Cats, cakes and chicken coups

Well, here we are. It’s early evening and I’m sticky both because it’s the usual amount of too-much-hot and also because I’ve just finished eating my third mango of the day. Allow me to repeat that: my THIRD mango of the day. I didn’t even like mango before I got here. Too mushy, too sweet. But that was YELLOW mango. I had no idea that other kinds of mango existed. Green mango is where it’s at. Green mango is sour… unless you buy them soft and let them overripen in your fridge, at which point they level up into SUNSHINE JUICYSWEET OMNOM OF THE GODS. Fuckin’ A.

But let’s restart. Relax back into the chair. Fingers poised over the keyboard. It’s early evening and I’m sticky. FUCK. Remember that you were boiling water for a cup of tea? Run the two steps to the fridge, atop which is the “kettle”, notice that it’s almost boiled dry, that the room’s hotter and more humid than a Bangkok sauna filled with caricatures, fill it (the kettle) back up to the tea line with water from the one baht machine and – well, you’re near the fridge anyway, right, and you’re writing tonight, right? – grab a yoghurt, pour in some roasted sunflower seeds, DEMOLISH. Water’s boiled, pour the tea – I really need to find a ceramic mug, this plastic thing is starting to taste plasticy – and get back to it. Hold onto your hats, people.

And wait. An ellipse; a pause; the space between breaths; please note the mounting anticipation on your way out.

Well, here we are (again). It’s early evening and I’m sticky both because it’s the usual amount of too-much-hot and also because I’ve just finished eating my third mango of the day. Curfew hasn’t kicked in yet but I’m at home on my balcony and have no plans or desire to go out nonetheless. Yes. You may have noticed the word ‘CURFEW’, there, and we’re not talking about the kind that your parents gave you as a kid. I live in a country that has a MILITARY-IMPOSED CURFEW. It’s the grown-up version. How exotic.

Imagine, if you will, a public space in a hot country that is not your own. A train station, perhaps, or a popular public park. Imagine this place at 17:58: busy and crawling with commuters, hustlers and bustlers, wishers and liars, world-losers, world-foresakers and magic bean buyers. Imagine the heat. The moving bodies. The activity. Here, jogging; there, selfies; skateboarding; running for the train before the doors close; laughter soars above the chuntering clamour then drops like a stone; sharp kidcries tear the air and fade away. Random, unconnected, continuous action. And now, imagine this place at 18:00, after the warning beeps, when the music starts to play. Commuters turn to statues at the tune. Activity ceases; everyone freezes. Look around, the still bodies, breathing, warm with the memory of action. Like the slow zombies, like a brainwashing sci-fi, like a real-life dystopian novel. It lasts a minute or so. Uncomfortable. Try not to let that inappropriate and mildly hysterical burble of laughter slips through those strictly serious lips, ok?

I live in a country where the rush hour commute ceases for civilians to pay homage to their country, where running groups and badminton players pause their game to meditate a moment on the interconnectedness of their nation, the unity of their people. It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty weird.

We were living a fantasy adventure in Dreamland when we discovered that Thailand had lost it’s shit and declared martial law. And then, afterwards, I was looking forward to an evening at the Cat Cafe, eating cake and cuddling kittens when we discovered that there had been a military coup, as of 6 minutes ago, Tom said at work, eyes Twitter-bright and eager. There is a vague sense of excitement and of inconvenience, and of interest – how long? what will happen? will we have to cancel roller derby?

The chicken coup d’etat has some quite serious implications. Curfew meant we couldn’t go to the Cat Cafe so I was left lacking kitty cuddles for the entire evening (therefore bogus). On the other hand, the chicken coup d’etat meant that two of my students cancelled their classes today (therefore bonus). It means that if I want to go out and see friends, I have to make sure I’m at the BTS way before it closes at 9pm, and that I can no longer make last minute night-out decisions, and that maybe, just maybe, the 7/11 at the bottom of my road is closed (GASP). It means that I have to carry my passport at all times, and genuinely – apparently – be in my home by 10pm.

