Lifeventures: Chapter Two

You’re right – chapter one was a little overlong. It jumped across settings and time periods, lacked any tangible plot, showcased a boringly self-obsessed narrator and suffered a dreadful inconsistency of voice.

Chapter two will be different. In a world where different means exactly the same.

I’ve been living in The New Zealand for eight days. I am unemployed and it is profoundly disheartening. I have been to two roller derby training sessions (fantastic) and walked the Auckland Coast to Coast (spectacular) on a gloriously sunny day with a bunch of women who like drinking wine. Pretty good stuff.

I have made the following observations:

The New Zealand is exceptionally pretty. It’s like somebody put together a Pinterest collection of the prettiest houses and the prettiest landscapes they could find, and then hit CTRL+V+R (Paste to Reality).

The New Zealand is exceptionally cold. It has that weird kind of air we don’t get in Thailand; you know, the kind that moves around. Wind. That’s the stuff. They have all this WIND in the air, which makes things chilly. But also the air just comes out cold. In the sunshine, everything is glorious. A smidgen of shade and the shivers start. I regularly lose feeling in my toes when I’m at home at night. And it isn’t even winter yet, only autumn. Save me.

Despite the above, The New Zealand homes are famously and staggeringly cold, built from handsome wooden planks and useless single glazing (for any Brits out there, that’s double glazing but with 75% less heat-retention). The The New Zealand attitude is to don another sweater and hunker down. It makes me sad into my heart. I cannot abide the cold, the dark, the damp. Alas, each of these adjectives is a good description of my new home. Heaters and dehumidifiers will abound if I am to survive the long winter.

And I would like to debunk one myth: The New Zealand is NOT full of sheep. I have been here eight days and I have only seen around 30.

So, I leave you with my knowledges and fascinating insightmentals. I look forward to leveling up my awks in Auckland, to settling in, exploring the funs, making friends and – fingers firmly and unnaturally crossed – finding gainful employment.

Any advice for things to see, do, watch, try, eat, drink, visit or traverse while I’m here? Let me know.

 

born on a yellow day

Well, THAT happened.

I’m back in the Big Kok. I’ve been back here for four weeks, already worked for three. I’d hoped to have a little holiday to recover from the massive holiday I just had but, being secretly sensible, took the first desperate job offer I received. I now work at a SCHOOL. A PRIMARY school. Teaching the absurd, semi-formed human beings that some people refer to as children. Excuse the shudder. Let’s move on.

Bangkok is not the same as it was when I left. My favourite chumbles have departed and I’m no longer hunkering down in my lovely, lonely, dark little apartment. I’m staying with the BBF and young Martian, who uses the wrong prepositions and who can’t tell the difference between the ground floor and the first floor because he’s American. There seem to be fewer Alan carcasses. There are more mosquitos. The loudest birds in existence have moved into the trees around the apartment block. They love sunrise. They REALLY love sunrise. Before sunrise has even begun to lighten the sky to the dark navy of dawn, they get excited and start cawing and cawing and cawing and CAWING AND BLOODY CAWING. It lasts for A Very Long Time. It is impossible to sleep through. 4 o’clock and I’m awake and furious and daydreaming about a gun I’ve never owned but feel increasingly nostalgic for. I’m furious because they’re alive and waking me up too early in the morning, and because nobody is shooting them for me. WHY IS NOBODY SHOOTING THEM FOR ME? My new workplace is just under an hour’s commute – the train in the sky, change lines, dismount, walk, coffee, done. I will move, soon – tomorrow in fact – into an apartment across the road from my new workplace because waking up at 6am to go to work IS NOT A THING.

I don’t really mind my job. One good thing about it is the holidays. There seem to be many. I don’t get as many as BBF, who only works approximately 3 hours a day, except Wednesdays and Fridays, and Thai holidays and all the days that surround them. He does write maths exams, though. Wordy maths exams. Sit down to one of BBF’s maths exams and you’ll sample something along the lines of: Pleng and Best were at school one day and they both wanted some sweets. Pleng had B20 but Best had B120 and a broken leg. To get to the sweet shop, Pleng thought they should walk730m along Henry Durant road and up Ratchadamri road, but Best thought it would be shorter if they bought a jetpack and flew straight there at 120mph. If, on the way, a building caught fire and a fireman needed to rescue an old, old Chinese lady who was staying in her son’s top-floor flat 150m up while he went on an extended holiday to Rome in order to escape suspicion in a murder enquiry, what would the shortest length of a plank of wood be that the woman would require to traverse a bridge in a cup of tea with a 50m radius and a height of 80m and in which the spoon kept falling in because the sides were too slippery?

