Living as an 'ex-pat' in Thailand with my daughter Moo and sometimes my Hubby too (when he is not bringing home the bacon from Macau). Sometimes it's funny. Sometimes it's tough. Sometimes it's confusing. Most of the time it's just...random. Join me as I struggle and giggle my way through this thing called life.
To say that January has been a turbulent month is something of an understatement.
There have been soul crushing lows, followed by adrenaline fueled highs, followed by numbing pain, followed by pure joy and so on and so on and so on…
Dealing with a close family members brutal diagnosis, and learning to re-calibrate your thinking on what constitutes good news. But that is not my story tonight.
Watching your child who was once so shy and determined to camouflage herself into the background of any situation blossom into glowing, confident individual who is finally comfortable in her own skin . But that is a tale for another day.
Gazing upon with pride the medal that a 44 yr old flabby ex smoker won by running a 5k race, not too many months since she was struggling to get to the end of the road without being out of breath . Yeah, I like that story, but I’ll tell you that some other time.
Being pierced by the pain of the sudden and unexpected death of a beautiful soul whose radiant smile will never light up the room again . No. I’m still not ready for that one.
To have our house filled with joy and laughter of good friends enjoying too much food and far too much wine was a much needed time of relaxation and letting go. There was even some dancing. Well there was certainly some mid 90’s running man action going on. And I really don’t think I should talk about that.
Standing on the road bridge with my small one tonight watching her wonder as the moon was eclipsed and an shrouded in an unearthly shade of blood red was a beautiful way to end this tumultuous month. At 9pm I felt sure that this would be the last of January’s emotional stories, and such a good one to go out on. But that is not where the story ends.
This story ends in sadness. This story ends in loss. The story of tonight is what has me pouring out words through a river of tears. One more small but significant straw placed on my back that has me utterly broken.
This is the story of Matilda.
This is the story of my hissing ball of rage, my surly, obnoxious, anti-social, thoroughly wonderful hedgehog Matilda, who is no more.
No more to be heard snuffling around under the bed at all hours of the night, no more to be extricated from the interiors of both furniture items and electrical appliances. No more to empty her food bowls with an air of undisguised contempt should you dare to forget to add a sprinkle of her favoutite ‘party mix’ kibble on top. No more stowaway journeys in small ones schoolbag. No more spiky surprises as I reach into my yarn bag. No more squishy poo presents left for me to discover in my slippers ( OK so I won’t miss absolutely everything ).
While this moment is not unexpected, in hedgehog terms she was quite the pensioner, and her health has been a concern for some time now, despite losing a few teeth and overcoming the subsequent swollen jaw, she was still enjoying a hearty diet and nightly tours of her domain, albeit at a more leisurely pace than in bygone days . But now her days are all gone-by and my heart is aching.
Goodbye Tilds. I love you all the way to the very ends of your spikes.
My long long wait at the consulate this morning ( more of which to come) was by anyone’s standards awful, sitting around for 2 and a half hours to hand in some papers and another hour and a bit to pay for the privilege made me a little grumpy.
But boy did I give myself a lesson in perspective this afternoon.
Without a small one in tow I was able to visit a place that I wanted to see last time round but was unable to due to point blank refusal and tiredness of said small person.
COPE visitors centre is located within the grounds of the Vientiane rehabilitation centre. COPE is a non profit organisation that, amongst other things, provides prosthetic limbs and support for victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO) in Laos. The fact that this organisation is so desperately needed is a shame on the western world.
Here I am sitting in departures (again) on my way back from a trip to Bangkok.
Something that even a few short months ago would have filled me with wonder and excitement. I mean its Bangkok. Capital of Thailand, a wondrous sprawling urban mass that is begging to be explored and discovered. A thriving city that has everything a person could wish for, as long as you know where to look. And yet I sit here without feelings of wonder and instead mull over the mundane details of my afternoon and evening with the slight annoyance that I used to view a trip into central London.
