Saturday, 29 November 2008

pink, fluffy nightmares of the soul

I set off to find transport to get to the border of China. Being a person who does not plan things too much that involved a little bit of walking aimlessly around, following conflicting directions from locals as to where a bus station might be. Eventually I find a place where a few vans were waiting to go out to the border, Boten. I pay for a seat in one of them and wait around for something to happen. There whilst waiting for something to happen I notice a young Chinese woman for some reason she caught my eye....... no, I was not particularly attracted to her just something about her that I found interesting that I could not pin point but it kept me watching, like a movie that you cannot decided if it is good or bad but you want to keep watching to see what the end will be like. I did not see the end to this movie past or present and I saw no conclusion to my interest here and now, so I forced myself to change the channel and watch something else instead, like crisp packets blowing in the wind, a dog pissing up the tyre of a car, a man kicking a dog!

I take a look at my watch again, just a few minutes advanced from the last time I looked; Ok then I carry on Chinese girl watching.....

So it was her who finally broke the ice and leant over my shoulder to look at the photos I was flicking through on my camera, she had sat down behind me on the same ride. She said something and I jumped slightly not expecting my personal space to be invaded from behind like that and that`s how we met, so we chatted and quickly caught up on who what where and why, it was an instantly open and comfortable encounter, she was a writer, of love stories apparently and she had been travelling around Laos and was now returning back to China with no major plan for a month or so and we seem to be travelling pretty much in the same direction, sounds like a good love story in the making I entertained to myself, but for now just happy for the encounter, again it was good timing not having been to China before I thought it could be nice to have local guidance for a few days until I get the feel of the place, and she appeared in the form of Watsumei. A bubbly, crazy, chatty, Chinese travelling buddy, and she was a real help with the language barrier for sure and a wealth of local information, sometimes its like something decides for me at times: OK now you need a translator and guide for this bit, and it invents a situation for me!

We travelled together for a few days and all was very interesting until one day she decided to buy a bright pink baby chicken, only one dollar she said.........hmmmmm OK ten out of ten for cuteness and weirdness but this thing became a nightmare, it just would not stop chirping, such a small thing how can it make such an annoying, ear piercing, relentless noise like that.

We decided to go window shopping to pass some time whilst we waited for our bus. It came with us chirping relentlessly; we sat and tried to relax and watch the scenery, it came with us and continued to chirp; we ate lunch it came with us, I put it in my hat, still it kept chirping and chirping and chirping. I tried to feed it, water it, stroke it, talk to it, begged it, and prayed to it to please stop chirping!

I put back into my bag and closed the top, chirp, chirp, chirp.....hang on why am I getting all the sibling grief here? OK normally when I meet a girl I get to carry bags and maybe have to put up with a bit of boring shopping, shoes, handbags, but now its chicken rearing!

I decided I would have to beak the news to her.

"Watsumie, know, you can`t keep it, you know, it`s lovely, pink and cute and fluffy and everything but it will drive us, no! it will drive me insane"

Her eyes looked at mine knowingly, something had to be done.

That evening back at the guest house it had been chirping itself into a small fluffy frenzy, Jesus what to do with this thing? I scooped it up in my hands and quickly ran round to the room next to us and introduce myself to two European girls.

" Hi girls. Look what I have its the ideal travelling accessory, cute and pink isn`t it ?

Look you know we are in a hurry and need someone we can trust to take care of this special pink its yours take it. thank you, goodnight......

Woooosh……I was out of there hoping it would appeal to their fluffy, pink compartment of their brains.......but, oh no, two minutes later, knock way, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp.....arrrrgh this is like some twisted, tweety pie Halloween night special, it was back....... this thing is going to send me over the edge......I thought about it for a moment, but then I realised I had no more sleeping pills left!

Finally Watsumei took on her part of the parental role and took it to the guest house owner as she noticed they had kids so either it will get hugged to death or annoy them so much it will end up in some Chinese won ton soup.

Crazy Chinese girl, dazed, pink feathers of the mind as I float upon impossible impassible roads to Lhasa.

