Saturday, January 18, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 6 (Final)

(Friday, January 17th, 2014)

Sawadee kah! Hello from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport! Soon to be “Ni hau!”
I’m comin’ HOME, baybeh!

So, as half-expected, the simple hotel->boat->bus->hotel transfer guaranteed the day before, was neither simple nor a transfer. BIG surprise. Yesterday consisted of trudging down the hill to the shore (past the stationary tractor-with-carriage which I had so optimistically assumed might actually drive us to the boat), laden with bags and packs – through the muddy swamps, into knee-high water, and gracelessly plopping into the longtail boat. As I watched the island receding in the distance, I was once again stunned by the sheer beauty of it all. I could wax poetic for pages and pages about the colour of the water, the streaked limestone cliffs, overgrown in parts with lush green thick trees, but I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves.

View of Railay from the boat

View of Railay from the boat

Thailand is BEAUTIFUL. Even with all of the over-tourism and craziness that exists. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the level of commercial tourism is both disturbing and saddening. I watched it happen in Boracay before my very eyes, and it’s well on its way in this South East Asian island nation too. Huge resorts are going up all over the place, obscuring the tree-line, diluting the cultural uniqueness, and destroying the lush beauty. The shoreline is littered with cigarette butts and plastic wrappers – there’s even a bloody shooting range in Railay! WHAT. THE $%^ ??? WHY?!?! Le sigh.
We humans seriously need to wake up.
...

Anyway, so there I was, 20 minutes later, trying to manoeuvre my way back off the boat again, down the little ladder on the side, backpack-sidebag-frontpack ON! On the shore, several Thai people waited, all in different uniforms, clearly having been sent by various hotels, tour companies, and so forth. I showed my ticket to someone, and waited and watched the confusion mount as they all passed it back and forth amongst themselves, yelling things in Thai, pointing, correcting each other on the name of the hostel as printed on the ticket, gesticulating, looking around. None of this neither surprised nor perturbed me. Anyone who has ever travelled in the developing world will know: par for the course. Eventually a man directed me towards his minivan (with another couple) and started FLYING down the road like a lunatic. Again – pretty standard. Only two driving speeds exist in Asia: either speeding like a maniac, or driving slowly enough to drive Miss Daisy.

Turns out the other couple in the van were headed to the airport, so when the driver got to town and randomly stopped, depositing me on the side of the main road and telling me we were there, I was on my own. He pointed down a side-street and shouted “Guesthouse! Guesthouse!”, then hustled me out of his van before speeding off again. So I walked down the side-street…
… and found myself nowhere where I needed to be. Turns out (again – no surprises) that there is more than one guesthouse with that name. FARKING HELL. The woman behind the counter at this rumbledown, nasty-green hovel told me in thickly accented shrieks as I walked towards her “Me no English! Me no English!” Of COURSE not! We communicated through a series of grunts, gesticulations and speaking to each other in our own languages - which meant absolutely nothing to the other, smiles, and embarrassed-yet-somehow-we're-in-this-together laughter. She really wanted to help me, sweet thing. She pointed to her phone and tried to give it to me, saying “You call! You call!” but as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t have a number for my hostel because Agoda doesn’t provide it, lest you book it directly with the hostel and screw them out of their commission, no doubt. Eventually she called her friend, who spoke a bit of English, and him and I worked out where I should be but wasn’t, and he spoke to her again, got her to call me a taxi, and I was duly deposited at my rightful spot.

Anyway, the new place was LOVELY, and clean, and felt like my own bedroom. I showered, had some lunch, and after verifying with the hostel owner that there weren’t really any not-to-be-missed sights in town, I was more than happy to go lie down on my new soft, super comfy, bed and watch some TV for the rest of the day. Which was really quite a rare treat as well, seeing as the last time I watched TV was… I don’t even remember when.

