Pushkar Babas

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20181031_120816Accepting the offer of a cup of coffee or chai and sitting down for a chat or just to spend some time together with the Babas at the lake was one of my favourite experiences in Pushkar.  Most even have paper cups so you don’t need to worry about hygiene, and the pots and pans are kept very clean as the fire is considered holy and cooking a spiritual practice.  Some speak English, some don’t, sometimes a passing friend will act as an informal translator, or if not it’s okay to just sit.  Their home is their temple, respectful visitors remove their shoes, do not take photographs without asking, and offer something; money, blanket, ghee, milk, food, either at the time or as a gift at the end of one’s stay in Pushkar.

Naga Baba (above)

Naga Baba who is currently staying by Pushkar Lake, went to live with a Baba when he was ten years old.  Apparently sometimes parents give their child to a Baba to give thanks for help they have received.  Naga Baba can lift great weights with his penis.  ‘If you meditate for fifteen years, you become very strong.’

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Ram Dass (above)

Ram Dass was taken in by a temple at the age of seven when his parents died.  He has lived by the lake for ten years.  Like Naga Baba he lives out in the open.  He cooks his meals and makes chai on his holy fire which never goes out.  He built the fire pit himself, and built a second one while we were there.  He is preparing to move into a small tunnel like a cave under the bridge, at nights during the winter.  In the hottest months of the summer he goes to stay with other Babas in the Himalaya mountains.  He mediates every morning from three to six am, meditating on all the world and all the people.  ‘That is my work.’

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Aloo baba (above)

A few miles outside Pushkar is Aloo Baba (potato baba), he has eaten only potatoes for the past thirty five years.  Now in his seventies he looks fit and well and says he still walks up the nearby mountain to keep fit.  As well as advocating physical work to make and keep the body strong, he also believes in control.  Control eating- hence the potatoes, which he cooks with salt and a little chilli; control speech, and control looking:  ‘Every woman is my mother or my sister.’  ‘No family, God life or family life, can’t have both.’

 

Towards the end of our stay I did see a female baba in Pushkar, presumably newly arrived amongst several other ‘new’ Babas we had seen here for the upcoming festival.  Ganesh from the guesthouse told us that there are Western women Babas in Varanasi, ‘As white as you,’ he said to me.  ‘And do they also sleep outside?’  I asked.  ‘Yes.’  ‘Are they safe?’  ‘Yes.’

Thank you very much for reading

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The cows of Pushkar

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The cows of Pushkar

I think these are my favourite cows so far, with their long tails with their tassle at the end, their floppy ears and their huge curly horns.  The cows here are well fed and very big.  The calves (really I want to say baby cows) have thick ruffled grey coats and with their big ears look almost like donkeys.

As with everywhere I’ve been in India, the cows eat out of garbage and eat plastic bags.  Here I’ve often seen them eating big pieces of cardboard.

In the back streets and at the bridge near the lake, women sell armfuls of green stuff for people to feed the cows.  In the town stall holders put food down for the cows, and cafes give them the first chapatis and dosas of the day.  On the ghats by the holy lake little stalls sell plates of corn (looks like unpopped pop corn), different types of grain, and little ‘cakes’ for people to buy to give to the cows.  There is always corn on the ground, and on a busy day the metal tables in the last picture resemble an informal buffet.

Birds, including pigeons and the sweet songed little birds with yellow beaks are fed from outside shops and restaurants, and the corrugated iron roofs near the lake are thick with corn and pigeons.

Street dogs wait patiently outside cafes at the end of the day to be fed.

People everywhere feed the monkeys.

And I mustn’t forget the pigs and piglets!

 

Thank you for reading

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Sab kuch milega: Anything is possible

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Sab kuch milega: Anything is possible

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Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

Drinking ginger lemon tea at a street stall we met a man from Spain, aged forty-four, who has spent the past year cycling from Spain to India.  He is doing it all on a tall bike, the height of two bicycles put on top of each other.  He camps, which he tries to do after dark as he attracts so much attention and interest from the locals, albeit all positive.  He showed us a photograph of a big group of local people who had come to his camp to meet him, to see how he cooks, and to ask questions about his bike and his trip.  Arriving tired and wanting to wash and rest he often has curious visitors descend on him, who also arrive early the next morning and wake him up; although upon opening the tent to see lots of smiling faces peering at him he said it was impossible to be annoyed.  See his blog, it is in Spanish but WordPress offers a translate button.

On the bus we met H, an English woman aged thirty-one who has been away from the UK for seven years, teaching English in Spain for a few years but otherwise travelling using work stay and couchsurfers, (next stop Australia. (hosting a couch surfer also sounds great, scroll down the couchsurfers page to read a host’s view, it brought a tear to my eye!)  This was H’s fifth time in India, she said that often when travelling on buses she is the only foreigner, and her experience has been safe and positive.  We have met lots of solo female travellers and they have all said the same thing, despite the horror stories.  M, a young woman from New Zealand said that her experience had been that Indian people only want to check she’s okay.

H introduced us to J, a twenty-five year old man from Scotland, he has been away from home for four years, again using work stay, doing the online marketing for a trekking company in Nepal, building clay ovens, volunteering, and occasionally spells in a ‘proper job’ earning money for the next stage.

At our guesthouse we met a Spanish couple in their forties who come to India regularly as he buys fabric and has bags made which he then sells to tourists in the Canaries where they live.  He just looks to make enough money, not loads, and manages okay.

Also at our guesthouse we met a British man, fifty-two years old, who spent fifteen years living and working in Japan, first as a DJ in a gentleman’s club, then teaching English to kindergarten kids.  He then worked at a bar in Thailand, the job came with free meals and accommodation.  When that ended he returned to the UK, working most of the year and then travelling for a few months in South East Asia during the winter.  This is the fifth UK winter that he has missed.  He has now got it so that his pattern is six months in the UK working, six months travel, via careful budgeting.  ‘I’m a hermit, when I’m in the UK, I don’t go out.’

We met a mother and son, aged ten, from France travelling for a year, they’ve been to Malaysia, Indonesia, French Polynesia; after India they go to Myanmar, Thailand, then have to choose between Cambodia, Laos and The Philippines.  ‘A year is so short,’ he said, and told me he’d met a family with kids aged four, seven and ten who were travelling around the world on a boat for six years.  ‘So much time,’ he said.  He did his studies happily on a tablet in the restaurant, and proudly showed us his worksheets.

At the local juice bar we met a man from Austria who said he was in India for the winter with his partner and children aged two and four.  He said they’ve been good with the food- although they can spot French fries and Fanta on menus!- and their guesthouse has a big outdoor space where they can play.  Next they are going to Goa for the rest of the winter where they have friends, and there is even a kindergarten for the Western kids.  He said, ‘It’s great because here I have time for them, at home I’d be at work, but here, there’s nothing to do.’  ‘I know, the only thing to think about is, do I need to do my laundry, or do I need some shampoo,’ I said.  ‘Yes, go to the Himalaya shop, that’s it,’ he said and we both laughed.

At our guesthouse we met P, a thirty-four year old woman from Costa Rica who came to India to do a yoga and meditation course and is now doing educational and inspirational videos on YouTube.  Up until recently she was married with a house, a business, two cars and all the trappings of what is thought of as a successful life.  Despite this she wasn’t happy; she separated from her husband, dismantled her business, sold the house and cars, and went off to California to trim marijuana plants.  ‘But you have a doctorate!’ her parents said, but she went anyway.  Right now she is volunteering with rescued elephants in Rajasthan, India, and making her videos.

Also at the guesthouse we met A from Portugal, thirty-three, it was her fifth time in India.  She is an organic farmer and showed us beautiful photographs of figs, of which she grows many different varieties, avocados and glossy purple aubergines.  Together with other environmentally minded people she has successfully persuaded her local authority to vote to protect her local environment, not working along political lines, just to protect nature.  She comes to India for the spiritual and healing aspects, and says she comes here as often as she can when her business is quiet; ‘When the trees are asleep.’

