Tag: life

Connected in Translation at Hong Kong Airport

IMG_3736 I remember back to nearly ten years ago when I was sat, stranded, waiting for a connecting flight in Hong Kong. Glancing out of the window, rows of planes were lined up in front of the barely visible runway, thanks to a mini-typhoon that had all but shut the airport down.

 I stretched back in my seat trying to shake off pins and needles that, after a few hours of sitting motionless in a waiting area, were cramping my legs. The air-conditioning was spluttering out warm and humid air. A woman sitting opposite me was fanning her face with a newspaper. Announcements echoed apologies for delayed flights down the endlessly long corridors.

 I watched as the rain cascaded in heavy drops, bouncing down. I could see pools of water forming on the runway. The wind was howling and the sea surrounding the airport was spilling white, diamond-tipped waves violently in all directions. I watched the few flights that were taking off ascending shakily as I exchanged promises with god over the safety of my own flight.

 I shuffled in my seat as a girl sat down next to me. “Hi, my name is Kim.  I am from Manila. Where are you going?” she asked.

 I looked up. Smiling back at me was a petite woman in her mid 20’s dressed in a bright pink jogging suit, with equally pink matching painted lips and waves of black curls bouncing down to her shoulders. Big golden hoops hung from her ears.

 Kim explained that she was going to London to visit her brother who was studying there. “This is the second time I have been to London’ she announced proudly.  “I will go to the place, at Bucking’.

I laughed. “Do you mean Buckingham Palace?” I asked.

“Yes, this is the one” she exclaimed.

 Kim whipped out her phone, which was also pink and covered in glitter that sprinkled off onto her fingers. She tapped into it and beamed as she showed me pictures of her and her brother stood next to a variety of famous London landmarks.

She told me that she liked tea and Britney Spears. I told her that I liked coffee and Billie Holliday.

 We both agreed that we liked the ocean and sunsets.

 After disappearing for ten minutes, Kim returned with 2 boxes of food (filled with fish, steamed rice, and green vegetables). We were famished and dug in.

 Kim described pieces of paradise of remote islands sitting in the southern Philippine archipelago. I exchanged stories of the tourist resorts and the not-quite-so beautiful beaches that dotted the Yorkshire coast. Kim told me that she wanted to go to Bridlington and eat fish and chips. I told her that I wanted to swim in the ocean off the tropical coast of Mindano.

Kim took her flight to London and I took mine. I sometimes wonder what she’s doing all these years later.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found something curiously exciting about airports. They get under my skin. There’s something about the hustle and bustle of people connecting to the world’s vast and remote corners.

I’ve crossed paths with all kinds of people in airports over the years – Buddhist monks journeying to central China, a man returning to his family in Iraq, an Indonesian lady travelling as a domestic worker to the Middle-East, an elderly couple returning home to Bangladesh, who shared their boiled sweets with me, as they told me about their grand-daughter’s wedding, students travelling to Europe. Everyone’s moving for a myriad of reasons. Each travelling with a unique life story printed upon their soul –  holiday makers seeking sun chill outs, people moving to reunite with their family or loved-ones, to see friends, for work, to start a new life, to seek new opportunities, adventure seekers or others who are running away from something. All displaced – some from what’s comfortable and others from what’s routine. Our paths crossing.

There’s also something strange about airports. These are places, where, despite all the movement, you’re essentially stuck in the middle of nowhere. A pseudo reality. Impersonal. Marbled floors, perfume filled duty free counters and endless halls, filled with rows of chairs, where the venue never really discloses much about its destination of origin. Sitting at LAX (where Donna Karen’s trying to sell you her duty free American Dream) probably doesn’t feel that dissimilar to sitting at CDG airport, despite being thousands of miles apart.

Years later, when I think back to the girl dressed in pink and gold earrings, I realise that we were both, for that moment, caught in nowhere. We were connected, for a brief moment, in a world which tries its best not to disconnect us from the bubble of all but that which is familiar. But what’s wrong with the unfamiliar? Nothing at all. I think we should all, occasionally, seek to disconnect from what’s familiar and make a connection with the unfamiliar.

Derelict Zones and Jazz Bar Blues

 

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During hot summers

they used to walk through the neon lit streets at 3am.

They were seduced on freewill

falling in and out of basement jazz bars

in derelict zones.

Music in their souls

and abstraction in their minds.

Never short of courage

sipping whisky neat

drinking hours away

running out of days

feeling abundance and horizons infinite

whilst walking straight towards the heavy hearted bonfire of destruction.

They traced their path to nirvana

inventing their path

away from the banal.

Searching for the reality that both attracted and repelled them.

The novelty of everything was unexpected and effortless.

Life stretched out everlasting

and truth tempted their souls off the narrow path of the paradox

towards the only truth that they wanted

mysterious and inexplicable

the truth which they couldn’t put into words

which couldn’t fit into a single story.