In the evening I walked down along the river’s edge to the local Krabi Night Market, and was absolutely THRILLED to catch my first moonrise in YEARS!!! Moonrises are AMAZING!!! I didn’t even know they existed until about 5 years ago! (Don’t judge me, I’m a city girl.) Anyway, no sooner had I set out on my walk than lo and behold: a bright orange orb rising up above the water, just on the other side of the river! (I remember the first time I ever saw the phenomenon. I was watching the sun set on Koh Samui, and it had just gone down – the sky dark and full – when suddenly it started to come back up again!!! Whaaaaaaaaaat was happening?! I thought it was the end of days for a second! Until the guy sitting next to me on the beach, who’d probably heard me gasp audibly, told me what it was. And then I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen!)
I love watching the moon go from a huge orange ball on the horizon, to a smaller yellow one as it rises, and then even smaller white as it keeps rising in the sky. It’s SUCH a beautiful sight to behold.

Holiday: MADE. This was the bright, shiny, glorious cherry on top!

Full moon over the river. Moonlight and magic. Ah!

So yup, that’s it.
Woke up early this morning to get on a domestic flight to Bangkok, caught the shuttle bus to the bigger international airport, and am now entertaining myself on my 7 hour layover thanks to my iPod that sends sweet sounds into my ears. Have been thinking about this year ahead and am feeling VERY motivated for it - which is a GREAT sign. WHOOP WHOOP!!!

I am absolutely determined to learn conversational Mandarin this year. The fact that I bumble along as I do after all of these years is, quite frankly: bullshit. No more, no less. I also have an apartment-hunt to kick off, as the manfriend and I will be moving in together once my lease runs out in March. So – YAY! Then I want to look into the Masters programme which I intended to start last year but postponed due to my dad’s illness. I also want to travel more within Taiwan – research the options and explore the country more, spend my weekends more wisely. (Not all of them. A lot of them will still be spent doing delicious NOTHING. Ha!) And more exercise. And just generally being a happier, nicer, more patient person. I’m excited. It looks to be a big, beautiful, rose-coloured year ahead!!!

See you soon, Taiwan!!! :) xxxxx

Friday, January 17, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 5

(Wednesday, January 15th, 2014)


That's it!!! My last day in Railay! And thanks to the banging and clanging coming from the staff quarters of the hotel across the way (which is about 10 metres from my room, apparently) preparing for their morning shift at daybreak - I was up in time!
I rushed down to the water's edge to a still-dark sky, a thin line of light barely visible on the horizon. As the sky started to get gradually lighter, I actually thought I'd missed the sunrise again, and that it had gone behind the clouds already. So I just waited, and watched the world light up around me instead. It seems absurd to describe it in colours like "pinks", "oranges", "yellows". It's so much more nuanced than than, soft glows, in different hues, melding into and out of each other...
To my sheer delight, after breathing in the new day for a few minutes, I suddenly saw a bright orange orb begin to escape the line of candy-pastel hues on the horizon! HELLO SUN!!!

Daybreak behind the mangrove trees

I stared until the sun had risen and was floating free, and then crossed over to the other beach to really enjoy some time on it before it filled up with tourists. The colours are so spectacular in the early morning light - the blues are startling shades of turquoise and sapphire and aquamarine, the greens are all bright and bold and rich and somehow... glowing. I found a plastic bag again, and went about collecting the trash left on the beach from the previous day once again. This time I was on my own, except for a few joggers who ran past me in the early morning coolness. (I will never understand jogging. How is that "fun" for anyone?! So bizarre. Bless their crazy little hearts!)

After walking the entire length of the cove, I came back to my hotel, feasted on fresh watermelon and pineapple and set about planning my departure the next day. I fly from Krabi to Bangkok the day after tomorrow, early in the morning. So I need to spend the night in Krabi tomorrow in order to get to the airport on time for my flight. I found a guest house which I booked online, but because I booked it through a website I have no contact email or phone number for them, so I can't just call them and say "Hi! I'm coming! Please come get me!". Things are a little more complicated in Thailand. Although the longtail boats run basically every hour, that will only get me as far as the pier. And then what? Will there be taxis there? Will there be a bus? How do I even tell them where to take me, if I DO find someone? I've learned that having addresses written down in English is almost of no help at all in Asia - this is true for any place that uses a different writing system. Soooooo... the tour booking agent in my hotel says she can help me. "Be here at 9 a.m," she said, pointing to a big tractor with a long wagon attached. I am DELIGHTED. I hope this means that I don't have to wade through nasty mangrove-swamp mudwater with my 20kg backpack, my 5 kg frontpack and my 7 kg shoulderbag tomorrow - and that the tractor will take me all the way out to the boat instead, as I've seen them do. BUT - this is Asia. And you NEVER KNOW. So we'll see. She also wrote down the name of my hostel on the ticket which she sold me, and said there'd be a bus waiting at the pier to take me to my hostel as soon as we get to Krabi. I wait with bated breath.