Of course, there are other things to say, other meanings. But I won’t say them. I think about the wrong things all the time, anyway. Doesn’t coup d’etat sound like a delicious pastry? How does someone declare a coup? Is it ever OK? Who are the army accountable to, and who regulates their actions? If it’s so easy to coup the shit out of a government then why doesn’t it happen all the time? Is there just one button to shut down all the TV channels in a country or is it a complicated process? Did they prepare the static Please Bear With Us As We Have A Coup image before the actual coup, after it, or did they just have one lying around ready to be beamed out around the country? If you live in the sticks, do you have a curfew? Do you know? How much do you care?

Anyway. Here I am. It’s late evening and I’m tired and I need to go to bed, and I’m sticky because I’ve been sitting in the sweltering heat of my balcony for 100 hours, relaxed back into the chair, fingers poised over the keyboard then rolling, tapping out rhythms like piano hammers. Curfew’s well and truly kicked in. In the distance, a few cars, dogs. A siren or two. The sound of water from somewhere below me. My gurgling fridge.

As usual, I’ve written 1000 words and told you absolutely nothing. Happy days. Good night all.

(Night Gma. I’m fine, honestly. Miss you.)

woman selling food sits in sunshine at the foot of the BTS



Songkran. [Photos pending]

It’s been one year, one month, and 29 days. I’m still in Bangkok and – inconceivably – I’m still not dead.

This time last year I was studying for my CELTA. Man alive, I remember that month of insanity as if it were only a year ago: the late nights, the hysteria, the stress, the constant stream of food, the pool that looked so inviting but that none of us ever had any time to use… and before that – SONGKRAN! Thai New Year, water festival, public holiday and city-wide water fight. The craziness of Chiang Mai, the 3-day long water battles, dance music throbbing in the streets, foam sprayed from stages in the square, buckets of ice water paralysingly cold in the midday heat. Wet and wild it certainly was.

Songkran this year couldn’t have been more different. We finished work on the Thursday and went straight from the school to the station, boarded the train and settled into our seats. The others hated the journey – I adored it. We got the cheapest tickets – 11 hours on hard seats, 4 of us squashed into a space that would be comfortable for 2, slightly awkward for 3 and laughable for any more than that. We drank beer and roared laughter playing Cards Against Humanity. Of the countries represented – England, the US, NZ – I can confirm that us Englanders have by far the best sense of humour, boasting a heady absurdism utterly unappreciated by our companions. The chumps. It got late and the train rattled on through the night. The others attempted fitful sleeping with limited success, but you know me and trains out here. I stayed awake, listening to the tracks, watching inky countryside sweeping past Having Moments and writing bad poetry. The trains out here. They’re special.

We reached Chumpon as the sun rose, and from our coach to the ferry port watched the morning colours wheel across the sky, turn to golden light, caught our first glimpse of the sea – the Gulf of Thailand – dream-blue and calm. By the time we boarded the ferry, the fizzy hysteria of sleep deprivation was setting in and we’d collected our 5th group member, well-rested and smug from his earlier, more luxurious train journey. An extended game of CAH and we arrived.

The first thing we learnt on our PADI Open Water Diver course was that the number one rule of scuba-diving is this: breathe consistently or YOUR LUNGS WILL EXPLODE. I immediately broke out into fear-sweats. Unconsciously holding my breath is a little weird habit of mine. I don’t know why. Sometimes I suppose all this Doing Life Things gets a bit complicated, so I decide to momentarily suspend one of my essential bodily functions in order to focus properly on whatever important thing is happening, such as having just stubbed my toe or dropped a glass or seen a DRAGON in the park (oh, it’s “only” a monitor lizard? Whatever.) You know, the big stuff.