Travel update

In Pushkar until 15th November, then to Delhi, briefly, then to Nepal for two weeks.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

Tokyo Part Two

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Not all those who wander are lost: Tokyo (Extract of Draft Chapter for book)

The clothes were subtle, stylish and just so Japanese, exactly like I would have expected if I had thought about it. During the week lots of office wear, the men in suits with white shirts, the women in black pencil skirts and white or cream pretty blouses. I noticed that the 7/11s and similar stores sold not just tights and stockings but also ties and men’s white office shirts. On Sunday clothes were a bit different, I saw lots of women in wide leg slightly cropped trousers, mainly black, navy or taupe. I saw two women in smart clinging wool skirts, like soft office wear.

There were lots of smocked blouses with puff sleeves; long smocks like artists smocks; long dresses with dungaree tops in taupe or black, and loose cotton trousers that would be perfect for India. Lots of almost 1940s style print dresses, often brown but sometimes in blue, long, high neck, buttoned. Just above the knee sticky out skirts with net underneath with cute blouses; and longer dresses with circle designs and asymmetrical hems. And one evening I saw a woman dressed up like a doll in a big bright pink lacey dress with laced up bodice.

Because most people I saw were so smartly dressed, I noticed when I saw a man wearing old work trousers and a holey t shirt. The men’s work trousers I saw were made out of thick heavy cotton, and in a wrap around style. I also saw a man dressed Andy Warhol style in high waisted black trousers with a tight black sweater tucked in.

On the Metro I saw young people wearing T shirts with a zip pouch pocket at the front, I wanted one of those but didn’t find one.

I went shopping at UNIQLO. I had actually heard of this when I was in the UK, and then B confirmed that it was good and cheap. It was situated at the top of a mall, within walking distance from my hostel. It was such a neat, orderly and peaceful shopping environment. Wandering around I couldn’t help thinking what my punky teen/twenty something self would have thought of all this… Peaceful simplicity, is what it seemed like to me now. The clothes were functional, conventional and plain, except a few stripes or spots. The colors were moss, navy, black, white, taupe, brown, white, cream, grey.

There were lots of black trousers, t shirts, long sleeved tops, jumpers and a big section of loungewear. As Tokyo was coming into winter it wasn’t easy to find things that were thin enough for India, which would still be hot when I went back. Even so I couldn’t help running my hands longingly over fleece lined hoodies, fake fur snoods and scarves and even fake fur bags and purses. It was ridiculous but the idea of shopping for winter was kind of tempting.

At the changing rooms I was given a hood, made out of thin white material (like the facing material inside collars). This was to put over the head to stop makeup getting on the clothes being tried on, which I thought was a good idea. I bought two tops, smock like with three quarter length sleeves, one navy, one taupe; a pair of wide leg trousers, too hot for India really but fitted so nicely, and a pair of comfy sweat pants, also too thick for India, but Tokyo was cold and I couldn’t resist. When the sun shone it was very hot but when it rained it was cold and at my hostel the ac kept it on the cool side. I had the trousers turned up, they did free one hour alterations, even for clothes at a budget price, and everything done with impeccable customer service.

After Uniqlo I asked at tourist information for directions and went shopping for presents. I found the mall and the shop and managed to buy everything I wanted, and found my way home without looking at a map.

When I was out with B we bought snacks from the mini marts, B showed me what I could eat, rice triangles wrapped in seaweed, little pots of sticky soya beans, and my absolute favourite, tofu rolls, filled with rice and wasabi. I discovered even more in my local shops, miso and tofu salad and cooked chunks of soft pumpkin in pouches which I ate for lunches.

Even including breakfast cake compromises there didn’t seem like there was much to eat; there was enough but not loads to choose from or be tempted by. I did a lot of walking and managed to lose a little weight.

Most of the time in the evening I ate at the same place, on my second day the woman had understood me asking for vegetarian and been really friendly and helpful, showing me the menu cards that had English on and showing me how to choose and put the money in; you had to choose and pay at the front and hand the order ticket to the staff. I always had the same dish, noodles, seaweed, Japanese leeks which were tiny, strong and oniony, in a broth with thick triangular slabs of tofu.

One evening after dinner I went for a walk, past the amazing office buildings, my favourite was a huge glossy white sided building that rose up from the pavement like the side of a ship, and was a landmark for me. After the big office buildings, into the restaurants area, I saw a big multi floored pink building. A pink building! I stopped and stared; I saw a sign, it was a music school.

On the way back I saw a big rat, I’d seen a rat in Bangkok and lots in India and wasn’t afraid, just a little startled when it ran back and forth across the pavement in front of me.

At the end of one of the side streets near the hostel was a tiny pale pink faded apartment at the top of a neutral coloured building. A metal fire escape ran from the top down to the bottom. I changed my mind from the Gaudi mosaic apartment building, I’d live there instead.

I walked to meet B in Shinjuku East Side Square, actually not that far from the Uniqlo but the route was different. Uniqlo had been more or less straight following the Shinjuku gardens, which meant I only had to check the route every now and again, but this involved many little twists and turns which meant I had to hold my tablet and follow the blue dot all the way there. I got the map directions up at the hostel then it carried on working even while I was out and about with no internet.

On my route I saw apartment buildings from a different view, from side roads and little alleys, from down flights of steps, above me the apartment blocks, so many apartments packed neatly in.

It was a sunny day and the sky was blue above the grey and pale fawn buildings. I concentrated on remembering landmarks, a blue bridge, an animal hospital. Further on were smarter buildings, a huge one like a big city office block but it was actually apartments. It looked like the side of a spaceship, dark grey, all these little apartments, so many rows, so many columns, so many deep, I tried to count them but it made my head spin.

At the crossing I got confused, a Japanese man asked me if I needed help. ‘Cross over, turn left, look up, and you’ll see it, big building,’ he said. B had sent me a photo of Shinjuku East Side Square, one of the buildings was white, made of sleek shiny white bricks, which interlocked and overlapped to make gaps and textures, and was instantly recognisable. The man was right, I could see it from where he said, about half way there, and I was able to follow it as I followed the blue dot back into side streets and alleys again.

Down a quiet little street I saw a row of three open umbrellas hung up on the outside wall of a house. Each was a different shade of light pink, it looked like an art installation. The umbrellas and a few bits of laundry hung up on balconies were the only color. Seeing the backs of houses and the little details such as little plants in pots set out on the back doorsteps of houses, it felt like I was seeing real life behind the scenes.

A little further on, down another alleyway, amongst buildings which seemed to all be different shades of cream, I saw some brightly colored delivery crates outside the back of a shop. Red, green and yellow, the only color in that scene.

Shinjuku square, with its big modern buildings outside and shops and cafes inside, was beautifully designed; big circles, small circles, ovals, spirals. In the centre was a teardrop shaped pond. B told me that things are inspired by nature and designed with meaning, so that the pool might be the shape of a raindrop, for example, as well as having a spiritual meaning.

This was the first time I had watched and followed the blue dot the whole time all the way somewhere. I noticed how much it distracted me from being mindful and from noticing things in my environment. I usually have enough to do with noticing, remembering and thinking about things I see, as well as noticing and processing feelings and emotions and maintaining a level of awareness. Following the blue dot really took my attention away, let alone what it would have been like if I’d had a smart phone with notifications, messages etc.

As I had my tablet with me, I thought about taking photographs, but it just felt like another thing to do and think about when I already felt distracted. I could see though that I could really enjoy taking photographs, I do notice little pieces of beauty, but I can’t do everything, or not all at once anyway…

Travel update

In Pushkar until 15 Nov, then overnight bus to Delhi, then Delhi for one night then fly to Nepal for two weeks.

Writing update and Changes to Blog

Writing draft wise, I have now completed Thailand and Tokyo, and am back in India, which feels much easier. Whilst I am settled somewhere easy, I’m going to set aside some time to work on an old unfinished chapter, about our time in Kerala. Although it’s easier and more enjoyable to write about more recent places, Kerala will only get further away and less easy to tackle!

Then I will go back to the beginning, add any corrections or additions already identified, and send each draft chapter to B to read. Of course I am also keeping notes about the present as it unfolds, to return to once the other work is completed.

Thank you so much for indulging me during these past months of me not really doing a blog but just posting draft chapters up every week, often very long. Thank you so very much for reading and commenting, your support and feedback has helped me so much.

