…next

Only a few weeks left now before getting on the big red boat and sailing back to Hobart.

I don’t know how I feel about that yet … seems a little unreal … to contemplate the relative normal of day to day again just when I’m just getting used to this new version of life.

Anyway…still time to explore and enjoy this world.

One thing that is surprising is that I can’t seem to write any more. There’s nothing bubbling up that’s neither interesting or constructive. Just a grey blandness that’s creeping in and I resort to cheap tricks to distract.

See! Sheer laziness.

Plenty of photo ops and hikes, movie nights and opportunity for getting involved – I just couldn’t really give a damn and more than a little funked up.

The 3 day hike with 2 new travel buddies was just the right amount of time and people for me…superb company and an exception to the daily rule of chit chat and polite nonsense but the daily inane and trivial conversation is just dulling and I can’t be bothered (even though I’m as guilty of it as the next person)

Still trying though…

Volunteered to fill in as a Hagg driver for Fire Team 1 for example, and spent last week looking after the hydroponics garden, and anything interesting that pops up. Didn’t make any difference.

Just not feeling it. Enthusiasm comes and goes in waves.

I know what it is and yes, I’m working on it. (You’d think 2 years and half a planet would be enough)

It’s time to move on…

So what’s next? I have absolutely no idea.

Applied for next season ( not wintering this year), put my hand up for the Comms Tech officer on the Macquarie Island resupply voyage – it sails out 3 days after we sail into Hobart – but that only staves off the inevitable for another 2 weeks or so.

Then I’m free-falling again.

Half baked plans to go here and there but nothing concrete I can plan around.

Impermanence is great and all that once you understand and embrace it but uncertainty can really fuck you up.

Meh…

Dinner time.

*it’s snowing!!!! That helps … a wander in the snow is just the ticket I think 🙂

**nup – let’s try a movie – The Dish!

***nup – let’s try bed and 30 Rock 🤘

****yup – better now

IMG_6271

…blur

Its easy to lose track of time when there is no discernible difference between day and night – its all the same here. Just a small variation in the quality of the light. Bright midday sun all day long heightened by the constant blazing glare off the snowcover and the glistening ice, softening to a false dusk and then shortly after its sunrise again.

Good Morning means nothing here – it’s just Good Day. Every day.

I can’t sleep so I’m blogging. It is Sunday after all.

The biggest surprise of today is that the snow here is very very dry – the driest I’ve ever seen but that’s not saying much since I’ve seen so little – like when melting water from fresh snow apparently its take almost twice as much snow to make half the amount of water…or something like that…math was never my thing.

You can pick it up in your hand and your hand doesn’t even get wet – so weird. It feels…chalky.

IMG_5258.JPG

Black ice is everywhere (I know what that is now, as Ive never really seen it or understood what it was before) and several people have slipped and hurt themselves already – its treacherous and tricky to walk around outside especially as the rocky landscape is angular and unstable at the best of times. Add crusty honeycombed snow cover and black ice everywhere, its a real gamble just walking about. There’s a a chance that if you slip and break your arm/leg  before the ship leave that you have to go home, so people are walking on eggshells outdoors just in case.

The environment down here is magical and the record 22 winter blizzards have left their mark. Rapidly melting snowdrifts and crystal clear icicles form random art installations sculpted by the summer sun – this place is almost a natural modern art gallery now. In a month or two it’ll all be gone though – even the sea ice. The curiosity of a endless static snowfield replaced by the open ocean, returning penguin colonies and the local elephant seal population roaring away in a nearby wallow. Unless a summer blizzard comes 🙂 I kind hope it does.

How fortunate do I feel to have this unique opportunity? – very.

I’m starting to go out more and more to explore the station limits on my own (its been too busy otherwise). Tomorrow I’m going to walk out on the sea ice, head out to the ship before she sails on Tuesday. It’ll be odd to see the Aurora Australis sail away as this means I’m an definitely stuck here for the duration – its a very final feeling. But then the real expedition starts, and the specialist science and engineering teams will head out into the field and do their thing. The real work begins.

You can see everyone bonding already here – most people seem to know each other from previous expeditions – but its a place that really fosters mateship and everyone is very open and friendly, at least so far. I can see how people keep trying to come back time and time again. I’m trying to make friends but I’m a team of one and a feel a bit like the last one picked at soccer practice at the moment. It’s my school formal all over again. Being super friendly and uncomfortably sociable so hopefully that’s gonna help break in.

I sent some postcards today – the last post went at 7.30pm from the old Post Office here at Davis – a small round red and white building that used to be one of the original huts build on Heard Island in 1957. It was decommissioned and transported here back in the day, and rescued as the new Post Office – we also have a Postmaster – an official Government role with official stamps and everything. Very weird.

After that I wandered over to the Music Hut / Band Room that they have here to suss out the musical intruments – no left handed guitars as I’d hoped (knew I should have brought one with me) but loads of acoustic, electric, drums, and piano/keyboards. I was hanging in the band room last night doodling around on a guitar and a few of the other guys came in and we stated chatting. There quite a few musicians here this year and If i can restring a guitar lefty-style then I can join in and jam. Should be fun! 🙂

The accommodation here is really cosy and cute – small but comfortable single rooms – I lucked out and got a room with a second bunk so I have a little more storage than most. There’s not enough room to swing a cat but there is just enough for a quiet meditation in the morning and even a little yoga practice!

