Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Year on - 8th July 2011

A year on.

12 months ago i was at Buddahfields festival, England, pretty much right now... the sounds of summertime england all around. The chattering of my friends around the fire side, the smell of the chai boiling under the tipi canvas in Pachamama's, The touch of my lovers hand and the heart ache of leaving. Every face i looked at was a face i was saying goodbye to. I was afraid, really afraid. Leaving everything i knew, everything i had spent years slowly building, community, friendships, a relationship... and a reputation as a performer and artist too... and leaving ... walking away from it... for what? why? for what reason? I didn't know. I asked myself, my lover asked me, my friends asked me... but i did not know... "To pick up a hug from my friend in japan and take it to another mutual friend in new zealand" was the reason i gave... but if course it ran deeper than that. Throughout the confusion and the fear and excitement and apprehension there was only two moments that i doubted what i was about to do...

Moment one was lying in bed not long before i left with my head upon Mikes chest, in a dream. We we trees. Tall ancient trees. We had been cut down and were on the back of a logging truck rushing along a road that was also a river. I felt this deep deep sensation of loss and pain and heart break...true immense heartbreak like i have never felt before... I awoke shaking and sobbing with these words in my head, stuck firm

"I am the heartwood of a tree; and i can not stop crying"

It felt as if they had been imprinted onto the back of my eyelids so every time i blinked that emotion of pure deep heartbreak and powerlessness filled me... I could see that if i were to leave i would be giving up my control of my life, i would be on a road of which i could not determine the end of... and it petrified me.

The second moment was when i got on the bus in Grenoble. I had been standing with mike, he cut a slice of his hair off for me and gave it to me..but my minds eyes was distracting me, afraid the bus would go with out me..of course it wouldn't... i was standing next to it...they never do go without me... but my heart couldn't deal with the goodbye... I got on the bus, sat in my chair and looked out the window and saw straight into mikes eyes, past his face and right into his heart... standing there strong giving nothing but love and support to me..and i broke. I literally felt my whole core had ripped open, I was leaving him, and risking this beautiful thing i had so often taken for granted... and I may never see him again. It dawned on me for the first time, i may never see him again. I jumped up to run out and embrace him, give him my all, tell him everything i had not said in my detachment but as i jumped over the seat next to me the bus driver shouted something at me in German and scowled blocking the doorway, they closed the doors and we were leaving. I cried. I cried for 24 hours. The whole way to Germany. I got out for a moment in Lyon... and this moment... this is the moment that could have changed the course of my life. I was about to get on a bus back to Grenoble... i was so afraid. I took a dice out of my purse, a dice James from Wello had given me... it has 6 faces like any normal dice.. but only two sides were marked, one with "left".... one with "right". "Left i go back, to safety, to Mike; Right i go on to Latvia, to the unknown" It didn't occur to me that 4 sides out of 6 were plain.. i might get no answer at all.... I rolled....

..."Right" ... i took a deep breath and continued on my trip.

If that dice has rolled the other way... i may not be here where i am right now... i may not have seen everything i have between UK and Thailand in the last year.

So here i sit, a year later, In Thailand, where i have been living now for 4 months on a small bay on Koh Phangan island. I have touched my feet upon 13 countries looked into the eyes of possibly millions of people since i jumped onto the truck in Bristol with Mike to hitch through France. I have traveled in trains, cars, trucks, buses, motorbikes, scooters, ships, ferries, longtail boats, rafts; I have walked, run, skipped, hitchhiked, danced and done cartwheels. Taken photos, drawn sketches, written songs and poems and played guitar to ancient gods and spirits in different lands. I've prayed at churches, shrines and temples and crossed too many time zones for me to remember. I have not taken one plane yet... and although i am open to taking a plane if i really feel to in the future... i feel no need to take one yet.

So for an update for those who care to know, the last 4 months. Living on this little bay, the Bay of Love, or Butterfly Bay as i call it (being that there is more species of butterfies here than i have ever seen) I have gone from squatting an abandoned bungalow on a land dispute to house sitting a jungle palace via being taken in by a beautiful family, run out by mafia, sleeping under the stars, in a cave, in dormatories, bungalow hopping my way around the bay. I've fallen in love, I've felt home sick, I've danced and danced and danced... infact i have discovered my dance helping with cacao dance ceremonies, running dance journeys and contanct dance jams as well as rising 4am to dance the sunrise numerous times. I've met people who will stay in my heart forever. A few snap shot memories from the last 4 months to give those of you who have not been to the bay before an idea of my life here though theres way too many to write them all down...

... The first that jumps to me is naked frolicking in the waves with Pink, JJ, Manya, Felix, Ludvig, Adam and the reflections of the stars late night after a Fantuzzi gig... Splashing, screaming, swimming, hugging and embracing the night...

... Sitting on the sands watching the silhouette of a longtail boat pass by as the sun rose with Marina...

... Dressing up at 80's yoga rockstars with EVERYONE for Sebastians birthday.

... Sitting on a rock on the ridge late at night playing music with JJ under the stars

... Walking through the Jungle with Lula, running from the mosquitos to the high view point and reveling in the joy of being so fucking high....on life

... Meeting my dad at the airport as he came to see me for my birthday, and feeling the tears roll down my cheeks as i hugged him.

... Watching Maya spin her hoola hoop as if it had always been part of her form.

... Swimming with the phosphorescence...

... Finding a spiral mandala of 99 butterfly wings and 4 butterflys upon my bed after a weekend away ...

... The storm, the dark damp torrential rain of the storm which penetrated our skins and left a melancholy in all our hearts and snuggling close at night as the rain came through the wall less house, the bars banged in the wind and the dampness settled on my sleeping skin... Sitting with beautiful women in the tea temple singing songs to pass the wetness away...

... The open mic, every thursday, Adam being the MC, Dan being the MC, Me and Megan being joint MC's and the endless heart warming and explosive tallent which seems to have graced in front of my eyes on that stage...

...spending hours with a baby gekko running around my body...

... Standing on stage with a group of open hearted and enthusiastic people and conducting a live improvised song right there on stage after having run a workshop in vocal expression...

oh my gosh i could go on, and on and on and on.... theres so many amazing memories and i shall not be able to put them all here without boring someone sooo i shall keep them in my heart and write them down as they come to me in my books as and when i feel to.

Bats fly into my house every night around my head, they poo on the floor and drop half eaten jungle fruits as i sleep. Gekko's beak box from hidden cracks. Snakes slither un noticed and noticed around the pathways and scorpions appear to remind me of how tender life is and how fragile i am.

I spend my days running creative workshops, freestyle mandala drawing, creative writing, vocal expression and body percussion, jewelry making and putting on films and fun events for the hundreds of people who pass in and out of here.

So here a year after leaving the uk, After facing my fear and jumping into the void and learning that the universe really is there to catch you in one way or another I have no idea where i will be in a years time. Following my original plans i would have arrived in australia 4 months ago, but instead i decided to be present and follow the flow of each day, not be afraid of running out of money (which i did do...and survived!), not be afraid of having no where to sleep (because i always had somewhere to sleep eventualy) not be afraid of being alone (because even the few times i WAS alone... it was only ever for my highest good and growth) and to just enjoy the Here...and the Now. Still i have my moments (usually in tune with my hormones) where i miss England, Wales, the whimsical, wholesome, brown earthy oak edged lands of Apples...and have no doubt i shall return one day...when and how? i dont know... But those lands; i know now, are deeply rooted in me, in every breath i breathe, every beat of my heart.

... Now i am watching a boat pull out of the bay full of people who've each spent about a week here and are leaving now with hearts over flowing with joy, i can see it in their smiles... i only hope each of you are also feeling that joy and pure ecstatic love in your heart for where you are (where ever that is) and if your not i beg of you please ... gift yourself that joy... even if it feels impossible, heartbreaking or scary... deep inside you know where your meant to be and what your meant to be doing... it could be as simple as decided to go for an afternoon walk, or as bizarre as building a bike and cycleing across england ... but if it gives you that joy, the deep inner glowing light which shoots up from your roots through your spine and over your head like sunshine when you think of being in that space... then do it...