So, after the first HELLISH day – the day of Songkran, in fact – when we were in the pool for 8 consecutive hours doing skills in the searing heat, skin burning and chafing from the BCDs, dehydrated, eyes and nose burning with chlorine from doing mask removals, I had absolutely no fear whatsoever about the normal concerns (running out of air, getting the bends, having an equipment failure, having to make an emergency ascent, panicking underwater, being eaten alive by sharks), I was simply afraid that I’d see a pretty fish, get distracted, forget rule #1 and do an innocent and accidental breath hold, thereby EXPLODING MY LUNGS.

As it happens, I didn’t EXPLODE MY LUNGS. Not on the first day when we did our first two dives in REAL OCEAN and saw a white-eyed Moray eel at The Twins and a lionfish and a porcupine fish and a giant pufferfish at The Junkyard. Not even on the second day when we dived at White Rock and saw prawn gobis and where I took the longest piss EVER in my wetsuit, and when we went back to The Twins and saw a Ribbontail ray and did our emergency ascent skills. I did explode a bit on the 5th dive – our first dive as qualified divers and where we didn’t have to do ANY skills at all – but it was my LPI hose and not my lungs, and it was after we’d surfaced and not on the bottom so there was no reason to worry whatsoever. The 6th dive, however, when we went back to The Junkyard and – being qualified divers now, thank you very much – did a free descent and swam through the tunnels and saw all the usual fishes. Ah, friends. It was a glorious time.

We’d been on the island for 5 or 6 days and people were leaving to get back to Real Life. I moved from our accommodation – we’d stayed with the superb people who ran our course, Crystal Dive – and found a room in a 70s porn den. I liked it because the smell of the plywood walls brought back memories of the old caravan in Gma’s garden that was always filled with fly corpses and that we’d sometimes sleep in if we were lucky enough to be allowed the adventure. My island holiday was blissful. I’d get up early, walk along the beach to the north and get breakfast, then head south through the town, across beaches, through woods and over rocks to get to two small bays that were quiet and had excellent snorkelling and an incredibly relaxed restaurant overlooking the sea.

The first time I saw the sharks, it was with fear and fascination in near-equal amounts. It was immediately obvious that they were only juveniles but, even though they were small, they looked already like killers, gliding lazily through the water, looking all shark-like. Black tipped reef sharks. Those fins. I’ve never been so close to something in the wild that I felt was a threat to my life. And, wow, did I feel it, right the way through and into the marrow. My body tensed. ‘THREAT! THERE IS A THREAT!’ But they didn’t come close, didn’t want to. I popped my head up to look around – was it safe? did people know there were SHARKS here? There were a few people snorkelling in the bay, one or two kids. It was probably safe, right? I mean, there were adults, they knew what they were doing, right? I decided not to run screaming from the water.

The juvenile sharks became almost normal. I was still filled with apprehension every time I saw them – they just look so damn DANGEROUS! – but there was less fear. There was so much other life under the water and it made it easy to forget the sharks. And the sealife changed the deeper you went, and the deeper you went the more you realised that the different kinds of fish lived in different stratas. Yellowtail barracuda near the surface, parrotfish at the bottom. There were shoals of tiny fish, flashing silver in the light, and shoals of different types of coral-eating fish that would descent together on one place, chow down for a while, then move on.

I twice saw the muma shark. Huge. Distant. There was no fascination then, only fear. I would freeze in the water, keep it in-sight until it disappeared. Both times I swam back to shore, slightly shaky from the adrenaline.

And once, thanks to pure and perfect luck, I saw a sea turtle. Like a dream. She was on the bottom, chomping on coral. She didn’t seem to mind me watching from the surface. After a while I dived down to touch her, put my hand on her shell. She looked at me, black eyes glintingWhen she left the bottom, she swam more gracefully than you’d imagine. I thought of a spaceship – an unlikely shape, bulky but gliding effortlessly nonetheless. I swum with her until it got too deep, and I trod water, watched her surface to breathe, her leathery face wrinkled and lipless, and swim away. Magnificent.

The next day I bought an underwater camera, but the photos are terrible and I didn’t see her again anyway. I didn’t really expect to. Once in a lifetime is good enough for me.

