Goodbye, paradise

The boat leaves paradise in an hour and a half. The ticket away means my trip is coming to an end. A temporary end, I told my friend this morning, and he seemed puzzled. Indeed, as much as I want this journey to continue, it will be a new and different adventure when I go traveling again. This portion, through northern Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, will end tomorrow with a flight from Phnom Penh. Though there is a guesthouse here by the name ‘Paradise’ (we’ve encountered three thus far), I think specifically of the 7 kilometers of pristine white beach on the southwest coast of Koh Rong, an island off the Cambodian coast. Three hours from Sihanoukville by boat, the island is in its early stages of development, meaning a cluster of guest houses where the boats arrive with peace and tranquility on the opposite side, especially after the daily visitors leave. We were among the daily visitors yesterday, having trekked an hour in the noonday heat and departed by boat after sunset. The moment we were close enough to water, we dropped all our things and ran straight in. The water was crystal clear with nothing as far as the eye could see, neither fish nor leaves nor debris. There we spent the day, swimming and napping and sunning before endless beach and ocean.

That was just yesterday. Two weeks have past since my last blog update and so much has happened and I’ve written so much in that time! But if no Internet was readily available, I would write on an iPad journal and have since realized the tone of what’s written can be very different. Though unintentional, it seems I ‘speak’ more via blog, versus the stream of consciousness that comes from writing in a journal. Not good or bad, simply observed fact.

It also seems odd to post writings after the fact. I am no longer in the shadows of Angkor Wat, barely containing awe and wonder, no longer on a bus, passing stalls of dried insects, no longer puzzled by the people praying before the Grand Palace in Phnom Penh (which later I realized is for the late King Father’s funeral) and no longer staying in a room with construction on three of the four sides. It also doesn’t make sense that I rewrite about those events, those experiences, because what was typed before is infinitely more authentic with those emotions and thoughts unaffected by time.

Although… some things take time. Thinking back on my short time in Cambodia, the day spent in S21 and the killing fields near Phnom Penh is among the heaviest memories. The genocide at the hands of Pol Pot happened only some three decades ago! On a beach in Sihanoukville two days earlier, speaking to people we’d just met, we all agreed on the feeling of distance between us and history even though it’s really not so far. Even a generation before us, our parents, perhaps older siblings, have experienced the history we can only interact with in museums and books. Visiting the sites brings us closer and even then, we’re only affected a fraction in comparison to those who’ve lived through these events. S21 prison and detention center stands in seemingly a typical neighborhood in the Cambodian capital and only the barbed wire among its walls gives it away for what it once was. At the beginning of its existence, they were school buildings – a high school and a primary school. That was one of the most haunting facts to me. The day of and immediately after, it seemed we were walking through a dream, or a nightmare, seeing the unchanged brick cells where a person can’t extend their arms and later, seeing the bits of bone rising to the surface as we walked among burial sites for countless, nameless thousands. A heavy memory like this takes time and deserves time because the impact these places have on their visitors is far beyond an immediate rush of emotion.

How lucky are we?

The wind, the road, the bus and the kindness of strangers

I’m on a bus right now from Chiang Rai to Chiong Khong in northern Thailand, with the plan of heading into Laos later today. The windows are open and the journey is bumpy, so no journal today – iPad instead. A part of me wants to focus on the scenes flying past the opened windows. We’re on a rural country road, sometimes passing fields, sometimes passing homes and sometimes passing long stretches of untamed nature. We’ve just stopped to let a person off somewhere along the way, I’ve no idea where, only a sudden surprise at the silence from a lack of wind and engine. It wasn’t even a minute, we’re on our way again. Palm trees. Wood piles. Rusty gates. Finally, a person! She has a stall by the side of the road. Fields again. I smell something burning. Wind again… with an empty, twisting road ahead.

The journey was scheduled for yesterday, but we took the 3pm bus from Chiang Mai which arrived half an hour too late for the last bus to Chiong Khong. So, we spent a night at a recommended guesthouse and lazed away. I can’t help but think of the alternatives. What if we had left earlier yesterday, or today, or taken a different bus? The difference comes from our state of mind and the time left behind. Without richness in money, I have only the richness of time.