Get on a plane, go to the UK consulate, pick up new passport, get back to the airport, get on a plane, come home.
Today was strictly business.
And a tiny bit of shopping. Well it would be rude not to.
It wasn’t meant to be like that but the flu epidemic decimating the schools in Chiang Mai, causing their closure and a week long programme of sterilisation of the school buildings, means that instead of being at school with a weekend sleepover at her best friends house, small one is at home with daddy as her friend fights off a bout of illness.
And Daddy, instead being next to me enjoying a grown up weekend in the capital with his wife, is sitting at home ( with a thankfully fully fit small person) playing Mario party on the Wii.
Flights were abandoned, then rebooked, plans rearranged and I’m alone at the airport heading to back home.
However instead of a grown up weekend a hastily arranged family overnight trip has been arranged for tomorrow, with the dog still booked into the kennels it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity.
I’m very much looking forward to our little ‘staycation’, I can’t tell you where it is exactly because I can’t actually remember, I did say it was hastily arranged, but I know its in a national park about an hour from home and that the hotel has a spa so that’s good enough for me.
Not quite the intended plan, but a good plan given the circumstances.
Jer gan mai
As a footnote it’s extremely strange to have a completely empty passport. It will only be like that till next week after another visit to Chiang Mai immigration to get the visas transferred, but it’s still wierd.
If you want to see the full spectrum of human emotion I can heartily suggest hanging around an airport for a few hours.
Which is exactly what I’m doing today.
I’m ‘hanging around’ because I’m not really going anywhere, well I am, but not ‘really’.
I have come to from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to meet my folks who are coming over for Christmas (squeeee). And in a few hours time I will be going back to Chiang Mai. I’m sure that if needs be they could easily have made the transition form place to place without my presence, but the opportunity to see them even just a few hours earlier than could have was just to good to miss. It’s only hours flight each way and the less cost is than I’ve done some similarly timed rail journeys in Europe so I thought, why not?
So here I am in Suvarnanbhumi airport or BKK as I prefer, for obvious reasons, to call it. ( The locals affectionately call it ‘swampy’ as it was built on reclaimed swamp land, but for the sake of clarity I’ll just call it BKK ).
I arrived here stupidly early. I blame my husband, I was always the kind of person who used to screech up at the last minute, usually sweating and swearing, but his traveling habits have finally rubbed off it seems and I have allowed plenty of time for unexpected delays and mishaps. Today so far there have been none.
The upshot is that I’m in no particular hurry, and with no particular destination or deadline I’ve spent the last hour ambling around the airport. And what a fine airport it is. As a passenger I have always appreciated the layout of the airport as it is easy to navigate, well signposted and well provisioned with coffee. I have spent many, many, (many), hours here before when transiting between flights or waiting for connections, but it’s always been with an invariably tired and grouchy small person in tow who wants to do nothing more than find a chair then complain to me how bored she is for how ever many hours we need to sit there.
This time I found myself just mooching about and I discovered the observation deck which I have never noticed before tucked away above international departures. What a find. It’s not that there is anything all that amazing to observe as it doesn’t even look out onto the runway, but it has something which, to me, is airport gold.
It has very few people in it. There was no real noise, there were benches, there was a wide open space. THIS is where I will be bringing small person the next time we have to do any waiting here, this is like an airport paradise. I mean sure it has no coffee, but I can supply that without too much of an issue, so this is where we will be.
The only interruption to my near solitude was a large group of sunburned drunken Russians who had taken the wrong escalator and were frantically searching for international departures. I pointed them in the right direction and once again it was just me and a few airport staff enjoying a quiet lunch.
As I have said the view you are intended to observe is on the mediocre side, but it’s the unintended view that captured my interest more. From high in the roof of BKK you can look down on the entire departures floor and the order it makes from the chaos of bodies that are filling it. From way up here you can’t hear the bustle but watching the snaking lines of passengers overburdened with luggage desperate to be first in like when check in opens, or sitting disconsolately behind a mass of suitcases waiting for news of the flight that cancelled, is a fascinating distraction.