Where I live is a red two story building about 50 metres from where I work and about 50 metres from where the coffee is, so its pretty damn ideal apart from the massive GODDAMNED GENERATOR next door – lucky my ear plugs are holding up.

*Just now the guy next door is snoring his head off – his time on Earth is short.

The shutters automatically close and lock at 10pm and can’t open til 6am – it scared the crap out of me the first time. There’s a Lidar dome and light sensitive scientific experiments nearby to any ambient light in the evenings if a no-no. Hence the lockdown. It’s a bit like a horror movie when they come down though – feels a bit ‘trappy’.

This week has been a blur really. We are still balls deep into the Resupply operation and been working around the clock – 12 hour rotating shifts to get all of the cargo unloaded, the fuel and water transfer completed, and the Personnel handovers  finished. Ive been really lucky in that I didn’t have duty on resupply ( yay) it that I got flown over. It was so much fun and such a thrill to be flying over the endless ice. As the only IT dude I qualified as critical – I got flown off the ship by chopper days ahead of the bulk of personnel – tickled my ego immensely .

The reality though is that almost EVERYONE that has arrived has had IT issues and that’s been my constant role for the past 3 weeks almost – while cleaning my teeth, while I’m getting dressed, making a coffee, in my room, and even while I’m trying to put a fork full of pasta in my mouth – to sort everyone out immediately and get them operational. Or at least get their Facebook and email to work . Its always fun but as the Internet here is a bare trickle over a heavily oversubscribed satellite link, its now very frustrating – especially constantly explaining to people about procedures and rule while they complain about their Facebook isn’t loading like back home, or instant messaging and Snapchat doesn’t work ( its blocked) or the 200Meg video of a seal they are trying to send to their kids isn’t going through (but why can’t I send it?)

Because we’re in fucking Antarctica.

*i was going to delete this but that didn’t seem honest plus it’s a nice indicator of how tired I was yesterday… enjoy my vitriolic rant. Feel free to skip it though.

Grr <rant begins>

So I explain time and time again – over and over and over “But this is a government network with internet proxies and rules and shit”.

And we’re in fuckin Antarctica.

Meh noone cares and just wants their video to upload. Who cares where we are. Screw corporate data. Fuck meteorological and scientific data upload requirements, I just want my MTV. Where’s my Netflix?

“Why did you block my iphone from the wifi?”.

“Well because you downloaded 4.5 GIG of itunes crap/pirated movies/tv shows over our tax payer funded satellite link in 48 hours during which noone else could use the Internet, dumbass”

“Oh Really? I had no idea”

Yeah right.

Ahh in the good old days of 90’s IT I could get away with telling it like it is . HA!

Now it just becomes “hmmm really?” and then its now my problem to find out why your damn phone/laptop/tablet is doing it, quietly knobble it and not rock the boat.

That’s the public face of what I do here – Phone bitch and Internet wrangler.

That bugs me a little  – yes I know its just ego – but man it REALLY IRKS ME now I think about it.

In an environment full of tradies, Managers and scientists, most people here have two or 3 personal devices (tablet, phone, laptop) and rarely does anyone actually have a clue how to set them up.  Its just “my personal phone/laptop/PC doesn’t work – that’s now your problem Jamie – I don’t need to know how to use something or that I created this issue by ignorance – you just make it work how I want it to IMMEDIATELY).

Behind the scenes I’m looking after systems that everyone relies on but people rarely see or even think about; network administration, managing switches and routers and satellite links, server and systems maintenance, managing active directory, email groups and operations, system integrity, backups, printers, voip and telephone systems, data security, redundancy and disaster recovery – but none ever sees all that . Its the curse that comes with any IT role – you only become visible when something breaks and only important for the time it takes you to fix it, and then back into your little cupboard you go.

<rant ends>

Grrr. This is why I dislike IT work now – it also irks me and makes me curse a lot. I’ve tried to get out but it just keeps dragging me back in. Like the freakin mafia.

Maybe next year, eh?

ANYWAY the long voyage and then working 10 days straight is making me cranky and its a bit like groundhog day at the moment here. Work/sleep/work. The ship leaves on Tuesday and then (rumor has it) well get 3 days off and the bar will be open.

Well deserved beers for all AND hopefully none will ask me to fix their phone when the bar opens, cos after a few beers it’ll probably end up lodged in a penguins arse. Or theirs.

Tomorrow is another day…maybe a more positive post then, but remember this blog is also for my benefit as well.

But til then, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens … I’ll simply remember my favourite things and then I won’t feeeel so baaaaaad!

See i feel better already.

🙂

wall…

I’ve hit a brick wall with my creativity in the past few weeks. A dry spell to match the 36+ degree days and hot summer nights here now that summer has kicked it into high gear.

I’ve run out of stories to tell and the fancy words just aren’t there. They are definitely in there and are aplenty but they ain’t coming out easily like they used to.

Being back at work hasn’t helped, although its nice to have a paypacket again see the bank balance increase for a change, I’m certain now that its time to move on. March 2017 is the month and all I have to do is make it through Christmas and New Years intact and save, save, save.