For the blog, from next week I will embrace being a blogger and just give myself and the blog free rein to do our own thing.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

Tokyo

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Not all those who wander are lost: Tokyo (Very rough chapter extract from the book)

I explored my local area on foot. My hostel was in the business district near a big crossroads and I walked in all four directions both in the day and at night, as Tokyo looked so different daytime and after dark.
Usually I thought about stopping and turning around when my feet began to hurt and then always found something just after that point; something that made the walk worthwhile, so that I could say, that’s what I was walking to and turn around.

A memorial portrait gallery and a nice bench; an amazing apartment building with mosaics sculpture up the walls and over the balconies, all different pretty old tiles in the hallway and black metal letter boxes; bright lights and cool buildings; a cat cafe; the Metro station that I often went to.

My first morning I picked one direction and stuck to it, looking for a coffee place. I thought I saw one, it was actually something totally different but it looked like a coffee shop in my home town: wishful thinking.

Then I saw one, a proper coffee shop! It looked like an British cafe or tea shop, a smart old fashioned one, the kind I could imagine my posh Grandma taking me too.

They asked me things I didn’t understand, they said things I didn’t understand, but they brought me coffee, in a dear little cup and saucer, with cream and chunky lumps of brown sugar.

On my left was a woman in a dove grey kimono. On my right was a woman dressed smartly in black and white using an expensive looking black laptop. Opposite me was a little display shelf of pretty little teacups and saucers in different designs.

I counted out what I thought was the right money, feeling very clever, until I realised I had got the coins confused. Anyway, I had got coffee for the first time. Now I need a shop to get food for breakfast, I said to myself. I came to a shop and bought raisin bread and a banana. I tipped out my money and they counted it out since I obviously didn’t know the coins yet. I didn’t have to worry about doing that, being in Japan.

I kept walking. Past a Metro station. I thought, I could just get on a train, go one stop, eat, and return. Or I could do some research and go on a trip. That feeling that I could do anything, the possibilities, the sense of expansiveness. There’s nothing to be scared of.

I kept walking. I saw a ‘forest’ took my bearings, looked carefully at the buildings around me so that I would know the way back, and went up the steps and over the bridge.

I passed a bank of vending machines, there was vending machines everywhere selling drinks but this was a whole array of ones selling pot noodles and even burgers and chips.

It wasn’t a forest, it was a sports area and the grounds of The Memorial Portrait Gallery. I decided to go to the gallery but first I needed to get out of the sun, it was very hot, and eat my breakfast. I need a bench in the shade, I thought, immediately, it appeared.

I sat on the bench and got my food out. My raisin bread bun was long like a hot dog, and was already cut in half and with spread on it, so I made a kind of hot dog with my banana.

Afterwards I went to the gallery and looked at the paintings. There were only two other people there, a Japanese man and a Western tourist. I realised a few days later that I had made a faux pas wondering around in my spaghetti strap vest top; I had wrongly assumed people wore anything in Japan whereas although the shortest skirts and shorts are fine, tops are modest. Some of this is to do with sun protection, women are taught from a young age to protect themselves from the sun, sun protector sleeves are worn, like I saw for sale in Thailand, and necklines are high. And umbrellas are used in the sun as well as the rain, and people wear visors.

The loo at the gallery was very complicated and took me ages to find the flush button; I was sure I pressed the alarm by mistake. The first button I pressed was a fake flush- sound only no actual flush.

On my first day I followed a little hand drawn map to go to the Suga Shrine, the setting of a scene from a famous Anime film. There were lots of people taking pictures of the view, some rails, some steps, it was lost on me, but I was glad I was able to find it. The scene was almost colourless, black and white, warm beige, warm grey, a red bin the only color, but not cold.

I enjoyed exploring the alleys of the local area, I noticed the wires, thick cables with thinner çables bound messily around them, the side streets grey but with a beauty of their own.

I went to another coffee shop on the way back. It had a wooden bread board, tins of tea, wine glasses, tea cups; it looked like an English dresser. I drank coffee in tea cup, a Japanese man spoke to me, he said, ‘I love the UK, I lived there for four years, South Kensington.’ I practiced saying and my name is and pleased to meet you .

Thereafter I got coffee from the mini mart, it was cheaper, and I could sit outside or take back to hostel, which I preferred.

It was often raining, and surprisingly cold when it did. Most people had the same almost identical see through plastic umbrellas with white or black handles. I learned to carefully put mine in a certain place in the umbrella racks, to remember, but even so I lost one and had to buy another. I realised I’d left it and went back but it had gone, there were others the same but I didn’t want to take someone else’s, but B said afterwards that those umbrellas are all kind of shared, by necessity.

Estate agent windows were different compared to the glossy brochures in UK windows, photocopied in mainly black and white, sometimes the picture was in colour but often not, one A4 sheet with small picture or pictures, a floor plan and some writing.

One sunny morning I had a nice encounter on a bench, mine was the only dry one and an older Japanese man was looking for somewhere to sit. I moved my bag and gestured, then said good morning. Unfortunately I’d left my language notes and couldn’t remember hardly anything. We used sign language and his little bit of English. We couldn’t make ourselves understood really but it was such a nice encounter, he and I so keen to chat with each other. It’s not always up to them, it can be up to me too, sometimes.

Breakfast was probably my favourite meal of the day, maybe because it was hard won, involving as it did getting up and dressed, going outside, negotiating buying coffee and breakfast, all before, er, having coffee. On a good day, by rehearsing in the lift on the way down I’d be able to say in Japanese, Good Morning, Coffee, Please, Just as it is/no bag, (although often I’d be eating outside and need a bag to put the rubbish in to carry back…) and Thank you. You couldn’t say it was a conversation, but it was a decent attempt at a polite interaction. The sense of accomplishment I felt sitting down with my coffee and cake felt good. Coffee, you have to say hot, or they won’t know, they expect 50/50 hot or cold.

My coffee came from a machine, but some places even had hot coffee on the shelves, which surprised me the first time I touched it, hot tea and cocoa too. After a while I always had the same cake, vegetarian, I asked, as sometimes there’d be things with meat on the bakery shelf, ‘Yes, potato.’ It tasted sweet, custard infused. Custard infused potato, I promise it was a lot nicer than it sounds.

One day at the bench near me where I often ate breakfast there were baby sparrows, four or six, and mum and dad nearby. I checked the prohibition sign: no wine, no exploding snakes (actually no fireworks), no camping, no fires, no cars or bicycles, no litter, no dog fouling, no loud music. Nothing about don’t feed the birds. I let a few yellow cake crumbs fall, the baby sparrows looked, I made more, rubbing the wrapper of my cake so that tiny bits came off. I looked down, there was loads of yellow on the ground. I hope they eat it, or I shall have littered, I thought. I moved seats so they wouldn’t be afraid, and watched as they ate it all. Mum and dad came and ate at the end before they all disappeared back into the hedge.

In many ways Tokyo was the opposite of India. It was so quiet and peaceful. The buildings were grey or neutral, the clothes too; neutral, black and white, grey, taupe, pistachio; everything ordered and conventional. One day I saw lots of fire engines leave the fire station, they looked brand new, so shiny and such bright red that the scene looked almost unreal.

There were no bins but no litter either. I saw two plastic bags and an empty coke bottle on the street and saw a man drop a cigarette butt on the street (smoking in the street was prohibited); that was it. Everyone must be so well trained to carry their rubbish around with them and then take it home. People don’t eat on the move, so maybe that helps.

Apparently eating while walking down the street is a big no no, although people do eat on benches in parks and public spaces.

There was no obvious pollution. There were hardly any scooters or bikes. Even the cars seemed quiet; sometimes I would be walking down a little side street and a car would surprise me, making just a little purring noise. The taxis were boxy looking, in black or colours, orange or green.

There were lots of bicycles, vintage style with baskets or bags, one painted bright pillar-box red, one with a dog in the basket. The bicycles were often left unlocked, or if they were locked, it wasn’t with a big D lock and heavy chain padlocked onto a railing, instead just a thin bike lock like I used to use as a child, and often just around its own wheel. But more often they were simply left unlocked, including a child’s one, new looking, rose pink with wicker basket, left for days in the business district of central Tokyo untouched.