The need for caffeine drew me down from the sky into the madness of departures. Mad, but still beautiful. BKK have done a great job of interior decorating with plenty to keep the eye entertained while you wait. From the impressively large statues that stand guard over the hall to the enshrined relics of lord Buddha with its gloriously scented orchid garden ( with its very own pond don’t you know) it is one of the more interesting airports to wait in. Even the exterior is ordained with 10 metre high portraits of His Majesty the King for you to gaze upon (if you happen to be sneaking out for a crafty cigarette ).
And what better way is there to while a way the time than to watch the whole world ticking by on the departures board in front of your eyes , and dream and scheme of adventures yet to come. But it’s almost time to go to my favourite place. Arrivals.
I find the arrivals hall of any airport to be a joyous place. Not the bored couriers holding up name tags for unknown business men, but the palpable sense of expectation and excitement anticipation as you see people’s eyes constantly flickering to the flight status displays, waiting for the moment of reunion. And when the people begin to trickle through the doors laden with baggage freshly whisked from the conveyer belt, those moments of bleary, sometimes teary eyed reconciliation, of homecoming, of excitement for the unknown, those are moments to treasure.
And speaking of which, it’s my own eyes that are flickering now. In a few short minutes my parents flight will land and we will be having our own magical moment.
Jer Gan Mai
*pictures will be added when I get home and have non stupid internet!!
How long could you go for without social media? Hands up I confess I’m an addict. On my recent trip to mainland China I decided to try and find out how long I could last without my daily fixes……..
How long could you go for without social media?
Hands up I confess I’m an addict. Be it Facebook, Instagram, Line or Twitter I love a bit of social nosiness. But it’s not just nosiness (although that has a great deal to do with it if I’m being honest), since becoming an expat I have become increasingly reliant on it for most of my interactions with friends and family. Gone are the days of letters and phone calls, it’s all instant messaging and photo sharing.
On my recent trip to mainland China I decided to try and find out how long I could last without my daily fixes. If you are confused as to why traveling to mainland China and connectivity issues are related then a quick google search for ‘The great Firewall’ will enlighten you sufficiently.
I could have bought a VPN subscription to bypass the great firewall but the more I considered it the more I became determined to try. I almost lost my resolve when I found out that WordPress was also on the list of dishonour, but as hubby has a VPN ( he’s there working for 3 months not just a measly 6 days so going without reliable connection to ‘the outside’ for him is out of the question ), I figured if I REALLY couldn’t manage I could always hijack his connection for an hour or so.
The fact that just the thought of going google-less ( as well as all the other things) for such a short time was worrying me was actually an incentive to try and do it. We are so connected these days, but the need for instant gratification and information is almost all consuming at times so it was time to try and take a vacation the old fashioned way and tell people about my trip when I came back.
So how did I get on ?
Well it wasn’t easy and there were times when I was cursing my decision ( like when I couldn’t find a decent map of the city, and when my total lack of mandarin speaking left me floundering and googling would have been so much easier ), but I didn’t crack. Not even a sneaky look at Facebook when hubby got in from work.
But the day to day business of my trip made me realise how much we ‘momentise’ our lives. Walking around seeing unfamiliar and amusing things and framing them in terms of a tweet or a status update, taking a picture and instantly thinking how we can hashtag it on Instagram.
During the week I made a series of notes to remind myself of key thoughts or events I may want to draw on for blogging and as I was doing this I realised that what I was actually doing was updating my status and tweeting without sending.
I’m not really sure if I learned anything about myself from this other than what I already kind of knew;
My name is Hillywilly and I’m a social network addict.
I lasted 149 hours without a social media fix.
But by heavens, it’s good to be back.
My week in unsent social media;
Just sent my last Facebook update before flying behind the great firewall. Wuhan here I come.
Not really what you want to see at the airport just before you board…. What the…..???