My works’ Christmas lunch was Friday, out at Lazy River Estate – it was nice to see my coworkers together but I felt like an outsider and left fairly quickly – shouldn’t have gone but I committed so…meh… my own fault really.

It was my daughters birthday on Friday and I’d finally gotten hold of her after weeks of silence (her Mum and I don’t communicate well) and we chatted for ages. She’d been in Thailand!!! Of all places to be, her and her Mum had gone to Phuket for 2 weeks and we’d probably been at the airport at the same time at some point. Shes a traveler also – been to the US, Fiji, and now Thailand and shes only 12. Maybe that damn restlessness in me is in her as well. Happy Birthday Bella.

French lessons are going well and so much fun to learn something new, but apart from long walks, I’ve been virtually hibernating at home. It’s been theraputic to pick up the guitar again and doodle though  – I’d forgotten the joy and flow that music gives me. I’m also toying with night photography and star trails again – recently discovered some functions of the GoPro that were surprisingly effective for that.

But for now, I need some greenery and mountains soon as this dry dusty place isn’t for me.

img_2003

My office is wallpapered with photographs from my travels and many people seem to like them. It easy to get lost in them and that’s why they are there I guess.

Maybe I should pursue that as well.

I don’t know.

img_7240

I was asked to write something for the local newspaper last week (happens from time to time when they need a piece quickly)  and I threw something together from a brief they provided – basically who am I and my travel motivations etc etc – I think I’ve overshared but its too late as its gone to press – what do you think? To much drama? I did take a little literary license at times with some things I guess (apologies Steve and Sandy)

“Adopted at 6 weeks old into a loving family was probably the best that I could have hoped for at the time, even if I had been given a choice. It was in an era where such things were kept behind closed doors and nunnery walls. My biological parents were 19 and 18 at the time – a beatnik hippie artist from Melbourne and a cute neurotic private school girl from Adelaide –  and although they at least waited for me to arrive, they hit the road shortly after and got on with their lives.  I got lucky though with my adoptive family, growing up in regional bliss on a small farm in the South West Slopes of NSW, near the village of Wombat (population 102)

 As most people will tell you, farm life can be both tough but enormously rewarding. I can’t think of a better place for a child to spend their formative years but there was always something missing for me.  My sisters and I spent our childhoods working on the farm; droving sheep for months on end during the droughts (living in the back of a truck), breaking and training horses (hence the broken nose), competing at country shows and gymkhanas, tending market gardens, shearing sheep, drenching and marking lambs, plucking meat turkeys and picking cherries for pocket money at Christmas.  You know, all the normal stuff kids do.

 We weren’t a particularly close family – not having blood ties will do that to you I later discovered. It was that disconnection and a general dissatisfaction with my place in the world that fueled a search for identity that I hadn’t even realised I was on.

 A total bookworm as a child, I was never a farmer at heart and always knew it (much to the disappointment of my adopted parents). Spending too much time immersed in books, film and science to ever be satisfied on the farm, I needed more. I left small town NSW a few years after High School, gravitating to Canberra and the lure of Public Service work. It was the 90’s. There falling into IT at a time just before the Internet was booming. Working for Dept of Foreign Affairs and Dept of Defence in specialist roles, I was able to travel internationally for the first time and immediately something ‘clicked’. Experiencing new cultures and exotic places opened my eyes to many truths and the experience quickly became addictive.

Eventually headhunted into private sector consulting, I volunteered for every travel related project I could get, lucked out and deployed operationally with the Navy, sailing around Australia, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf implementing command and control systems and training their personnel at sea. It was this last stint of risky and slightly dangerous travel that locked in my permanent condition of wanderlust. But then I met a girl (as you do) and the next decade was spent focusing on things that ultimately didn’t work out. Marriage, houses, money, possessions, a nice lawn, fancy car. Social norms. You know the drill. 

 Skip ahead to 2012. 

 After multiple career hops and several different lives, I’d met my biological families and sorted that out, had a wonderful daughter, moved cities and states, fell in and out of love, but the traveling had stopped.

 I ended up here in Dubbo, working for City Council and caring for my adoptive parents as they transitioned into a retirement village and eventually Aged Care. Dad passed away in 2014 and Mum is still hanging in there albeit at the mercy of a devastating dementia thats robbed her of speech and mobility. The experience with my parents in their declining years had driven home the importance and the fragility of life. I’d also realised a few critical lessons: that my parents were just people, that life was short, and that I wasn’t immortal. Time was short.

 Wanting to keep my brain alive in the unholy dullness of country NSW, I began a Sociology/Psych degree at Charles Sturt University via Distance Ed. I embraced local theatre with the Wesley House Players, took workshops and acted in play festivals, got involved in the Midnight Cafe Committee for a few years, even tried my hand at playwriting.  It wasn’t long though before the restlessness kicked off again and the day to day travel of my work wasn’t enough. I needed to address it.

