small talk with a group of drunk people, I only wanted to chat soberly and with just them. I’m a control freak too, as well as not always being very nice.
I read a post on WordPress about, ‘You may have noticed how it’s easier to criticise yourself than have other people do it.’ That’s what ‘internalising the negative messages’ actually means. After twenty years in mental health I only just understood that.
Bethany Kays posted on her blog on WordPress about how it was much harder to be mindful without her husband present, about how she’d wanted some mindful photography alone time but found that she was afraid without him there and that was distracting. Bethany has real things to be afraid of, alligators, spooked wild horses, and uses a wheelchair. My fears were all in my mind, but still, I recognised the timing of this post.
DSFB had been getting very deep and I was struggling to absorb his message. I wish he would explain his philosophy more simply, I thought, and he did: ‘Try and be fulfilled; Be nice to people; Enjoy what’s in front of you.’
After two nights I realised I could watch Netflix. I mean I knew that, but I forget to enjoy myself, I think only of writing and anything that might need to be done, forgetting that in the evening I could watch something. I mean if my husband is there I’m with him so that’s taken care of, we’ll spend time together or watch something that he will have downloaded and organised for me.
Anyway, I spent the third and fourth evenings sitting out on the balcony with the cat, watching stuff on my tablet.
‘That looks like my kind of evening,’ my neighbour said returning to get ready to go out, looking as if she’d rather stay in, me with my feet propped up on the table. ‘I’ve even got a cat,’ I said. And the battery lasted right up until the end, then died seconds after it* finished.
I went to the office to see if we had to move rooms or not, she said yes. I quickly packed up, she’d said ten minutes. But I wasn’t sure we’d understood each other. I went back. ‘You can stay.’ Maybe she’d misunderstood me and thought I’d wanted to move, maybe she’d had a think and rearranged some bookings. I went back and unpacked again. The fan rooms we were offered were fine, but this was much better! I was so glad I checked. This was one of those times when I got it right. Packing, unpacking, back and forth to the office, I was very hot, but happy, and looking forward to them coming.
I went back to the shop that wouldn’t serve me and bought some gold hoop earrings. It was part pragmatism, it was the only place where I’d seen cheap earrings, and part wanting a do over. I didn’t want that every time I walked past or thought of that shop or that man it would be about that not so nice day. Now it was of him smiling as I paid for the earrings, me sitting on the little step outside, unwrapping them, putting them in, me happy with my new haircut and blow-dry, the first time I’d had my hair blow dried for months. Afterwards buying a pack of cigarettes and some strawberry coloured lipbalm from the 7/11. Returning home, ordering a beer- at not quite 12 o’clock- and taking it back to the balcony. Happily waiting for my husband and our friend to arrive, listening to Prince and co playing While my guitar gently weeps, putting on my pink lipbalm and my kohl from India, making mild smoky eyes…
(*Anne with and E two episodes second night. First night finished off last episode of Thirteen Reasons Why Season Two, and watched all the discussions afterwards. Apparently the awful stuff depicted is happening in American High Schools every day. I know my stepdaughter and her friends didn’t like it because they couldn’t believe things would be that bad and that relentlessly bad, because their school in London isn’t like that, or not as far as they know anyway. And that the legal stuff is accurate, without giving away spoilers.)
Thank you very much for reading
In Tokyo, having a very interesting time. I have met up with B, writer and fellow blogger I met via WordPress and we have been discussing the big questions! Here until Monday then back to India- and my husband!
Yes to everything: Thailand Part one, (very rough chapter for book)
The flight to Bangkok (from Chennai) was at 10pm. Unlike the UK, it goes from ‘Security,’ to ‘Boarding,’ with no ‘Go to gate.’ I got in a panic at the last minute, thinking we were late, but there was a big queue at the gate for Bangkok. We met a group of young Indian men who were going there for a long weekend, like people from the UK would to Paris.
