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.
After two days on aircraft and the generic spaces within i am here, home, back in the UK – whatever that means. The train heads north from London, home bound. Eight months exactly from the day the train headed south towards london; towards the first flight right at the very beginning. A train with clean glass windows and smooth seemingly soft silent tracks.
Almost as silent as the carriage. No eye contact, no words, even from the people less than a metre away across the table. I smile, say hi. Nothing, however i am aware that i look ridicules in my red woollen hat, vintage yellow Burmese shades and shaking with the cold.
The great british public. The race who don’t speak to strangers. Silence, head in books, looking at mobiles, staring into laptops. Distraction to avoid conversation, interaction anything? I join the head down massive and write, whilst interacting with the distant view beyond the window instead. Words sprinkling out in between gazing through the glass at the running cable lines bouncing and the blue sky epically built with glowing structures of cloud. Heading backwards, horses, countryside, studded with trees, space, remnants of industry past but brick formations present. Spiny leafless deciduous trees shooting their first signs of spring; not that i can see from this distance and at this speed.
No hanging out of open doors smoking, no pushing shoving screeming Indians ( sigh ), no Burmese music videos, to tiny Laos bed bus’, no Thai hostesses looking really bored – all replaced with silence, the occasional Geordie accent and the train announcements, which i can hear! However it is comfortable. Rolling green being the biggest contrast to the barren desert of Doha, only yesterday. I will come to pine for this contrast.
Less than two hours and we pull into the station. Friends and family waiting. A rather special meet and greet i am sure. Sad for whatever the last eight months has been to be over. Reflection coming when reality sets in, or is that just it, over, done finished. That was yesterday. Exhausted but horizontal is over the horizon.
The sun rose as the train pulled into central station, around the same time as my hangover. Bag on back i disembark to find a quite, dark and rather empty Mumbai – sleeping taxi drivers, people selling cigarettes and combs. Rats. Back to the same guest house i started in last September, but what is the difference?
So many countries, cultures, experiences. So many photographs, disks. Another piece of luggage.; A basket hand-weaved in Burma that i simply could not abandon. Skin several shades darker, ribs an inch higher and cheek bones a little more prominent. I deeper education and new ways of seeing. New friends that i will cherish forever. Miss Smith, Miss Johnson, Mama Zita.
Back in a room on crisp white cotton without power-points. The entrance having been paved and the manager as charming and cute as ever. He greets us with his perfect queens English, clad in his teddy bear pyjamas and Canadian flag t-shirt. Thank you, Your Welcome!
So happy to be back in Mumbai. After everything – all the flights, the trains, the bus’s, the near misses we made it back, thousands and thousands and thousands of miles later, exactly seven months today. I can not wait to eat humus, sip a high quality bloody mary and see a Hindi movie. To walk the familiar streets of this glorious city, after everywhere still one of the best in Asia.
A train ride i have taken a hundred times, a track as familiar as my walk to work and back. Lost between elation and dread , traveling south to a place i have previously called home. Seats with space but my head has none. Heading to a place, a location that has housed my deepest spiritual and personal experiences, a place that in the past has made me my perfect person…long ago.
Why does he sit there in this place i called home, called mine. Sat in a place that was years ago. I am full of dread as the loud fast black tunnels propel me back in time instead of forward, like a time machine toying with brain cells. There he is but there he is, they are. My crew, my boys , my indian loved ones deep within my last decades history, my make-up. Frustration turns to anger and back to dread….and then neutral as i could not have not come.
I consulted and assessed and considered flesh beyond my own, before heading towards a situation that is only as hard as it needs to be. Monk , coke and the occasional penguin bin help with the drive towards the sea, the bumpy road into the jungle towards a previous love, my indian brothers, my main reason to visit.
And so all done. Greetings are said, embraces over , in a place so magic, so wild and so very real. My aging flesh being the only giveaway that i ever left.
Little rhythmical bells and chimes twinkling in my ears. Tears hide in the back of my eyes, chugging down the track from Bangkok. Fields of cotton swaying in the breeze from side to side; or is that just me? palms stretching through the bright blue sky – sunbound. Green so vividly green it’s almost yellow. Studded with the occasional cow i think. Melancholy doesn’t come more melancholic. A Wizzing pink lotus, cement mixer, scorched red earth heading fast towards a tropical island perched on coral, so why do i feel so dark and so flat? Like a nodding dog swaying with the movement of the machine and the swerves and rhythm of the track, heading to paradise. Not shaping up, not growing. Just following the rhythm as we progress. With Vespertine in my ears and crying on my mind, heading to paradise. Drip. Drop.