It felt safe to walk about anytime, and no male attention whatsoever. Walking about I was generally ignored, by everybody, but that didn’t mean people weren’t friendly, they just weren’t all falling over themselves, and I had to make an effort to be friendly or ask for help. Tokyo is a busy city like London, which isn’t known for being overly friendly.

Health and Safety appeared to be taken very seriously. I had seen a sign at a construction site saying ‘Safety first.’ Nearby my hostel were some road works with a temporary walkway made by coning off part of the road. In the UK, there’d be a sign saying ‘Pedestrians’ with an arrow, and that would be it. Here, people were guided off the pavement and onto the road path by a model waving man with a lit up wand. All the cones were lit up from the inside by lights and the end ones had flashing lights on top as well. There were two actual men, one at each end of the path waving wands, like truncheon sized light sabres, directing the pedestrians, plus all the many road workers. Everyone was wearing hi vis, of course, and their hi vis had lights built into the waistcoats.

People clean their hands before eating-a wipe is provided, which I thought at first was for afterwards- and use chopsticks. People wear masks. I held a full conversation with a Japanese woman staying at the hostel in the lobby with her wearing one. B told me that people are very concerned about catching colds and flu, and are expected to wear a mask if they are unwell.

A large part of the reason I went to Tokyo was to see B, a fellow writer and blogger I met on WordPress. We met out of town for our first meeting, she sent me detailed instructions about the trains. ‘It might seem a bit daunting, and Tokyo station is very large, but there are signs everywhere in English,’ she said. The lines and the times and the platforms were all just as B had said, and when I was unsure of my way in Tokyo station, which is huge, and with lines that seem divided sub lines, I asked at the office which has an English speaking tourist counter. I got stuck at one of the ticket machines, but someone came to my aid, but otherwise, it was straightforward. Trains run on time and standing at the station waiting for trains was peaceful, with just the sounds of approaching and departing trains, the announcer, and the sound of fake cheeping presumably to discourage birds. I probably look terrified, I thought, but I’m actually not.

On the first train, a crowded commuter train, I was surprised when I felt people press into me. I first thought well that wasn’t as polite as I’d expected people to be. But then when we were back in India and talking about the Tokyo Metro and the London Underground with a New Yorker, my husband said, people in London aren’t polite enough to squash into each other to let people in, we like our personal space too much. Whereas in Tokyo, people know the trains are busy and that everyone needs to get to work, so they squash up so other people can get on.

It is frowned upon to eat on the metro; the only people I saw doing this were tourists. Talking on your mobile phone or having loud conversations is also not done. In Tokyo, where people work hard and there are lots of people, the commute and travel is made as peaceful as possible.

Just as in the middle of Tokyo the buildings are designed so beautifully, and there are trees and parks and banks of green designer hedges in the middle of business areas.

With B, I travelled on the Sky train, and saw the huge and amazing buildings of the centre of Tokyo. We went to temples and saw the huge Green Buddha. We went to parks, green oases in the centre of town. At one of the parks I saw big Japanese crows, at another I saw swan paddle boats, and vending machines selling tins of emergency earthquake food and toy hamster purses. B told me that at the weekends people bring their musical instruments to practice, even full size harps, Tokyo apartments not having the space or sound proofing for at home practice. She said she even saw someone bring a basket of (presumably indoor) cats to the park.

I didn’t see this, but in the restaurant in the park where we went for a late dinner, I did see a dog in a pram. Not a dolls pram or an old cast off childs one. This was a super smart new looking pram, with a medium sized pug faced dog lying quietly in it. Two women arrived and sat at a nearby table, one had a dog in a bag, it squeezed itself out of what looked like a small tight bag. The dog in the pram sat up to look at another dog. No one (other than me) batted an eyelid. B told me it is common to see young couples walking happily together with a pram with a dog in it.

I found out from reading that tattoos are not really socially acceptable in Japan, despite my previous impressions of Japan as a great place for tattoos. Lots of bath houses do not let people with tattoos in, but others are ‘ink friendly,’ responding to demand.

B told me that outsiders’ ideas re Japan and technology is also a bit off. She pointed out how many people on the trains were reading paper books and how few using electronic readers. It was true, and wandering into a bookshop at the weekend it had been very busy. B said that at her work they use very old photocopiers and fax machines.

The reputation of Tokyo’s working hours culture though, was accurate. Employees such as teachers are expected to stay until the most senior person goes home, which could be ten pm at night. ‘They can’t have a family,’ I said, appalled. ‘Yes they do, they just don’t see them, their kids are in bed when they get home, maybe their mum lives with them and does the cooking,’ B said. People go jogging at midnight because that is their only time. B worked with one Japanese person who didn’t follow this convention but was kind of ostracised from the rest. And then there is after work drinking, particularly on a Friday night, where people say and do anything then it isn’t mentioned afterwards.

I told B about my anxiety at airport, my confusion re the loo flush; she said she still gets confused sometimes as they are always somewhere different, sometimes on the wall, sometimes as part of the control panel of options, but not particularly marked out, considering its the most essential one, and sometimes just a regular handle. She told me that brushing teeth in public is absolutely fine, everyone brushes their teeth after lunch and she sees colleagues walking about with toothbrushes in their mouths. Later in my stay I saw women brush teeth in public bathrooms after lunch.

B said that women are very shy about people hearing them urinate, it’s not okay to just let out a stream of wee, women in Japan rattle the loo roll holder or door handle; hence the privacy buttons on the toilet panel, the sound of flushing or music, not just for poos!

B corrected my pronunciation and we discussed similarities between Japanese and English. English has many different words for the same things, especially around social politeness, but even if they mean the same things if they are said wrong it sounds funny.
Like Thailand, people don’t say ‘no’ in Japan either, you hear a lot of ‘maybe,’ which can confuse foreigners as it actually means no.

Even on my first couple of days, I never thought the black and white and grey was cold, it was just very different to India; and after almost two weeks I began to see it for what it was, beautiful.

The difference between the clothes and buildings of India and Japan was like the difference between butterflies and moths. The longer I was there the more colour I began to notice and the more beauty I began to see in the buildings.

I saw a lot of circles, big circular brick designs and windows in the walls of buildings, curved balconies set on top of each other like a cut out cyclinder, and black metal spiral fire escapes.

The ascetic is not to clash with nature hence the neutral colours. Nature is revered, planted or allowed to be, clothes follow seasons, umber, maroon. I saw trailing bindweed with pink flowers making fine curtains over the side of a building, and planted walls at the Metro station.

‘Everything’s beautiful,’ B said. ‘Of course it is,’ I said, ‘A rough bit of plaster on the wall can be beautiful if you look carefully at it, and if you are a writer, you can describe something like that and make it beautiful.’

Travel update
Staying put in Pushkar, happily.

Thank you very much for reading.
See you next week.

Travel update

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Photos of Delhi by my husband

Everything took a bit of a wobble this week, due to three things: an outbreak of Zika virus in Jaipur where we were meant to go to next; getting sick; and realising being in a horribly polluted city is, well, horrible.

We had a train booked to go to Jaipur in Rajasthan in the early hours of Monday 15th. However, there was/is an outbreak of Zika virus there. Zika, whilst it is very dangerous for pregnant women, is not fatal as far as I am aware, and most people who had it have recovered, but we still didn’t want to risk getting it. It’s transmitted by mosquitos and they just love my husband.

And then we got sick. I’ve had one or two days of a funny tummy quite often, even recently in Varanasi, Tokyo and Thailand, but this was the first time of being proper sick since the last time we were in Delhi, when we first arrived in March.

So we decided to skip Jaipur and go to the next place on our Rajasthan itinerary which is Pushkar, but could only get there by bus, it wasn’t possible to get a train at such short notice. This meant we had to stay holed up in our hotel room in Delhi until we were well enough to manage an overnight bus journey (no loos on bus!).

We’ve been holed up in our hotel room- for six days!*- not only because we’ve been sick but because the pollution levels of Delhi, whilst always bad are currently appalling.

They apparently implemented emergency plans, ceasing the burning of plastic and enforcing factory regulations, which sound to me like the kinds of things that should be happening all the time anyway, let alone other things like electrifying the auto rickshaws etc… I really feel sorry for the people who live in Delhi all the time.