Once again, I hung out on the beach for most of the day. I'm reading "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Beredt right now, which is a GORGEOUS book, and one I've been meaning to read for ages. But I found it hard to focus today, my thoughts invariably wandering to the fact that it's my last day in Railay.
It certainly hasn't been long enough, let me be perfectly honest about that right now.
Now: I KNOW how lucky I am to even get this time. And I have been soaking it in in its entirety, I assure you. But I feel like holidays run a natural course, usually: The first few days you're still very much stuck in your "real life" mindset - aware of time, planning ahead, go-go-going, not quite at ease. Then as time wears on, people fall into that delicious space which we call "holiday mode". You stop caring about eating regularly, and just feed yourself when you're hungry, you forget about time and just wake up when you like, go to the beach when you like, sleep when you like, do whatever-whenever-however you like. Which is LOVELY. People think it's the peak of the trip, the apex - but it isn't. Once you've been in this zone for a few days, you start to come back down to reality again. You're still in holiday-mode, but you have time to reflect on your life - on all of its facets and nuances and questions and challenges - without it stressing you out. Your mind is clear, you see the angles differently. And then finally you get to that point where my brother and his girlfriend were at when I met them in Bangkok just before the Job Fair. We had 3 days together at the tail-end of their Thailand getaway. After two and a half weeks on the islands, they were both happy, relaxed, and excited to go back home again and kickstart their new year plans into action. And I think THAT'S the best place to be. When you are EXCITED to leave behind the beautiful beaches and get back to your everyday life. THAT'S the ideal.

I feel like I ALMOST got there. I am certainly happier than I was when I left, certainly more relaxed, and certainly grateful that I got to take this time off at all. But I also feel like I fast-forwarded through it all a bit, and if I had the choice, I'd easily spend another week doing nothing but reading on the beach, eating, sleeping, watching sunrises and sunsets...
Then again - I could probably spend another MONTH doing this, really. Or even a year. Sooooooo... NEVERMIND. ;)

OOH! I can tell time using only the sun now! TA DA!!!!!! Of course, so far this special gift has only revealed itself to be true for Railay... but ya never kno-how! I know where the sun is in the sky at different hours in the day. I remember some of my friends in Boracay could do this (I'm looking at you here, Tito Pablito and Chef De Partay!) and I always thought it was amazing. Now I realize that the reason it amazed me was because I was always indoors teaching and didn't take enough time to just watch the sun move through the sky. You live, you learn. I certainly do. There's so much I don't know. I find it thrilling. And exciting. What an INCREDIBLE world we live in!!!!!!!

Speaking of our incredible world, another thing I've really loved is being "in nature" again. Big City Livin' in Taipei has so many benefits that there's no point even starting to list them all here - it's no secret that I ADORE the city, and am so grateful for the life of ease and calm which I lead there. But I grew up a small-town girl in Southern Africa. I love hearing the birds chirping early in the morning, and the cacophany of different insects in the evening. I get excited by seeing spiders and geckos in my room, squirrels running across the walkway in front of me, monkeys jumping from tree to tree above my head, bats swooping low in the fading twilight. Those little moments have all been huge highlights of my trip, really. There are these tiny little sand-coloured crabs that dig around at the water's edge all day. They make little balls of sand into the most spectacular patterns. I've spent ages just staring at them work industriously. You have to be really still though, as they obviously feel the vibrations of movement, and dart into their little holes in the sand when someone approaches. I even took a video of it, so fascinated was I !