 A now ex-girlfriend introduced me to yoga by way of me being a guinea pig for her Yoga Class programs. It resonated immediately, and through a progression of coincidences I found myself on an unexpected path. I took time off and jumped on a plane for the first time in 10 years. Traveling through the Himalayas, I stopped in Pokhara, Nepal for a time and was turned on to Tibetan Buddhism at the local Buddhist Centre there. The 3 day philosophy course with traditional yoga and pranayama practice was really only an Intro, but it raised more questions than it answered. There were many elements that rang universally true to me. More lightbulb moments, like attachment leads to unhappiness, finding meditation and mindfulness practice useful in daily life, and to do no harm. Or is that last one Google. I always get the two confused.

 From there on my travels became more focused as my life became less complex – I began looking for answers in other cultures and religions – I knew it was the key – moving through Nepal and India exploring Buddhism and Hinduism. Needing a shortcut, I jumped into a more traditional Hatha (Svastha) Yoga practice by undertaking an intensive teacher training in Bali. I didn’t totally drink the cool-aid but it did give me a solid backgrounding and more importantly the language or vocabulary to unlock key concepts of the practice.

 After the Teacher Training my perspective on yogic practice shifted course. Originally aimed at helping myself heal and getting answers to life’s big questions, now I wanted to know more about using yoga and mindfulness training as a theraputic tool to help others – specifically dealing with mental health issues (stress and addiction, anxiety and depression in particular).

 I started on a well respected Svastha Yoga Therapy training program under Dr Ganesh Mohan and the sheer practicality of the course captivated me, illuminating yet another pathway. Asana, meditation and pranayama practice were essential not just for physical but also emotional well-being. Not in a ‘hippie bell ringy flower child’ way but a practical “Hey I’m moving and breathing and Wow! I feel good” way. My new goal was to start a Men’s or ‘Blokes Yoga’ practice initially in Dubbo and then perhaps take it overseas.

This year I have been particularly fortunate to have taken a sabbatical from work – to get ahead on my degree and do more travel to broaden my experience and to help deal with the restlessness.

 Earlier in 2016 I strayed from my chosen path a little while living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest up near Seattle. I faced some challenges there that ultimately turned me back in the direction of my neglected yoga and mindfulness practice. I bolted halfway around the world to Chiang Mai and reconnected with my yoga buddies there to reframe my life.

 Living in Northern Thailand for the next 4 months was a powerful perspective changing experience in many ways. I volunteered briefly alongside Burmese Refugee Support workers: helping out by hand building adobe mud brick housing with a local Women’s group who were providing a refuge centre for burned out Foreign Aid Workers up in Chiang Dao. Sharing their powerful stories and life experience while slogging away in the heat, mud and cement was such a challenging but uniquely rewarding experience as well.

 When Asia got a bit ‘same same’ – the restlessness had kicked in again – I jumped on a cheap flight to Egypt and travelled the Nile valley to explore for a while and play tourist, before tiring of the noise and pollution, moving on to Tunisia for my birthday.

Living in Tunis for several weeks I was in heaven: exploring the clean modern city, its cathedrals and museums, the Medina and then stunning Roman and Punic ruins. Roaming ancient Carthage and then abandoned Star Wars sets deep in the Tunisian Sahara, camping in the mountains near El Kef, hiking remote Jugurtha’s Table near South Western no-go zones on the Algerian Border, making new friends and learning so much but ultimately I barely scratched the surface of this rich traditional Islamic culture. I’ve fallen in love with this country and its people. North Africa has set yet another path for my future and reignited the wanderlust in a big way.

Being used to being alone was so useful! Traveling solo has allowed me to join and leave groups of travelers on similar journeys, buddying up and going it alone when it suited. The disconnect and lack of roots actually came in handy for this nomadic existence – it felt so perfect for me as everywhere was home.

 Recently I’ve met many amazing people from around the planet who were of a like mind; artists and musicians, doctors and psychologists, from physiotherapists to surfers. Everyone I’ve encountered having much the same questions or were on a similar journey.  Who am I? Why am I…? What is my purpose?

 It was a “found my tribe’ moment of the purest kind for me – a global community of like-minded gypsies, connecting through shared experiences and in many ways more of an actual family than I’ve ever had. 

 I’m using my time back in Dubbo to prepare for the next stage of my journey. Learning French to prepare for a trip back to Tunisia sooner rather than later (hopefully). Rebuilding my personal yoga practice and getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, until I feel I have something concrete to offer others.

 I’ll be hitting the road again soon, exploring still but this time with a more defined sense of purpose.”

Yep definitely an oversharer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

re-entry…

So I’m back at work now. You can imagine my excitement.

Back in Dubbo, Australia now for 10 days, spending the last 5 days locked in an office, glued to a phone and computer, staring out a distant window at the sunlight, wishing I was somewhere else. Its ‘Luke Skywalker Syndrome’ at its worst and it’s easy as my office walls are now lined with new travel photos – a quick glance left takes me away to the forests of Olympic National Park and a distant view of Mt Rainier, a bit further takes me diving in Koh Phangan, to my teacher training class in Bali, or the Giza pyramids, or to Carthage.

I’ve led a charmed life this year no doubt about it.

IMG_8357

Now that’s in the past.

Settling back into Dubbo hasn’t been a lot of fun – the numbness and “dead inside” feeling has persisted and the episodic disconnection (almost disassociative at times) is still present but slowly waning. I’m getting out and about, getting as physical as I can on my current prepayday budget. I haven’t wanted to settle back in though, avoiding people and doing my own thing as usual. Walking a lot as I can’t sit still (the restlessness persists and as you know stillness is always an issue). There’s like a constant pressure in my head that I’m attributing to the instant onset of extreme hayfever (yes that a real thing  – there have been people dropping dead of asthma in Melbourne over the past few weeks).