One of the young Indian men sat next to me on the plane, it was his first flight, he was next to the window, me in the middle and my husband at the aisle. He took a selfie with us.
From the window I watched the lights of Chennai, so pretty. I only realised how higgledy piggledy Chennai was when we saw the lights of Bangkok, laid in straight lines and orderly patterns.
It was the most cramped flight we’d been on, ever. My husband couldn’t sit with his legs straight, there wasn’t enough room for his knees.
There was a bit of turbulence during the flight and on landing there was a short runway and some G force on landing. ‘Very exciting for you,’ I said to the man. He said, ‘Yes and very nice to meet people like you two.’
Thinking about being more mindful in the moment. On the plane I pushed past a man to get out of his way and let him on, actually that was more rude, as he wasn’t ready, he was still putting up his bags. I should have just waited, and moved when he was ready.
The chain on my Om pendant is a bit small, I knew it was but didn’t say anything at the time. This can be rectified.
I got up to go to the loo, and sat straight down, even though my legs were still fidgetty. ‘Do you want to get out again?’ My husband asked. ‘Thank you,’ I said and got up and walked the length of the plane, feeling the slight turbulence through the thick springy soles of my flip flops, walking steadily, balancing between the rows. Rectified.
Next time, pause. Pause before taking action. Any action? Is this possible? Pause before every action. Be aware during every action. Would time expand to allow this? Would the pauses increase in length as we used them, or to allow us to use them, or in response to us using them? Like a more positive version of how everything slows down in a car accident? Try it, Rachel. Try it, and report back. Our actions are important.
Being in polite countries, Thailand, Japan, should be good for that; using a soft no, not criticising, always smiling, not raising one’s voice.
We arrived at 3am. We got confused and thought we had to fill out forms to get a visa, this was so hard on no sleep; we had to change cash, change more cash; we panicked about not having enough as there were no ATMs in that bit and you couldn’t pay on a card. We got passport photos done, the passport photos were actually good, for passport photos and for no sleep; the first thing that struck me was my green eyes and steady gaze.
In the queue I went out to the loo and ended up, stupidly, waiting for ages; a loo had become free but a Thai woman had been in and recoiled. I checked, it was a bit blocked, but really, ‘I’m from India,’ I wanted to say, ‘That doesn’t bother me,’ but I went along with everyone and waited; luckily I didn’t miss our turn in the queue. We queued for ages before finding out we didn’t need the visa forms after all.
I kept thinking we were in Japan; I was a country ahead. At check in I’d had to show them my onward flight to Tokyo, in a panic as my battery was low and I wasn’t on the internet, having forgotten to download it, forgetting in my panic I could have accessed my emails easily on my husband’s phone. (For Tokyo I downloaded everything, screenshotted it all so I could just get to it with a couple of clicks and slide to all, flight details, onward flights, bank balance as proof of funds, AND had everything printed out.)
We needed to pass the time before the earliest we could arrive at the guesthouse, which was seven am. We sat at a little cafe and had green tea, chocolate brownie and bananas, then we got a taxi to the guesthouse.
The roads were quiet, no beeping. There were more cars and less bikes, and a lot more people on the bikes were wearing helmets. There were amazing buildings, like the best new buildings in London, skyscrapers and even a Gherkin. Big brand names on the skyscrapers, Samsung.
Police stopped a driver who had stopped on a zebra crossing, unthinkable in India! Big wide roads, toll roads. In India on the way to the airport there was a toll road, the toll booth man wasn’t looking so our driver just drove off! I don’t think that would be done in Thailand.
Washing hung up on balconies but on hangars, so it took up less space rather than spread out how we do in the UK. Washing obviously dries easier in Thailand. There was no rubbish. Later, I saw some rubbish bags, put outside shops to be collected, it was still very early. Everything looked so clean, seemed so ordered, and so quiet. Clearly money was spent on infrastructure.
It wasn’t as much of an assault on the senses as India, things matched, buildings were coordinated, there wasn’t as much colour.