Here is a link to a photo of a Bryan Adams concert that took place whilst we were there, and information about the problems and control measures.  

Anyway, this has made us reassess our plans, which had involved going from city to city in Rajasthan, a week in each, then Kathmandu, another very polluted city, for two weeks. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but the reality of being in a polluted city has made us question if that was such a great plan.

*Watching funny X Factor auditions on YouTube, watching Dear White People and Big Mouth on Netflix, and sleeping like a cat.

 

But, as my husband said, ‘Things change quickly in India,’ and here we are in Pushkar. We arrived Thursday morning and oh do I feel happy! Lovely big light room, comfy bed, super friendly staff, beautifully painted guesthouse with gorgeous roof terrace with food. We’ve met nice people at the guesthouse and out in Pushkar. Pushkar itself is lovely with its holy lake, well fed cows, lots of cool stalls and good food.

See you next week, and thank you very much for reading

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Photos of Pushkar by my husband

Thailand Part Five

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YES TO EVERYTHING:  THAILAND (PART FIVE) Draft chapter for book Sri Thanu, Koh Phangan,

We’d started off in the party area for my step daughter, moved into a proper town for the middle part, and for the last week we moved to the yoga area. We thought we might go to a yoga class- we didn’t- but the main reasons were that it was quiet and there were lots of good vegan food places. We’d thought it might be expensive which was part of the reason we’d had the week in the town, as well as to have some variety and not stay in any one place too long in case we didn’t like it.

Our first introduction wasn’t that great, our taxi driver accidentally pulled up at the wrong property and an unfriendly Westerner leaned out from his balcony and told us all off for parking on the grass. Luckily, the place where we were staying was more friendly. Owned by a Belgium family, the son, who worked behind the bar said, ‘It’s a dream life.’

The accommodation was beach hut style bungalows, with a bar-restaurant on site, coconut palms, lots of greenery and little paths that led directly down onto the beach and tasteful sunbeds. A small swimming pool was on site; at night it was beautifully and temptingly lit up but out of bounds after seven pm.

The toilets did not have bum guns or even a jug and tap near the toilet like we’d grown used to in India and the rest of Thailand. Plus the bum gun is really useful for sluicing down the bathroom floor and getting rid of sand. It’s interesting to see how quickly or how slowly we adapt to new ways of doing things. We’d got used to the bum gun or jug, the water way. This made the seat wet though, and so I said to my husband, can we try and remember to lift the seat up, so it dries and we/I don’t get a wet bum. ‘I’ll try, but it’s going to be hard to undo years of conditioning,’ my husband said. I thought of all the arguments men and women have about this, and how it can change in an instant when your environment or culture changes.

There was a cute but fairly out of control puppy that some tourists had brought back from the street and then just gone home, leaving the guesthouse owners- who already had a dog and who had told the tourists not to bring the puppy back- to feed it. Though they fed it and were going to get its jabs done, the puppy was now not part of a dog pack or a human family. It used to scratch at our door in the night, as our room was where the tourists had stayed.

There were tiny birds in the bushes outside our room, they looked almost like hummingbirds. Around the place, hanging from trees, were strings of shells interspersed with pearlised pink beads, they looked so pretty. We’d seen a similar thing in Haad Rin, a kind of string and shell sculpture hanging from the low branches of trees at the edge of the beach.

The street with a 7/11 was at the end of the entrance drive. Along the ‘main road,’ which was very quiet, were lots of yoga places, lots of restaurants, a freshwater lake, and jungle just off the street. There were lots of scooters and jeeps. Some of the motorbikes had side cars which were like a metal frame or a cart, once we saw an old lady and three kids sitting in one. Others had been made into mobile grocery shops, selling all kinds of fresh fruit and veg, the driver would stop outside a restaurant and ring a bell.

We needn’t have worried about food and prices, as well as all the vegan places there were lots of little Thai places that were relatively cheap to eat at. I say relatively, because everything seemed expensive compared to India. The little Thai places were simple wooden structures at the side of the road, our favourite one had a tiny kitchen made from old blue wooden doors, and inside had everything hanging neatly on the walls, and jars packed onto lots of little shelves, like a cabin. Outside were a few wooden tables and chairs, plants and tree decorations, one a little wooden sign saying, Let it go.

What I read up about Thailand said to try and avoid saying the word ‘no,’ as in Thailand there isn’t a word for no. Although I had all good intentions this proved difficult, almost impossible to stick to; being offered massage and taxi at every turn, as well as being asked questions requiring a yes or no answer, eg would you like a plastic bag. We thought that in tourist areas they had probably got used to tourists saying no, and it didn’t seem to be a problem. What we realised was more important though, was not putting Thai people in a position of having to say no to us, as it appeared to cause discomfort.

One evening we’d finished dinner. I’d had coconut milk and tofu soup and a banana shake. We chatted for a while before my husband decided he’d like a banana shake too. He asked, the woman broke into giggles, hopped from foot to foot, wrung her hands, appearing very uncomfortable, before eventually explaining that the kitchen had, ‘Been cleaned.’ We quickly realised, the kitchen was closed! ‘Oh, okay no problem, we’ll come back in the morning.’ All smiles, harmony restored and my husband did as he’d promised and went back at breakfast and got his shake.

The same thing happened during a big power cut when we were going around finding out if anyone was still cooking, people were unable to say no, so we started saying, ‘Is tomorrow better?’ ‘Yes, come back tomorrow,’ they said, until we found one that was cooking.

During the daytime I wrote in the onsite restaurant, where there was good internet, charging points, water, coffee and food if I wanted it- homemade Belgium fries, tofu and vegetable rice- but also the staff were happy for me to just sit and write.

It was mostly quiet in the daytime, but just like in some places in India, even when no one was there they had the music turned up really loud. After a few days I got up the confidence to ask them to turn it down when there was only me. And just like at the Cactus Bar in Haad Rin, they played really inappropriate music for little kids, I watched/listened as a family with young kids arrived, I was so tempted to say something, but the staff did change it, after a while.

The staff were really nice though, the main person we spoke to was from Burma, he spoke very good English and Thai. He said that Thai people speak very fast on the islands so it’s very hard to learn; he said people speak slower in the North, so that in Bangkok, it is much easier to learn Thai.

The beach, whilst not huge, was very beautiful, and in the evenings we were able to watch the sun set over the sea. It was so beautiful that it felt surreal.

I even tried sunbathing; habitually I cover up from full sun, but I just thought, ‘Yes to everything.’ I dropped a factor of sunblock on the white bits, missed it out altogether on the tanned bits, went swimming, paced around the pool about twenty times, (have I mentioned I’m not that good at sitting doing nothing?) thought, that doesn’t seem to have done anything, so laid on one of the tasteful sunbeds with J for a bit until hot/bored and went in.

I got burned of course, my skin went wrinkly and I thought, well that was stupid.

Stupid of me, I mean. I do have some respect for people who make it their mission to tan and do it safely and slowly and thoroughly because I now know it takes a lot of dedication. (Just like having really nice hair and nails and a good coordinated wardrobe, other things I also don’t do/have.)

After my sunbathing, later on I went for a walk by myself. It was still hot but I covered up and took water with me. I walked past a beautiful shrine, yellow and gold with mirror mosaic that glinted silver in the bright sun.

I had bought new shoes in Kerala on a rare trip to a shopping mall. Alongside my flip flops they were my only footwear. When they were new they had given me huge bloody blisters. In Thailand I started wearing my shoes without socks they had become so comfortable.

Further along the road there was a yoga place, I went in and picked up a programme, they had a huge range of different yoga classes and meditations. It felt too hot for yoga really, but if J had wanted to go to anything I would have gone with her.

I carried on up the road as it became a hill. I said to myself, just to the top and back. I reached the top, said, just over the brow, and then, just a little further. As the road curved to the left suddenly everything opened out to a beautiful view down to the sea. The sea was a beautiful deep blue, there was a little bay, islands, and the sunshine making stripes on the sea. There was even a little stony layby where I could stand and stare safely away from the path of passing jeeps and scooters, and a flat rock to sit on and look down at it all from up high.