I meditate upon the journey ahead, over a thousand kilometers of uncertainty. We go to Kunming tomorrow and meet up with some of Watsumeis friends, wondering if this will be a wise move as I might be seriously outnumbered and risk being drown in a sea of 1 dollar multicolored chirping frenzy of avian fledglings!

From now on the way ahead is going to get colder, and crazier maybe! but I got to go with this crazy Chinese roller coaster ride. This is what it was all about, the uncertainty, the adventure.

We book our tickets to Dali, 17 hour bus ride from here to the higher altitudes of the north west, then after there I plan to get to Shangri-La and check out the possibilities of getting a bus ride to Lhasa, but speaking to many people now they are all shaking their heads and telling me things that I don`t want to hear, for a foreigner travelling alone, no way. Its impossible they say, you have to sign up for a tour, join a group and pay silly money, no way not for me I go with the one bit of advice which was to just jump onto a bus and play dumb if anyone asks you any questions....yeah that`s more like my style, I'll just wing it! Just have to get as far as I can and see how the land lies when I get there, or I`ll just walk....

I stayed a total of 2 nights in Dali, leaving with memories of strange relations and stranger nights in dizzy Chinese bars.
It seems a very easy place here to get caught up into the night life, rich with Chinese culture, visual stimulation and everyone is so laid back, relaxed, happy, friendly, smiling, smiling, smiling and........ stoned......... all the time, its hard not to appear or feel a little uptight compared to these spaced out star children 60s flashbacks.
I have to admit I had my one night of weakness, feeling a little lonely after being blown out by Watsumei for reasons I never really got to the bottom of, just another movie I guess that I did not get to see the end of. In the end I presumed it to be some sort of post chicken depression, pah......! so I left her with her friends and I came across a bar where I had been in the previous night and met the owner, another, bubbly, chatty, smiley, crazy Chinese woman of colorful character, but more importantly she had no chickens!

I walked in to a empty bar that night where I saw she was sat alone, so I casually sat down at the same table, she looked up and instantly went into over animation mode, one of these people who just speak exactly what is happening in their mind without any filtering taking place. I like this and so consequentially we chatted, joked, laughed, and talked and also with her mother who then went off and cooked us all food. We ate, talked, laughed then out came the red wine...oh oh, that red devil, my brain tried to warn me but by this time my lower brain was not listening, he was too caught up with the atmosphere and feeling fully immersed in Chinese culture and fantasizing about a little Chinese romance. A little more wine maybe? An internal voice said, another spliff maybe? no, no, no, no......and no, I mean errr, I shouldn`t.

Now I have Satan on one shoulder and my guardian angel on the other, Have a joint, drink some wine, its just a bit of fun, go on what`s the harm?

The other angel tells me I will regret it tomorrow and that I will end up losing control, getting totally drunk and waking up with a bad head and most of my money missing along with important parts of my already limited memory!

I stopped and thought for a least a second about it all.

Hmmmmm morality, responsibility? arrrrrrrr it was too difficult to think right now, so I let my lower brain take me to Shangri-La......take me to Shangri-La la la laal alaaal alalaaa.

Another bottle of wine, another spliff...that guardian angel now a distant echo overpowered by the heady atmosphere, laughing and joking....that red faced devil now taking a full, front seat, fuel injected highway ride to hell......ha ha haaaaaa!Well hell is alright after all! I think to myself, at least it will be warm, the wine is good, this spliff is making me smile like a Chinese Cheshire cat and this Asian demoness looks harmless enough, we just having fun, she`s cute, funny, happy, good body .......hmmmmmmm its been a while you know, good body language going on, or is it just the red wine in my head?...... I cant tell, wooooh hey! I got to stop talking to myself now she might notice.