The water here tastes like mud (algae in the river water we drink apparently), the dry heat and hard water has turned my skin to flaky crap and my hair to a dandruffy hair helmet, but the clear blue skies and sunsets in the evenings have made everything worth it.

Almost.

destination_map_dubbo

In the grand scheme of things though, I can’t complain. Decent job, great money, good conditions, new work car (hopefully flame proof after the last one), semi-autonomous and self managing to a large degree. I work alone in a regional area of New South Wales, my immediate supervisor (now retired) is a 3 hour drive away, my team Manager 6 hours, the remainder of my team spread all over New South Wales. Perfect.

Almost.

You might recall that I mentioned that nothing had changed here in the past year. Well that holds true for work as well.

Starting back last Monday, a few people were surprised but most were welcoming (It was a sad day as a colleagues’ son had committed suicide over the weekend so the mood was low). I wasn’t expecting a parade but people passed by in the corridor, a few remarked that they hadn’t even realised I’d been gone.

Nice.

Walking back into my office after 11 months I expected at least SOMETHING to be different. But nothing was (except someone had stolen my 2 x new 22″ monitors and had replaced them with shitty old ones).

I settled back in, checked the few emails filtering in from colleagues who finally realised I was back, and then started catching up on mandatory training that been missed  – online talking head videos about terrorism or radicalisation or somesuch “fear fear fear warning warning warning’ nonsense –  (I suppose to be fair one of our own colleagues had been assassinated/shot point blank right outside the front door of Headquarters last year so a little paranoia is to be expected).

After a few calls from my colleagues, I was again getting drawn into the same corporate bullshit, the infighting and office politics that I’d been happy to leave in the dust. All the same personalities involved, their low morale, negativity and backstabbing once again hurled at me as the corporate factions struggled to find support and numbers. Tiresome and sickening but not entirely unexpected. I usually try to stay above it but sometimes its hard when it catches you off guard and it finds a way in.

It was then I started to feel the psychological load building again as all these familiar things reasserted control over my mind and began manifesting in my body. Pain free for the past 12 months, in this 2 day period things started to happen again. The crunchy shoulder muscles, the hypertension, irritability and anxiety. The shoulder and neck pain came back in 1 day. By Day 2, the tingling in the fingertips and wrists started up again, and lower back pain started to fire up. These things had spilled over and caused Hell  in my personal life and even in the first few weeks of my holiday, had caused aching pain and a lot of discomfort from sitting (especially touring around in Jen’s little 4WD for 3 weeks)

Usually I’d just go and stretch, chillax for a bit but ultimately put up with it. But “Bugger this” I thought – my health is important to me now – and got the local Workplace Health and Safety manager to come in and check out my office equipment. Sure enough, he measured and tested and moved things around, eventually ruling that every single piece of office furniture and equipment I’d been using for the past 4 years was totally unsuitable, too small , or needed changing out.

SO – now I have a standup desk! (at least temporarily)  – IT’S THE BEST THING EVER…and it’s gone a long way already to stop the aches and pains.

Short story is I’m doing ok. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Daily, I’m examining and reframing all the negative thinking, watching my mind, meditating and breathing purposefully. Flicking my gaze to next year while staying rooted in the present. Its a skill for life : less crystal ball gazing and more staying open to opportunity, but luckily I have some amazing friends in other countries that are still traveling and they are keeping me level – <Shaye, Megan, Kate, Anna, Megs, Christina, Connie, Bronnie especially> – if it wasn’t for the support of these guys (albeit remotely) I’d be a real mess.

The tiny OCD part of me still needs a plan ABC to settle down though.

So plan B is off to Bali in February to complete another 2 modules in the Svastha Yoga Therapy program. It’s something I really want to finish and after Bali there’s only 2 more modules to go and I’m certified.

Oh and I’m learning French! – met with a local tutor and shes going to help me over the next 5 months. There’s a plan bubbling away in my head to use Language study to travel the world – get an education visa for a year, study at a language school, move on. French first, then Thai in Thailand or Arabic in Tunisia at Bourguiba Language School.

It’s my plan C if the USA goes up in flames with Trump in control. (Did I mention I’m moving to the US next year?)

Next week brings Doctors visits, assessments and some work related travel to Bourke, Brewarrina, and probably Walgett. Today, I’m enjoying the Sunday sunshine, a decent coffee or two at Dahab Cafe, my new Jack Reacher novel and then who knows what the future may bring.

 

rain…

Its been almost 24 hours of solid rain here in Chiang Mai and my third soaking by traffic this morning alone. It appears inevitable that no matter what I do today, I will get soaked.

Just as well that I wore the fancy swimming shorts.

I hadn’t even had my first coffee of the day  – 9am standing at the flooded road crossing waiting for a break in the traffic, just thinking about the rain and  – DOOSH – Tourist bus got me…DANG IT  (or words to that effect) had just crossed my mind before…DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH, DOOSH – a stream of tuktuks carrying gaggles of excited Chinese tourists careered on through the same water, almost drowning me. I fully expected to find a fish wriggling in my pocket.