On the way back a yoga woman actually said hi and talked and walked with me, unthinkable in India. ‘I thought, she’s been to India,’ she said, recognising my lungi dress. This gives me cred with the Thai yoga people, in the hierarchy India comes top!

We went back to same place where I’d had the coconut soup and I realised in comparison how ill I’d felt when we went there the first time. I’d only dared eat soup and been really anxious about needing the loo. You don’t know how ill you’ve been until you feel well; in a turn around of this song they played everywhere, ‘you never miss the light til its getting low, never miss the sun til its starts to snow, never know you love her til you let her go,’ which may or may not be a good song but I heard it way too many times during that holiday.

Days of writing, maybe I’d been working too hard, and long evenings of sociability when I am a natural introvert, had meant that when I experienced a moment of peace, I really experienced it. We’d all retired early to bed after dinner. I sat on our bed which had a navy cotton ribbed bedspread, it had a familiar quality, I might have once had one like it at home. It was in a pause before we were going to watch Battlestar Gallactica. Quiet, comfortable, no pressure. A rare moment of absolute peace.

Towards the end of our time I had an emotional day, so happy in the morning, so sad at night. My husband and I went out for a vegan breakfast, just us. Just like in Eat Pray Love when she eats the pizza in Naples, it was almost a religious experience. Even the tiles on the floor were so beautiful, of flowers and grasses, just like the floor of heaven. The place was even called something to do with heaven. In the evening before dinner we went onto the beach, sungazing, paddling, watching the unbelievable light and colors in the sky and on the water, like pearlised nail polish.

Then the three of us went out and had dinner at the place we’d discovered during the power cut, a basic looking but busy and popular place at the side of the road. My husband tried a bit of my dinner and saved me some of his. The waiter came and offered us their speciality, mango sticky rice, we protested, ‘Maybe you leave Koh Phangan ten kilos heavier!?’ he said. We agreed to have just one plate to share.

My husband made a joke about me not saving him any of my dinner; J laughed. Even though he was only joking, and even though she was only laughing at him not me, it triggered this awful feeling. First I thought it was simple embarrassment, then I realised it was shame.

The mango sticky rice came with one fork and one spoon, my husband and J picked them up and started eating. ‘You having any?’ he said to me after a while. I had no implement. I could have shared his, I could have used my fingers, actually that is the done thing, but in my shame-state I couldn’t eat. I tried a tiny mouthful just to act normal-it tasted like the best food in the world, perfectly ripe mango and sweet-salty rice with a little bite to it- and then punished myself by not eating any more. I was paralysed with shame. I needed to go for a wee, but didn’t, just left with them and walked back, sitting outside the 7/11 while they went in, waiting to get home.

Here is where I have things in common with the features of emotionally unstable or borderline personality disorder (BPD): emotions that are triggered seemingly easily, come on strong and last a long time. Shame is a particularly important one as many BPD patients will have experienced being shamed as children.

Of course, rationally, underneath all this I realised that my husband was just trying not to let J feel left out; throughout the three weeks we were obviously both aware that we were a couple and of the need to make sure she didn’t feel isolated.

Yet shame, being left out, being left behind, are all big things for me, even though I didn’t name and experience them in so wide awake a way before.

On a previous evening we’d been walking home, my husband and J up ahead, me lagging behind, when my earing fell out and pinged across the ground. Instead of calling them back, I had a half hearted look and then gave up and walked on a bit sorrowfully, only mentioning it when I caught up. ‘Why didn’t you call us?’ My husband said. Immediately they both set off walking back with me and the three of us had a thorough look. We didn’t find it. Although they were my only pair of ‘dangly’ earrings, they were just the cheap gold hoop earrings I’d bought in Haad Rin and had since gone almost black, so it wasn’t important in itself, only as a teaching or a light.

Once I had been on holiday with a group of good friends, on our way home we had all decided to stop off at a certain beach, prolonging the holiday, and all drove separately. For some reason there was some confusion and they left without me or went to a different beach. It was a complete accident but I remember being really upset about it. I think it was the first time I’d really showed that side of myself to them, and they were people I’d known for years.

I even remember during the same holiday, when it was my turn to look after the dinner, someone else had made it, then I stayed in to stir it until it was finished, whilst the others sat outside on the decking with wine and cigarettes. The dinner seemed to take forever and I remember feeling really lonely and left out, even though I love solitude. Another thing I have in common with BPD features, an intense fear of abandonment.

I can trace the origins of some of these characteristics back to schooldays, but right now it’s not about analysing the past, it’s about shining a light on my emotions and responses and ironing out the kinks in as present a moment as possible.

After we got home after the mango sticky rice and 7/11, we went for a walk on the beach. I remember turning my head towards the sea and breathing; it smelled warm, and salty.

Back in the room, lying in bed, feeling my low mood, tearful, letting my emotions play out without suppressing them. Watching them, looking for a positive, use emotions.

We watched Battlestar Gallactica ‘You learned the wrong lesson from your mother. You confused the messenger and the message.’ I don’t know what that means for the character or me but I hope to find out both.

In the semi darkness, my head turned to the wall, I stared at the picture on the wall. It looked like a thing, a white creature with a crumpled face and paws. Paws resting on a table or keyboard, a surface of some kind. As if it were feeling, or controlling, what’s going on below.

I couldn’t find the right words to talk to my husband about it until the next day. I wanted to explain it from the point of view of, look what I found out about myself, and so that he would know me more rather than less.

After I talked to my husband, and with the addition of daylight, I looked again at the picture on the wall. It was just a bowl, and some unidentifiable white things.

But of course these things are never easy to discuss and sometimes things get worse before they get better. My husband said he felt ‘devastated,’ that something he’d said had made me feel so bad, and spent the day feeling like an awful person. I spent the day in a battle to force myself to go swimming. I knew the exercise would make me feel better but at the same time I felt anxious, hopeless and paralysed.

The closer we got to me going off to Tokyo, the worse we seemed to get on, bickering over the smallest things. Maybe it was the pressure of, ‘Oh it’s our last few days, they’ve got to be good.’ Or maybe we were living up to what we’d been saying mainly as a joke, ‘We need to build in a break from each other during this trip as we’ve been together almost 24/7 for six months.’ But I think we were both just sad really.

The two of us went out and I ate a whole portion of mango sticky rice, it was a re do, like buying the earrings from the shop in Haad Rin was.

My husband came in the taxi with me to the ferry, which I was glad about; and because we arrived early we got to spend a few hours alone together. We sat on a wooden platform looking out to sea, talking about our year, and watching big lizards sunning themselves on the rocks before disappearing into the gaps the moment we tried to take their picture.

So we ended up spending five weeks in Thailand, most of it on a paradise island. No travelling other than to and from the island. No taking the night train to Chang Mai from Bangkok with the lady boys, which apparently is meant to be fun. It wasn’t really planned but that was just how it all worked out. I had my hair done and got to wear (relatively) skimpy/fitted clothes. We stayed at easy places. I did lots of writing and relaxing. We ate great food. My hair looked thick, my eyes were sparkling, my face was clear and radiant. If you are travelling in India for a year, if you have a visa like ours where you have to go out after six months, I recommend a month or a fortnight in Thailand. Go stay on a holiday paradise island. You don’t even have to tell anyone, you could just pretend you’re at an Ashram or something. Or just say that you’ve gone there ‘to write.’

Personal update
Agghhh! Son’s dental surgery postponed until 10th November.

Travel update
I’m going to schedule this as a separate post for Saturday. My posts are far too long and at least people who can’t or don’t want to read the chapters can easily just check in on where we are if they want to.

Writing update
This, which means the draft of Thailand is finished! Next up, Tokyo.

See you next week, and thank you very much for reading.

Throwback Thursday

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I can so clearly remember that period of work related trips, seeing the beauty in an Enfield Business park, there was even a sign saying Electric Avenue, and driving to Sussex, negotiating tunnels and toll roads and the sense of achievement it gave me.  

Feeling suicidal now and again was almost a habit, maybe brought on by PMS, overwork, or perhaps a deeper awareness that my life wasn’t quite right somehow.  I’m much better now.  