Hum.

Back to holidays. The most recent public holiday – Father’s Day and the birthday of His Majesty The King – was a yellow holiday. HMTK was born on a yellow day, and yellow is worn, by choice and requirement, throughout the month to celebrate and show respect. We had a long weekend, spent it in camping bliss at Erewan waterfalls. You may recall Erewan Waterfalls from a previous post, in which I said almost nothing about Erewan waterfalls but posted a rather spectacular photograph instead. Here’s a reminder:

P1000283

Erewan National Park is an easy trek north of Bangkok. Except when you leave in an airconless minivan from Victory Monument, crawling through the city’s sweltering, greasy, orange-lit night for 40 minutes before glancing out the window and, in horror, surely you’re mistaken, James, is that… that’s not VICTORY MONUMENT? And being back, after all that traffic, that waiting, that uncomfortable sweating, in Victory Monument, back where you started, a man steps onto the minivan and presses the button for the aircon that is broken and looks at you all and says, The aircon is broken, gets out, leaves you to crawl once again through the city’s sweltering, greasy, orange-lit night like some annihilating cyclical nightmare. Only this time you escape the city, windows down and a warm breeze cooling the engine-hot van you stop by the side of a road somewhere and the van disgorges and a new van fills up and the new van has aircon and the journey continues, cooler now, soaring away from the glow.

Getting to Kanchanabri you hear the driver call Farang! Farang! (foreigners! foreigners!) to the taxi guys on their motos, their tuktuks, their sidecarts. And when you get off you walk away from the taxi madaaaame?s to research what you should have researched before, not liking the scrum of arrival in an unknown place and at night and the taxi drivers being always all men. But this time you see BBF chatting away, Thai and English, looking at leaflets, and you think uhoh, but you go with it, and you get into the songthaew and are driven, not far, not too bad, to a hostel where you can sleep in a bungalow or sleep on the water, and you choose – of course, why wouldn’t you – to spend the night on the water, drinkng wine and looking at the lights down the banks of the river Kwai.

P1000177The next morning you get the bus to the National Park, easy peasy, only an hour or an hour and a half, away from the city and up into the hills it gets greener, cleaner, fresher. You get off at the campsite and rent your gear and the ranger shows you some tents, lets you choose, and you’re overlooking the river again, just up from where you were last time.

P1000267You spend your time at the waterfalls, snoozing in or around your tent, reading In Cold Blood and drinking so much cha nom yen and ohcha that you’ll get a caffeine withdrawal headache on Monday. You get your feet eaten by fish but in a non-threatening way, and you make fires in a stove and cook your own food – corn cobs, stir frys, bacon, bananas, apples. BBF impresses you by opening a can of chick peas using only a cement step, and you impress him by mixing a perfect cocktail out of pineapple and aloe vera juices with spiced rum.

P1000216 Now, back at work. Tomorrow is another public holiday, and then next week our kids have exams. Then Christmas for the next big trip – festivities with a Karen hilltribe and BBF and his parentals, followed by a road trip around northern Thailand – the hills, villages, maybe Myanmar, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai.

And then a new year. Last in Thailand for a while. Best make it a good one!

awkwardly, and with cockroaches

[Another entry in which I go on for fuckin’ ages about something that was supposed to be just a short aside]

Meditation is a thing I do now (thrice  update: fourice). On a Thursday after work I go to a beautiful boutique hotel at the end of a long soi off Sukhumvit. The beautiful boutique hotel has a shrine room above the library. It also has subtle outdoor lighting and contemplative gardens furnished with many tree-shaped natures to really set the mind at ease. At reception they seem to approve of yoga pants as long as they are ethically woven from organic fibres to produce a comfortable-yet-fashionable recreational clothing item suitable for the average, usually vegetarian, middle-class bohemian. It’s a really peaceful, luxurious location and a wonderful shrine room – an attic with a tastefully decorated alter and Buddha image, wooden floors, meditation cushions and blankets. They provide us with sandwiches and drinks before the session to help us achieve maximum Zen, and they do it all completely free of charge, though contributions are encouraged.