... please.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Part 22 - Cambodia to Thailand - jungle temples and BKK.

So its been a long time since I put to page my journey. Nearly 3 months I would say and the longer a I leave it the harder it becomes to sit at a screen and compile my thoughts.

Where did I leave you? I guess it was somewhere in south eastern Cambodia, with the dry burning forests, Khmer smiles and the Rouge scars of a recent history now glittered up with a new wave of tourist opportunities. Cambodia hit me hard and I fell in love with the people... however I didn’t stay long, in fact it was just about 3 weeks after arriving that I found myself crossing the border to Thailand where I am now, almost 3 months later.
I spent about 5 days at the Nature Lodge in South East Cambodia slightly disgruntled at what I found there...I was feeling short of money and looking for the familiar sensation of roots culture and hippies I left behind so many months before in Europe...but here again I found myself in backpacker world where everyone had “done” this country or that and was “doing” Asia before “doing” India and had already “done” China...a terminology I’ve noticed slipping from my own mouth in the past which when I think about it makes me feel a bit cheap and dirty, as if my experience of a country could be likened to that of a quick shag... The time to settle down somewhere and rekindle my bright spirit and love for travel was fast approaching I could feel...I had hoped Nature Lodge might have been that place but I was wrong, so onward I went. I discovered a friend of mine from Brighton days was currently in Siam Reap with his girlfriend and her baby so leaving the land of $5 a day push bike rentals (which compared to the $1 a day id seen everywhere else I found quite steep) I boarded a little bus back towards the Mekong and past, up to Siam Reap... now so may months later I barely remember this journey, I’m sure I befriended someone or another which made the hours go past a lot quicker but soon enough I landed in Seam Reap and found my familiar friends from the Apple Lands.
We spent the next few days in Seam Reap, swimming in the hotels swimming pool with the baby and walking the city streets past the bars and night clubs drinking our fruit smoothies by night, a luxury. We took a day trip out one day to Angkor Watt in the glaring heat of the day we rode with out friendly tuktuk driver around the ancient temples. The admition to the site was $20 and I’d previously decided that as I’m ‘suddenly’ on a minimum budget (I think by this point I was down to a couple of hundred pounds left) it was out of my price range. However I’d mentioned to my dad that I wouldn’t go and he said “what!? Hell I’ll give you $20 to go, you must!” ( actuality he contacted me and gifted me with 500 pounds upon hearing that I was getting to a point where I was considering even going home because of my lack of funds. Wow what a gift (or a great way to keep me away longer haha), and full of gratitude I promised myself I wouldn’t waist it away. fact I’ve done pretty well and still have it 3 months later but how that happened is later on in the story, and also completely laced with gratitude and thanks.)
So! Angkor Watt. Wow... what a magic land, despite my slight pain in my heart at paying $20 for one day (I must point out the pain in my heart would not have existed if the money was going to the Khmer people, however I had heard from a few sources that it had been bought out by an oil company so all profits to this ancient sacred site would go straight towards a money guzzling corporation... to finish my original mention of the price this was the main reason why I had considering not going at all.) I could not deny it was well worth the trip. These ancient temples all hand carved and compiled so so many years ago, having survived extreme heat and rains and the onslaught of the Khmer Rouge still stood tall and strong. We saw only 4 of the temples in the one day we had to look around and each of them shone in their own unique way, beautiful carvings of dancing girls and Buddhas, the Hinduism and Buddhism mixed in a big melting pot of stone. However there was only one of them I truly wanted to see. The name of it slips my mind right now but I remember watching Baraka when I was 18, I saw clips of it jumbled in with a million other breath breaking images of our planet and it griped my heart. Here in what was for so many many years thick jungle stood a temple built by man of stone...and as time passed, and man passed, jungle returned. The Nature grew over wall and roof, embracing stone and rock to create a true temple of trunk and tree. Its brings to mind the line from a Dizraeli song “I’d rather one tree than a forest of cathedrals” (Good God, Dizraeli) So today where once man would have come to worship father gods they come to admire mother nature, pupils wide in the low light taking in every single glimpse of her awe inspiring beauty they can... for without her this is just another temple amongst the others...

The next day we boarded a bus to Thailand. The northern boarder of Cambodia and Thailand was currently having a little tantrum with each other over the ownership of a temple and its surrounding land, so while children threw their toys into each others prams risking the lives of innocents the tourist and foreigners took the southern border crossings until it died down. At the border my English friends (Simon and Victoria) were whisked through swiftly out of the heat with the baba and I was not to see them again until southern Thailand as I crossed at a slower pace befriending some people along the way.

Here I was, in Thailand... having not been here since I was 3 years old its was a strange “Coming back to” and “first time here” feeling as I got into a small air conditioned mini bus with 5 others (quite a luxury compared to the rickety mini buses in Cambodia packed full with the back door open and people hanging out sitting on the luggage). I blinked and I was in Bangkok. Koh San road. The noise penetrated my brain, the energy quickened my heart rate, no joke. I felt an excited buzz in me as I bid fare well to the minibus friends and went to change my dollars and buy myself some noodles. Strolling along in the early evening with backpack, guitar and noodles I got the feeling I would see someone I knew here pretty soon amongst the trance music and street stalls and sure enough there they were. Amaya and Joshua, my two walking friends from northern Laos who I had journeyed with up the Nam Ou river to meet Lilly a month before. They had been birthday celebrating in the park today and had neon paint and glitter streaked across their faces. Greeted with smiles and a quick “how’s it been” they were swallowed up again into the crowd within minutes and I turned back alone to digest my noodles and this fast pace place. I had been told about a hostel with dorm beds for 50baht a night (about 1 pound) but not knowing where it was or how to get there I grabbed a tuktuk to take me, a surprising challenge when the place was on the other side of the river and it was rush hour traffic. The tuktuk stopped outside the Overstay; a squat like bar and hostel where I was to make my home for the night. This was on one level a wicked place and on another a complete shock. Reminiscent of The Magpie back on stokes croft in Bristol it had that party squat vibe with paintings and creativity scattered around the place and bunk beds built of doors and scrap wood. In actuality if I had been in the mood for city night partying and there hadn’t have been bed bugs I would have been fine here but the contrast of the quietness of Cambodia to the buzz of Bangkok had drilled a migraine into my head and by the next afternoon I was scrambling to the train station to head south the Koh Phangan where I had heard rumors of other Brightonites hiding out in the tropical climates for the winter. As i was swiftly packing my back to catch the night train down to the south of Thailand i spied a friendly French girl alone on a bunk bed and asked if she’d like to come with me. She said yes pretty much instantly and packed her stuff too. Here was my new Travel buddy, Aurora (actually her name was slightly different but I cant work out how to spell it so the northern lights she shall be).
We were to take a bus to the train station and book tickets onto the overnight train out of big city and head south across Thailand towards the Islands. As we walked along the platform i had a good vibe about this long journey up ahead. We had saved money by not paying for a bed but deciding to take a seated carriage instead. As we stepped into the carriage I saw why my feeling was good. There was one of my Cambodia to Bangkok bus journey friends alongside another south American guy with dreads and a guitar! What a perfect crew for a long train ride, aside from us the carriage was empty and as we shot through the night we leant out the windows of the restaurant cart letting the drunken bustle behind buzz and the rice paddies and my screams were dragged into the past. Later that night I perched at the end of the carriage where there was no door to the outside world and sat with my legs hanging out of the train, palm trees and fields flying past at high speed and my heart was full of ecstasy.. pure joy for being alive. Moments where suddenly the world would disappear and a sheer wall of brush would be flat up against my face rushing past reminding me of the delicacy of life...

....I let all worries be left outside with the night and my heart sailed its way south through Thailand.

I am going to break this up into pieces so I will finish here :)

Love and light to you all from my Jungle Home.