My spiritual awakening was triggered by meeting and falling in love with my now husband, we used to spend hours talking on the phone.

WHAT MY ANGEL SEES  (First published October 2014)

I used to wrap my arms around you all the time so I know how your husband feels when he folds you into his arms. You could never feel me holding you but you can feel him. Seeing that makes me so happy.

I watched you hurt yourself, not feed yourself properly, be careless and stubbornly ignore all my signs and advice. Just like you watching your son when he was younger; so you see I know how much it hurt.

I introduced you to potential teachers and to sensible people who might have been helpful or supportive but you would only listen to people in black jeans with spiky hair. So set in your beliefs that you were flaky and incapable that you acted it out and made it true: getting up late, being disorganised and letting people walk all over you.

Watching you suffer, all alone. I suffered, feeling the moments when you felt incapable. Other times I wanted to yell. I think once I actually knocked a cup over.

I tried to get you to be spiritual. Angels hummed around you. You’d find it in music sometimes, but you drank too much and it dulled your senses. Maybe you’d have been better off getting into raves and ecstasy (not that I am allowed to prescribe that kind of thing), but you hated the orange and yellow clothes and so you stayed miserable in black.

There were dark moments but I always had faith in you. But oh, you were stubborn! I used to throw snowballs, shatter sunbeams before your eyes, line up twenty cats along a road for you to say hello to… But you were blind and gradually it all cemented over until all I could do was watch; I couldn’t even try to communicate with you anymore.

And so when it finally happened, when the cement was scraped away and the well lid was forced open… it was like witnessing a miracle- and I’m used to them. To watch you sitting cross legged on the floor, phone in one hand, the other hand clutching your chest, feeling like your chest was being cracked open with an axe, love and light flooding in… I will never forget that.

So when I hear you thinking about hanging yourself, alarm bells ring loudly. Of course, I send Love blazing down to you but it needs more. The best treatment is to give you something to do that is a bit scary and challenging, quite safe but enough to cause a little nervousness and get you into a minor flap. Something work related; you are so conscientious that you’d never not do it. So, it distracts you, gives you something to worry about like the M25 and the Dartford Bridge and afterwards it resets your mood and emotional state and we all breathe a sigh of relief.

The reason you have to ask angels to help you is not because we are meanly sticking to some kind of protocol; it’s because by asking you open a channel, it is closed otherwise and we cannot help. Even the ‘Oh God, help me’ in the toilet bowl we respond to but alcohol clouds consciousness and most people don’t remember or keep the channel open.

When an angel’s person commits suicide, it’s the hardest thing. If that person does not ask for help the channel is closed and although we are showing signs and sending messages all the time, if the person doesn’t believe anyone is thinking of them or that there is any help to be had, their angel’s wings are tied. I’ve seen angels whose people have killed themselves tear themselves apart.

You’re so easy really, nowadays. Rewarding. A little challenge and the sense of achievement you get is out of all proportion to the challenge itself; wide eyed you wander around a business park in Enfield as if it’s Wonderland. So happy, so full of optimism, noticing red berries on a bush, finding a pond, seeing a beautiful sunset and then sorting out your entire life over a Premier Inn dinner for one. You’re so easy now, it makes all the past worthwhile.

Thailand Part Four

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Yes to everything:  Thailand Part Four (Draft chapter for book)

Photograph:  My husband saved this cat from some dogs and got scratched, luckily the scratches healed up with no ill effects.

THAILAND PART FOUR
Thong Sala, Koh Phangan

Just around the corner from where we were staying was a street market. We bought nice little pastries; savoury vegetable and sweet pineapple and banana. There were lots of clothes stalls both new and second hand. I tried a free size summer dress on, it fitted and looked nice. I tried a short skirt on, it fitted exactly. I tried on another top, it didn’t fit. I can try things, some fit, some don’t. That man in the shop in Haad Rin was wrong. Maybe nothing would have fitted, but it wasn’t ridiculous to want to have tried.

One night I was on WordPress, looking at which blog posts had been read that month. See yourself as beautiful, from earlier in the year before we left the UK appeared in the list. Later that line came into my mind in bed. It’s a mind game, I thought and that includes what you look like or how you feel about what you look like.

Away from the day glo hordes, albeit friendly enough, I can begin to be still and catch the quiet moments again. They are so distracted, there’s so much to see and do and so many people around.

J and my husband had gone out for a second breakfast. I stayed home and did a full, proper yoga session outside on the veranda undistracted with unlimited time; invigorating for mind and body. I had my period and reminded myself this is the time when ‘the veil is thin.’ I did the warrior pose (where your fingertips are outstretched and your gaze follows the path of your fingers). On the index finger of my left hand was my blue ring, I followed it to the exact place the stone was pointing at: a tree, its roots and branches and hidden behind the tree, the exact tip of a little red boat.

We chatted to the manager of the place at the bar-restaurant. He told us that he’d been to UK to see his friend who was at university in Portsmouth; while he was there he’d been to watch Leicester City play and been to Stonehenge. ‘Did you like Stonehenge?’ My husband asked. ‘Noooo!’ The man said and laughed; the barman laughed too and we all joined in. ‘Its not Wat Po is it?’ I said. ‘And so expensive,’ the man said, shaking his head.

The paving in Thong Sala was like the paving in some places in India, most memorably Pondicherry; tessellations, paving bricks with curves and diagonal lines, shocked parallelograms.

Like in Goa in India there was gasoline for sale everywhere for the scooters, sitting outside in sun but this time in glass bottles not plastic.

Walking into town from our place we heard What’s going on playing from one of the bars.

Thai pop music was very fast, lots of sounds, upbeat, playful, almost discordant to our ears.

We saw a sign saying ‘F***ing good bakery.’ Again we wondered, is that what they think we want?

The three of us went to a pub, above the bar were three big screens, all showing something different, luckily without sound: a film or documentary about Nazis, a football programme, and the BBC news. On the BBC news the politics looked so trivial, so grey, and the news seemed so alien, so far away. An advertisement came on the middle screen, or the end one, football or Nazis I can’t remember. I caught the final seconds: ‘Incredible India, find the Incredible you.’

One evening my husband went into a shop, I waited outside, not being bothered to undo my shoes. A turn of phrase the man used made me prick up my ears, ‘Indian,’ I thought. I looked at him, he looked Indian but before I said anything, he said to me, ‘You’ve been to India,’ recognising my dress-made-out-of-a-lungi. He was from Delhi, he said he had come to Thailand because it is much easier to run a business there. ‘It’s (India) alright for you, just visiting, but to live there and run a business…’ he said.

I was super excited, I said pleased to meet you and thank you in Hindi. He however wasted little time before trying to sell us something: as well as the shop clothes, fortune telling, meditation and chakra unblocking sessions, but my husband was hungry so we made our apologies and left. It made us realise that Thailand isn’t so pushy and that we’d probably got a bit soft! Nonetheless, I was as excited, possibly more, to meet and talk to an Indian person as J was to find an English bar that sold her favourite brand of cider for a taste of home.

One day my husband was sorting coins out, going what’s this, what’s that, that’s such and such, Thai, that’s a rupee, Indian. ‘I don’t know what that one is,’ he said, holding one up. ‘That’s a 10p!’ J said laughing, ‘I can’t believe you don’t know your own money!’ It really was true, and after only five months away.

There was a food market in Thong Sala which consisted of lots of stalls outside and inside a food court with permanent stalls and seating. From the stalls outside I bought fresh spring rolls filled with avocado. Inside there was a vegan place, we had huge portions of green lentil curry and brown rice, a solid substantial lentil dish like we would make at home. And brown rice! I couldn’t eat it all, but I felt really nourished.

There was a weird trek outside and beyond to the toilet, it reminded me of a car boot, walking down a muddy deserted track to a kind of run down prefab building where the loos were. On the inside of the loo doors were stickers, photos of pigs. Each individual pig was encased in an oval tunnel made from what looked like green garden wire. Totally encased, to the size of the pig. Rows and rows of them. ‘You don’t eat, this won’t happen,’ said the writing. I feel sick even writing it, weeks later. J, who eats meat, probably didn’t even notice them, if she did she didn’t mention it, whereas I’m still haunted by those images.