The Bardo-State Man

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He is a fortunate man.

The waves of life fall off his shoulders.

A clean path spans his vista.

The bland but dutiful and pretty wife dishes out his middle-england suppers.

His children are primed with the winning edge.

He is a fortunate man.

He ticked off school, university and aced that graduate interview.

His job brings in enough dollars.

His pension pot and private medical care are carefully topped up.

He respects wealth and power.

He is a fortunate man.

You’ll see his shiny white teeth telling jokes at the dinner-party on Saturday night

or you might see him picking out paint in some faceless store on a Sunday morning.

He is a fortunate man.

He strides though his linear path in life with the

promise of becoming a better human being

or being a better person.

Somehow.

But he doesn’t raise his head above the surface of life.

He exists and he keeps on existing despite his hour glass running out

and the lack of mystery in his future unfolding.

He hovers in a banal-bardo state.

There isn’t a moral story here.

Nor is there any resolution.

Concrete Yorkshire Dawn

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Each morning

I walk from a car park

through an underpass

and past a man who sleeps

wrapped in blankets

under fluorescent lights

on a cold concrete floor.

Some mornings, I see his hands poking out from beneath the blankets

nails blackened

cracked calloused skin.

Other mornings, I catch a glimpse of his frost-like illuminated face

ruddy hollow cheeks

eyes closed. Always.

I’m invisible to him as I silently slip past.

He thinks he’s invisible to me. And to society too.

But I see him. Even in the darkest dawn.

The tatters and the poverty.

The weary slum of his solitary decades and the impossibleness.

Screwed out of Heaven.

No comrades to walk the road with.

I sometimes want to shout to him what’s buzzing in my head and to tell him that I see him, that he doesn’t escape my view.

I want to tell him that I do think about who he is

that I do think about where he’s come from

that I do think about why he’s lying here, in the crack of the pavement, each morning

that I do see a human being before me.

Instead I keep my mouth shut

and I walk on past

silently saluting him.

 

Beyond Angkor Wat

Travel beyond the town

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which serves Cambodia’s gilded temples

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and you’ll find

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dusty terracotta paths

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which will cake your lips in their crumbs

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spanning endless horizons

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across lands parched

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where the landscape is frank.

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Painted wooden houses

 

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perch perilously on sticks

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and women crouch

in the midday sun

sifting shrimp

for a few dollars

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whilst their bare footed children

wave when I tread through their village

or who I find working (in muddy pits).

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I searched for the signs of  development

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in the dusty paths

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and in the swampy fields

 

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and I wondered

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why it is

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that the wealth in all the tourist dollars

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that sieve through

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Angkor Wat’s templed paths

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and Siem Reap’s backpacker filled streets

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but a short journey away

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don’t drip their fruits

this way

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Pick Your Pleasure in Asia

I got on a plane

to a faraway place

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exchanging promises with God through each bout of turbulence

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to a place which sits in a remote corner of the world

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where I walked down jungled-covered paths

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and I found beauty hiding.

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In this place, I tried to understand the life I was leading and the world I was living in.

I wondered how it was that I’d ever become accustomed to thinking that the designer watch strapped to my wrist, the designer handbag hanging from my arm and the designer dresses that I draped myself in mattered or that they could offer me anything other than sterility and silence.

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I wondered why it was that I plunged vast amounts of time and energy into thinking about things that I could not and would not ever be able to control.

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I wondered why it was that I was so focussed on ticking off all the things I felt I needed to achieve but had little time to actually stop and breathe.

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I looked at the ocean snaking in waves in front of me and I thought about the space where real life and where real living existed.

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And I discovered the lightening bolt that I’d been searching for.

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In the ocean, I discarded the value in the meaningless and I pledged allegiance to all the love and beauty in the world.

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I knew that the shiny things I’d always painted and covered myself in didn’t balance me. And I knew that the magazines I read and the pictures they teased me with could never offer me a glimpse of any reality that I wanted.

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I didn’t want escapism in my life. Nor did I  want to dull my senses with shiny adornments.

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I wanted a simple reality.

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A reality that made my heart beat faster.

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A reality which made all the joy, heartache, love, pain, beauty, living, dying, that had passed billions of times before me under these pink skies, in the wilderness of this world, worth it.

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And in the paths I walked,

in the simple food I ate,

snorkeling to worlds remote,

and the people I met,

chatting under fiery skies,

I felt weightless.

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I found the rhythm of life’s dance

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where I was free to add my own love to the history of people who walked before me.

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In the rainbow of life, I found beauty coming into being.

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As I lie here now,

I paint these pictures in my mind’s eye,

as a trail,

and I remember it all,

with the certainty of tides,

forever.

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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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