Monday, 14 February 2011

Part 21 - Cambodia

Entering Cambodia brought with it a sensation of darkness and fear i was not expecting. Boarders always make me uneasy but this one was full of unexpected "additional fees" which when i challenged them I was told i would not be allowed my stamps without paying. Then an hour or two's wait on the other side of the boarder for the bus to decided it wasn't to continue. Here i had time to ponder the heat which it felt had doubled since northern Laos. As the bus took Conrad and I down I looked out the window at the changing scenery. Here the flame trees were more than just bright dots amongst the forrest, they were the only colour amongst the dust. Brown was set against brown broken only by the black of the scorched earth which connected the trunks of the forests. Some stumps still smoking. occasionally just a white line remained of what would once have been a fallen tree, like the white lines of a crime scene mapping out the dead. We headed East for Ratanakiri Province where where had heard there was nice waterfalls and a volcanic crater lake. My sence of darkness didn't leave me until i met the Khmer people. Wow. What a people they are.

We spent a few nights in Ratanakiri cycling to see waterfalls and swimming in the lake. It was a nice area but nothing which jumped out to me. To be honest the Mekong has stolen part of my heart and being so far from it amongst this barren dusty landscape felt a little strange.

We headed back towards the Mekong and went to an Island near Krattie where we spent two nights sleeping at a home stay. This was my first homestead and here i saw to true beauty and shine and light of the Khmer people. In the house we were staying in there was a lady and at least one daughter, a husband and grandma. Grandma could have been over 100 and spent most of her time lying/sitting on the floor of the house avoiding the sun. She was hunchbacked and bald with long dangly buddah ear lobes. We cycled round the Island, the sand dunes between the grasslands and the mekong took 10 minutes to walk over under the scorching mid day sun. I watched Conrad disappear into the quavering air for his refreshing dip in the Mekong and felt that my shady tree was perhaps the best place for me.

The afternoon was spent surrounded by a group of locals (none of whome spoke any English) with the guitar. Some of them were incredibly drunk on a homebrew being ladled out of a large paint bucket and danced around and sang noises along with the guitar. I made up songs for the many kids which had garnered using my lilted Khmer and we partied with them until the sun went down.

This was my last day with Conrad and the next morning we took the boat back to the mainland and bid each other goodbye as i boarded a minibus off to Mondlekiri back in the east to a place I had seen a poster for called "Nature Lodge" where i was hoping to rest for a while in a hammock after all the moving. He was off to the big city. It was a bit of a sad goodbye, the end of an era but soon I was whizzing across Cambodia in a minivan with over 30 people crushed in (the boot open and people hanging out the back).

Now I just need to leave a place here to focus on something other than my trip, as in this one week in Cambodia i have been filled with a fascination and almost obsession with recent Cambodian history. The fear of Land Mines i guess is what sparked it off. A land where even over 10 years after the production and planting of the mines was stopped people are still dieing. On average 30 people a month die in a war when the country is supposed to be in a time of peace. Some of the people who die were not even born when the war was actually happening. I think of Princess Di coming out here in the 90's to help with the Landmine Aid and how brave everyone viewed her to be (and im not denying that) however I can not help but think when i look into the eyes of these smiling beautiful Khmer people that the true bravery lays there, within them. Behind their smiles where the pain of a nation ripped, torn, raped and murders still sits. On the bus to Mondlekiri I read the book "first they killed my father" by Ung Leung. This is an autobiography of a girl who at the age of 5 years old was witnessing things i pray no one would ever have to witness again. I cried with almost every page. I call to anyone who remembers what it is to be a child to read this book and see the pure strength and soul which lies in the Kymer people and the horrific acts of hell which were placed upon them. This is not ancient history, this is the history of the people who's eyes I look into daily. This book is not the story of one girl, its the story of a whole nation of people told from the mouth of one girl. It is perhaps the best and most heart breaking books i have ever read. After finishing this book i then went on to read "the killing fields" a novel based on the true story of an american journalist during the Kymer Rouge take over of Cambodia. I have got half way through and have had to stop for a while as I can not lay my head to sleep without feeling the pain of millions of starving people ring through my heart. The thought of watching my father watch me starve to death while the whelk family daily harvest rice being shipped off to pay for weapons, watching my mother full of fear for her life daily, seeing my siblings die from eating poisons just to escape the hell on earth, the though of my family being ripped from me and tortured or burried alive all in the name of an ignorant revolution which proceeded in the space of 3 years, 8 months and 20 days to kill 1.7 million innocent people. Some people were murdered just for the crime of wearing glasses, having been to school, having been privileged enough to have tasted chocolate in their life, even for having lighter skin than the ideal peasant people of the Khmer Rouge's perfect nation image.

I could go one for pages about this with the passion and fire in my heart but i shall stop here. However I encourage you to read "first they killed my father".

Now after a few days in "the nature Lodge" (where they do indeed have both nature, and lodging… though i think the two are still trying to work out how to work harmoniously and symbiotically, but its heading in the right direction) I am planning to take a bus tomorrow across to the West to Siem Reap where hopefully i will meet Brighton Buddy Simon and some others who happen to be in the country.

Thanks again for reading another epic tale, and please just take am oment to send love and healing to a nation still dealing with the scars. A brave and beautiful and shiny people who have inspired me bend words… and if you have a moment or some money to spare please support one of the many charities based on working with victims of Landmines. They are real people, real brave people with real lives and real hearts.

part 20 - black eyes, motorbikes, and waterfalls

I sit here at the first part of the day which is cool enough for me to actually put my mind into a straight line to type.

Its been a while since I updated my blog, or even attempted to as every time i sit at a computer the heat either scrambles me or theres someone waiting or a cambodian peering over my shoulder watching words they may or may not be able to read on the screen as i try to send emails to my loved ones. But I'm here and I'm going to do my best to recall everything which has happened in the past month, and trust me a lot has happened.

I believe I left you somewhere in the north of Laos (sorry about that but i'm sure your enjoying it) and now here i am in the

east of Cambodia in a province called Mondlekiri… but more of here later… first back to there where I left you so you don't get too lost along the way.

After leaving Mong Ngoy and waving our goodbyes to Conrad (the Belgian Bunny) on the beach, all black eyed and beaten up (just to recap you) Lily and I sailed our way back to Nong Kieu (sorry my spelling of name places might be a bit wrong as i have nothing to check them up against at the moment) before boarding a bus and heading south to Luang Prabang, where I think i left you with the tale of the Monk and his fascination with Westlife.

So.. From Luang Prabang Lily and I headed further south still straight past the popular (beer drinking, tubing, drug consuming hell) tourist town called VanVieng without stopping and onto the capital city of Laos. Vientiane. Here i spent a few days sorting out my Thai Visa, hoping to get myself a double entry, two month Thai Visa. What I got was a single entry visa for a length of time that i'm still unsure of, but im sure they'll let me know at the boarder. As a side note if anyone finds themselves in Vientiane and is looking for some interesting people too meet and chat with I fully recommend hanging around on the grounds of the Thai Consulate, here there were multitudes of diverse people from Thai people working in Laos to dreadlocked hippies on a Visa run with no interest in Laos, gagging to get back to their hammocks in Pai. Anyway a few Watts and a Thai Visa later Lily and I boarded another bus (this one an all night Falang (*falang, a word directly meaning French but applied to all foreigners) bed bus where two people share a largish single bed.. so know who you book your seats with is my advice) down towards Paxse where our plan was to get some moped/motorbikes and head off onto the Bolevan Plateau. Now a bit of background information on me and my relationships with motorbikes, my mother was a bike racer and i spent a lot of time around very big, fast and loud beasts… and that was just the hairy blokes riding them, my dad on the other had was a mod in the past and is about as anti motorbikes as anyone i know (understandably considering the amount of people i know damaged and dead from road accidents) I on the other hand was a virgin at the handlebars of anything without pedals. Lily however assured me that as long as i didn't get too confident I would be safe and if i really didn't feel comfortable i could just go on the back of hers and we'd find a way to carry the rucksacks. So. Lily rents one bike as a trial run and takes me off to a back road (road being dirt track) where she gives me a 20 minute no-crash course in how to ride a motorbike and before i know it we're on the road driving the 40 km to the first town along the plateau. Paxon. Aside from a slight nervousness (if you have ever seen the roads in south east asia and the way people drive you would understand what i mean) at how to navigate i felt pretty good and with the wind tangling up my hair and the dust in my eyes i felt pretty alive. However i did notice that you get to see a hell of a lot more from a push bike than a motorbike.