Ok dancing now flowing with the music in a completely empty bar deep inside China just the two of us, I watch her and realize she is completely hat stand crazy, Lucy in the sky gone with diamonds......and she`s gone, gone, gone..........I take a mental photograph and save it for later, just too weird at the moment to think about it all, then I select some more songs and turn the music up full, we both explore these vibrations our bodies dancing, testing each others space, she`s like some feline shadow, shifting from woman to cat, twisting, purrring, hmmmmmm.......Meeeeooow she says, and grabs my arm

"we go party now, you be my party buddy for tonight"

I follow her out into the street and enter another bar now feeling a little out of my comfort zone as I walk around a little dazed amongst the purple haze and slanted eyes, I suddenly find myself wanting to be somewhere else, maybe an internal warning bell or some other unfair instinct decided it was time to go. I quickly come round to my senses something tells me to abort, to get out.....I discretely left along with my remaining brain cells and left her there as a pleasant memory of laughing and dancing with someone I hardly new but the warmth will remain with me forever, very hard not to respond to such open people, it felt good and I survived another day.

The following day I moved on, eager to make progress northwards to arrive in Lijiang. Within its busy city lies the old part of town consisting of a maze of ancient buildings, mostly now souvenir shops, restaurants and rustic fairy tale guest houses, a real party for the eyes to feast upon being at its best at night illuminated, kaleidoscope of colors and movement, Chinese lanterns and attractive displays of fresh food, a real walk through fairy tale town, and yes lots of those damn Chinese bars.
I climbed up the nearest hill to get a better view of the surroundings and mapped it all in my mind. Tiger leaping Gorge was about 3 hours from here, I had heard about this and decided it would be a nice place to start walking where the Himalayan waters had cut a deep valley on its way down south. This was to be the first little walkabout 2 to 3 day hike, then after I was hoping to find some trails that I could follow to Shangri-La and on to Dequin or as far north as possible in hope to be able to get a bus ride to Lhasa. I am not the sort of person who likes to plan things out too much or research as it leads to disappointed when things don`t go to plan or you read things that might put you off from trying, so this time all I had was a large scale map of Asia and decided to start here, go there, then here and hopefully end up there, packing my rucksack with enough things to be completely independent, tent, cooker, dried food, some mountain equipment, maps and a head full of adventure.

There are tribal people here in this region called the Naxi people once a nomadic race living very similar to the red Indians of America, they were great caretakers of the planet with a wealth of natural knowledge that they lived in complete harmony with their surroundings, only taking what they needed, always replacing and keeping the balance in order. They have their own special language similar to hieroglyphics, pictorial representations of ideas and concepts for the description of daily life, over the centuries it had become more refined and eventually evolved into the Chinese characters used today, very interesting to learn some of these characters and to understand the pictorial roots, very beautiful and poetic descriptions. The Naxi only obtain daily necessities and try their best to keep the ecological balance, they consistently uphold a primitive Shangri-la-spirit (harmony between human and nature) I like to know about these sort of people, these so called savages as we once referred to, we have much to learn still from them, things that I am sure we all used to know long ago but since have got lost along the road of progress, our over complicated, plastic fantastic, wasteful, successful lifestyles keep us slaves not liberated as we thought they would

Friday, 28 November 2008

Over the Meekong into Laos

After the train I wasted no time to head towards the border of Laos, so I quickly located and got onto the relevant bus.
Hours passed uneventfully apart from when a Thai man came staggering over and sat himself down next to me. He tried to introduced himself, or at least that`s what I thought he was doing but maybe he was just waving his can of Chang beer around a lot and dribbling, he was carrying a small baby who also introduced himself by wobbling and dribbling a lot, both were now dribbling very well and came closer to try to bridge the gap between east and west, but maybe there is not enough saliva to describe such a huge divide in cultures, so he used his best native slurring instead, my Thai is very basic at the best of times but is completely useless against Chang beer dialogue, so he dribbled and his baby dribbled and clawed all over both of us whilst he just smiled, drank, dribbled then spat out some words...."dee sanuk, koaw jai?"...."good fun, you understand?" eeeeek...... why me I think to myself, always I seem to attract the drunk and the dribbling, no one else seemed to notice him, just normal for them I suppose, Thai man drunk in charge of infant nothing special, just a test I remind myself its just showing me things, OK I get the picture but can we move on from this now. I tried not to judge too much and tried to humour the infant, feeling sorry for him, it`s not his fault not his choice, then shortly after they got up and left at the next stop.