I could see why people who have been to India could feel superior/could be annoying- but I’m not any better than anyone else, anyone* can buy a plane ticket and go- and have the experience, but it is a different experience to for example, Thailand.
*health and plane fare permitting
Our guesthouse was in the old town, quiet. There were washing machines on the street, that you could put coins in and use! I met a man with tattoos, my uncovered tattoos an icebreaker, and it felt safer talking to strange men in Thailand. I felt hyper and friendly to all. There was a little cafe as part of another hostel that was open. She was very friendly and served us jam and toast and coffee. It was sort of self service, with a kettle and toasters on a shelf, although she brought us pretty little china plates and packets of jam.
We sat on a narrow long bench like table facing the front window. I greeted a man outside on the street with a lighter, and asked him for a light in sign language/English, and had a cigarette. I felt tired and spaced out. I needed the loo and to lie down. We clock watched, waiting for seven am.
At seven am we rang the bell, we actually rang a medium sized bell hanging to the side of the door, as instructed by a sign on the gate, ‘Ring bell, then wait.’ Another sign said, ‘No Thais please.’ (I don’t know why.) After a few minutes a Thai woman came out, in night clothes crumpled from sleep.
The guesthouse had dark brown wooden floors, full wooden bookcases like an old study and rich dark wooden staircases. Our room had pale wooden floorboards, a metal four poster bed but without the curtains. Mosquito mesh windows looked out onto the garden thick with plants, a wooden fence and beyond the quiet street.
We got into bed and slept. A bed, any bed, feels so good under those circumstances. A loo, a place of your own to rest and shower. It didn’t matter too much that it was a rather thin and uncomfortable mattress, and didn’t matter at all that it was a shared bathroom.
It rained, we listened to it while we were cosy in bed.
When we woke up we went to an easy Westerner cafe, full of tourists, with a pool table. It was expensive but so nice. Soft flat big noodles sexy in the mouth. Hummus and tahini drizzled in olive oil. Puffed up pitta bread. Pretty coloured pickles. The hummus was creamy and delicious. The pink pickle and olive oil made beautiful swirls on the plate like a work of art.
There were big screens showing people doing amazing stunts, at the edge of buildings on skateboards, parkour, rock climbing, gymnasts, extreme yoga, and foot stamping Zumba music. I could have watched that all day. Are those people magic pixies put there for entertainment, or perhaps they are a metaphor re what a person can do?
We went to a department store and bought an adaptor, always one of the first priorities after arriving somewhere new. The streets seemed so quiet, we wondered, was Monday a holiday? (It seemed to be the quiet day in Thailand)
I went out by myself. There were layers and many wires at junctions, birds nests of wires like in India.
Crossing the road, although much easier than Chennai, zebra crossings work, not same as UK but much better than India, I was still a little hesitant, I thought, can I cross with you, will you help, a woman appeared and I crossed with her.
The wonders of the 7/11!!! Everything, vests and t-shirts in black or white packaged like baby gros. I bought razors and talc. Everything wrapped in plastic, even shampoo and lighters.
I went out in a black cotton dress, sleeveless, just above the knee, my hair long and loose, bare shouldered, no stares, free, light, bare legged, feeling the breeze.
I’d gotten so used to covering up in India that it just seemed normal. Feeling the sun on my bare shoulders and the air on my legs was light and lovely.
People’s Instagram pictures of themselves in very short dresses with low cut tops, seeing thighs and cleavage had started to look weird.
There was a little shop nearby, I bought any drink out of the fridge, it turned out to be a Red Bull which I didn’t realise until later.
In the little courtyard garden of the guesthouse, a huge aloe vera plant on roof terrace hanging down, in Pondicherry we’d seen aloe vera plants in pots on doorsteps, what looked like bamboo, little pots with plants hanging down from the terrace roof, wooden framed with plants growing through and around, metal table and chairs. A bird, a lizard, a squirrel smaller than UK ones with big fluffy tail and a white belly like a stoat or a weasel.