That evening as the sun lowered in the sky and set fire to the red sand which makes up the earth of south east asia we rolled into Paxon, past the market covered in red dust, past a guesthouse or two covered in reddust, past a few Falang covered in red dust and past sheets and sheets of red coffee berries drying by the side of the road (also covered in red dust) waiting to be hulled and the beans to be roasted. We drove out the other side of the town looking for a more appealing guesthouse and found a beautiful wooden place with a small smiley proprietor and happy children to greet us. He took us to our room and said it had the best view of the tree in the garden, which we though was an odd plus point until we took a harder look at the tree he was staring at with gooey eyes. Something moved up in the branches, a large black shape, which split in half and became two large black limby shapes swinging from branch to branch with white patches around their eyes. Black Gibbons! (I'm pretty sure thats what they are, an endangered species but also a culinary treat in the area… perhaps one of these facts has lead to the other) Lily and i ventured into the garden to get a closer look, however it seems we went too close and "whoop"ing and "oooaaaaaa"ing at us one swooped down with an angry opposable thumb barely missing my head as we ran away screeching to see our friend laughing at us, still doey eyed over his furry treetop friends. They then proceeded to mark their territory from a great height.

Apparently they moved in of their own accord, two males, and often people would come and try to buy them off him but he refused to sell them and just let them get on with their life free of rent in his garden. Every morning at 6am they let off a fantastic ceremony of screeching and singing, ending in a twittering sound like birds in an attempt to attract any remaining females in the area. At 7 our friend would go to the garden and throw bananas and coffee beans up to them and they would sit munching away spitting the banana seeds out as they went.

The next morning Lily and I took our bikes and headed off to find a nearby waterfall. Again off the tarmac roads and along a bumpy dirt track road. The road was covered with a thick layer of red dust which would occasionally make the back wheel slip slightly as we road but i was doing pretty well (though to be honest the whole time i had the bikes i never went over 70km per hour and mostly stuck to 40km/ph) Towards the end of the track there came a steep downwards slope, we stopped at the top and i looked at the eroded track which at this point was no longer a road at all, just a bumpy collection of rocks and dust. I thought "ok well we can just leave the bikes and walk" at this point Lily said "its dingy but doable" Lily being a very determined (and very capable) lady and she slowly started to work her way down, both feet out doing a few inches at a time. I watched her descend and began my own once she was half way down. Now a senseble Fleassy would have realized that on her second day of riding a bike perhaps serious off roaring was not the wisest thing to try, however sensible Fleassy often gets shouted down by Egotistical testosterone Fleassy who sees another woman do something and cant bear the though of looking like a weak un-capable Fleassy infront of the Capable, inspiring woman of a Lily who she is traveling with. (all of the above being self made observations in a mind which obviously was not thinking too straight at the time). However this Fleassy did forget that she hadn't quite got the grips of foot makes you stop, hand makes you go (considering pushbikes are the other way round) and with a nervous flick of the wrist I somehow ended up out of the small crevice of slippy sand and small stones and up onto the pile of big rocks on the other side of the "road". At this point i began to look a little more seriously at the situation, however still not with the clearest of mind. I saw i was on the worst part of the road to be on, I saw that i needed to rev to get up and off a rock to try and get back in direction, I saw i was tence and nervous, then i saw Lily at the bottom turning her bike off and beginning to walk back up. Now what happened here im still not clear of but the throttle went, the bike went, and I went… both of us went and we went sideways to the ground.

As i saw the rock approach my face my first thought was "The Bike!" then "The Mirror" then as the impending sharp edge came closer my mind turned to home "my glasses!" then finally "my nose!!" as it hit, CRUNCH, on to the appropriately shaped ridge along the top of the small rock. Then followed the mirror and the bike and a scream from Lily of "Fuck! Fleassy!" Luckily I had fallen in a different place from the bike so i didn't end up with the exhaust on me (which can be horrific). I lifted my head as two local women ran down the hill and Lily reached me at the same time. I looked downwards dazed and in pain thinking something was missing… yes something was defiantly missing… blood… why wasn't my nose bleeding… oh …wait… there it goes. A strange sence of relief that my nose was working properly and bleeding as it should ran through me as i began to catch the blood on my hand and put my head down as i had seem the kids at school do in the past. Lily ran to get me water from her bike as the Laos women flapped in my face talking about how i needed an injection (which is their answer to everything) She then proceeded to try to clean up the blood (this was littereslly just as everything had happened and i was a bit more focused on making sure i was alive before cleaning up) "not the silk!" Lily cried and the lady went for my Laos Silk scarf i had bought a few days earlier to mop up my hands, "here" she says handing me her own neckerchief. Once my mind cleared a bit I asked Lily to get the Ladies (who were obviously trying to help) to shut up and get out of my face and then said i needed to get into the shade as it was coming to the peak of the day and the sun was high. I went to stand and as i did i began to loose focus in a way i know so well (i fait with almost every period i have and was prone to panic attacks as a teenager) I began to feel heavy and Lily held me and said don't worry i will carry you, "I cant see" i told her as my way of not being dramatic about the fact i was passing out after having had a head injury. Soon enough though my vision cleared and i was sitting in the shade of a brushy bush and slowly began to clear up and dink some water. Lily (now my hero) rode to the local town (we were in the middle of nowhere practically) and got me some water and ice for my very painful knee and on her return a new Lady arrived and offered for me to go and sleep in her house. Slowly Lilly helped me hobble my way along to the wooden hut on stilts and i lay upon a mat for the rest of the day drinking water and tending my swollen knee (my nose had stopped bleeding pretty quick but i was aware of a very large scab forming across my face). I was hoping my black eye would be one to challenge Conrad's as a few minutes after the crash Lily's phone had run and Conrad had told her he was in Paxe and planning to hitch up the the plateau to meet us. Lily went doff alone at my assurance that i would be ok sleeping there and visited the waterfall before coming back to get me.

We bought the lady a Pepsi from the shop as a thank you at one point, she tried to share it with us but we said no so she poured most of it into a glass and gave it to her daughter who then ran outside to share it with anyone else who was around. As we left we also gave the family some money as they had fed us and been so kind, though im certain they weren't expecting it they took it as a sign of our gratitude and nothing else which was nice.

My mum always told me that if you fall off a horse you should get straight on. This i agree with to a point (except the one time she was giving me a lesson and i fell off 6 times and was more tense each time i got back on…leading to another fall of course) and re-boarding my steed and revving it up I waves goodbye to the family who laughed a little at disbelief as not so many hours earlier i had been unable to walk (i'd tried to go with Lily to the waterfall but my leg had buckled as i stood up) Crazy Falang. When we got back to town we found Conrad playing guitar on a patch of grass surrounded by a group of kids. When he saw us he began to walk over and as he saw my face (which was swiftly getting more swollen and gaining colour) he pointed at his own fading black eye and said "same man?".

That night they two of them look after me, not letting me leave bed and leaving me to sleep when a migraine-esque headache flushed across my skull. The next day we decided to try again, the swelling on my knee had gone down enough to walk and although my whole forehead was swollen the cuts were all drying and looked clean. Back we went and this time Lily took both mikes down and Conrad and I walked.

Over the next 3 or 4 days we visited 3 or 4 waterfalls as we worked our way across the Plateau, ranging from tall rushing drops surrounded by local kids swimming to my favorite which was a steady wide river with a reasonably low fall going into a large pool, perfect for swimming in. Along the top of the fall was a line of rocks so you could after lie in the sun as it slowly dropped upriver and dry off. Along the way we sang together in the evenings at different hostels, teaching and sharing songs on Conrad's guitar (Lily and I had left ours in Paxse). We wanted to visit a specific Wat (temple) and the 4,000 islands before Lily had to return to the school she teaches in, and Conrad's visa ran out so soon we head back to town and Lily took both the bikes back one by one hoping that if they didn't see my face they might not check the bike over and charge us for the scratches that my fall had left on them. We were right and luckily got away without paying any extra. We stayed at a hostel where the proprietor had fled the country during the Communist take over in Laos and gone to live in Australia, he had recently returned for the first time in over 20 years to look after his sisters hotels for a while.

