A room in Hanoi


 

A textured tree that was never alive

Blossoms bloom to mimic life

Beautiful beaded birdcages hang

With the absence of captivity

 

Walls steep up, old brick on brick

Wood panels lash up, don’t cover it

To woven shades circling light

Ball that burn, not so bright

 

Hard edged comfort lines the room

Hard and soft under blossoms bloom

Wind sweeps in, cool air for breath

The only thing here that can experience death

 

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She can’t sleep


“Today will be different”, the words of an earlier hour echo in her mind. She promised herself today, like she does everyday, that tonight is the night she will sleep early and wake in time for breakfast. Not linger into the night, without the compulsion to sleep, only to procrastinate further in her bed once morning comes.

A silent depression skulks over her. She wants to sleep but cannot bare to face it. Instead she finds distraction in docile activities that keep the mind reeling with anything but tranquility. Her head pounds from staring at her computer screen for too long, allowing internet based garbage filter indiscriminately in, numbing her brain. In place of real experiences she trifles herself with utterly forgetful sonic and visual stimulations, wasting her mind, health and life in a pathetic plea not to go to bed.

It’s only when it becomes so late and so ridiculous that she is still awake, that her logic can’t help but override her stubbornness. She pushes all her distractions, without an ounce of grace, off of her immediate sleeping surface, yet still on the bed, and lies in wait for sleep to come. This night, like every night, holds nothing new for her. Good night.

Heckling no fool!


Tips and tricks: pushy vendors and beggars.

It certainly takes time to have the right demeanor and confidence in telling people ‘no’ without feeling rude. Somehow, if you’re new to it, even if you say ‘no’ firmly, they can just smell an easy target! So here’s my experience with dealing with persistent vendors (mainly in SE Asia):

1. Good manners.

Most of us were brought up to be polite, especially to strangers and people we meet for the first time. If someone offers you something you might feel inclined to at least look at what they have to offer before politely dismissing it. However with street vendors and beggars, they know that persistence pays off.  If they think for a second that you will buy or give out of politeness, you’ve got very little chance of escape!

2. See things differently.

If you make a dance over being polite but really have no intention of parting with your money, you are actually wasting their time. Though you might feel rude, you are doing them a favor by letting them know as soon as possible that you are not interested. In different places, different tactics need to be used, in some places a simple ‘no thank you’ will suffice, in others, making no eye contact and signaling disinterest is needed. Here in Vietnam, when I see someone approaching me, maybe from across the street to sell something, I will use a hand gesture to let them know I’m not interested.  Nothing rude or too dismissive, just a little shake of the wrist is enough. This way they are not wasting their energy by having to walk all the way over to me just to be rejected, and besides, they could be walking over to someone else in that time for a possible successful sale.

At one point, in India, I adopted a simple wave that stopped hecklers in their tracks, oh the power! I felt like a Jedi!

3. It’s ok.

Not every transaction has to be monetary. They are still all people and usually a delight to talk to. There is nothing wrong with some light banter and enjoyment. You still don’t have to buy anything and sometimes you can make a new friend and learn a about their culture. You may even discover ways you can help them far beyond giving them a few coins!

4. Be wise.

I don’t like to give to beggars and mostly I don’t. It’s an awful habit that can become desperate, manipulative and sometimes aggressive. In many places children are taught to do it, women drug their babies and abuse children. In some countries limbs and body parts are damaged or cut off for the sake of manipulating people to give. Giving to them is condoning and sponsoring this behavior. I choose to give to those who are in need but are doing something; asking for money but offering some kind of exchange for it. Even if I don’t want what they have to offer, I’d rather give to them.

I remember a flute player on the side of the road in India. I think he was blind and he played the flute appallingly. I gave him some money because, despite his lack of skill, he was making an effort of exchange. His money is earnt and therefore the money he receives is of higher value to him. Some beggars I’ve seen in India don’t need more money, but it becomes a mental sickness. Not bettering their position, instead just hording what they are given and wanting more. Be aware of what your money is supporting!

5. Give willingly.

I was mobbed by an old woman once, in India.  Wearing dirty rags, she came at me, pulling on her clothes, then pulling on mine. She was all over me, fully begging for money. It was quite aggressive and she was wailing. Though I felt conflicted: on the one hand she was making the point that I had so much more than her, but on the other hand she was behaving in such a way that I could not encourage. If I were to give her money, and it was a stunt, I would only be enforcing her behavior towards other people and not actually helping. What you give, you must give voluntarily. If you are being pressured, remember that you are not responsible for them, just as much as they are not responsible for you. Do not let yourself be bullied, abused or guilted into giving away what you have. Give only what you are willing and to whom you want.

Here is a video that inspired this posting, useful for any woman looking to travel alone:

Enjoy ‘Three Essential Tips for Solo Female Traveller’ on youtube…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX_Espjta44

We all have one of these stories…


I remember the first time I heard one of his songs. I was with my mum in the car, a large, red, rounded people carrier and I was sat in the front seat wearing my school uniform. We pulled up in front of our house and my mother turns to me and says “do you want to hear a really beautiful song?”

I nodded and smiled, eager to hear it.

She played Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven.

Years later that beautiful moment had bloomed into fandom and my friend and I were in perfect awe and agreement that he was a legend.

On my 22nd birthday I was sat in a Pizza Express with my mother and two friends enjoying a meal and the celebration of me! Half way through, my mother hands me a check and asks “should I bank it or keep it?’