I finish the last few spoonfuls of my Kow Tom soup, a thin soup stock with rice and minced pork, garlic, chilli warming and appeasing the morning’s demands of my stomach. I watch the early morning mist shape shift above the surface of the Mekong river, looking like a scene from apocalypse now where soon we are to be crossing, not by search and destroy tactics but by little ferry boats, basically long wooden canoes with car engines strapped to them, which sped quickly to the other side eager to ferry more waiting tourists. Regretting the early start now as I look upon the hoards of others trying to pass through this tiny little outpost, so I resigned myself to a lengthy wait. Lots of queuing, bits of paper, passports and money exchanging hands, finally the formalities over with, I headed out following the general direction of tourist jeeps all going to Luangnamta I presumed, but after asking a few bemused looking smiling faces, they gestured the way and Sabadee me on my compass read east with a bit of north, so we are on the way the first few steps through Laos and on towards China....
I was hoping to have found the way out on some dusty old track, romantically hacking a trail through the jungle and quaint timeless villages, well maybe a few years ago it was like that but now it was a tarmac highway. Sporadic villages scattered along the way, rustic wooden structures built on high stilts buzzing with village life, shy looks and excited faces peer out from every house, pointing children giggle as I plod past them with my small guest house on my shoulders. I try to imagine what fascinates them with my presence, the way I look, I wonder what it looks like to them? I look at them no different to me just different situations and opportunities of life, we are all the same.

The day started to get very warm, heat radiating off from the melting tarmac and with over 170 km to go the romance of walking looked like it could wear off pretty quickly, but I reminded myself I am on the way now, just relax, don’t rush it all has a bearing on the journey, so I relax into a steady pace and think about camping in the jungle somewhere, to be re united at last with mother nature.
Finally I ended the day with about 65km under the belt, thanks to a couple of motorbike lifts, which was a good start and very satisfied, so I found a quiet place to set camp for the night, with cool running water from a stream which was a real pleasure to wash the days sweat away, refreshed myself and feeling organized I sat smug within with my little camp site. I found a place to sit under a small bamboo shelter and watched a flamingo pink sky turn into night. Slowly one by one the first few stars appeared. I meditated upon this scene, listening to the new sounds, smells and sensations of my first night out in the jungle. I lit a fire to complete the ritual that I felt would appease some ancient instincts of warmth and security. I did feel warm and secure and wrapped in mother natures arms that night she gently cradled me to sleep.

I awoke in the morning, refreshed and invigorated and gulped down the clean air to savor the morning freshness, it was cool and damp with dew soaked grass, tent completely soaked with it, so I took my time and allowed the sun to dry everything a little before setting off.

The traveling Gods decided to lend a hand today just as the road was getting more hot, hilly and less and less interesting to be walking on, a pick up stopped just ahead of me with a cargo of Chinese looking people, bags, rice, chickens, clothes all crammed together like a human jumble sale, they practically insisted on giving me a lift when I told them where I was heading, so I decided to accept as there will plenty of other opportunities for walking, just go with the flow. I wedged myself in within the jumble of bodies, bags and smiles and settled into what became a bumpy, dusty ride, but I was quickly grateful as the road became more and more elevated with miles and miles of tarmac twisting through the jungle, funny how things seem to happen just at the right time and certainly would not be the last.

Finally, stiff and slightly bruised we arrived in Lluangnamta, I picked a direction which was basically up or down a long road with non significant buildings, shacks and stalls. I stopped at the nearest place to eat to get my bearings and a full belly of fuel. Feeling more relaxed now I decided not to push on any further, so I took myself off walking around the local villages to get my bearings and take in the atmosphere, a very peaceful and simple place, like being back in medieval times, I felt like I was in a film set. I drift past it all as though on a timeless escalator ride and engage the plentiful smiles.

I camped that night between two houses on some waste ground and emerging from my tent in the morning I noticed a small audience gathering from the locals, not shy to stare at us like we are with each other, so I carry on my performance for them and go through my morning routine of cleaning, feeding then packing everything away, I 'Sabaidee' to them, wave and smile and go on my way, wonder what they are thinking?