Then Lily, Conrad and I spent a few days in Champasac visiting this ancient Wat (build before even Ahnkor Wat in Cambodia) by bicycle. A row of old leafless Frangipani trees led up the broken steps to the temple leaving their beautifully scented white stars across the ground. The carvings were stunning and in the evening we found ourselves at a local festival where a shadow puppet show was happening. There was a coconut stand style game with balloons and weighted darts that we were determined to win but was foiled every time.

Soon enough we had made our way down towards the Cambodian boarder to the 4,000 Islands and found ourselves surrounded by bleach blond girls in singlet straps and shorts after crazy weekends in Vangvien. We headed to a slightly less touristic Island and settled down for our last few days together. Here further south the landscape has changed. The shocking sudden mountains rocks of northern laos covered in lush green jungle have faded out and here the trees are dryer. Here and there are dotted the odd Flame tree. Mangostien, and Mangos dangle unripe and teasing from their branches whilst spiky Jack fruits cling to the trunks making me glad that they dont smell like the Durien fruits that they look like.

One evening we cycled down to the old French train station at the bottom of the island where once upon a time French Colonialists would have road steamers between the islands instead of the little dug out boats the locals use. Here we boarded one of the boats and was run out towards Cambodia. We stopped mid water and spent an hour and a half watching the Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins breaking the surface and the sun went down.

The next morning it was Lily's turn to be left on a beach waving. We exchanged hugs and i gave thanks for the amazing time i had spent with her in Laos and hoped is wasn't another 5 years before we saw each other again. Conrad and I boarded a boat back to the mainland and slowly traversed the ancient Mekong, past buffalo's bathing in the waters which may have been brought all the way down from the source in Tibet and would continue until they reached the Pacific. The bus took us south further to the Cambodian boarded and i said goodbye to Laos sooner than i had imagined but with a million lush, green, ritch, memories.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Chatted Up by a Monk

so.... now here i am in Laos... :) my mind is too here to really get into writing about the past week but i will give you an overview ..and pictures will follow sometime.

There was a shift with the sunshine and and the mountains rose up green so did my heart and hopes it seems.

Tiger leaping gorge was breath taking and in heindsight too short a stay..i hope to return to hike it properly one day for sure.

Dali was a great rest up place. i spent a week at a hostel called the Hump drawing a mural on the main wall in the bar in return for my stay. there was adventures around the town, up the mountain, music was played and white russians were drunk.

At the end of the week i bid farewell to my friends (and the owners of the hostel who had sworn i was not alowed to leave and have shackles on my feet) and with a freidn who i had met on the bus from tiger leaping gorge i headed south towards laos.

We boarded the night bus to Jinghong and swapped places with a man so we could share the giant bed space in the back rather then being opposite ends of the bus. It was myself, Chris (my friend, who as a side note had just spent a week in a budhist monistary with child monks learning kung fu! no messing with him! hhiiiiya!) and a belgian guy called fransoiurs who was on the bus. As it got darker and the raods became less of a road we lay back for outr long 16 hour ride. Most of this time was spent moving in the space between the bed and the ceiling up and down as the road was un tarmacked and pretty much made of pot holes linked together with a series of bumps. Still it was a nice ride and to have a friend to cuddle up with was nice as it gets lonely on these long journeys sometimes.

We arrived in jinghong and as we got off the bus Fransouir found his wallet on the end of the bed minus 100 euros :( another victim of the night bus experience unfortunatly. We bid him farewell and good luck and got on our next bus, a little mini van which would takes us down and over the laos boarder. During the night something remarkable had happened. The harsh mountains which backed onto the Himalayas had given way to lush jutting rock mountains covered in banana plantations and bamboo forests. Beautiful children played by the dusty road and waved as we passed, and when i lent across and opened the window i could smell nature. I could litterally smell the life and vibrancy which i had been lacking since leaving yakushima all those months ago. WE arrived in Luang Nam Tha and found ourselves a guesthouse. Here hostels dont exist, but many people can share a room in a guesthouse to cut down costs so we got a two bed room and settled down to being in Laos. We went out with a couple we had met in Dali at the hostel there who also had arrived that day on a different bus and ate the best indian food i have had in a loooong time. Then after sharing a bottle of beer lao Chris and I bought some chocolate, another beer and headed back to the room to finally get some sleep after our 2 days of traveling. We lay on my bed and put on some Laos TV to fill the air, and i rolled over to eat a bit of Chocky and gave chris a satisfied hug.... "comfy?" he asked.... "i could be more comfy" i responded about 3 seconds before falling asleep. :)

Wow real sleep...all night... i woke up half way through the night to turn of the blabbering TV and to snuggle under my covers but wow, a bed that wasn't moving was like a blessing.

The next day i bid farewell to chris as he headed off to the bus station to head to Thai Land and meet his girlfriend and i met an american couple outside this lady's roadside snack bar.
My plan was to head to a small village, and from there get a boat along the river to a smaller village to meet a friend of mine called Lilly. I met her 4/5 years ago in South Spain and traveling into portugal with her and rosie. Now she is teaching english in a tiny village in laos, and its school holidays starting this week so we are going to adventure together though Laos.
As i told my new american chums about this they decided to come along with me to see if they could find nice places to hike... i guess its impossible to be alone when traveling. As they got their bags ready the lady who owns the snak spot jived with me across the dirt floor space around the picnic table.

At the bus station (which we reached via tuk tuk) I saw Chris again for a proper goodbye as his leaving earlier had been a rushed wave as he shot off to catch a bus (which he missed) on a tuk tuk. Soon anough i was rolling my way through Northern Laos, heading EAst towards Vietnam. Chickens, cows, children all running around the road side and women in traditional laos dress.

We spend the night in a village called Pak Mon in the "alone guesthouse" ...ironically as there was now three of us in a double bed.

The next morning we boarded the tuk tuk to mong kieu.

A woman roasting a rat on a stick over a little fire, tail and all.


Waving faces.

Beautiful Laos waving faces.

As we get on the low wooden thin boat alongside the other Farang (foreigners) and locals a woman (i can only suppose to be his mother) shouted at the boat man and a situation ensued which appeared to be "you can not! go on that boat, get back here" "awww but muuuum, look at all the people on the boat" "no get back here, if you go your not comming back" "sorry mum, got all these people" and off we whooshed....

Swimming buffalo.


Huge root systems on trees line the bank.

The water in the boat rises.


A girl pales water laughing nervously.

Swimming naked children on the bank.

Our feet get wet.

...oh shit... suddenly we are banking up and rescueing swiftly dampening bags and guitars from the back of the boat and piling out onto a sand bank island.

eventually they bail out enough water and where as i thought the sensible idea was to put half the amount of people back on the boat and do a double run it seemed this was not the plan. On we all piled again and this time as the water bailing girls stop was the next stop i took up the challange of keeping the water levels low enough so as not to sink. So under the humm of the motor i pailed and pailed and sang to myself a little song of "pailing out the water, pailing out the water, pailing out a pailing out a pailing out the water, gunna keep this boat afloat untill we get to the other siiiide" and eventually we did get to the "other side" to the little village of Mong Ngoi where i was due to meet Lilly.

Mong Ngoi is an interesting place, touristised enough to have a steady tourist trade (a constant flow of new farang arriving ever day on the two little boats that roll in) with a few bars and buffet places. However being unacessable by road, only by boat it keeps a real traditional charm, most of the buildings being wooden and bambo weave walls and the electricity only comiong on for 3 hours a day in the evening. As we walked down the one "street" of the village i hear a cry of "i found you!" as Lilly ran up to me. Not only was i a day late to meet her but she had been postponed by a day also comming from the little village 2 hours up river by a day. She had sat with her stuff on the boat for 5 hours the day before while they told her the boat would be leaving soon... inevitably the boat never left and the mother of her host family had to come down to the river bank and tell her to give up and come home :) however as is always the way the timing was perfect and we both arrived on the same day.