Another sad sight was all the birds in cages, outside homes and shops and at pet shops.

On a happier note, one evening we were walking past a house, their door was open and we could see inside; a man was ‘training’ a black and white cat in the centre of the room, holding up some food for it while two women looked on smiling. We all caught each others eyes and laughed.

It seemed people had a high tolerance for noise, like in India. We went past a kid on a toy bike which was making an awful noise, playing a really loud nursery rhyme; no one seemed to mind. The 7/11 door triggered a tinny automated ‘Sawadi-ka’ every time anyone came in, it would be enough to drive me insane, again the shop staff seemed able to ignore it.

At a restaurant one night, we watched a big metal pot of dinner being carried out to a scooter. One man got on the back side saddle, a second man put the steaming hot pot of food on him, got on the front and rode off. We often saw kids standing up on scooters. Health and safety wasn’t such a big thing as it is in the UK. It was nice to see that work and home life seemed mixed up altogether. We often saw kids with their families at massage places and at restaurants, and sometimes boys shyly served us or brought menus.

Often the family home was on the same site as the restaurant and to go to the loo you had to go into the family home. At one place they got the boy out of bath, covered in soap suds, I protested but it was too late. The bathroom floor was wet, a child’s version of a baby bath full of soap suds and clothes, washing clothes at same time, which made sense. There was a big water butt full, catching drips from a tap. The whole set up just struck me as so totally functional. Outside the bathroom the curve of the concrete floor was icy slippery under my wet bare feet and my feet slid although fortunately I kept my balance.

But apart from these odd glimpses, things you have to look really hard to see or be lucky to encounter, apart from these occasional glimpses, the real Thai culture seemed drowned out by the tourism. I’m not saying it’s not there, I mean I couldn’t see it for Westerners and for them having opened bars, started businesses, taken over, in a way you couldn’t imagine them doing in India. We only went to Koh Phangan though, and to Ko Samui to extend our visa, and Bangkok, maybe the rest of Thailand is different. On the ferry to Ko Samui there was almost all Westerners. A group of hungover Brits behind us were talking and swearing loudly. At the immigration office, where they expressly ask people to dress respectfully and not wear beach clothes, we saw several tourists in tiny shorts and tops, and I heard a woman getting annoyed at the counter. Keeping your cool is really important in Thailand, it is confusing and offensive to get angry.

Near our place, out for a walk on my own, I met a man who used to be a monk (it is common in Thailand for men to have spent some time as a monk). The conversation started with him offering me motorbike hire and tour guide services, but we ended up talking about meditation and enlightenment. ‘I can’t get there,’ (enlightenment), he said, because, ‘I can’t do it, one meal a day,’ the life of a monk. As far as he was concerned, there was only one route there. I felt sad for him but I didn’t want to risk offending his religious beliefs by disagreeing with him. He told me about the local temples, about how important it was to be in nature, and how if only we could roll back all the development of the island by twenty years….

During our stay in Thong Sala I felt that I had all the time in the world to do anything. It didn’t matter what time I got up or went to bed, as long as I wrote and got some exercise, I had no guilt and I was happy. I wrote, did some yoga, and spent time with J and my husband. It was the opposite of, ‘I don’t know where the day went.’

Just meters from our door amongst the trees was a log to sit on. Sometimes late at night before bed I sat there and looked out at the lights out at sea and in the town and the pretty coloured boats on the shore. It was a moment of peace and quiet to close the day with.

Sometimes we’d be woken up by the national anthem or loud Thai pop music, and often go back to sleep until later. We ate breakfast in the little on site restaurant. We bought little cartons of soya and almond milk from the 7/11 and put them in their fridge and ordered bowls of muesli with fresh fruit, and good black coffee.

The variety of milks in Thailand was incredible, soya milk with green tea, soya milk with chai seeds in, the seeds had obviously soaked so drinking or rather eating was almost like eating tapioca. We also enjoyed eating packets of dried seaweed instead of crisps. One day we went to a Tescos, it was the first supermarket resembling the ones in the UK that we’d been to since leaving and it felt quite exciting. There were huge bottles of Pantene shampoo and conditioner, popular in Thailand, and packs of regular cotton knickers which I was excited to buy, although unfortunately they didn’t fit, Thai sizes were too small for me.

I did my writing sat on a bench at a big wooden table facing out to sea. Around me on the sand floor were cane chairs and tables and beyond that the decking area. To my left, the wall of the bar, to my right the grass, the coconut palms and the bungalows and behind me the bar. When I took a break I had a Red Bull and a cigarette with J.

In Thailand, the home of Red Bull, it comes in little cans or in even smaller glass bottles which look like medicine bottles. It contains B12 and all sorts of other vitamins, different bottles and cans have different combinations, one has Zinc, another has Vitamin C; and it tastes significantly better than the stuff you get in the UK. It was possible to buy the big UK style cans in Thailand but it was much more expensive. The barman told me the Red Bull man used to be the richest man in Thailand, but he’s dead and now it is the man who owns Chang, a brand of beer and water. I spent a few days writing fuelled by Red Bull, before just, stopping…

The restaurant had a simple and limited vegetarian menu, for lunch I almost always ordered rice with tofu and vegetables, it was a small portion, just right for lunch and came with little side salad, big slanted thick slices of cucumber with tomato and lettuce.

J talked to me about her life and I talked to her about what my life used to be like. She’s twenty years younger than me and I related to a lot of what she said from the point of view of having been there and how I’ve changed.

There’s a tender balance though, between using all this as a way to reflect on how far I’ve come in twenty years, what I’ve learned, and thinking that if only J follows some of what I’ve done it will help her, rather than accepting that people have to find their own way.

So I probably did push my opinions more that I ought to have done, on the benefits of having a television and smart phone free life, sticking to a vegan or at least vegetarian diet, not drinking (mostly), not being in touch much with home whilst away in order to have a fuller experience, doing yoga and meditation, and my belief that all this reduces the chaos and drama within one’s life.

Putting draft chapters up on the blog, the comments make me realise where I need to explain more, often where I kind of knew but didn’t know how to fix, and the comments I do back help or even write it the additions for me. I love it when people say they can picture it, or feel like they are there, that they feel it through the senses. That was my intention, I stated in Panaji, Goa, ‘use the senses.’ I used to actually write it at the top of the chapter, use the senses: sight, sound, touch/feel, taste, smell. Now it just comes naturally. India made it easy for me though, of course.

Outside our bungalows we heard hard fruits dropping on ground just like at Osho’s. Near the restaurant we saw a coconut fall to the ground right in front of us, reminding us to avoid sitting underneath the coconut palms. Around the restaurant were sweet little birds with yellow beaks, just like at the Haad Rin restaurant, they made a pretty cheep cheep sound. Another bird made a sound a bit like an English wood pigeon. All around were the sound of voices, mostly quiet, sometimes loud, conversations in German, French and Thai.

In the evenings our neighbour played The Beatles. One night, after we had gone to bed, I heard Let it be coming from next door. If this was a film, I thought, we’d all start singing. Us, J next door, the people in the bungalows opposite would join in, and before you knew it the whole site would be singing along in imperfect yet beautiful harmony… But my husband was almost asleep and it was just a little too quiet to follow the words, and in any case, we’re not in a film.

Personal update
My son’s dental surgery has been rescheduled to tomorrow Saturday 13th. Thank you so much for all your good wishes which as well as helping him afterwards will I am sure help him get there tomorrow.

Travel update
Had six nights in Varanasi then an exhausting overnight train journey to Delhi last night (Thursday).  Now in Delhi, we’ve had breakfast, and now I’m sitting on the hotel bed posting this. All is well.

Writing update
Just the draft of Thailand Part 4 (of 5) this week, as well as handwriting and some typing up of ‘India Part Two.’ I’ve clumped this bit, Kolkata and Varanasi and at least for a while onwards, into one document with subheadings. This feels more manageable than a separate document for each place. We will be moving to a new place on average once a week until the beginning of December so tricks that stop the writing task feeling overwhelming during this time are going to be helpful.

Thank you very much for reading

See you next week

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For pictures of Tokyo see followingthebrownrabbit
For pictures of Kolkata and Varanasi see travelswithanthony