Thursday, 27 November 2008

train to Chiang Mai

 Now I am waiting for the train to depart that bridges the gap to all the possibilities ahead, new faces, different places, strange situations that no doubt I will get into. I pause a little on this just to recap from a previous experience, hmmmm yes must not do that this time, no definitely that will not happen..avoid monkeys....yes, this is a good one. I nearly lost a finger to one of these cute, vicious little things in Thailand last year, now I have a severed tendon that needs sewing back together when I have a free 6 months or so of doing nothing......I entertained myself this way for some time whilst waiting for some movement, then slowly came around to the present.
I had been in Bangkok now for over a week getting visas and equipment together, now I was sitting here waiting for the train to leave for Chiang mai, but already loaded with a head full of sleepless nights and a good coating of Bangkok`s finest filth inside my delicate alveoli`s. Big cities were never my thing, with that and spending too long in the south of France I think all that clean air had done me no good, it has made me weak, vulnerable and susceptible to filth I think. Hence the pollution quickly got the better of me, sore throats followed, then fever and hacking up big lumps of Bangkok for 3 consecutive nights.
I was feeling pretty drained in the end so I decided to give into medication. I went to a pharmacy and asked for some sleeping pills. They said "these are velly good, take two you will sleep no problem” Ok so I took 4 to be sure and yes I went out like a light but woke up 2 hours later dripping with fever and spinning around my bed like some possessed horror movie extra. Sleep had sidestepped me again for the fourth night. I hoped the train would rock me to sleep tonight.
The train started to move and I revelled in this feeling just as the airplane engages its thrust, we are off, here we go again. I never get bored of this. This feeling to be in transit, to be in motion, to be getting closer to somewhere, to something...... the uncertainty.......but now I really want to sleep, please.......
Amazing how life comes up with these situations how creative it can be when you are vulnerable in some way, kind of immature and spiteful at times it can be, so this time it seems I am to be the only one who has the dodgy light fitting directly above me strobbing in a perfect way that would cause the strongest mind to go into a seizure, with that and synchronized with the manic 3 year old opposite, complemented the orchestra of annoyance designed to irritate a sleep deprived individual with.....hmmmm yes thank you life, I can see how funny it must be to you.

Finally I managed to sleep a little and woke at around the train chugging along happily completely un-phased by annoying light fittings and hyperactive children.
Thick green jungle foliage now casually brushed past the windows, real banana leaves wave at me playfully, and my excitement hormones duplicated themselves in anticipation to breathe this heady tropical concoction, perfume for my soul at last.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bangkok fever

I left France on the 19th November at around 19:19am, on board a flight bound for Bangkok in seat No 19a already an interesting sequence of numbers, which gave me a sense of significance, but what, why, when and how I still have not worked that out yet. I like to take notice of these little details in life as I am sure it comes up with these things just to test who is paying attention or not........

Life likes people with a sense of adventure; it comes out from hiding to meet us half way.

So now it begins. I am feeling very lucky to be travelling again. Since the first time just a few years ago when some close friends of mine convinced me I should go to Sri Lanka with them. I had been having some bad turn of events in life and was feeling a little lost, dazed and confused, which was probably due to the great French red wine that I had discovered, found comfort in and became very happy with that year, many a bottle sat listening to my stories of true happiness and despair without judging me, it was a perfect relationship for a while, in a way they were like all the elegant women that I had dreamt of, they had such lovely bodies, perfectly formed, smooth curves, dark complexion, long neck and no head,  which was perfect because they never talked back. Well my imagination never did need much to set it off spinning down some rabbit hole to appear in another world.
That year was a bit of a blur I must say which started to disappoint me wasting time like this, so with that and a little work that I was fortunate to pick up, I was occupied enough until something came along to inspire me further......well those first few steps into a totally different culture of strange sounds, sights, smells, and real banana trees instead of the plastic ones in the supermarket, real fruit and vegetables that did not taste like plastic ones in the supermarket, certainly aroused some dormant enthusiasm cells. I am eternally grateful to some close friends Clive and Sabine for helping me take these first exciting new steps towards the light again, but maybe the travelling has become just another vice to substitute the other ones!