Despite widespread mutterings in the terminal no panic on the ground and smoke now clearing. Time to board then…
Properly I will never* complain about it being too warm in Thailand again. I’m B*****d freezing. We’ve come from a fairly consistent 30degrees to a horribly rainy 6.
(*until its mid burning season and 41 anyway )
Small one can barely move due to the number of layers she’s wearing. Her slipper boots are a triumph of warmth over style but she has just declared she never taking them off.
Taking in the spectacle and wonder of a truly foreign city would be much more spectacular and wonderful if I didn’t have a running commentry of sighs and ‘so what’s’ accompanying me.
Wuhan. Taking onesiewearing to the next level #carrefour #shoppinginpyjamas
WHY are cucumber flavour crisps not a thing everywhere? #gamechanger
My Husband and child do not share my enthusiasm. More for me !
When the biggest quandary of the day is deciding if you like the steam room more than the sauna while sitting in the hotel hot tub you know it’s been a good day.
Getting used to the cold ……. Kind of
High end shopping with hubby. Just passed a Junior Versace store.
Small person scored big time shopping with daddy. ( not in junior Versace ) Big persons feet are still too big for Asia it seems 😦
To add insult to injury I’m getting emails from Facebook and Twitter telling me I have pending notifications.
Family spa night abandoned as ‘spa is closed for males’
Starting the day with a bubble bath is both a wonderful and terrible thing.
I made the horrifying discovery that I have nasal hair.
Scary big man type nasal hair. WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN? I look like the BFG!!
Is there anything more painful than tweezing nose hair. Painful but necessary.
I still look like the BFG, just slightly less hairy.
Dragging an extremely reluctant small person out sightseeing this afternoon.
A small white person looking through binoculars at the view across the Yangtze River is getting more photographed than the view across the Yangtze River.
The yellow crane tower is beautiful and some incredible views of the city sprawling in all directions around it. And birdsong. It’s funny what you miss.
Found a random flower festival in front of a magnificent building ( as yet unknown)
Had to have an emergency stop in mcD’s to get some wifi and try ( in vain) get a proper map of the city. Guess NONE of the cabbies know ANY PLACE ‘over the bridge’.
Finally back at the apartment. 3 hours standing in the cold to find a cabbie who had a clue where we were going. It was around a 10 minute drive. Small one refuses to go exploring with me again.
Completely shattered. My feet officially hate me.
Sounds like the man on the digger outside the hotel has finished his digging. At last. Only another 3 and a bit hours till he gets to start again.
Ah. Rain then. Cold cold rain.
Very excited. Off to the Han Theatre to see what hubby’s been up to for the last couple of months.
Unfortunately I’m not allowed to give anything away about what’s going on inside the building, but WOW!!
It may have its issues but it’s stunning. Very proud of my boy.
Finally got some real proper Chinese food. Glorious handmade dumplings and chow mien to die for. That little back street noodle joint must have had a good few months since the production crew found it, and deservedly so.
The little man was both delighted and slightly hysterical watching moo using a hastily rustled up spoon to eat her noodles after a valiant effort with chopsticks.
I can feel a blister on my little toe. Probably shouldn’t have worn my brand new boots ( shoes in my size-in Asia-squee!) for a shopping excursion on Han Street but apparently my trainers have a leak. #wetsocks
Oh the profound joy at finding a western toilet at just the right moment. #notsquat
A serendipitous coffee stop. Walked into Starbucks just as hubby was ordering his dinner break cuppa. #makeminealatte
No transport drama tonight. Time for tea then hot tub methinks.
My feet have gone from simple hatred of me to outright loathing. Oh how they long to be back in flip flops.
Ah China. Where even the simplest of internet related tasks are made hugely difficult. #onlinecheckinfail
Lunch with hubby again 🙂 #makingthemostofit
Small person going lego crazy in the mall #makingthemostofit
Back at the apartment to pack. While I shall miss hubby for the next 3 weeks I’m looking forward to seeing the sun again. And the sky for that matter.
Someone out to catch some dinner. Literally. ( not for us!)