Crab-Art!

So yes - the final Railay sunset tonight, and it was gorgeous. Bright pinks and fuscias - the whole sea was aglow, not just the sky, you could even see the colours bouncing off the rocks of the limestone cliffs! Too stunning! Just a few metres away from me these two young Swedish girls started doing what I later found out is called AcroYoga, which was just spectacular to watch - very uplifting and beautiful! My very own Cirque show, right on the beach! :)

Front-row seats at the most gorgeous open-air theatre in the world. ;)

I think I shall take myself out for another langoustines-and-sweetcorn-on-the-cob BBQ tonight, before I pack my bags and get ready to head on out tomorrow morning.

Adieu, Railay!

My last Railay sunset. What a send-off!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 4

(Wednesday, January 15th, 2014)

I believe in signs. I believe that there are both big and small things that we see if we only open our eyes. I love living in a world where some things are inexplicable, where magic exists, where things are both what they appear to be – and more than they appear to be.

Today I had a visitor in my room. I found an itty-bitty little scorpion on the floor. It's amazing that I saw him at all - he was literally the size of my fingernail! So cute!
He didn’t move when I gently nudged him, so I carefully picked him up with a tissue, placed him on the bed, and took loads of photos of him until I got just the right angle, gently manoeuvring him this way and that. When I was done, I put him on a tissue on the counter in order to put him outside. No sooner had I turned around to put down my camera, than my little visitor had disappeared! He’d been pretending all along! I found him not far from the tissue, carefully caught him under a glass, stared with fascination for a few seconds at the movements of his little claws and legs, and his beautiful markings, and then released him into the gardens outside.

The reason for my excitement and sheer DELIGHT at this discovery, other than the fun of being so close to nature again, is simple: my father’s zodiac sign was Scorpio – something of which he was very always very proud. He collected all manner of scorpion memorabilia: key-chains, belt-buckles, necklaces. He got a scorpion henna tattoo on more than one occasion on holiday, and even had a picture of a scorpion on his bedroom door (small wonder I turned out the way I did, with two wildly eccentric parents like I have, come to think of it… )

I like to think it was my dad's way of saying “Hi!”. It made me really happy.
The world is so beautiful if we just remove the layer of cynicism which we’re conditioned to place over it. I think that's why I love teaching preschool so much too – children have such a sense of wonder and awe, they believe in light and magic and goodness. How perfect!

My little telegram from beyond :)

What’s been really interesting for me this holiday is how much I have been dreaming. I almost never remember my dreams in everyday life. I sleep deeply and peacefully, my mind calm (or so I think). Here in Thailand, I have been having incredibly vivid dreams every night. And it’s about things that are realistic, and current. I dream about work, and about changing jobs, I dream about my life and my relationship and my friendships. For the first time in a very, very long, I am being allowed a glimpse into the machinations of my subconscious mind, and it’s quite startling. For one, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that I am not completely at peace, even though I dearly wish to be. I need to sort through the gunk and get to a serene space. I am at odds with how I wish to be, and only I can change that. I lack physical stimulation in my life. I need to go back to dancing, perhaps join some yoga classes, or maybe even pick up martial arts again. I miss feeling strong and powerful, I miss feeling like an invincible machine. This will be the year of regaining power – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
IT’S TIME.

Luckily, yesterday’s food poisoning incident seems well and truly behind me, but I was still really careful today and all but skipped both breakfast and lunch (except for some watermelon and pineapple slices in the morning). Today was a GORGEOUS sunny day, and I literally did not move from the beach all day. Finished my second book and started on my third, and spent a lot of time in the water, just staring at the greens and browns and blues around me. I remember when I was little and we’d go on holiday I would always stay in the sea for a-a-a-a-a-a-ges. It was my favourite thing. I used to think that I was a mermaid, and that I’d grown legs because I had been out of the sea for too long, and if I just stayed in the water for long enough... then I’d grow my mermaid tail back again...

My attempt at a selfie.

