Tag: Travelblog

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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Please don’t go to Langkawi & find my secret beach

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In Langkawi

I fell in love

with a secret beach that

became my own.

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My days fell into nets

cast against hedonistic tides and white powdered sands.

 

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In the kisses of the crystalline warm turquoise waters I swam

snorkeling to worlds remote

returning to the cove of the secret white sands

 

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to gaze at fishing boats which gently rocked in the sleepy waters.

I was lulled into paradise’s rhythm.

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I wandered bare foot

in the heat of lazy afternoons

drinking the juice from fresh coconuts

and eating sizzling spiced meats wrapped in banana leaves.

 

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Searching for shade’s gentle breeze

I walked through the green palms

which kissed the crescent shaped bay

and through the glassy green cushioned fields

 

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but I’d always return

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to see the sky light up in flames.

And as darkness descended

hovering fireflies lit up the night

to guide me home

to my beach hut

where I’d sleep deeply

away from the world’s hub-bub.

 

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I tried to leave this secret beach

I really did

but I couldn’t

and I fell into this regular rhythm.

And as the sun rose and fell

through each passing day

this beach stayed

mine.

Forever.

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.

Mumbai: The City of Dreams

img_3624Shining back up towards me, as I looked out into the dark night sky as we made our final descent into Mumbai, were hundreds of small lights flickering colours of yellow, green, pink, blue, white and gold. These were the lights of life shining out of Asia’s largest slum. This is often the first image a visitor to Mumbai is greeted with (as the slum is located next to the airport).

Once made up of a collection of seven islands, Mumbai was captured by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. They named it ‘Bom Bahia’ pronounced ‘Bombay’ and meaning the ‘good bay’. In the early 1800s work began to fill in the swampy marshlands creating one large island which perches on India’s western coastline.  Mumbai, as it is now known, is India’s largest city and is home to, an estimated, 12 million people.

As the heat of the mid-day sun, that’s sent many into hiding, falls away people begin to descend onto the promenade of Marine Drive’s 4km boulevard. The air here feels cooler. The promenade is edged by fancy hotels, offices and apartments. Look north, through the hazy mist that hangs over the crescent-shaped bay, and you can see the exclusive hideaways of the Malabar suburb.

As evening descends, the lights hanging from the lamp posts framing the long coastline form a necklace (or as locals call it the ‘Queen’s Necklace’).

Marine Drive is alive. Life flocks towards the boulevard. The crowds thicken. Walkers set off. Joggers run up and down in their expensive trainers (or look upwards and you’ll see older people walking laps on their roof tops). Families arrive. Groups of teenagers giggle as they tap into their phones. Food vendors set up their stalls and the air is filled with delicious smells of vada pav, pani puri and other treats being cooked up.  Bare-footed children try to sell me bracelets made of flowers. The click-click of cameras can be heard as photographers capture the scene. The faint calls of tea-vendors echo around you. The sea is calm, quiet and laps gently against the rocky shore. Boats can be seen far out in the distance.

We all absorb the flaming sun as it sets over the Arabian Sea kicking back a myriad of deep red colours. There is something absolutely incredible about how the natural light falls in India (I think it gets more vibrant the further south you head). The natural colours of the environment look different to anywhere else I’ve ever been. The light looks somehow warmer, it’s softer and the tones and hues are brighter giving light a really unique aspect in India. I try to explain this to my friends who haven’t visited but they don’t seem to understand. I don’t think it can really be put into words. It’s a sensory experience. You just need to go and see it for yourself.

As the sun sets, the city prepares to busy itself deep into the night. Mumbai doesn’t sleep.

I wake up early next morning and look out of my hotel window. The crowds from the evening have disappeared and all that are left are lines of people lying on the pavement sleeping at the waters edge.

Mumbai is a city of huge contrasts.

In your mind try to balance the lives of those living in the glamorous homes that dot the Malabar district against those living under the corrugated iron roofs of the Dharavi slum area (which is home to more than 1 million people).

Watch those children dressed smartly in their school uniforms walking to school and those other children selling coca colas on the street.

As you drive in your comfortable air conditioned car back from the airport,  look out of your car window and consider the lines of men, women, children and babies that you will see sleeping on the road sides as your taxi navigates the streets to your hotel at 4am.

Talk to your taxi driver and he will tell you about his Mumbai. Listen as he tells you he is the best tour guide in Mumbai (and then watch later in the evening from your window as it dawns on you that he’s been sat waiting for you all day and you know he doesn’t have a real home to go to in Mumbai and you see him settle down to sleep in his car).

Talk to the 15 year old boy in your hotel who serves you your breakfast as he tells you he traveled to Mumbai 3 years ago to work from the South.

Watch the lines of blacked out air-conditioned luxury top-end cars drop designer clad executives off at shiny new offices, or for shopping trips in the luxury malls.

When you lie in bed at night and you consider the extreme polarity of the wealth and poverty that live side by side here you will feel the nausea.