“Bank it of course, duh.” Were the elegant words that first fell from my mouth.

“Are you sure?’

“um yeh, why wouldn’t you want the money?” confused.

I look at the check.

£100

I scan confused, until my eye reached the bottom right-hand corner. It read:

Sir E. P. Clapton Esquire

Jaw dropped.

Stunned silence.

Brain trying to comprehend.

“WHERE DID YOU GET THIS?”

“Oh, he stayed at our house a couple of weeks ago.” She trills with matter-of-fact pride.

Allow me to explain. My mother ran the family home as a very upmarket seasonal hotel. During the shoot season very rich, mostly Americans, would come and stay and enjoy shooting pheasants on near by farms. On this occasion Eric Clapton had come as a guest.

My mother was very excited, so excited she told my little brother, who of course, at the age of 16 said, “Who?”

Next she tried my elder brother, who lived 3 hours away, hoping for a more informed response. He said “So?”

At this point one might think that she would turn to her only daughter, to whom years ago she first introduced his music to. But no. Her enthusiasm curbed and she neglected to tell me. I was living in the next town over, only a 30 minute drive. Hell I would have crawled there had I no other way and I’m not joking!

I blurted out. “You do realize me and Roy would have spent the entire weekend giving you free service while amusingly scrambling on the floor at his feet mimicking Wayne’s World, screaming ‘We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy!’” Lord it would have been epic!

My friend who has known me for many years will always say how he has never seen me speechless other than then, shooting daggers of a thousand armies at my mum.

Missing Eric Clapton, AT MY HOUSE!! wasn’t the worst part, oh no no! Being told that he spent the entire time bored, even to the point of reading an Argos catalogue (no offence Argos but you get the point), and drearily saying to my mum who was trying to cheer him up. “Oh I’m being forgotten, young people don’t even know who I am.”

Holy crap balls! Not only could I have met The Eric Clapton, but I could have also immensely cheered him up! I was of course only 22, that’s a young person in adoration.

For a year my mother wasn’t allowed to mention his name in front of me, absolutely forbidden! Now she can get away with it but I still have shadows of those daggers in my eyes that I’m sure will never fade…

A feeling worth chasing


This morning I felt it, and on the can of all places. I had this feeling I get when I travel. I haven’t felt it for a very long time, but all of a sudden, there it was. This intangible feeling I couldn’t even begin to describe but I know it, I know it’s the feeling I get at the height of my travelling elation. It was like only I in that small room existed, I imagined where the sounds that I heard were coming from like they were a wondrous thing. Outside of this room was a blank nothingness, nothing else in the universe but me, this toilet, these sounds and the tiled bathroom floor existed at all.

Then I realized what this feeling was, it was the present moment. A perpetual moment that eludes me in a static life. So my pursuit of travel, I realize, is really a pursuit of the present moment that exists everywhere and at all times. Why then do I have to continuously search, scramble and lust after it? I don’t know, but when I get there it is wondrous, exciting and perfect.

This is what we should be pursuing…not bigger TV’s, nice houses or a high social status. If anything these things are taking us further away from the present moment.

Dive into the abyss and be the only thing that exists, if only for a moment or two. Pursue in life that which takes you there – it’ll be worth it I promise!

Treasures of Darjeeling


 

In 2011 a three-hour death defying jeep ride up into the mountains landed me in the town of Darjeeling, India. Famous for three things: tea, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and as a trekking gateway. For me however, it was something quite else. With art on my mind, I discovered that this vibrantly visual spot was teaming with local artists and enthusiasts as well as passing travelers with their sketchpads. I saw Darjeeling as an undiscovered artist hub.

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The town of Darjeeling spilling down the Himalayan foothills.

It’s not hard to see why either! Besides a real sense of escape, it also offers a constantly changing scenery from one moment to the next! A town cascading up a hill, overlooking a valley full of tea plantations, one glance is never enough! On a clear day all can be seen, even the tips of white mountains of the Himalayan range providing a full panoramic view. On most days that I was there the valley would be filled with ever shifting, fluffy clouds, all rolling around at eye level; a constantly changing view. If it were really cloudy the hill top town would be entirely engulfed in a surprisingly dry, thick white mist.

Quickly enough I got involved and spent two months learning to paint with a local artist and philanthropist. I also spent many evenings slugging at beer in a beautifully decorated, modern feeling café lounge run by a couple who were multi talented designers and artists. They use art in the local community as a form of promotion and in their charity work. I also hung out with a friend who was developing his band and I would enjoy watching them rehearse and write their own music.

Art was not the only thing I was surrounded by in Darjeeling. I became engulfed in a sea of delicately delicious momo’s! Oh momo’s! Pockets of steamy heaven! The Darjeeling dumpling, a Nepalese recipe of cabbage, carrot, ginger and salt, wrapped up with fine dough into a little moon parcel and steamed for 20 minutes. I devoured them! I occupied much of my time walking from place to place sampling all that Darjeeling had to offer and it offered up pretty good! Some people were less interested in the momo’s themselves, choosing to take favor to the chili sauce that came with it. I will agree there, a good chili dipping sauce is essential to the mix, but not the crowning glory for me.

So if you ever find yourself with the desire to look down on clouds and do any of the following, Darjeeling is the place for you:

Eat well. Drink beer. Be creative.

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A beautiful sunrise viewed from Tiger Hill. Just a one hour, 4am jeep ride from Darjeeling clock tower.