Month: December 2016

Genghis Khan and the Ice Temples of Central Asia

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I awoke to the sensation of dawn rising.

 

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Somewhere between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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41,000 feet above.

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Bound for central China.

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The cabin was silent but for me,

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as the black night yielded to the dawn.

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The closed, mysterious, secretive and distant lands of the republics of the former Soviet Empire lay shut beneath me.

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Sapphire glows pleated the ledge between Heaven and the Earth.

 

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Dawn’s cautious sunlight sprinkled the horizon with its amber glow.

 

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Lonely, apricot coloured, clouds drifted past me through the vast, empty sky.

 

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Crossing the lands which mark the border between Islam and Buddhism.

 

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Ancient seats of nomadic empires laid in horizonless steppes.

 

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Silk roads holding secrets deep.

 

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Passing over lands where Ghenghis Khan had once weaved his armies,

 

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bringing Empires remote violently down onto their knees.

 

 

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Frozen lakes.

 

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Crystal clear torrents.

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Glaciers running slowly through icy veins.

 

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Rippling gales chasing bareness, everywhere.

 

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Endless white planes.

 

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Centuries old. Wild and untouched.

 

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Sparse villages.

 

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Stony mountains climbing so high I could almost reach out and touch them.

 

 

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Inhospitable lands,

 

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cut by time and dreaded weather,

 

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lay frozen,

promising to hold off summer and spring.

I felt like I was at the earth’s edge.

 

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And, as I drifted further East,

I thought of you,

as winter stretched out everlasting,

and my warm tears threatened to melt the snow beneath me.

 

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A Midsummer-Night’s Dream in France

We cycled through rolling fields of golden wheat back to the hidden house.

The wheat turned yellow as far as the eye could see.

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The sky was wide and trackless, and

the sun shone on the stone of the little commune house, standing deep in the woods, as we approached.

 

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The sultry sounds of yesterday evening’s party long evaporated,

 

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where glasses had been filled to the brim,

where we’d eaten from shared plates filled with meats and bread,

as children wove around our legs,

with the murmur of voices, laughter, singing and dancing escaping into the air,

and the heavy sounds of jazz music spun us into the moonlit night as the darkened sky harked to the owls.

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Today, we lay on our backs, in the grass, facing the sky.

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Not another soul around us.

Not another sound except for the babbling brook and the cry of the larks.

All still.

Idling in the heat of the late afternoon sun.

Dragon flies glimmering in the hazy light.

Not a thought in our heads.

The leaves rustled in the ruffle of the woods and wildflowers danced around us.

As you spoke to me in French, through the hush of the gentle breeze,  Oberon and Titania whispered the forest’s secrets back to us.

The whole world ceased to exist but for that which immediately surrounded us.

We were the last people standing in paradise as Athena departed and Cupid’s bow landed.

And as dusk began its descent, the spokes of the florid twilight reached out to us as we bid adieu to our secret hideaway.

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The Language of Interplay

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Words search for security and meaning in a world where language is turned on its head.

As our human experience becomes more and more sanitised, language lies fossilised.

Sluiced in desire to articulate free and unanchored thoughts which can penetrate beyond the shell like surface, beyond the starlesss vacuum.

We align words which miss the ability to express the essence of human existence.

They fall into unreliable patterns where everyday speech flows in tongued rhythms.

We have the possibility of moving beyond the ingenuous fibres of modern conventions of speech. To a place where our language and communication is more authentic.

But with the certainty of tides, we’re cut adrift from one and other in a system where language loses its connection and interplay.

I hear your words flowing. You hear mine. But we pass in the middle. Skirting in a place between lightness and darkness. Instead exchanging dreams with Dante.

 

 

Why it’s too easy to get stuck in Kanchanaburi

Crickets sang to me from outside my window into my midnight bedroom, luring me to sleep against their rhythmic chorus.

Roosters woke me to roseate dawns.

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Jasmine scented gardens hung heavy against the rising humidity.

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Kanchanaburi. A place where life moves slowly.

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Once steeped in darkness.

Ride the creaky rails.

On the infamous death railway.

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Walk through the fields where thousands were thrown into early graves.