I go to meditation for peace and quietfulness and to get some stillness inside, but also just to sit in a room ignoring a group of strangers who are also ignoring me. It’s a wonderful feeling of community without the awkwardness of actually having to make small talk with people (despite coffee and sandwiches being on offer, I tend to show up at 5-minutes-to-meditation time to avoid feeling awkward when I have to try and make conversation with people and realise that I don’t have anything even remotely interesting to say to them).

My new hobby of relaxing meditation is one of the most stressful hobbies I’ve ever had. It’s almost as stressful as playing jenga in a bar full of people, which is pretty freakin’ stressful lemmie tell ya. First of all, the sitting. Second of all, ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Sounds easy but have you ever tried sitting in one position for an extended period of time? Snakes on a mantra-freakin’ PLANE – it is HARD. Harder than double-hard plural math. First you get a bit twitchy, bits of you start to hurt, your feet go to sleep, your brain starts to go haywire. Etc. For example:

20 seconds in and your body’s all,  ok, all this resting is fine but it’s been, like, at least an hour now and we’re not on the BTS or going to sleep or internetting so I’m getting a bit freaked out by all this sitting, what’s going on, is something wrong, ARE WE ALIVE, OMIFUCKINGSHITMAYBEWE’REDEA- [twitches foot just to check] oh. ok. we’re fine. good. just sitting. sitting around. arouuuuund. arouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuund. wow. words really start to sound strange when you think about them for too long. aaaaaarooooooouuuuuund. WHAT WAS THAT? oh wait. nope. nothing happened. ok. just checking. checkiiiiiiing. checkiiiiiiiii-

hey, i’m getting this. i’m really getting it. look at me, just meditating the shit out of everyone in the room. yeah bitches. check my posture. i’m so zen right now. I AM MOTHERFUCKING ZEEEEEEEEN. AH FUCK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MY FOOT WHY CAN’T I FEEL MY FOOT? Is it still there? It’s still there. Fuck. Fuck, that is NUMB. (surreptitiously pokes foot) Nothing. Fuck. OK, stay focused. Don’t panic. Fuck, what if it starts to go blue? How long can a foot survive without blood? Or is it trapped nerves that makes it go numb? Will I get pins and needles? If it’s numb how come it HURTS? Will it need amputating? Can I move without disturbing the woman next to me? If I move it’s like I’ve lost, isn’t it? Fuck. Don’t move. Don’t move. FUCK I’VE GOT TO MOVE! (moves). Shit, I think I just ruined everyone’s zen. Who knew cushions could be so loud. Ok. Back to it. Zenning ou-

AAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH! PINS AND NEEDLES! IT’S AGONY!!! WHAT THE FUCK?!?!AAAARRRGH! UNIMAGINABLE PAAAAAIN!

Do people get amputations because of pins and needles? Is this what having a ghost limb feels like? If I got stuck in a cliff could I cut off my arm? What happened to the arm afterwards? Would you become a vegetarian? Are Buddhists vegetarian? How… [ad infinitum].

Anyway. Whatevs. t’s a process YO.

The monk who leads our meditation sessions is called Pandit. Or maybe Dave. He looks like a Dave but I don’t know whether or not you give up your previous identity when you ordain as a Buddhist monk. He is British but totes legit: orange-robed and bald and exuding Zen and humour. The humour catches me off guard, like monks aren’t supposed to have fun because they’re on a spiritual path DAGNAMMIT and they need to be SIRRIUS about this shit. WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT ENLIGHTENMENT, EY?

Sometimes he talks about having friends in Real Life  and about HTML coding and about playing the guitar. When he talks about these things it seems a bit off-kilter.He also talks about spiritual paths and achieving enlightenment which always strikes me as a bit fruitloopsome, but he also sometimes asks us to think about what our state of mind will be when we’re dying, and I really like that he talks about dying as if it’s normal and not weird, and it seems like a practical consideration and a sensible application of meditation skills. Come now, nobody talks about dying in a real way even though it happens all the time, to everyone, and we especially don’t talk about preparing for it,because it sounds morbid [Note to dad: DON’T WORRY. I AM ABSOLUTELY FINE. SIT DOWN. HAVE A BISCUIT].

When he mentioned it the first time I was really struck by the realisation that the act of dying will be the very last thing we ever do, and when we get around to it – hopefully not for a bloody long time – we’ll probably be spending those last moments – OUR LAST EVER LIFEMENTS – lamenting the things we haven’t done, the time we haven’t had, the people we’ll leave behind, feeling angry or guilty or – oh crap, it just dawned on me what my last moment will be like… bloody hell, you can just imagine it can’t you?: I’ll be laying there with that twisty awkward feeling in my stomach, thinking to myself ohmigodwhyamisoawkwar… [DEAD] . FFS!  My gravestone will read: she died as she lived: awkwardly, and with cockroaches.