After the first DOOSH, I was like ‘Grrrr’…then after the third DOOSH it was funny, and after the 6th DOOSH it was ridiculously funny.  Certainly lightened the mood and set me on my course for caffeine (and a warm towel).

Thailand has been an experience that I am totally thankful for however. I’m loving every moment.

Thank you Big Green Bus, for drenching me at the traffic lights. It was a hoot. Thank you tuktuk drivers who delighted in hugging the curb to ensure I got more drenched  from the calf-deep rivers overflowing from the open drains, thank you waterproof laptop backpack for saving my phone and my macbook.

Thank you, immune system.

I’m house sitting another house here in Chiang Mai for 2 weeks before heading a looooong way West on the 21st of September. My days here are numbered. Flights booked, plans made. Bags packed. Affairs sorted.

This time its is closer to the old city, a lovely 3 storey family home, complete with 2 awesome cats and 2 not-so awesome snakes to feed and look after. Friends of friends have gone back to Europe for a time and needed someone to feed the animals. Its so good to sleep in a real bed again and have a place to come ‘home’ to , rather than a hostel. I’m so grateful and feel so lucky that these opportunities keep popping up. Sorta makes me feel I’m on the right path.

Chiang Mai is flooding and I’m now trapped in a cafe, so rather than wade through streets knee high with sewage, I’m determined to finish this latest entry, probably post it tomorrow or later today.

I do actually have some almost normal work to do – a while back I volunteered to be on a Committee as the IT Admin guy for Autismcarers.org back home – a wonderful organisation doing some great work but sorely in need of some assistance with their web site and content management. Time to step up I guess.

So I’ll finish that up then I’m going to hide at the local cinemas for the rest of the day.

And then maybe find an unbrella.

Later.

 

 

 

 

haunted…part 1

So much weird stuff has been happening over the past weeks in the house here that I just have to tell you about it.
Where to start: lets set the scene.

I’m house-sitting for a friend of a friend who has gone back to Scotland for 3 months (yep I lucked out). She has this lovely little townhouse just out near Wat Ram Pong.  Its a nice secure  2 story 2 bedroom terrace house just a little ways out of town, one of half dozen or so all connected by common walls and roof spaces, in a nice little almost-gated community. Safe and quiet (yeah so was 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville I hear you say)

Being slightly paranoid about security (occupational hazard),  I lock the front door by a solid metal latch on the inside when I go to bed as well as all the windows and the back door. The front door has the same kind of latch that I padlock with a dirty great padlock when I  leave the house.

So…safe as houses, right?

Maybe not.

Where am I going with this?

Lets go here: I haven’t slept well since leaving the U.S back in May (insomnia puts it mildly but its improving), and in the weeks I’ve been in the house here I wake up a lot. An awful lot. The usual things – odd noises, cats fighting, bumps and thumps and noises in the night. Usually it isn’t a huge issue as I read for a bit then go back to sleep.

Last week things got weird.

One rainy night after getting home from dinner, I went to bed earlyish. As the cleaner ( yep spoilt) had come that day the house was spotless so I carefully left my shoes at the door  (its customary here anyway). Climbed the 2 flights of darkened stairs to my room, closed the door and went to bed.

13900992_10154436453063885_1412888657_n

Anyway I had the usual fitful night of tossing and turning and the usual waking up every few hours, but eventually I slept.

The next morning I awoke, grumpy, with the sun streaming into my room from the single unblocked -out window near my bed (the house owner has issues sleeping also and had put up black sheets of cardboard on the windows to block the sun).

Yawning like grumpy cat I stumbled out my door towards the bathroom and stopped :

There were footprints at my door!

Little, muddy barefoot footprints stopping right on the threshold of my bedroom door, and continuing on down the stair well. They were crystal clear .

“Shit. Ive been broken into” was my first thought so I grabbed my little K-bar pocketknife from the bedstand and checked the rooms on the way downstairs. I followed the dirty footprints down the stairs. each little print half the size of my clompy size 9.5’s. Everything looked fine – laptop, phone, bits and pieces – check. Nothing missing. And then I checked the front door.

Locked. Latched. From the inside.  Say what?

13933468_10154436454498885_1332986187_n

RuhRoh – “Fuck – hes still here”.

K-bar in hand I checked the back door  (locked) , all the windows (locked and intact) , rooms (empty), under the beds (clown free), in the closets (nada). Nothing.

Just muddy kid sized footprints on the stairs in a house locked from the inside.

Rational mind kicked in – “Must have been me somehow”, or “maybe footprints from the cleaner that magically appeared after the floor was dry”. Yeah, that was it. Idiot.

The human mind is a wonderfully deceptive and creative thing. I managed to rationalise this weirdness away as something like that, and then put it out of my mind.

But since then, all the neighborhood dogs bark their heads off at me as I walk around. Even the cats avoid me now. It COULD just be my imagination.

Flash forward 3 days.

Same sleeplessness, odd noises at night and the usual tossing and turning. No more foot prints, but I get ready to head out for the day, gather my things, and head out the front door. Door wont open. Locked – from the OUTSIDE.

WTF? I checked the back. Same thing. Locked from the outside.