I sat at the metal outdoor table with my water, notebook, Red Bull, cigarettes, writing, writing, writing. This is what I do now. This is me 24/7. There’s no distinction between work me and me me, I work just as hard, hard enough to deserve success, after all, I do this all the time, noticing, observing, noting, then typing up most days for a couple of hours. Not Red Bull, ahhh!!!! But when in Rome…
‘I love it here,’ I said to my husband. ‘What’s not to love?’ He said.
We went to a Thai place for dinner and ate peanuts, tofu, broccoli. I had a beer and afterwards we went for a walk, just like we were on holiday.
I would recommend anyone travelling to India for a year to take a few weeks out and go to Thailand for the food and vitamins especially if you are vegan.
It was like visiting the R&R planet on Startrek, my husband’s reference, I am more familiar with the relaxation spaceship of Battlestar Gallactica.
Walking around in the evening we saw a rubbish truck and workers in hi vis with gloves, sacks, and raffia baskets sorting through the waste and recycling. At our guesthouse they had big green bins like in UK, I’d asked which bin for which, the man at he guesthouse said to put all in one, presumably the rubbish collection staff sort it, not householders.
We walked down the Khosan road, once the hippie backpacker area, now barely a hippie in sight. Bars opposite each other played very loud competing music, the whole place was crazy busy.
Most exciting for me, I saw a Boots! I didn’t really need anything, I just wandered around looking and enjoying the air con.
We sat at a small table on the street outside a bar and had an orange juice. People watching. In an environment like that it’s so easy to remember to be in the world but not of the world; no interest in it, no competing, no envy. But it was kind of nice to know that all that is there to drop into, the Boots, the hair and nail salon next door to the bar, if I wish.
A nice looking black and white cat came over, it went over to my husband’s side under the table. ‘Stroke it for me,’ I said. He whipped his hand back fast. ‘Good job I’ve got quick reactions,’ he said as it tried to scratch him.
We walked down a road with a line of trees beautifully lit up with matching gold lights. It was so beautiful, the whole road lit up and all coordinated. The road itself clean. It was only lit up that one night, there’s a photograph of us under the lights.
We had breakfast at a Thai place by the canal, muesli and fresh fruit and yoghurt, perfect proportions of all, with lovely fruit. It was cheap, and next to a laundry. I arranged my laundry, we greeted each other then the laundry woman got restaurant staff to translate. Everything was so fun and friendly. ‘It’s like every encounter is a joy.’ I said.
We got a rickshaws to the station, to pick up our train tickets. The rickshaws were completely different, bright pink with fancy metal work and grand looking reclining padded seats, no luggage space behind the seats, not functional like Indian ones.
The front of the bun shop at the station was decorated with ‘love messages,’ ‘from your roti.’ We ate at a noodle place opposite the station. I had iced yoghurt drink, very cold and absolutely delicious. A man complimented me on my tattoos, he was either one of the staff, or a friend of the staff. He gave me some fruits, lychees, or like lychees if not. He said, say this to your husband and told me a Thai phrase. I repeated it back, then told it to my husband, and everyone fell about laughing.
That’s another difference between India and Thailand, in Thailand one can potentially have more of a laugh. Thai people generally are playful, and Indian people sometimes struggle with the British sense of humour, tending to take things literally, meaning that several of our jokes have fallen very flat.
We met M, my stepdaughter, at the airport, she’d flown direct from London by herself. We took her out for dinner at the nice Western restaurant we’d gone to when we arrived; had cocktails and took her to the Khosan road. As well as the signs for cocktails and cheap buckets there was one saying ‘We don’t check ID,’ which made us all laugh. The competing music was on again. Little street stalls sold interesting things including scorpions, I think roasted to eat, although I didn’t stop to look closely. In the middle of all this, ‘What’s going on’ was playing.