Finally finished packing. Only had to buy one extra case. #oops
Rather spectacular thunderstorm going on right now. Hope its over by take off time.
Arrived at airport for check-in. Have to wait another hour before we are allowed in.
Free airport wifi, great.
Oh you have to have a Chinese mobile number to register, not so great.
Checked in, through security to quite possibly the worst provisioned departure lounge. Oh well, coffee on the plane then.
It’s not a bus people. You don’t just get to pick where you sit. See that number on your boarding pass that says ‘seat number’. It’s a bit of a clue.
SIT DOWN! You can’t just get up and wander about when we are on the way to the runway. You just can’t. Ok? Ok.
I can see sky. Hello sky, I’ve missed you.
Bugger bugger bugger bugger.
Swapped seats with small one halfway through the flight. Failed to remember to check my original seat pocket as I left the plane. 1 lost purse. #seat20B #iamanidiot
Air Asia staff are my new heroes. Hurried to my connecting gate in DMK and reported my stupidity. Check in staff called the landing gate and had the plane checked (twice!) until my purse was found. Thank you thank you thank you.
With apologies to the passengers en route to Wuhan who were delayed ( only slightly) because some idiot had to have the plane searched.
The most glorious sunset for our arrival home. Thank you Mother Nature #welcomehome
I’m almost reluctant to get back online. Almost. Unpacking and a g&t first I think. And flip flops. Definitely flip flops.
There will be more of my Wuhan wanderings in due course (and in more detail!), but for now its time to go and check my Facebook page.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month many millions of people around the world stop whatever they are doing.
Stop to take a moment from their hectic lives to pay their respects to the fallen. To those who paid the ultimate price to ensure that our busy lives can continue day by day with hardly a beat missed.
The 11th November 1918 saw the signing of the armistice treaty that officially brought an end to World War 1.
One year later in the grounds of Buckingham palace King George V hosted the first service of remembrance to commemorate the signing of the treaty and this became a national tradition. Two minutes silence is observed, the first minute is a time for reflection and give thanks for those who sacrificed so much, and the second is a time to draw your thoughts back to the living, to those who were left behind, the families who lost so much.
In 1939 the traditional armistice day services were moved to the closest Sunday to the 11th in order that production for the next Great War would not be interrupted. This continues to this day, although in recent years the focus has once again shifted back to the day itself.
Inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ written in 1915 by Major John McCrae, the poppy has become a symbolic item worn by many as a mark of respect for those who perished and those who still serve. In the United Kingdom, remembrance poppies are sold by The Royal British Legion (RBL). This is a charity providing financial, social, political and emotional support to those who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces, and their dependents.
This year is the 100 year anniversary of the commencement of world war 1 and there have been many events organised in commemoration of this. By far the most striking is an instillation at the Tower of London titled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red‘, designed and created by Tom Piper and ceramic artistPaul Cummins There are 888,246 ceramic poppies that cover the lawns of the tower, one for each of the British and commonwealth lives that were lost in the conflict. The last of which was placed there today by a 13 year old army cadet.
The many people that I know that have seen it have all been moved in different ways by the piece, I have only seen it in photographs, but have been similarly moved. The sheer scale of the piece brings into sharp focus just how many lives were lost.
There has been much controversy in recent years about the political nature of wearing a poppy, but for me it is not a political statement, but a personal one. It gives a focus to my thoughts and I have a deep and emotional attachment to it.
During my life as an ex-pat it has become quite a mission to secure my remembrance day poppy. Although the poppy is a recognised symbol in mainland Europe, actually finding one was nigh impossible.
When we lived in France it was a simple matter of asking my mother to pop some in the post, but the mail delivery here in Thailand has proved to be somewhat hit and miss. And last years were hastily cobbled together from craft paper and pins. This year I was a little more organised and made crochet poppies to wear.
