August already as my sabbatical draws to a close. One year over quick as a flash, but has it been so fast. I remember those long days of packing box’s, moving, waiting. Weeks until that first plane out of England, long days that were replaced with nail-biting journeys, steering away from earthquakes. Long nights wondering about aftershocks and how/if we would wake. The rum bottle-shaped like a monk. Long sleepless nights in the heat of India’s monsoon, Southern Thailand restlessness and the beauty of Yangon. Thoughtfulness after my first days on the streets, itchy blankets, filthy toilets, spiders the size of my fist and the most glorious warm smiles that lasted forever, last forever. And rats.
Long days cycling around Angkor Wat, long days looking for lost accordions and airport after airport after train after bus after room, after train after train, after room after bus after train after bus bus bus tuck tuck bus train flight room room.
Long walks through the lower Himalaya , across borders, across bridges and no mans land. Long days on tropical beaches swimming towards the sunset, long nights in Chinese karaoke bars singing to The Carpenters before a long ferry ride, a sharp short air-bound shift and submerged in a totally different culture. Tada. Temples, stupa, temple stupa stupa.
Shooting movies for German TV, judging art contests in gymkhanas, day boats, night boats, night boats, day boats. Riding camels across the dunes of the great Thar desert, riding bus roofs for days in the Burmese countryside, hours of wondering and sneaking into five star pools. Long inductions into cults, friends dying of TB and falling in love all over again. Long lines waiting to be hugged by goddess and friends long goodbyes. Long hours between meals due to the fear of fish sauce. Beaches and swimming, searching for coral, avoiding the source of the sauce. Long days trying to book train tickets and the days drifting into each-other, as the sun turned me brown and browner. Long bus rides with fragile Burmese stomachs vomiting into bags and long nights running from lady-boys. Sunrises and sunsets staring out across the earth. The long wait for the apple store and the sheep waiting for slaughter. Waiting for red wine. Waiting for the bus. Waiting to return.
Street parties, room parties, bus parties, train parties. Friends never forgotten, connected forever by memory and the shared experience. Mrs. Popcorn and her avocado slat, Denis Sweeney and his re-appearances, the masseuse, the train worker and the boy from Israel. The vertical gardener, the wondering mistral, the girl who was desperate for action and the two Adams. The son of the Burmese government, the bagpiper and the fellow hope. The cigarette selling footballer, mamma z and the Shrew. All there, all here.
Designing shops for random Keralan men met on trains, hiring boats to sail great waters and water parks with segregated wave machine ropes and fake Bollywood rain storms. All taken in stride after taxis, rooms, bus’s and planes. Beetroot upon days of beetroot. A life really worth living. A lucky man.
Reflecting on this year that unfolded, with joy and with sorrow as i unpack the packed. Nothing presented as expected, days that just couldn’t have been planed. Excitement and freedom ever single day, but sometimes perhaps not. All documented, all lived, always cherished. Days of the then unknown, mystery on tap. Laughing, crying but mostly joy, with a little fear now and then thrown into the mix.
So as i drift through my final few days, before i resume my post i thank myself for making this choice, wondering how it will impact on my British reality. My only regret is that it didn’t last forever.
So Calcutta came and went in a flash. Mother Teresa’s tomb was an unexpected highlight and it’s certainly a city i would like to explore further when i return to the mother land. Arriving in Thailand was a stark contrast to India. Clean, a hilarious accent and full of westerners. After being here for almost twelve hours i already see why it has a reputation for being a party city. There is booze everywhere, buff western men with their guns out, scantily clad Thai ladies. Koh San Road is just grotesque. An atmosphere of debauchery which just isn’t my bag. I love getting drunk and partying but in a more middle-aged, more refined context. Everything i thought the trip would be is turning out to the opposite. I am spending far too much money and need to steer away from city’s and head to the rural life. I am on the cusp of yoga and relaxation but not yet. I am in Bangkok and its time to party!!
Thailand already feels like a million miles away from India. I am struggling to see past the surface. Lots of tourists wandering and indulging in cheep booze, fashion, food and am sure many more things. A little bubble of artificial culture created for tourists that has no reflection of the countries reality? Trolleys full of cute dogs, strong cocktails, beautiful Thai ladies in skimpy outfits to allure clients in to spend their cash. Forced Artifice? A pulsating frenzied bubble that after a while, i am sure could destroy people. However saying that it’s quite relaxed and enjoyable!!! Ladies who work in bars , who keep leopard skin bags full of flying squirrels for good luck, dogs being wheeled around to promote a dogs home, whether for a good course or not. After three days i am ready to see another aspect of Thailand but will the islands be pretty much the same thing? Waiting to look after us and keep us in the way we are accustomed too? On a more positive level i have eaten some of the most amazing vegan food of my life. It’s crazy how us vegans miss hummus!
A visit to the royal palace yesterday was epic. A holy temple complex of glitz and ostentation, several frozen cocktails and another plate of hummus has provided the perfect distraction from the earthquake, but something for me doesn’t sit right. I have enjoyed Bangkok very much , but i am ready for some peace and some space, away from the crowds with the sky and the sea for company.
Downtown Bangkok is a different story. A Chi Chi cosmopolitan area of galleries, malls, sweeping architecture and stylish city types. I fear i am only reacting like this due to spending a month in Indian cities, which are dirty and full to the brim, however wading through shit has a glorious charm. Downtown Bangkok has space and is clean. I saw an amazing exhibition based around a Thai man’s response to Lady Gaga! His name is Pan Pan Narkprasert – worth a look. There was also some beautiful painting and the gallery itself was impressive.
I have moved to a quieter part of town, to a room with wipe clean walls and a hostess who rents out ladyboys. As i sit and eat yet more Hummus a storm blows outside. Palms swaying, canopies swaying but inside all is calm. Soft world music playing on the stereo and i am relaxed. A world away from County Durham.
After a day of seeing art, being tattooed by a lovely lady called Jeans Rangwan, a few drinks, watching women performing degrading acts like knitting from their vagina’s, pulling out three feet of flowers ( also from their vagina’s ), playing musical instruments not with their mouths, running away from angry ladyboy madams, Thai men in their pants, standing on bars, rubbing themselves trying to appeal – wearing tokens so you knew which one to buy for the night and being stopped and searched by police i finally retire to bed at 3:30 am. Its time to leave Bangkok and head to the sea. The evening reminded me of a poem which was written hundreds of years ago, in India about sacred prostitution.
To step across the threshold
Of my main door,
It’ll cost you a hundred in gold.
For two hundred you can see my bedroom,
My bed of silk,
And climb into it.
To sit by my side
And to put your hand,
Boldly into my sari:
That will cost ten thousand.
And seventy thousand
Will get you a touch
Of my full round breasts.
Only if you have the money
Three crores to bring
Your mouth close to mine,
Touch my lips and kiss.
To hug me tight,
To touch my place of love,
And get to total union,
You must bathe me
In a shower of gold.
But only if you have the money.