The next day we took M to Wat Po by rickshaw, that was the main thing she wanted to do, go in a rickshaw, and we chose Wat Po. Although we’d decided we were over tourist stuff in India, seeing the enormous Reclining Golden Buddha was a wonderful experience. I had to go round again, I didn’t feel that I had absorbed the sight. I still don’t, maybe its just not possible.
That evening, we got the night train South to Surat Thani, that is where you get the ferry onto the island of Ko Phangan.
I am in Japan, by myself! I left my guesthouse in Thailand at 11am on Sunday and arrived at my guesthouse in Tokyo at 12.30pm on Tuesday. I have been getting dinner, coffee, exploring on foot, been to a gallery, been speaking, getting more coffee, and writing in communal area. Here are some pics of my hostel, I have a little curtained capsule in a twelve bed mixed dorm.
Trust the process, the things I notice, the conversations I find interesting, are the things to write about, even if some seem more or less interesting; everyone likes different things, some the food, some the spiritual bits.
I fell in love with you and I cried: Chennai Part 4 (Draft chapter for book)
The taxi driver stopped at a garage that was open, he got fuel and we went to the loo. When we got to Chennai diversion signs were up, our driver followed them and ended up at the beach, where buses and cars and scooters and people walking had all descended. There were men waving flags and some of the vehicles had flags on them; we realised it was to do with The Minister. People ahead of us were just parking up and leaving their cars, so it got more and more congested. We had seen police everywhere on the way home, but not a single one trying to organise the traffic jam.
We were obviously in a taxi, and conspicuous as foreigners. Not only that, there were only a very few women and children amongst a big crowd of men. I was nervous, but the atmosphere of the crowd was fine, and aside from the usual few glances at me as a Western woman, we had no extra attention. We realised the road was a dead end and our driver did an almost impossible u turn and we made our way slowly out of the jammed up area.
While we were in the traffic jam I saw on the beach the signs, ‘Live and let live’, ‘Pigeon feeding station,’ ‘Donation station.’ It warmed my heart to see. I thought about how some people in the UK despise pigeons, and even grey squirrels who I used to love feeding in the UK. My friend’s husband used to shoot them in his garden, not even to eat, just piling up the corpses at the bottom of the garden.
Roads were closed and the driver pulled up to ask someone where to go. Everywhere was shuttered and closed, no one was around. I saw a lone flower garland hanging up still and realised we were on the corner near where we went for dinner; everything looked so different with all the shops shuttered up.
An Indian man who had just got out of a taxi told us to walk, he explained that the Minister’s funeral procession would be coming down the road, and that the only way to get to where we wanted to go was walking. It wasn’t that far, so we thanked and paid our driver, put on our backpacks, picked up our bags and walked back to Broadlands.
The manager at Broadlands hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks like a father. It was about five o’clock. He told us to go up and have a sleep and that when we woke up at six thirty, seven, everything would be open again.
We were in the same room as before but people had been in it since us, there was a folding camp bed put up, and glitter on the sheets. It hadn’t been cleaned, probably due to the events of the previous day, perhaps the cleaning staff hadn’t come in. ‘I’m going to assume they (the people) were clean,’ I said, but the truth was, I didn’t really care, I was just so glad to be back.
We woke up later when it was dark and went downstairs. Nothing was open. We saw the Italian woman, she said that the evening before, The Minister’s death was announced then everything shut in ten minutes. She’d only had biscuits and bananas. One of the staff who worked at the hotel appeared, he apologised for our room not being cleaned. He went out to see if there was any food places open. He came back once saying that everything in one direction was closed, then set out again, we and the Italian woman gave him money just in case.
We thought there would be somewhere, Y had told us you can always get food, as there are lots of bachelors in Chennai and they often eat parcel meals (takeaway) from the restaurants. About forty-five minutes later the man returned, with little plastic bags of sambar (curry) and orange sauce and parota bread. We ate on the little table in our room. The little plastic bags that the sambar was in were tied with a twist of fine twine that wasn’t even knotted, just wound around neatly and expertly. The parota was thick and filling and the sambar was hot. It felt so good to eat hot food after an evening and a day of crisps, biscuits and nuts.