But as you attempt to try to understand this deep economic gulf around you, you’ll also see that in someway this environment is content in its own way. There is something – something intangible – but something that softens the pleats of these deep economic divides in Mumbai. Talking to a local girl, her view was that Mumbai is a city that belongs to no-one. Rather, everyone who lives in Mumbai owns a part of it and has a stake in it. People flock to Mumbai because it’s the city of dreams. It’s the city where anything is possible. And it seems to me, it’s this somewhat odd chimera which creates a sense of contentedness for Mubaiites.

India is definitely challenging for the first time visitor but this country is amazing. It will get under your skin and make you fall in love with it. My advice is don’t be mentally fixed in what you want to get out of your trip or where you want to go. Traveling in India requires patience and flexibility!

The sweetest coffee in Corfu

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My interest in travel has definitely been shaped by the periods I spent in Corfu as a child.  I was introduced to a country, a way of life and to people that were culturally distinct to the surrounds of the UK. These periods are captured in my mind’s eye by a hazy mixture of memories.

Lawrence Durrell wrote that if you get as still as a needle your memories will take you back to that place in time, a place where you tuned in with real inward reflection. If I close my eyes I am taken back to my experiences of and in Corfu, absorbed without even realising at the time.

Corfu is my father’s island. It’s an island that belongs to my grandparents.  It’s a magical island where the romanticism and mysticism of Prospero is found conjuring Tempests across the deep blue Ionian Sea. An island where Homer’s Odysseus is  washed ashore. It’s also an island where I would sit with my Nona and her friends at the front of the house on long hot afternoons.

Falling under the Venetian Empire in the 14th Century and for nearly 400 years thereafter, the Italian influence pervading through the veins of Corfu is tangible.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that you are strolling around Venice (minus the canals) as you find yourself lost in the maze of neo-classical Venetian townhouses locked together in a labyrinth of narrow streets or as you stroll down the marbled square (platiere) in the Old Town, stopping to drink coffee and people watch at the many cafes that sit under the arches. The Italian influence is also notable in the Greek language spoken in Corfu which is dotted with Italian words like ‘nona‘ used in the Italian manner of ‘grandma’.

We would sit under the awning, on the front terrace of the house.  I would deliberately drop crumbs of bread and watch ants march their stolen treasures away. Scooters would buzz past the house. The awning would exhale under the afternoon heat, bowing under the heavy knotted vines that were laden and overflowing with grapes. The burbling sound of crickets would bleat in waves cascading around us.

The elderly ladies sitting with us were often clad in black tunic dresses. They wore black as a sign of mourning for the death of their husbands every day until the end of their lives.

I would sit, listening to them chattering the long and hot afternoons away whilst we snacked on sweet breads and they tutted and shook their heads at inappropriately dressed girls walking past the house or as they reminded me about the many dangers that I could fall foul of (for instance:  ‘Aylaia be careful, you might fall down the well‘, ‘Aylaia be careful, don’t stray from the path into the fields there are dangerous snakes‘ , ‘Aylaia be careful, don’t swim too far from the shore there are waves which will carry you out to Albania‘, ‘Aylaia be careful, don’t eat the ice-cream you will get salmonella‘ etc. etc…).

The bitter smell of coffee hung in the air as miniature cup after miniature cup of strong sugary Greek coffee was brought out from the busy kitchen on plastic trays. I wasn’t allowed a coffee (it would stunt my growth apparently) so I would sit sipping from a tin of chocolate carnation milk.

Getting too hot, I’d follow Nona back into the house and down the corridor, the door grate slamming shut after us, to the kitchen at the rear of the house. Her sandals making a swish-swish sound against the tiled floor. The green wooden shutters would be closed during the day, banishing the heat, and the house was left cool and dark. We would boil water with Greek coffee and a splash of sugar in a small silver pot. The pot was just big enough to make 2 tiny cups of this classically bitter drink.

Shouts of ‘yassas’ and ‘ti kanis’ echoed from our garden as people walking past the house would stop outside the iron gates to say hello. Nona would invite them in and the group of people sat chatting would swell in numbers as the afternoon/evening wore on. The swish swish sound of shoes echoing as she marched to and from the  house returning with little cups of coffee.

Corfu, or Kerkyra as it is known in Greek, is quite unlike other Greek islands. Aside from the uniquely Italian flavour, Corfu is green. In fact, it is the greenest of all the Greek Islands. Nigh on every spare spot of this beautiful land is taken up with lush greenery, and carpets of olive trees which reflect like emeralds glimmering green against the deep blue sea that surrounds the island.

Slowly, the chatting would quieten. ‘Kaliniktas’ spoken. Hugs and kisses exchanged. Visitors would trail away from the house into the darkness of the jasmine scented evening. The moon gradually ascending.  The swish swish sound of sandals would be heard carrying the coffee cups inside as the crickets continued to sing late into the night.