I finally made a new friend today while waiting for the sunset, which is why I have some pictures of me in Railay, eventually! (My attempts at a selfie had me either cutting out the background, or half of my face. Not ideal.) Caridad is Nicaraguan but she lives in the States, and is celebrating her 1st year anniversary to her Indian husband in Thailand. They were with two Korean girls whom they’d met on the boat coming over, and we started chatting because they were sitting on the sand next to me, and her laugh was so infectious that it made me start laughing too! We had some drinks as we all watched the sunset together, and then I politely declined when they invited me to join them for dinner. I’d had a burger earlier (avoiding Thai food for a day seemed wise) and I’m quite enjoying my solace and solitude, to be perfectly honest.
Tomorrow’s my last day here! I think I may try to catch the sunrise again…

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 3

(Tuesday, January 15th, 2014)

Lemon-shake. Delicious!

One of my favourite things about holidaying in Thailand is undoubtedly the food. Everything fresh and spicy and lemon-grassy and delicious. I love the crispy salads, the coconut-based curries, the flavoursome soups – just allllllll of it. I find myself having prawn EVERYTHING whenever I’m here. Yum yum yum!
Yesterday I broke with tradition though, and ordered a chicken and coconut soup. And then had my favourite desert ever afterwards: sweet sticky (condensed-milk drenched) rice with mango. Now, I don’t know which of the two it was that didn’t agree with me – but MAN, was yesterday evening not fun.

The scene of the crime: sticky rice with mango and condensed milk

To be fair, the whole day started off lousy. I woke up in a foul mood after being woken up in the middle of the night by about 20 minutes of screaming and shouting of the just-post-teenage-female variety. When I went outside to growl at somebody, I ran into 3 Swedish girls on their way to reception because “There’s a [insert Swedish word for cockroach/ cricket/ centipede/ I have no idea what they were saying, here] in our room!” Ah, Thailand.

Anyway, so I woke up late and headed down to the beach. Given the mood I was already in, when a tiny little Thai lady approached me for a massage on the beach, it was like a gift from the heavens. She guided me to a big sheet laid out in the sand, under the shade of a nearby tree, and started her magic. The yellowtree oil which they use is a great muscle-relaxant, and just generally having a massage while facing the ocean is so blissful, really. Turned my whole morning around.

It was a completely overcast day today, barely any blue in the sky, which is actually ideal for lying on the beach and reading all day. You don’t get too hot and sweaty, and it’s easy to relax. I finished my first book today, and started on my second. The first one was something I found in the hostel reception when I checked in, Ellen Degeneres’s “Seriously… I’m Kidding.” It’s light fluff, to be fair, but perfect beach-reading – and I do think she’s really funny, and astute. I’ve now moved onto a fascinating book called “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs. It’s bizarre and gripping, and such a great read.

This is exactly what I wanted for this holiday. I realize that this is probably the most anti-social I have ever been in my life, but that’s okay. Normally, I’d be hitting the bars every evening, making friends and hanging out. I’d be going on all manner of snorkeling tour, rock-climbing tour, island-hopping tour – but not this time. Right now I just want some down-time. My plan before this holiday was to “eat, sleep, read, repeat.” So far, so good.

The sunset last night was AMAZING, even though it was so overcast. Crazy pinks coloured the sky, the clouds, the sea. It was just so beautiful. I wish I’d watched more sunsets when I was living in Boracay. Sometimes you get so lost in your life that you don’t literally stop and just look around you. I aim to focus more on that this year: Live in the NOW. Enjoy every little thing!

After the sunset I beat a hasty retreat to my room, and spent the rest of the night hanging over the toilet-bowl. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but clearly something at lunch did NOT agree with me.
I’m writing this the next morning though, and I’ve already had breakfast – all systems back to functioning again.
The beach beckons!!!