The mosque sounded very loud again the first morning, then on the days after we slept through it or half slept through it like we had before.
As usual in India, the caw caw of crows was a near constant noise. One morning very early the crows were especially loud. I mentioned it to my husband. He said, ‘There was one on the ground below the window making loads of noise, and another sitting right on the shutter not making a sound; I said to it, ‘What’s the other one’s problem?!’’
Also as usual, there were barking dogs, a pack of dogs seemed to live on the waste ground below our window. Sometimes the barking and howling of the dogs was so much it made us laugh, like when we were at Osho’s (guesthouse in Kerala) and a dog over the road would start up the most ridiculous sounding howling just as we were going to bed. ‘Dogs in the UK don’t have the freedom just to howl and express themselves like that,’ my husband said.
We saw an Indian squirrel climbing on the outside of the window mesh, all four feet clinging on, upside down and doing acrobatics as if it were in the circus.
On Friday the mosque car park was filled with lots and lots of scooters, a handful of cars and on the waste ground beside the mosque, some rickshaws. There were people praying in the outside part of the mosque, there were so many people that they couldn’t all fit inside.
The mosque car park was a beautifully clean paved area. One day when it was quiet I saw a man and a little boy arrive on a scooter. They fed the pigeons, who arrived and left in great beautiful clouds. When they had finished the man put the boy on the scooter, patted him on head, threw the empty food cup over the wall into the street, and left.
At night the flats on the other side of the mosque car park had their lights on and curtains open; the colour of their walls lit up, one green, one mauve, with the silhouettes of house plants making shadows on the walls.
The mosquito mesh on the windows was bent and folded, gently undulating like a sheet of fine wire mesh. When the light caught it it looked like taffeta, the colour of burnished gold.
Sitting on the bed in my favourite indoors outfit, I caught myself in the mirror: black scoop neck t-shirt, black and grey sarong, colourful tattoos on both arms. The t- shirt had tiny holes in it. The sarong was a bit bobbly close up. Everything was soft and thin and comfortable.
The quest for fresh vegetables led us to a Chinese restaurant where we ate vegetables and noodles, big florets of broccoli and chunky carrots, in a thick and glutinous msg sauce. We sat beside a fish tank full of big fish swimming sadly back and forth.
I brought up some of the things I had been thinking and feeling in Pondicherry. We agreed that being happy can’t be the aim, it’s a pleasure seeking and a Four Winds pain-pleasure trap. That kind of bliss cannot be sustained and anyway it would be boring, people need challenges. We agreed that the spiritual journey is a red herring and that the ‘goal’ has to be to feel overally neutral:
Observe yourself and how you are and what you do like a character in a film. E.g. do you react impulsively? Drop down and forget all this for an evening and reflect afterwards, how did I do? That’s the work. The trick is to try and maintain the clear awareness even when the key breaks in the lock or the Uber is late. If not you’d have nothing to do.
Most people are locked into feeding the pleasure centres; the ‘reward of nothingness’ wouldn’t appeal to them as worth it for a lifetime of searching. Anyway, most people aren’t actually actively looking for enlightenment.
But if you are prepared to accept this peaceful serenity, this above-ness from the senses, so that food isn’t really much of a thing anymore; this distance, beyond love, beyond joy… If you are prepared to accept that, then maybe the reward will be to understand everything. That’s what makes renouncing worldly pleasures, or rather, drifting away from them and letting them fall away, (like when following Buddhism) worthwhile.
The Broadlands manager told us that a film crew was coming to film at the guesthouse; apparently the film had a famous film star. It took a whole day to set up with all kinds of props including chicken coops being brought in. In the UK they would have closed the hotel or at least closed off part of it. There, we were shown different routes to and fro our room, via different staircases and courtyards. When they were shooting in the central courtyard below our room, we just had to peek out. ‘Shooting,’ they’d say, or not. One could be annoyed but aren’t.