DAMNIT! NO!

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The Alan Chronicles

Clouds and close-up of Wat Arun temple, Thailand

Wat Arun

I’ve had three pay cheques from my job. I’ve got a work permit and a category B immigration visa. I’ve been to an island, used every mode of public transport available in Bangkok, and even learnt a few more Thai words (tao rai, ka? / mai ow na ka). I’ve eaten a truly absurd amount of ice cream, bought clothes I’ll never wear from market stalls just because they’re cheap, and danced in the street near little old Khao San road. I’ve skated and picnicked and taught kids and adults and climbed temples and boated up the Chao Phraya river in early afternoon as the sun gets low and golden and the shadows get long.

But let’s talk about more important things: there’s been an escalating Nature situation in my flat. The death toll is in the hundreds. It all started with Alan. I must’ve told you about Alan?

Alan had been in the bathroom for four days before I finally got up the courage to eliminate him. I’d trapped him there, underneath a washed and perfectly hospitable empty sweetcorn tin. It had taken great courage on my part. I was too nervous to destroy him immediately so I left him there. For four days I had to step over him to use the toilet or shower or sink. I made sure not to knock the tin in case I disturbed him and thought frequently about feeding him a bit of sandwich just to make his imprisonment  more bearable. He was so big a cockroach that it was almost like having a lodger, or maybe more like the dead man in Yossarian’s tent only less human and inconveniently less dead. Are you even still human if you’re dead? Not if you’re a cockroach. The point is, he was too big to just kill as you might ‘just kill’ a wasp or an ant – hardly without noticing, certainly without caring. I left him whilst I tried to not have to deal with the situation. Maybe I could just step over him until the time came to move out of my apartment? What’s a year of stepping int he avoidance of conflict, eh?

NO. Four days is all it took for my appalling murdery instincts to take hold. I needed to take control of the situation. I needed to toughen the fuck up and stop thinking of Alan as the kind of cockroach who might wear a smoking jacket and use a pipe and read leatherbound books through thin-rimmed half-moon glasses. SentiMENTAL. So I killed the bastard.

Ok, that’s not true, I’m just saying it to seem wellard. Actually I threw him gently off the balcony. He’s a cockroach – he didn’t even feel it.

The thing about Alan is that he left me with the gift of CHILDREN OF ALAN. Little Alanites and Alanettes. Like CHILDREN OF THE CORN, only worse. I’ve murdered about three. I’ve learnt my lesson: cockroaches are not pets, they are EVIL DICTATORS IN THE MAKING. Thank goodness they’re too tiny to be involved in gang warfare or government or banking. Instead they just hang out underneath my fridge (underneath, but never inside my fridge). They scuttle out every now and then – not so often as before; I’m not sure there’re many left – and I hear them giggling to themselves at night. Telling jokes. Poking fun.

I’m not sure what the relationship between the cockroaches and the ants actually is, but I’m sure one exists. The ants, though, are a different story. With me and the cockroaches, it’s a war of attrition. With the ants it’s straight-up antocide. I’ve killed the bastards in their hundreds. I’ve stomped on them, drowned on them, poured bleach on them. The bleach was a bit of a desperate act, I’ll admit, but the bastards are tenacious. One day they’re marching through my bathroom and are suddenly being killed in the tens, TENS of tens, by the Great Bleach Siege of 19th October, and the next they’re back on another track, just chillin’ their boots and taking the scenic route across the tiles and up the door frame like nothing ever happened.

Actually, I’ve gained respect for the ants. They don’t resent me for the murders and I don’t resent them for their tenacity. Actually, I admire it. We share a  mutual respect, I imagine. Sometimes they even come snuggle with me in my bed. They bite me, sure, but on the other hand I smack them to death whenever I realise that they’re biting me, so we’re about even.

I won’t even go into the little jumpy spiders, the weird mosquito larvae that live in-between the tiles in my bathroom, and the missing geckos, presumed dead, probably murdered by the fucking cockroaches (the bastards).

One day I’ll write something about what it’s ACTUALLY LIKE living in Bangkok, or being a teacher, or trying to build up a roller derby team from scratch, but until that day you’ll just have to make do with weird, tangential, pointless posts about Nature.