I couldn’t get out of the house! Locked in.

THAT freaked me out, and it took me a good 5 minutes to figure out how to take the screens off, put my hand through without cutting my wrists on the sharp aluminum framing, and open the outside latch to escape.

The shoe rack out front had been turned over, shoes everywhere. The 2 motorbikes out front had been rifled through, paper and plastic bags everywhere. But apart from the mess  – nothing.

OK…time to report in. MUST be thieves after all. I let the owner know, and my friend CB and they arranged to bring the housekeeper over to see if it had been her, or if she knew what was going on.

Jump forward to Wednesday afternoon.

A triumvirate of wise local women converge on the house, concerned about these happenings. After checking with the housekeeper and neighbors they came to the logical conclusion.  “A gang of thieves casing the place, right?”.

No.

I’m being haunted.

There is a playful but benign child spirit in the house, and it wants to play. This mischievous spirit is well known in the building and gets up to loads of trouble around the block. I hadn’t been formally introduced (as is the custom apparently) and this little poltergeist wanted to say ‘Hi’ and have some fun.

FML – of course. It all makes sense.

 

13942165_10154436452858885_1096647481_n

 

The solution is easy – fix the little temple/alter out in the front yard (had been installed but neglected by a previous tenant), burn 9 incense sticks and put some of my favorite flowers in as an offering. Then just sit down quietly and have a little private greeting ceremony – introduce myself. Things would be ok!

Its easy to forget that spirits play such an important role in Asian society, like a favorite uncle just hanging is not a big deal. They embrace the concept completely and incorporate it into their lives as a matter of fact. Its a beautiful thing.

Westerners are so dismissive in relation to things like this, myself included. I WANT to believe in so many things, spirits and ghosts and suchness, but the scientific and so-called logical mind just wants to scoff and dismiss. I firmly believe there is more to the universe than what we can see or perceive at any level. There has to be.

But I am a total pussy when it comes to ghost stories. A complete sucker. Put me in a dark corridor at night alone and every creature and ghost Ive ever seen on the silver screen or TV is hiding in the shadows waiting just for me. Horror movies and ghost stories in particular freak the Hell out of me but I just cant get enough. 

I guess I believe in spirits at least as a form of indestructible energy in the universe.

Which would explain a lot.
THAT takes me into a discussion on religion (believe me no-one wants that to happen). I’m firmly an agnostic but jeez I’d love to be proved wrong. So where does that put me.  🙂

So to be sure, I’m looking for some incense today and little Casper and I will have a get together this evening. I also might buy a few new padlocks today as well just in case.

NOW – this all ties into some more weirdness that I mentioned a while back…the Nepalese Raven episode from a few years back.

This just keeps getting weirder and weirder…

Part 2  and the raven tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a little less drama…

Time for a change of pace and a little less drama.

(also I’m playing with WordPress formatting so please be patient)

Due to a happy coincidence, Jason Bourne and some lovely people, I found myself early Tuesday morning bouncing along in a black Suzuki Vitara once again, traveling North towards Chiang Dao.

Today’s project was something out of left field that once I heard about it had to get involved in. Helping out on a project to build mud brick and traditional Thai HANDMADE houses for a new center providing a refuge and respite for aid workers in the region.

Our task wasn’t going to be too challenging though – at least on paper. Most of the backbreaking hard work had already been done and the adobe house was standing proud in the mango fields. Today – some concreting and stone mosaic works on the floors and entrances. I’d had an absolutely vicious Thai massage the day before and my body still felt like it had been pummelled, punched and severely stretched by several small fisted ninja-monks. The hope was some manual labour would loosen things up. Anyway…

Have a quick read – saves me explaining about the scope and purpose in detail as I’m basically lazy ( and yes we’ve already established that)

http://womenforpeaceandjustice.org/be-part-of-our-dream/san-santi-weaving-peace-retreat/

and the organisation at —> http://womenforpeaceandjustice.org/

Their vision for the retreat:

‘Our current vision is to put out a call (by the end of 2016) to activists, well-being practitioners and facilitators, artists who would be in residency at the retreat for a certain amount of time. The “residents” would enjoy their own retreat, and also help to host and provide a minimum amount of structure for other activists seeking retreat and refuge. Activists could then select times to come for retreat, either based on what a particular resident is offering, or whenever fits in their schedule (and ours, until we are running year round, hopefully by 2018)”

And they are building this retreat by hand so not a lot of time. Just quietly, these women are amazing.

So nice and early (at least for Thailand) I met my new french friend Aure, Natalie and Sam outside the Ibis hotel as they were going to be my crew for the day. I was to be the token male although in my own defence I did actually come in handy at one point: providing a hopefully serious masculine presence when Natalie was stopped at a Police checkpoint, taken over to a table in the shade and fined 400 baht for not having a current tax sticker on the car. Luckily they didn’t notice the Kbar clipped to my pocket which I’d forgotten about (thanks Sean – best gift ever  🙂 )

13933058_10154434164663885_1154866476_n

**Its near end/start of month here – that’s Police payday and they ‘supplement’ their income by increasing their presence at this time every month and fining as many people as they can – quite a bit of it ending up in their pockets. There are roadblocks, traffic stops and motorcycle police EVERYWHERE.