Sometimes we had to walk through their chill out area, in between the plastic chairs arranged in a circle for lunch. Huge pots of food were carried in at lunchtime, the pots of food, filled with all different kinds of curries, laid out on trestle tables.
We went down separately to use the internet, the famous actor sat on the sofa going through his lines next to husband then next to me, he turned the fan on to keep cool.
At the end of the filming day they all gathered for a group photograph and there was lots of clapping. I had a cigarette and hung about outside soaking up the atmosphere and watching them pack up.
The Italian woman had complained about the film shoot and told us it would start at six am and go on all night, with flashing lights and loud music. We weren’t concerned; there’s nothing we could do about it and it’s not as if we had anything to get up for or do, we could always sleep during the day. I sympathised with her for getting woken by building work above her though; they were doing some pre season alterations, and she was woken at six am. She asked for a day’s refund but I don’t think she had any luck. The film shoot was over in one day though in the end, it wasn’t noisy and it didn’t start early.
I can see how one could get really stressed, being woken up, building work, dogs, mosque, crows; plus re coping with things being different, food, people, and each other, but we’re ok. I do have the odd thing (hand cream).
There’s things I could get annoyed about of course, if I had a mind to: Many rooms only having one plug socket available so that we have to take turns charging our phones and tablets. The traffic, the pollution, the rubbish. The food all coming at different times. The complicated menus with strict times, this 12-2, this 3-6, this all day, this 12.30-9.30. The occasional restaurant bureaucracy, ‘Can I have a cup of tea or coffee?’ ‘No, only after 4pm,’ ‘Can I have tea or coffee with my breakfast?’ ‘No, juice first, then afterwards we’ll take your order for coffee or tea.’
Not being understood, not understanding things. Some things remaining a complete mystery, others tantalising only half explained… Missing friendships. The poverty. Being sometimes viewed as a walking ATM machine; even after giving the hotel cleaner so much stuff (he’d asked us to give him anything we were shedding), he still came and asked us for money. How sometimes it seems as if almost every conversation invariably turns to money or trying to sell us something. It’s the natural consequence of the actual or perceived disparity of wealth between us as Westerners and people we meet.
But the secret is to accept it all, and not to judge. If my few days in Norwich Travel Lodge in the winter taught me anything, it’s that the UK isn’t perfect. The level of homelessness in affluent Norwich city centre was shocking. And if things are different to what I’m used to, of course that’s to be expected, and that is my issue. And there’s so much beauty all around me that my attention is taken up with that.
I went out feeding cows again, early evening seemed to be the time when more cows were around. A man gave me advice in sign language, don’t bend down, due to the horns? throw on ground, or put on hand and put hand out. I misinterpreted his facial expression as gruffness at first. People sometimes watched and even stared but did not seem unfriendly.
We drank chai tea at a little stall in the backstreets on the corner of Big Street. The first time we sat outside on little stools and smoked cigarettes, the second time we were seated inside amongst the flies and heat.
We saw Indian men feeding street dogs in the evening. Even a very humble looking shop had put out puri on the pavement for the crows.
In the street parallel to Broadlands the houses were painted pretty colours. Just around the corner, at the end of an ordinary street, was an incredibly beautiful temple.
I wished I could show my Grandma the clothes, or describe them to her. She was a dress maker and interested in clothes until the end of her life. In Chennai I saw flouncy dresses, just below the knee, slightly shorter than I’d seen before, with scalloped hem, and lacy lemon or white flowers at the hem and on the bodice. Saree prints in a bold block print making a three dimensional pattern, others in bold flowers, and lots of yellow and orange sarees which matched the colours of the Tamil Nadu rickshaws. In restaurants we saw whole families colour coordinated and wondered if it happens naturally or if the woman picks out the family’s clothes? I’ve maybe seen three outfits ever that I didn’t think worked perfectly.