Another beautiful Railay sunset

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 2

(Monday, January 13th, 2014)

Sunset on Hat Railay West

Woke up this morning and threw some clothes on in the hope of catching the sunrise, but it was already starting to get light by the time I got outside, and there was a thick line of clouds on the horizon blocking the view of the sun. Still – a beautiful morning as I watched the day break over the mangrove trees. So quiet, hardly anyone about, only birds chirping and the sound of sweeping from the resort nearby. Walked through the back roads in the mountains to get to the other beach, and marveled at the colour of the water in the morning light. Just a handful of joggers were out, other than that I felt like I had the beach to myself. As I started walking I noticed a lot of trash littering the beach, so I did what my friend Louise and I used to do in Boracay when we’d go for walks, and found a plastic bag in which to gather all of the trash as I walked along. Feels good to do it – I know it’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s still something. Before long I had made a friend, who quietly joined me in my cleaning operations.

We walked along together, chatting intermittently. Pet is Thai, from the north of the country, and has been living in Railay for 6 years. He’s about a foot shorter than me, but the same age, with soft eyes and long curly hair and a moustache. He works for one of the rock climbing companies, running their boats that take people to nearby cliffs. Before that, he was an artist painting walls of a temple in Bangkok. He showed me some photos of himself on a huge scaffolding, painting a bizarre green devil, smiling proudly at his work. Then he asked me how old I was, drew something in the sand, and started counting numbers on the star shape in the sand in Thai, finally asking me if I wanted to know my future. “Sure,” I answered. According to Pet, I had a very difficult year last year, but the next 2 years will be much better and easier, and the 2 after that will be wonderful. Wouldn’t it be great if he turns out to be right?

Pet asked me if I wanted to meet for dinner later, but I said I didn’t want to make any plans for the next few days, which he really seemed to like. “Yeah, just take time to breath,” he smiled. We parted ways and I headed back to breakfast at my hotel.
I’ve decided not to check out after all. I slept well, as it’s so quiet at the back of the resort, and really – all I need this room for is sleeping and washing up. The shower and air-conditioner work fine, and with the money I save on accommodation I can splash out on fancy dinners and more beach-clothes! WIN!!! :) (As an aside - I found some awesome rainbow Ali Baba pants! UH-MAY-ZING!!!)

I spent the rest of the day on the beach, basically. Slathered the Factor 50 on my face, and the Factor 30 on my body, like all good, responsible 30+ year olds should - and I was good to go. I have 3 books on holiday with me, but it’s hard to read when there’s so much beauty all around me - it's distracting! Also, I can understand a lot more of what people are saying here than I can in Taiwan, so it's hard to filter it out like I do back home. Most people speak Russian or English, Hebrew, Spanish or French - basically, it all resonates. The only languages that really throw me are the Scandinavian ones, but they're quite hard to tune out too as they're pretty gruff on the ear. (Sorry, Scandinavian people.)

Watched the sun set slowly again, all golds and pinks on the turquoise water; treated myself to another beach barbeque further along the beach. (This time it was king prawns instead of Langoustines, and a giant salad. SOOOOOOOO GOOD!) It's interesting being back in the guise of Lone Backpacker again. I realized on my walk back to the hotel that night that I hadn't spoken to anyone all day except for Pet this morning. It's quite isolating, but also wonderfully liberating to be all alone on holiday. I do exactly as I please. I have hours for contemplation, and simple meditation. The biggest challenge for me is that I have to keep making myself stop planning. I try to plan my days, my meals. It's ridiculous, how the modern world trains you into constantly living in the future.

Plan for today: STOP PLANNING. Har har. I'm hilarious.

Hat Railay East, or Sunrise Beach

Hat Railay West, also known as The Sunset Beach

Just before sunset, Hat Railay West

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thailand Holiday Diaries: Day 1

(Sunday, January 12th, 2014)

Just before sunset. Railay Beach

After an intense and highly charged 3 days at the International Schools Job Fair in Bangkok, at the tail-end of an excruciatingly difficult year in which I lost my father tragically and unexpectedly, I had been waiting and waiting for just a few days of respite before returning to the Taiwan teaching grind. (More on the Job Fair in a future post – I’ve actually been taking notes throughout that I want to share with all of my teacher friends – and whomever else may be interested – about the experience, I think they’ll provide invaluable information that I wish I’d had beforehand.) I spent a day in Bangkok catching up with my beloved friend Erin, with whom I worked at the international school in Boracay several years ago, and who now resides in Bangkok with her fiancĂ©. It was SO WONDERFUL to catch up with her, meet some of her friends, and have the most amazing Thai street food I have ever eaten sitting on plastic chairs at an aluminium table in the street.