My two friendlings headed off to a near by village to find some trecking and lilly and i settled into our little wooden hut we rented for a few days. Luxury. Later that day we sat in a "cafe" (i ordered a pancake which it turned out was a lot more litteral than i imagines, litterally a sponge cake made in a frying pan) and did some catch up and near by sat a belgian lad with a guitar. We invited him over. His name was conrad and after a bit of song sharing and chit chat we all decided to go visit a cave that lilly knew of where you could swim in the uber fresh clean waters in the darkness of the cavern where sunlight never reaches.
The lush entrance to the cave, bamboo and ferns.
We stiped bare by the light of the head torch and swan in the cold fresh waters singing with the ancient echos of the past, still quietly bouncing off the rocks.
The cold air which lives withing the mountain.
The cool cold waters.
My hand hovers in the space between a hanging rock and its reflection in the water.
We left the cave and let the soft sunlight dazzle our eyes, the leaves acting like lanterns in the sunlight, glowing. We walked for half an hour or so more across a bamboo bridge and the fields, now dry and harvested. Broccoli mountains paying no attention to our story.eventually we arrive at a little village, less touristy than mong ngoibut still home to the odd "guesthouse"and "guide". Families sit weaving from grasses and kids run past us, wide eyed from the strangers. Old women point and laugh at lillys Sin (tradtional Laos skirt) saying "laos, laos" over and over. we pass out the other side of the village and back into the dry fields, each patch lined with a thin raised mound to walk on.

We sat.

We watched the mountains. In the distance a curious local boy watches us, sling shot in hand. Slowly he draws closer, curious and careful. As lilly pulls out her tobbaco pouch and begins to roll he perches down beside her, the ripped shorts of an adventurous boy. He stares at the tobbaco and her face. She opens the pouch and lets him sniff at which he smiles nodding and saying "yeeeah" She rolls forhim and i watch him smoke his first cigarrette (or so it seemed) puffing on the dead fire cross eyed untill lilly pulls her lighter outand relights it. He says he's 16 but the young laos face could be a 10 year old all we know. he watches me draw so i hand him my pen. holding it awkwardly he writes something on my pages in scrawled laotian. Soon the guitar is the centre of attentiuon and i hand it to him, afraid of doing it wrong at first but eventually smiling mile wide and strumming gently on the strings. Eventually the sun begin to fall and we headed back through the village bidding our young friend fare well nd walked back to mong ngoi and our little hut. barefeet sore. dinner, music, jamming.

That night lilly and i lay in bad and a knock comes on the door, conrad comes in and listens to my russian folk song, we play by torchlight as the electricity has gone. then he bids us goodnight as he wonders off to his tent. Lilly and i snuggle down under the mosquito net, our big princess bed.

At about 12:30 we were woken by a knock on the door there was conrad topless and tend tdraped over our balcony. He had been attacked in the middle of the night, as he had drifted off to sleep he heared someone kicking sand onto his tent, he put his head out and under the light of the almost full moon he saw someone looming over him, arms raised with a plank in their hands. The plank soon found its way to conrads face and dazed he screamed to draw attention but no one came, the attacker fled. We think now they had wanted to rob him but hadn't done so.
Now he stood in our door way, shaken up, swolen head and what was soon to turn out to be blindr or a black eye which formed over the next few days. He slept in our hut with us and the next morning the police were called, though there was little thye could do as he didnt remember anything about the attacker. It was the first incident like this they had ever had.

However aside fromthis the area was idilic but soon it was time to head off, lilly only had a few weeks holiday time and we wanted to explore south of laos together before she had to be back in her village. We bid farewell to our friend Conrad who promised to come meet us in the south and headed off.

I drempt i was making love to God all night, a divine being caressing my heart and soul, he reenacted the creation of everything and we pointed out his mistakes during the three witches "Fair is fowl" speach...i awoke to the banana leaf rustle in the wind along the nam ou. That night a thousand tiny bunnies walked under a thin layer of snow through my dreams carrying me along.

In Luang Prabang we visited a Watt (temple) and some monks asked me to play my guitar, the conversation:
young monk: "is that a guitar?"
me: "yes"
young monk: "can you play?"
me: "yes..... would you like me to?"
young monk: "yes"
i sat down with my guitar upon my lap and plucked upon the strings

young monk: "are you single?" ....

me: .... "no".... "are you a monk?"

young monk: " a novice...."

young monk: "....can you play westlife?"

me: ""

So now i am in the capital of Laos, the Me Kong seperates laos from thai land and the sun rises into the window of our hostel room. Thai Embasy getting visas for the future and then tomorrow night we head to the south.

My heart feels light and free, the sun is warm, the air humid, the mosquitos....annoying.

I hope where ever you are your feeling just as at peace with every moment. As Green says "a moment can seem like eternity, so i choose to use this moment wisely"
Much love to all of you.


Monday, 31 January 2011

pert 18- tv interview, tibetan monks, theft and tiger leaping gorge

Well its been a week of interesting adventures. From TV interviews to being robbed, via a few trains and buses and a Tibetan Monk.

I landed in Xian in the morning with the address of my couch surfer in my hand, and realising at this late stage that i forgot to write her phone number down, i had to find my own way to her house. Outside the bus station was a hord of motorbike tuk-tuk style taxi’s and buses.. I went to flag down a taxi on the road thinking that a taxi with a meter would be more trust worthy only to find when i showed the driver the address he waved his hands in a clear “no!” and drove off. Damn. I returned to the bus station and a kind security man saw my confusion and after looking at the address told me the bus i needed to catch. 1 Yuan (10p) and i was squished standing on a mini bus with the locals and their huge bin bags full of stuff waiting for the ticket seller to tell me when to get off. All too soon i was sitting in an old mans watch room by his little burner waiting for Ma Rui to come back to her appartment after more help from a lady working in a local Hotel. The feeling of reaching a desitination alone in a foreign country via local transport is a great one, empowerment and confidence in my ability to do anything.

MaRui lives with her mum who is a character all in herself. Perfectly permed hair and the height of stylish fashion. When wanting to get my attention she would bark “Hello!” as if it was my name flapping her hand in my direction and then gesture for me to do something (move over, play my guitar, eat something). She was bossy in one of those endeering and funny ways and never failed to end each comand with a sudden shining smile.

Before i came to China i knew little about it, one of the things i had heard of was The Terracotta Army, another was the supposed existance of Pyramids, both happen to lie within bus distance from Xi’an and it was my plan to experience both of them whilst i was here. However i arrived on new years eve and after an excited chatter with MaRui about the things we had in common and our life style choices we decided to do some new years eve sight seeing before an early night, we stroled the muslim quarter with the bustling street food stalls and the Han/Muslim population of the city bargaining, buying and selling. However our plan for an early night was sorely foiled as we found ourselves at a buddhist temple back stage for the live TV Xi’an New Years ceremony.

It all started with an innocent stroll to the Big Goose Pagode to see the Fountain Show which they put on every night. This is parhaps one of the campest things i have seen in china, over the top and completely pointless, huge spurts of water leaping into the air synchronised to different pieces of very dramatic classical (and not so classical) music. However it drew in quite a crowd. As we headed past the disney land attraction and round the back of the pagoda MaRui was intruiged by police tape and TV crews. After a quick chat up of a police officer we ducked under the tape and walked over to the pagoda entrance, huge wooden gates. Here we asked a rather rude and rich monk what was happening though he wasn’t much help. We decided we would get in one way or another, MaRui started with her jounralism skills of talking to important looking people and telling them i was studying buddhism and we needed to be allowed in for free to the event, there was a fair chance of this working but no one seemed to know who had the aurthority to let us in... just as she was trying to convince another person of my studious nature the rude monk walked past me followed by a woman in a fur coat with curly hair. She looked right into my eyes as they headed towards the ticket collectors and gave me a huge smile. “theres our angel” i thought grabbing Ma Rui and following the rude monk as if we had the right to be there. Through the huffle and fuffle of pretty women entering the pagoda we went un noticed and found ourselves backstage at a TV ceremony for the count down to new year. Here we were interviewed by TV cameras asking me to say “happy new year. I love you” in chinese (which i did wrong about 3 times) and then explain what people in england would be doing. I rambled something about fireworks and beer and then acted out the kissing of anyone near by at midnight and breaking into Auld Lang Syne muttering 90% of the words you don’t know. (admit it we’ve all had at least one new year like that). The ceremony was very over the top, red carpets and hundreds of performers doing traditional and not so traditional dances and songs. Apparently there were a few famouse Chinese Actors there too but this was pretty over my head. At midnight there was no countdown (to my dissapointment) but some monks rang a big bell (though i think they were a bit late.) After the glitz and glam of the showbiz world we crawled into a taxi and went home to bed.