On the 60 minute or so trip to I realised that I hadn’t been in a car for about 2 months  – mostly motorcycles and pretty much alone so having a real conversation was almost a novelty. We shared our respective stories and chatted about the project and life in general. Aure, formerly a french Proof reader for a publishing company back home, had decided to relocate to Chiang Mai; Natalie formerly in banking back in the UK was now finally home with her Thai family; and Sue, Natalie’s neighbour, teacher and motorcycle fanatic (sorry Sam its true) was interested in building her own Adobe house and wanted to know more.

Aure and Natalie had completed the Natural Building Course earlier in the year,

Womens-Building-Work-3

http://womenforpeaceandjustice.org/courses-we-offer/womens-natural-building-workshop-2/

.. and had been part of the team that really put in the hard yards on the mud brick and wooden house  – Sam and I were Adobe virgins but keen to learn.

Pulling off the road close to the Chiang Dao caves, we bushbashed through muddy trails and massive towering bamboo stands, splashed through muddy puddles axle deep in dirty water, and carefully turned into the barely-a-track entrance to the Retreat.

Clouds of mosquitoes attacked as soon as we got out of the car – although this time they went straight for the women and left me alone.

This was an old mango farm gone back to nature, all overgrown and heaven for what I supposed were the millions of Pit Vipers and Monocled Cobras hiding in the long grass just waiting to kill me. Actually there are about 223 types of snakes in Thailand that all are waiting to take a bite at me, I’m certain.

naja-arch-1

I don’t like snakes. Period.

Since Lonnie (my American neighbor here) told me there were Cobras everywhere around this part of town, Ive been quietly shitting myself every time I go off the beaten track. Hence today the stomping around, solid leather boots and thick socks – although I couldn’t quite bring myself to wear long pants in the heat – rookie mistake but hey – its hot here.

Anyway, looking at the building site I couldn’t believe how much work the project team had already done. An adobe and mud brick house, with the frame and roof of the wooden house up but not walled in yet. Apparently the wooden one takes much longer due to the amount of cuts and the shape/condition of the reclaimed Teak hardwood.

I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of the task until they started to explain – “No power tools, no gadgets…all hand tools, hard work, teamwork and traditional Thai methods”. All the woodwork was chisel cuts and handsaws, hammer and nails. The only powered item they had was a cement mixer but that broke down the first time they tried to use it so all the concrete was mixed and spread by hand using tubs, buckets and mattocks.

Amazingly, the bones of the Adobe house had gone up in 10 hours, using only a plumb bob to keep the walls vertical, mud mortar, and more sweat. The tiled roof a little longer. What stood before us today was essentially an almost habitable Adobe 2 bedroom house located on an old mango farm, with million dollar views over the nearby mountains.

IMG_1215

Anyway…after my snake paranoia calmed down, we got into our teams and started on the task at hand. Today was going to be simple – make some concrete and using simple formwork to shape entry steps and then make them pretty. Easy!

13875004_10154434012878885_1588215193_n

 

 

 

After the first 5 minutes of even hauling the stones bags into the house, I was covered in sweat. The humidity here was skyrocketing under the low cloud cover and even the slightest activity made us bleed water.

Once the formwork was tacked into place and the concrete was mixed, we poured the steps, sorted our stones, and then the fun part – creating some nice stone mosaics for the entry area. This was surprisingly relaxing and loads of fun as we could do pretty much what we liked.

Natalie was an artsy crafty type and gave us a few tips, and then we were off. Aure and I went for a Romanesque design, which was a challenge for me as my brain refused to recognise exactly what a herringbone pattern was (I’m blaming the heat) but I got it eventually and the next few hours were spent chatting and creating.

13876322_10154037441333692_1442319538428457003_n(1)

Personally I think we won, even though it wasn’t a competition (secretly though everything is a competition and ours was awesome)

IMG_1219

So we mosaic-ed and chatted and chilled out. It was a prefect way to spend a perfect day out in the bush around Chiang Dao. We finished up around 1.30pm, quite chuffed and proud of our work and luncheoned at a ramshackle roadside food place just near the site. It made THE hottest chili dishes, and even caught Sue (a chilli afficionada )**is that the female form of afficionado? I’m not sure : Spanish speakers?**  by surprise, and she spent most of dinner bright red, hoarse voiced and had to delicately pick the superhot thai red chillis out of her food.

The afternoon was getting away from us and we still had a wall to put up on the wooden house. Maybe. Well Maybe not. Next time. Yeah next time. It’ll wait. So we decided to clean up our mess, pack up the site and head back before the rains came. This was actually a safety thing more than anything else as the roads in this region are notorious deathtraps in the wet apparently – turning into rainslick wetpans and easily sending speeding trucks, vans and buses spinning and careening into your windscreen.

So we doodled home slowly in the rain, happy about the progress we’d made, and the girls made plans to continue the work. I unfortunately will be moving on, but if I do come back to Chiang Mai I’ll definitely be helping out and doing a bit more than making a tile mosiac.

So today I made some new friends, learnt a new skill, got sweaty and got involved in something extremely worthwhile. Mission accomplished and not bad for a Tuesday.

6th best day ever so far and I’ll sleep well tonight.

McGaw out.

🙂