There were lots of sweet shops and stalls in Chennai, although we managed to resist and just admire them from a distance…
We’d found a little tea shop at the side of the road that did the best coffee, sweet and milky, as well as nice little samosas and melt-in-the-mouth homemade biscuits in jars; it became our favourite place for those last few days in Chennai.
We’d got our photocopying and printing of tickets and so on done at a little copy shop, got glasses for my husband, ticking jobs off the list, and were feeling pleased with ourselves and went to the tea shop afterwards.
We bought cigarettes and offered them to the staff and fellow customer; cigarettes can be a good icebreaker when you don’t share a language. We sat and watched the traffic and the people crossing the road. The smell of traffic fumes, rubbish and occasionally animal or human waste.
We watched two people lifting a big drum onto a scooter. It was common to see scooters loaded with sacks of onions, even sacks of cement, or a family of four riding all together. That is the mode of transport that the family has, they don’t have a car, so scooters are used for everything.
A truck went past laden, absolutely laden with plastic pots, urn shaped but big like garden pots. Instead of being terracotta colour to pretend to be made from clay or green to blend into the garden like they would be in the UK, these were shocking pink, bright leaf green and bright unsubtle primary colours; as if they were saying, were plastic, we’re plastic and we’re proud to be plastic. Not for the first time, we wished we could say to India, don’t do it, don’t let the plastic in, don’t fall in love with and get taken over by plastic. In India not everywhere has formal rubbish disposal and recycling systems in place; the plastic drinking water bottles alone present a huge problem.
A girl, a young woman, came skipping down the road. We made eye contact and she came over and said, ‘Hi,’ skipped off, then came over again, pointed to her cheek and said, ‘Kiss.’ I couldn’t kiss her, I’m British and can’t easily kiss total strangers, but I offered her my hand and we shook hands. She went skipping off again, almost dancing across the road. She dropped her scarf in the road, and picked it up scarily in front of a rickshaw.
When we checked out of Broadlands the manager shook hands with Anthony and hugged me. ‘I love Anthony,’ he said, ‘He has a good heart.’
In the taxi on the way to the airport, the driver said, ‘Look, look,’ said something and pointed. We couldn’t understand him, then just at the last moment, my husband realised, ‘Parrots!’ About fifty small parrots were sat on the electricity wires across the road. ‘That is their house,’ the driver said. ‘1,000 parrots live there. At 6pm every day you see them.’ It was around 4.30pm. We were a bit sad that we hadn’t known about this before, but happy that we had heard it then and seen some of the parrots.
I kept thinking we were going back there, to Broadlands, to Chennai, when we went to Thailand, and had to remind myself that was over and we were going to Kolkatta when we go back to India. I know we were only there for eight days in total but… If it weren’t for the pollution, which the Tarot man in Thailand said wasn’t good for me, although I don’t need him to tell me I don’t suppose, I’d like to live there, at least for part of the year. What would I do? Write, feed cows, put up posters at the bins re tip food waste onto the floor don’t put in plastic bags (the cows eat the plastic bags and can get sick and die); get involved with some kind of rubbish clearing/recycling initiative (my husband’s idea). Learn Tamil, teach English in return. (But Tamil seems so hard! I feel like Hindi would be easier so maybe pick somewhere where the main language is Hindi…) But that’s all dreams, I haven’t seen hardly any of India yet, I may yet fall in love again many times over during the rest of our travels.
Photos of Chennai by Anthony Hill Instagram travelswithanthony
In our third week and third place in Koh Phangan, Thailand. We are in the vegan/yoga area. It’s absolute paradise but we are looking forward to getting moving on proper travelling again. In a few days I go to Tokyo, my husband goes to Cambodia and we meet up back in India on October 1st.
Did this this week, worked on it every day except Saturday. Also scheduled five weeks’ of Throwback Thursday posts which is harder than it looks sometimes with patchy internet. Next up, Thailand.