So that was my new year. Very different to what i would have asked for (probably involving hippys playing reggae) but an experience to write home about none the less.

As for Xian, it seemed to be, like many big chinese cities, half way into complete western modernisation however it did have some beautiful architectural treats and Ma Rui was great fun to be around. On the day i decided to go to the Pyramids i awoke to find the city was covered in snow and sitting in a snow cloud. I must explain here that the chinese don’t call them pyramids, they are Tombs of old emperors. However they are deffinatly pyramids in the diffining factor of shape, some of them larger at the square base than the great Pyramids of Egypt and flattened at the top like those of mexico . These are made of packed earth and one particular one is said to house the first emperor, however it can not be excavated as it also holds “rivers of mercury” and other highly toxic substances making it impossible to safely open up. I also heared rumours that the cap stone of the pyramid was incrusted with diamonds mapping out an exact map of the stars, but no one knows for sure as the designers of the tomb were burried alive within it to keep the secrets secret. Anyway this Emperor was a confident fellow and believed his rule would continue long after his death and as an expression of this confidence he had a full arm of terracotta warriors built and burried in vaults in attack formation not far from his tomb. These were discovered only about 30 years ago by some “peasants” who were digging a well. Looking for water, find and army of life sized terracotta men, one step up from a Roman coin that’s for sure. I went and visited the Army which was quite interesting, each of them having a completely unique face and the craftsmanship obviously fantastic. However the vission was so poor due to the snow cloud that i could barely see 50 meters away let alone a bloody huge pyramid tomb. The one i wanted to visit was actually in the other direction and far easier to see the pyramid shape but im glad i didnt take the money and time to go there as i wouldn’t have been able to see it any way. (this one is called the mao ling mausoleum if your interested in seeing a chinese pyramid on google).

On the same day, my last day in town; Ma Rui and i headed to a local Tibeten Lama Temple , apparently the only one in the area. The whole place was covered in snow and monks wondered about with stick brooms brushing the snow aside. Here Ma Rui’s jounralistic skills (and Googley Swans “monk hunting” skills) got us into the private room of one of the Monks where he sat and disscused Tibetan Buddhism with Ma Rui (in chinese) he then took us into the temple where most people don’t normally go and i got to see some of Buddahs Bones! The architecture of the place was beautiful and from looking at his eyes (him being a mongolian tibetan monk) i could see finally why the tibetan buddahs all have beautiful wobbley eyes.. its not stylised, its truth.

Right so, that evening i headed to the train station to catch my 36 hour train to south of china, Kunming in the Yunnan provence . I stood with my ticket in my hand and decided to buy some instant noodles for the journey as after the warriors and monks i hadn’t had time to prepare food. By the time id finished paying for them i had lost my ticket! I searched every pocket and it wasn’t long before i had a crowd of “helpful” Chinese men and policemen watching me. One man in a beige jacket stared me right in the eyes and said “have patience with yourself and you will find it” i paused for a second and looked back at him then continued scrabbling about wondering which of these men was about to try and sell me my own ticket back. However it wasn’t so and Beige finally offered to buy me a new ticket as the train was soon to leave. My heart burst as he said this, “wow thank you” and soon Beige and another man; Black, and I were on the train and Beige was handing me my new ticket. “don’t loose it” he said and wrote his email adress for me with “a chinese friend” next to it, “whats your name?” i said to him after he refused to let me post money to him in the future “that’s not important” he said and with a smile he walked away and i never saw him again.

I settled into my bunk, took off my coat and as i was relaxing i thought “whats that up my sleeve?” and a feeling of dread came over me, yup, there was my missing ticket.

The train journey was un eventfull and i shared it with a Uighur Muslim family. Occasionally Black would come and sit with me and express his confusion as to why i wanted to go to Laos as “ China is much better”, and he only felt a desire to travel to England , Australia , America etc. He told me over and over about how kind and giving and helpful Chinese people are but on the last time i saw him he handed me his phone slyly with a message saying “don’t trust people in china, be careful” which reflects to me the confusion within the chinese people about who they are now. From the honorable days of the ancient sages to the money centred greed world of modern Communist China.

In Kunming i waited for 20 minutes in the city for a bus that never came so i went to look for what would come. I walked to the train station and saw my first western lady in 4 or 5 days. She was speaking to a man trying to ask him a question, and he was trying to sell her a map, it didn’t seem like the most flowing of communications so i stepped up asking if she needed any help... not that i knew much myself. Her name was Annie, she’s a writer from England living in Vietnam and she reminds me of my mum in many many ways. An hour later i had deicded to join her on a journey to Tiger Leaping Gorge the next day. Kunming passed pretty un eventfully and then next afternoon we boarded a sleeper bus to the Mountains. Tiger Leaping Gorge is near Shangri La which is the closest city to the Tibeten Plateu that you can go without going into Tibet i believe. So here i am just East of the Tibeten Plateu in the mountains. The bus ride was a long night with little sleep and i started to get a bit of a dicky belly. At 5.30 am we were dropped off in a little town expecting the bus driver to contact Sean from the Guest House to come pick us up. Sean’s Phone was off and as the bus driver drove away leaving us in the dark under a million stars (“oh hello, i almost forgot you existed”) i realised my ipod was no longer in my pocket. In a glimmer of faith i hoped i had left it on the bus and there might be a chance to get it back. However my heart was low, the ipod in itself wasn’t important but on it was hundreds of photos from previous trips and recordings form this one, one off recordings of mike and i jamming (including our last ever jam before i left which was amazing) as well as the music of all my friends. This music is what has kept me saine and alive in my darkest and loneliest moments on my trip. The thought of not having it anymore suddenly made the distance between me and home a million fold more. Mike felt so far from my heart as it was his music that would remind me of his voice and his soul. To make matters worse, before i lifet england my computer died taking all other music and photos in my life with it.

We found an early rising restraunt owner steaming dumplings and she let us sit in her place while we waited for the sun to rise. Finally we contacted Sean and he sent a driver for us at 9. When i went to pay for the driver however i unzipped my purse to find all my money was gone. About 60 pounds worth of i hadnt left my ipod, i had been robbed. Luckily they left my bank card and didn’t take anything else however the thought of someone stooping over me in my sick stomach sleep and taking my pockets (which were under the covers and next to me and up against the wall) unzipping them and being able to remove my stuff and re zip up my purse and replace it without either me or Annie noticing made me sad. But worse was the knowledge of the music now being in the hands of someone who would never appreciate the sound of my lovers laughter, or the sound of my friends soulfull singing. To them it was just a money maker, to me it played the role as the resussitator of my soul in sad times. Part of my spark which had been so alight for so long now died.

Sean himself is a character, in a not so positive way, A Tibetan with a small arm and a rude and abrupt manner. When i said to him upon my moment of realisation “ive been robbed, all my money is gone” he simply replied “it ok, there is ATM then you can pay me” and this basically sums him up from my interactions with him since. Greedy, rude and uncaring. We will stay here in his guest house (where it turns out hes charging us double what the other guest house charges and that’s AFTER we cut his price down by almost half; however Annie in her kindness has offered to pay for our room this night) till tomorrow and then head to Dali. Tomorrow is Annies Birthday, she will be 56 and i fell bad for her that her image of roaming the Gorge has been tainted but such a welcome.