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Immaculate rows, testament to the scars of the devastation that the Japanese Imperialist army brought.

Kanchanaburi is a place not really to see but a place to be.

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I set my bags down for a night.

Then lost track of time.

People get stuck on the River Kwai.

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The sleepy river seduces you.

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The flowing waters.  Sounds. Like pearls.

Beds your heart.

Sugarcane sweet.

You’ll find your senses lost.

The dreamy land begs you to stay one more night.

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To stay in a place where the skies are never sated of ruddy sunsets.

To take one more sunrise swim in it’s green waters.

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In Kanchanaburi it’s too easy to laze through one day.

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Before you realise the next day has sneakily approached.

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You remember all the activities you promised that you’d do but didn’t.

With further reflection you recall you haven’t done anything at all.

Its not your fault. It’s really not.

The river’s easy rhythm draws you in.

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Luring you into its laze.

Looks like you’ll just have to stay one more day…

 

 

 

 

 

Language, Traffic and Saigon

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Crossing the road is supposed to be relatively simple, right?

Not when you’re in Saigon, Vietnam’s sprawling southern metropolis.

A city that’s home to nearly 8 million vehicles. Where such vehicles add to the complexity of simple tasks such as crossing a road.

On a recent trip to Vietnam, I stood at the the roadside edge. I looked left and then right searching for a visible gap in the ballast of vehicles.

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I shielded my eyes from the blinding sun which fell in two directions.

The bump and grind of traffic unfolded.

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Cars kicked out engine heat which mixed into the 95 plus degree warmth that was already baking me and the city.

A flag billowed in the humidity drifting up from beneath the streets.

I stepped from side to side, looking for patches of shade to ease the heat, whilst I awaited the opportune crossing moment.

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The effect was like being shipwrecked in a sea of vehicles, a surf of unattributed engines.

Congestion cascading in waves.

A cacophony of swirling engines through the quotidian traffic.

Voices drowned out in an aria of engines and repetitive horn-beeps performed in chorus.

Cars, buses, scooters and bikes vying for space.

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Feeling bold, I placed my foot into the road, preparing to launch my intrepid journey to the safety of the adjacent tree line avenue.

‘Beep beep beeps’ were fired towards me.

The vertigo of interpretation forced me backwards (as cars and scooters threatened to run over my toes).

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I stood alone at the edge of the roadside.

A deer in the headlights.

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Weary and feeling the sharp sting of having been beeped out of the way by a guy who whizzed past me on his scooter.

Minor artefacts reinforcing my foreignness.

If this was your first visit to Saigon, a simple act of attempting to cross the road could leave you with an immediate impression of a simmering environment containing  slightly hostile, detached, people. You’ll soon however realise this is not (and is far from) the case.

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As the scooter driver passed me, he glanced back towards me, offering me a smile and a wave in a gesture that reassured.

Unravelling the ballgame of language and actions is a complicated process but these aren’t the hostile beeps of aloft and detached people but rather simple and gentle reminders to be careful, or to watch out.

An example of Wittgenstein’s language of games, perhaps. Where the context, rules and meaning associated with language and interaction are altered according to our immediate environment, forcing us to make spontaneous adjustments in our understanding of the language and interaction that is being played out before us.

Shortly after, I followed the treelined path towards the roadside junction. Randomly, a man pulled his scooter into the middle of the road, cutting off the adjacent traffic, smiling he offered me a safe route to the other side.

When I first visited Saigon in 2009, I remember standing alone at the roadside edge for about 20 minutes, fixated in apprehension and confusion. Trying to plot an alternative route that would avoid me having to cross this impossible road. A local girl came to my rescue, encouraging me to follow her as she stepped into the road, drawing me along with her. I mirrored her movements, stepping into her shadows, as we weaved in and out of  the way of cars, motorbikes, and buses, paving our way though the maze of vehicles until we reached the safety of the adjacent pavement.

Enormous silent shifts and adjustments make you feel like you’re speaking a shared language (despite the slightly different inflection of a foreign environment). Bridging linguistic and cultural divides.

Saigon is a city steeped in traffic and congestion but adrift on the currents of this city is a land of authentic, and kind people.