Though I still have a terrible temper, getting very angry very quickly, a week of reflection and peace in Chiang Mai has reinforced my conviction that anger is useless. The hostel where we stayed seemed sheltered from the world. It had a swing and a hammock and sold fresh, cold coconuts and giant, heaping fruit salads. The people were incredibly friendly and some visitors came back year after year. It was a week well-spent. I appreciate their kindness so much more now, after being shocked and screamed at on the streets of Chiang Rai last night.

A friend and I had sat down to dinner at a roadside stall, foolishly not asking for the price beforehand. After our meal, the stall woman quoted a high foreigner price, knowing there wasn’t much we could do about it after the fact. 170 baht for a roadside meal in Chiang Rai? I’ve spent 60 baht for two people in Bangkok, a much more expensive city. We asked her for a breakdown of the price which she provided by snapping at us and jabbing her finger towards the dishes on our table. Then she freaked the fuck out. She started yelling, right there on the streets. Her English wasn’t very good so she kept screaming and repeating herself. I asked her to calm down and she started giving me the bitch eye and switched to Thai. I imagine she has a very colourful vocabulary and wish she understood all the things I wanted to say to her, naturally nothing pleasant. She made such a scene that a passerby stopped to assure us that the majority of Thai people weren’t like her. We paid. We left. She followed a few steps and continued her muttered curses. We passed the bitchstall on the way back and she swore loudly when I walked by. How is it that such a person can exist?

The events are now an interesting anecdote in my life and I can’t be bothered to wish her stomach ulcers. Karma will likely take care of that. If I’d met with the same situation at an earlier point in life, I would have smacked her upside the head with little hesitation, never mind fighting in foreign lands is just a terrible, stupid idea. Or at least shouted back and imprint on her mind that travelers aren’t people she should mess with. But I’d like to think I’m just a bit more mature now, reflecting on the events a day after. My lesson from this? Appreciate the kindness of strangers and never take it for granted. And always know the price before ordering, always. The bitchstall is located on the east side of Chiang Mai’s main road, north of the bus station. The first thing she asks is if you speak Thai.

The bus has stopped again and a lot more people are getting on. The seats are small, very small. My knee hits the seat ahead and there’s barely room for my bag beside me. Hopefully more people get off. It’s been an hour and sixteen minutes thus far.

Kyoto, thoughts and an onsen

Lots of wandering around on a semi-swollen ankle and roaming thoughts about nothing in particular. Since the beginning of September, I have been in Tokyo for 8 days, Osaka for 1.5 and now in Kyoto and will be here until the 17th of September.

Currently in Japan, it’s 1:18am, Wednesday September 12th. Instead of sleeping as I should for a big travel day tomorrow, I’m in front of my laptop – thinking too much. It didn’t even register that ‘yesterday’ was September 11th. The – gasp, debate – September 11th. I probably wouldn’t have realized 9/11 had just passed if it weren’t for all the related tweets. Instead of thinking of the tragedy, September 11th, 2012 was reduced to ‘Tuesday’ in my mind. I woke up early, had breakfast, enjoyed conversation, learned about various Japanese preserved vegetables, visited Fushimi Inari shrine, got lost, went to see monkeys then turned myself into a prune in an onsen. On just a Tuesday.

Tired now since I woke up at 7:30 in the morning… but there are thoughts I want to remember. For example, always sit up straight and walk straight and maintain good posture. That’s important. Have healthy eating habits and work on portion control! Also, must remember to bring sketchbook and art-things while traveling at an onsen pace. It’s okay not to see everything and have everything checked off. Remember where you’ve been and where you will go – next time.

People are funny. Always have pen and paper ready for that hilarious conversation. Breathe deeply. Go to an onsen. Go to sleep…

In the meantime, cheers to “On Being Nothing” and Correcting Creativity: The Struggle for Eminence”.