The gorge however is stunning and after a nap we walked up the trail a little way to some local village houses and explored. The wind played in the long grasses making movemtns as if creatures were running under the thick green blankets. Cows, chickens and baby goats cling to the steep landscape as old men walk along with huge bundles of hay tied to their backs. The rocky cliffs tower around and consume the sky, although it is beautiful here, these are not the piney, tree covered mountains of my heart, Europian forrests call me, France beckons me to return, but onwards i go. South. Unfortunatly i do not have time to do the 3 days hike along the whole gorge as i have arranged to meet a friend in a village in Laos on the 16th and i still need to sort my head around Laos, and money and the such and such.

So here I am, emotionally slightly sore, missing Mike and wondering if i will ever see him again. Missing my music and wondering how i will cope with days and days on trains and buses from now on. Feeling a whole lot lighter in the pocket due to my jabs setting me back nearly 200 pounds (and i still need to buy a booster shot) and the theft costing me another 60 pounds (not to mention how much the ipod was worth) .. slowly i watch my very small budget get even smaller, yet i know there are so many more adventures yet to come. Hopefuly more positive ones.

If you made it to the end if this long one, i congratulate you, thanks for sticking with me and i hope you still enjoy reading.

Part 17 - Chinese Christmas

ok so china... ive been putting off writing this one as it feels like too much to even begin, but the longer i put it off the more there is to write about and i know how tedious an epic email can be. i will try to keep it as short as i can, but you know me i like to write ;)

ok so first stop in China was Tienjin. A port town just south of Beijing and home to a guy i met in the Canteen back in Bristol called Ryan. I spent about 4 days staying with him and his flat mate Phil and during this time experienced massages and dumplings as well as listening to the boys both moan about and compliment the chinese lives they were living. Its a funny workd the world of expat communities. in some ways its a great place to fall into for a bit of home comfort, english speaking company and general laughs but theres some element of tired out pessamism that i seem to find in a lot of english and americans working abroad. Both in Japan and China. However everyone was kind and welcoming and a lot of fun was had. Christmas Eve was a particuarly nice time as a local cafe called The Spot owned by an American guy had an evening of live music and christmassy yummys. I played a little accoustic set and then after me a wild bunch of animated musicians
came on playing a mix of covers and originals followed by an international band of musicians. I spent the night sat on a western couch watching live accoustic music drinking hot apple juice, i almost felt like i was back home. in Brighton or Bristol.
Christmas morning came and as Ryan and Phil's friends arrived and started on the Gin and Tonic I settled down to open my two christmas gifties i had been carrying around with me. One from Manami, one from Mike., Manamis gift was a perfectly wonderfully wrapped little box (so japanese) which when i opened it contained a deep purple amathyst rock cluster shaped like a heart. beautiful. Mikes gift was also wonderfuly well wrapped when it arrived (him being such a fan of well presented things) but unfortunatly after being in my rucksack for a month it was merely a shaddow of its former glory. However this didnt bother me and on openning it i found a lovely colloection of photos (including ones of mike, amy, and kev!! :D) two CDs (one avalon roots one and one collection of christmas tunes) and a little jasmine tea bomb which im still yet to use. Im waiting for the perfect moment. Needless to say the christmas CD went straight on the player and it wasnt long
before we were all getting ready to head to Hanks for an American Style Christmas Dinner in China. Aside from the lack of roast potatos it was a pretty good meal, though to be honest not much can compare to the christmas feast Maggie provides back home.
That night after a post slpurge sleep we boarded a high speed rocket...sorry train to Beijing. the old journey of 3 hours now cut down to 30 minutes on this white bullet beast. The evening was spent with a group of Ryans student friends at their flat watching rom coms and attempting to sing rounds and harmony songs.

The Hostel we had booked into was wikkid and quite a beijing highlight for me. To be honest what makes a place for me is the nature and the people, so a city where i know no one is usually quite a dull place for me. however Heyuan Youth Hostal was like entering into a family. After Goodbyes were said to Ryan i got straight onto the case of making friends and it wasnt long before i felt like i didnt want to leave (so actually i booked myself in for an extra 2 nights, at about 4.50 a night it was pretty cheap in comparrison to european hostels and the japanese hostels).

Beijing is a Modern yet dirty city where the sun is barely an orange smudge in the sky from the layer of pollution (which has given me a consistant nose ache since i arrived) and the winds bitting frosty kiss pentrates my clothes.. Traffic follows no rules, pedestrians ignore traffic, bicycles line the road side with carts selling oily fried goods, sweet potatoes, and fruit. The Hostel Family were great. MM and Tanya, two Hong Kong girls sight seeing in Beijing. They addopted me for a day and after exploring the Forbidden City for many hours, we went for a strole down a buisy food street. Here the laine was lines with souvoniers and snack shops selling a range of cullinary delights from kebbab meat and corn on the cob to skewered scorpions and sea horses, whole baby birds cooked to a brown shriveller perfection, sea urchins, crabs, baozer, sweets and sugared fruits. The croud drifted along under the hanging red lanterns and swallows these bizzar delights
with hungry eyes. I settled for a simple and over cooked corn on the coband then Tanya, MM and I went to a slightly safer place for veggie dumplings. I say safer because dumplings dont sting or bite and those skorpions, though skewered, were still waving their legs about trying to escape their inevitable doom.

MM and Tanya were probably by a long way the cutest girls i have met so far. Funny and playfull but not in the over bubbly way of the japanese girls. More grounded and easier for me to relate to and not afraid to voice their oppinions on how dirty and rude they found main land china to be... comming from the far more civalised and cultured Honk Kong. :p Every night they recorded a video diary in the hostel and picked a challenge out of a christmas stocking for the next day before switching the camera off and enciting some form of fun and games to the room around them.

Another Hostel buddy was Christos the Greek who was in Beijing waiting for Greece to send him a new passport after his old one had been stolen. He had the Greek charm and the sparkling brown eyes of the mediteranian men. He was barely ever serious and insisted to me that he was dating Athena the Goddess of Athens .. our interactions were that of the annoying brother and sister full of playfull banter, insaults, poking, jabbing and laughing. He even escorted me across town to get my jabs done.

...ah the jabs... a big moral rock and hard place. too much to go into on hows and whys but eventually i settled for hep (a and B) and the tetnes, diptheria and pertussis. i didnt get malaria pills as the doctor said for me to take them for so long could make me very sick and told me not to have i guess i will just be extra careful agains mozzy bites.

anyway alogside those was rod the long termer, dry faced englishman with a soft spot for beer, Rex the receptionist who lives and works at the hostel and is learning to play guitar.(he began to teach me a chinese song) One night i mentioned the abandoned PA system to Rex and he said "you want to play?" and set it all up, we had a great night, after i played a little set Rex also did soe songs and then the night digenerated into Chinese karaoke which was ammusing to watch.

My last night in beijing was spent with Christos and Shue (a friend of Rob's) standing on a frozen river whilst in the minus 0 winds modeling jumpers for a photo shoot for Shue's shop. Cold but fun.

As i headed for my Taxi to the bus station with Christos i felt a twinge of "oh is that it?" as i hugged him goodbye. I could easily have spent many ore days at the hostel with these people.. there lay a community spirit i was missing. But my visa for china is short and i have a lot of land to cover to get to Laos, and as is often the way with hostels, if i stayed it wouldnt be long before the others left.
The Taxi driver took a shine to me even though i couldnt talk to him. i saw his eyes sparkle as i said goodbye to christos (or parhaps it was because he knew it was a long ride and a good fare for him) Either way he left me with a kind smile and a bottle of water.

to follow was a long night of sleeper bus ahead. The joys of the all coughing, all spitting, all smoking habbits of China on my way to my next adventure...Xi'an, the end/begining of the silk road... and the New Year... what will 2011 bring?

Love and blessings to you all.

sory it was a long one..i have more to do but im breaking it up for easier digestion.

Fleassy xox