I booked a flight to Krabi on a whim, as I wanted to get to the islands as soon as possible the next morning, wasn’t prepared to put myself through the ordeal of an overnight bus (been there, done that, over it), and it was one of the islands that I had not visited yet. From Krabi airport I took a bus to the "pier", and hopped on a longtail boat to Railay Island, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas in Thailand. Unfortunately, it has been completely taken over by tourism in the last few years (much like the rest of the world, I suppose), and as such is overrun with fancy, expensive resorts filled with rich Russians, Europeans, Americans, and a smattering of South Africans. When I tried to book accommodation online beforehand, all of the nice resorts charge between 70 and 200 US dollars a night (!!!) and so I made a booking for one night only at the cheapest place I could find. To be fair – at 50 dollars a night – still not so cheap by any stretch! The plan was (as all good backpackers will know) to drop my bags off as soon as I’d arrived, and then go on the hunt from one resort to the next for a better place to stay.

So where were we? Ah yes, the "pier" at Krabi. Picture it, if you will: yours truly wading through thigh-high water towards the longtail boat (basically, a wooden canoe that seats about 20 people, with a small engine attached). I had a 20 kilogram backpack on my back, my frontpack with my laptop and other paraphernalia draped over my front, and another big bag filled with all of my heels, suits, pashminas and other formal attire from the Job Fair slung over my shoulder. Feel free to laugh at the mental image. I have STILL not mastered the art of packing lightly, it appears.

20 minutes of gliding through light blue waters, surrounded by limestone cliffs and green craggy islands protruding from the seas, blue skies and warm sunshine above us, life seemed far lighter than it had in a long time.

… until we got to the shore. Here’s a hint: when you book a hotel, make sure that you know where it is. Because the people whom you ask on the shore may not have a clue, but will confidently give you directions to god-knows-where instead. The boat drives up as close to the shore as it can, where Honey-the-pack-mule proceeded to wade onto dry land and try to find her way home. From the powder white sands on a tiny beach cove on which the most expensive of all resorts exist, I set off on my way. Sidenote: there are no motorbikes, no tuk-tuks, no jeeps, no transportation of any kind on this tiny island. Sooooo… ya walk. And walk, and walk, and walk. This island is much like Boracay, where I used to live, in that on one side you have the sunset beach – expensive, touristy, glitzy and glamourous, powder-white sand and exquisitely beautiful – and if you cut through the island and walk for about 15 minutes, you get to the sunrise side – in this case mangrove tree mud-flats, less swanky, cheaper eateries and resorts, more grungy, a beach you’d rather not swim in but still pretty to look at.

So after about 15 sweaty and ghastly minutes (with breaks in between, I won’t lie) I finally found myself at the Railay Viewpoint Resort. Sounds glorious, no?! Don’t be deceived. My room is hideous. It’s at the back of the resort, facing the back of the resort next door. The bathroom is all cracked-tiles and the most basic of utilities, bedroom is old wooden furniture, bright pink walls (I know!), 2 bare light sockets, cracked mirror. On the plus-side: clean sheets, and a perfectly functioning air conditioning unit. So at least that.

Dropped my bags off and went on the hunt for alternatives. (But first! Strawberry daiquiri and spicy prawn curry to welcome myself to Railay!) I literally stopped in at every single resort I saw. All of them were either fully booked, or stupid-expensive. And I do mean STUPID. Finally I found the resort right next to mine (up on a hill, so I’d avoided it before) which had rooms for 70 dollars, but was newer, cleaner, nicer, and has a lovely little pool at which to lounge. Made a booking for the next 5 days, and was now ready to relax. So I had a nap. Which doesn’t sound like a big deal, except that it has been years and years since I just lay down for a few hours in the afternoon and rested. It’s such a gloriously relaxing thing to do, isn’t it?! FINALLY – I was truly on holiday.