But that was a week ago. I’ve worked a week since then. Right now, I’m on my balcony drinking a coffee and enjoying the breeze that occasionally wafts its way through the washing that’s hanging out to dry. This morning I awoke to distant sky rumblings. Though it’s still obnoxiously hot, it’s cooler today than it’s been in a while. Hot season – finally – might be coming to an end. The heat these past weeks has been intolerable. I am ready to be cool again. I am ready for rain.


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-


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.



bangkok, in real life

The weather’s changing. It’s January and it’s already heating up. There were a few weeks of comparative cool. There were a couple of nights when it was cool enough to use a thin blanket without melting into a sweatpuddle. But all that’s over now – the Mercury’s rising and all is getting sweatsome again.

The nature in my flat is also changing. The ants haven’t been biting for a while – I sorted them out by spraying a fairy ring of insect repellent around my bed (no really, I’m not kidding). The roaches come out now and then – often a baby with a teenager for protection – but I just swear repeatedly and murder them and it’s all OK again. They’ve started following me to work – the other day I made a coffee without checking the mug beforehand. When I went to take a drink there were 5 roach corpses bobbing about. They’re obsessed with me, I think, because I possess a certain cockroachy allure that they’ve never seen in a human before and don’t fully understand.

The new bits of nature that live in my flat are spiders. They stick to the corners so I don’t really mind them. They make webs and hang out and collect red ants and idon’tknowwhatelse. Maybe they eat baby cockroaches? I’m not sure. Either way, I’m unwilling to get rid of them as yet. As long as they’re not jumping out at me from ledges in the bathroom like the bastard roaches, or trying to snuggle me in bed with their teeth like the ants then they can stay. But this leaves me with a problem: if I want them to stay, what do I do about the cobwebs? If I leave them then eventually my room’s going to start looking like that scene in the second Hobbit movie, but if I brush them away then maybe they’ll move out and the rest of nature will move back in? But if they stay, maybe it’ll encourage the geckos to come back, but then the geckos will eat them all which’ll leave it free for the ants and the roaches to take over again. Fucking nature – why is it so complicated? And INSIDE MY APARTMENT?

When not obsessing over my little insect guests I mostly live a slightly dull normal life over here in the Big Kok. I get my water from the water machines outside my building because you can’t drink the tapwater (you can’t drink the tapwater but you CAN go to a high-so shopping mall with a cinema and an ice rink and buy a Louie Vuitton bag. OBVS. Life doesn’t make sense) and I wash my clothes using the 30 baht laundry machines. On weekends I often sit about wasting time on the internet, or go skating at the park, or read books, or go for a horrible jog, eat dinner with people, sometimes go for drinks, or see films because the cinema here is cheap and they are everywhere. At the moment the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra puts on a concert in the park every Sunday, and I like to go when I’m not skating – the evenings are warm and it’s nice to listen to classical music as the sun goes down, especially on the grass and especially with people you like to hang out with. One bad thing is that I’m often not skating right now because my foot – which isn’t broken, I’ve just ripped the tendonligament thingy – still hasn’t fully healed. I’ve done a lot of sitting on my balcony (from which there’s a captivating view of the wall of the building next door, who’d want to live anywhere else?) and reading books (Dracula is hilairmazin) and internetting (thank you, Pinterest).

On work days my morning routine is shit hot. Alarm goes off at 6.30. I surface from sleep hating my life, hating the world, lamenting the fast-passing weekend days and resenting the selfish intrusion of WORK into my social life. Then I pause my alarm and promptly go back to sleep. It goes off again 5 minutes later, at which point all curses are repeated but with slightly less venom. I pause my alarm again. The third time my alarm goes off, I get up. Resentfully. Agonisingly. I shower. Dress. All in a state of semi-consciousness. I get the BTS to work – it’s only 2 stops so no real need to change from autopilot to manual. Get to the office at about 7.50am, turn the computer on, the hot water machine, the printer. I clock in. Breakfast can be rice soup picked up from my BTS stop, or unsweetened yoghurt and banana and sunflower seeds, or KFC, or banana or taro in sweet sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, or any of a bunch of other options from the street. I have my morning coffee, and that’s me for hours. Clocked in and working. I plan my lessons, then teach, then plan and teach some more. Teaching is sometimes depressing, sometimes hilarious, sometimes exhausting and sometimes it hypes me up. It depends on the lesson, how it goes, on the students… all kinds of things. I love role plays, teaching intonation, functional language, imaginative drama-style stuff, and even just chatting, if the student’s interesting and talkative.

