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.

 

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On the road again

I am still in Bangkok. Honestly, it’s amazing how quickly adventures can morph into mundane daily life when you’re not looking. One minutes you’re all goggle-eyed gazing around like a newborn and taking every opportunity to expose your miserable, cave-dweller skin to the sunlight, and the next it’s just another Monday morning and you’re grizzling over the 14.54 minutes you have to spend outside sans aircon. And you don’t even notice that the moon is the wrong way around any more. Welcome to Taking Things For Granted 101.

BUT! Guess what! After many months – too many months – of being stationary, Enid’s Adventure Blog is going back on the road again. This time we’re off to that most recent of Zealands, The New Zealand (famously explored in gripping 3-part documentary series, The Lord Of The Rings). We’ll hang out with The Beard’s friends and family, hit up the north and south islands for beaches and shit, skate with NZ roller derby teams and checkout NZ skateparks, have goodfuntimes with adored lifepals and fellow adventurers, NicandRob, eat “fush und chups”, head out for long walks and generally be Going Around. It’s going to be good, people.

Yes, it will mean leaving beloved cat-bastard Mr Miaowgi with a friend for 2 months, but I count it as payback for all the times he’s bitten me in the face in the past. Little angel.

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So! Help a sister out, gang. What should we see, do, eat, stay or avoid? Any and all pro-tips welcome!

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:

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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!

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-

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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