This morning I made sure that my hustle and bustle was completed in time for me to head to a local park where I could spend a contemplative few minutes in the tranquility of the flower garden alone with my thoughts. But it turns out I was not alone. There was an elderly gentleman who approached me as i meandered along to the coffee shop. He stopped me and in very broken English told me I looked sad and asked if I was ok. In VERY broken thai I told him I was fine and we sat and had a conversation only made difficult by the language barrier. My thai lessons are going well but I’m not yet up to discussing the geo-political nature of global conflict, so I did the best I could to explain why I was here and what my wooly poppy was for. It took a while, but the understanding in his eyes spoke more than words. When we parted he took my hand and said; “War is bad, you remember- is very good”
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
November the 6th was the full moon day of the twelfth month in the Buddhist calendar. It is a very special day, particularly in the Lanna kingdoms in the North of Thailand. It is the festival day of Loi Krathong. Now as with any good Thai festival (particularly one that falls near a weekend) it has extended itself from one day ( the day of the full moon) , to 3 days of parades, contests, sky lanterns and, much to my dogs dismay, extremely loud fireworks.
The origins of loi Krathong are to be found in the ancient Hindi religious texts some of which have been wholeheartedly embraced by the wonderful mish-mash that is thai Buddhism. The basic idea is that you give an offering to the river goddess to thank her for life sustaining water and apologise for any harm you may have caused to the water.
The name itself is a literal instruction for the event. Loi meaning ‘to float’ and Krathong which is ‘a basket that floats’. So during loi Krathong you should float a basket that floats.
The simple krathongs are made from banana tree stems wrapped in banana leaves and decorated with flowers, incense and a candle. It is also traditional to put something of yourself in the basket so the goddess knows who exactly the offering is from. Locks of hair and fingernail clippings are the preferred items of choice. The baskets are made and filled, then taken to the riverbank, lit and launched and your offering of appeasement to the river goddess is carried downstream. ( Quite how launching hundreds of thousands of floral tributes, that will soon become nothing more than litter, into an already polluted waterway is seen as an appropriate apology for polluting the river is up for debate, but not right here or right now).
The process of making a krathong has developed into a true artform. I am rather proud of the one I laboured over today in my Thai culture class, but as pretty as it is, it pales into insignificance when put beside just about any other one you can buy from the numerous vendors throughout the city. To watch the nimble fingers manipulating the banana leaves into such delicate, intricate and beautiful sculptures is a joy to behold. And that’s even before they start getting fancy with the flowers. But a Krathong can also be as simple as a banana leaf ‘boat’ with a single flower inside. There are also now some made from a dough like substance filled with fish food that breaks down in the water and feed the fish as they go, which I think is a rather splendid idea.
Over the years the festivities have of course grown and have become a major tourist draw. Despite Thailand’s many problems, over the last year in particular, which has seen a vast drop in tourist numbers it has been estimated that an additional 200,000 people will be in this city alone for the festivities.
Of course Chiang Mai has an additional draw besides the Krathong.
In the northern or Lanna kingdoms of Thailand we have the YI Peng festival as well. Ye Peng ( directly translated from the Lanna language it means ‘second full moon day’ ), is a festival of light. The origins are rather hazy but most scholars agree that this was again taken from an a incident Hindu ceremony which was incorporated into Buddhism many centuries ago. As Chiang Mai was the ancient capital of the Lanna kingdoms it is a focal point for the celebration.
During Ye Peng people will decorate their homes and businesses with khom fai and khom thew which are small decorative paper lanterns and lanterns on sticks illuminated by small candles. This is a time for making merit at the temples and offering your hopes and prayers to Buddha for the coming months.
But the main attraction are the khom loi, hundreds of thousands of paper lanterns released into the night sky. The main spiritual purpose of the lantern release is one of cleansing. It is said that you speak all your troubles and woes as the lantern slowly inflates and as it takes off into the sky, so does your burden. Whether your troubles really do float off into the distance is I suppose a matter of opinion, but for one night at least it is a soothing thought.
It is a sight that I will never tire of seeing and one that I find both mesmerizing and deeply moving. I once again feel blessed to have been a small part of it.