Once my day’s teaching is done, I generally stay a few hours and plan for the next day. Afterwards I go home, or for food with friends, or for cake/ice cream, or to the cinema, or for a wander around the city or the malls or just hang out. I buy fruit from the fruit guys along my road. 3 green mangos for a quid, cut papaya or pineapple or watermelon for 40p. Not bad. Rambutan don’t seem to be in season at the moment but surely it won’t be long now – I miss those crazy, hairy little guys. If I’m not eating with friends then I often get food off the street. Not scraping it off the pavement, OBVS, but eating at a little streetside place: soups or spicy meat with rice, an omlette, occasionally some pad thai. If not, I can cook at home. Kinda. I can make Mama noodles and popcorn, and what more could a girl possibly want in life? Not much, let me tell ya. And that’s it, really. Except that it’s not it at all, it’s just that it’s getting dark and I’m getting peckish so I’m off to scout out something to eat, and maybe get a haircut or a tattoo while I’m at it.

How long will it last is a question people ask me, like I’m some kind of grown-up who plans for the future or who has any clue what I want out of life or how I should go about getting it. All the fives. Here is a truth: Bangkok Roller Derby is here. I made it. It is my child. Here is another truth: my contract at IH is up in June. And one more: I will be trekking in Nepal the day I turn 31. In between those things, some decisions need to be made.

Any takers?!

Day 112ish: All the way through

Day 112ish. It’s probably time to stop counting in days.

I am back in Bangkok. I am slightly hungover, damp from rainstorms, aching from having walked a million miles through the city in a single day, and happy all the way through.

From Vientaine we – the CELTA 5 – travelled north through mountainous Laos to breathtaking Vang Vieng, then still further north to Luang Prabang. In Vang Vieng we went tubing on the Nam Song the day after a rainstorm, the sky washed clean and the river golden brown and flowing despite the season; the following day we cycled to a shady lagoon, swam, explored a temple-cave, saw butterflies. In Luang Prabang we got up at dawn to watch the people of the town giving alms to the monks and visited pristine blue waterfalls. We also ate ALL the baguettes and were eaten by ALL the mosquitoes.

ImageTham Phu Kham Cave (Vang Vieng, Laos)

Rosa and I took a 2-day slow boat up the Mekong river to the Thai-Laos boarder. We crossed headed to Chiang Rai by public bus, ate Thai hot pot in an outdoor food court while ladyboys mimed the words to power ballads on a stage built for the purpose. Here Rosa and I parted company – I headed south to Lampang, a bustling little town chock full of Lanna-style buildings and a tourist attraction called “Numerous wooden poles”. Highly recommend. From there I headed further south to Sukhothai, almost slept through my stop but realised just in time, then on a songtaw to the old city met a girl who started my secondary school the same year I left. Finally, I headed back to sticky Bangkok to drink beer on a street corner with Tom of Cat Ba Quintet fame, and then 19 floors up in the Sky Hotel looking out over the city during a thunderstorm, and then the next day we got stranded in a zoo because of another downpour. I like Thailand in the rainy season – it’s unpredictable and exciting.

And suddenly, just like that, the travelling portion of this trip is over. Back to Real Life, where I have to be responsible and sensible and not be on the move and probably not have any adventures and have a job that will be busy and hard and keep me in one place for an entire year if it works out. Travelling makes me happy. I’ll miss it. I don’t really want to stop, in fact. By the time I get to pick up my bag and head out into the world again, I’ll be 30 years old.

I can’t bloody wait.