Woke up feeling wonderful, so I headed off to catch the sunset on the main beach. Got there a little early, so I found a table on the beach, and just sat there for a few hours taking it all in: the view, the sun, the people around me. There are so many families with young kids here, and of course my mind wanders to dreaming about one day in the future when it’ll perhaps be me there... I got lost in my own thoughts for a while, fantasies of the future – of my friends and I, and all of our assorted children, on holiday together. Happy thoughts.

Too cloudy for a sunset, but still a very chilled and beautiful evening. Found myself thinking about my father a lot too, and wishing I'd had more time with him, more conversations with him, saddened by the thought that he would never get to meet his grandchildren, and that they would never know the fascinating, complicated, wonderful man that their grandfather had been.

In his honour - because it’s exactly what we would have done together if he was there with me, I went off and found a restaurant that was serving beach barbeque for dinner and ordered 3 giant prawns which took up my whole plate. Imagined him there with me, had some conversations with him in my head, catching up since the last time we’d seen each other. I’ve realized it doesn’t get easier, ever. The loss is there forever. You just learn to cope with it better, to bury it deeper, so that’s it’s not at the surface all the time. But it’s always there, always with you. I don’t think you can ever truly understand it until you go through it. I know I didn’t.

So a bittersweet evening, but one that left me feeling warm as I walked back to my hotel through the hustle and bustle of the sunrise beach’s eateries, bars, souvenir shops and tour operator stalls. Back in bed before 9 pm. Delicious sleep.

Waiting to board the longtail boat to Railay

My favourite shot of the day. They were playing right in front of me. Snapped it just in time.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Farewell to my Father

Today would have been my father's 68th birthday.
I would have woken up here in Asia, in a time-zone 6 hours ahead of him, thought about him as soon as I opened my eyes - having lovingly anticipated this date for a few days now, and would have immediately written him a gushing happy birthday message, telling him how much I love him and how wonderful he is and how I can't wait to see him soon (even though we only ever really saw each other every 3 or 4 years). I'd think about him on and off all day, and as soon as I got home in the evening would get on Skype right away, and call him.

But this year, I can't do that. I can't call him Pop anymore, I can't laugh at his silly dad-jokes, I can't make him laugh in mock-shock at my life, I will never hear him smiling as he speaks to me, proud of how similar I am to him. He always told me that - in fiercely forging my own path and embracing my own freedom - I was just like him. He never ever questioned my choices, and decisions. He never doubted the paths I wandered down. He just listened - genuinely interested in my life. He was the most non-judgemental person when it came to me. I loved speaking to him, I loved regaling him with tales that I knew would make him laugh, smile proudly, and that he would store away in his heart for retelling to his friends and loved ones at a later stage. He remembered everything we talked about, and if he worried about me - he never let on. He made me feel completely free. He allowed me to be ME.

My father died on the 3rd of August of this year - just 3 short/long months ago - while I was in the air, on a plane, en route to see him and say goodbye. He had been in a coma for almost a month prior to that, as his body slowly starting shutting down, each organ gradually failing him, as he let go of this life... so the goodbyes would have been purely for my own closure. Or maybe he'd have heard me, even deep in his coma? It doesn't matter now.

The last time I spoke to my father - and this is something that I will ALWAYS be grateful for - was just before they wheeled him into the Operating Room. He had been in absolute agony for a week in hospital before that, unable to sleep, eat, speak. We were told that he had a 50/50 chance of surviving the operation. I was able to tell my father, the very last time that I spoke to him, that I love him SO VERY MUCH.
And that's all I ever really wanted to say.
He was in so much pain that he could barely whisper a response to me, but he did. The last words my father ever said to me were "I love you, Daughter."
I sob as I type these words, for I had always loved how my father had used "Daughter" as a proper noun, as my name. I was not his daughter, I was his Daughter. I could hear the capital letter every time he said it.

I will never hear him say it again. Except in my head. I can still hear it so clearly in my head. His thick Russian-Lithuanian-Israeli-South African accent moulding the words in ways that no-one else ever will.
My Daddy.

It never gets easier. I can tell you that.
The trauma subsides. The shock wears off. But the sadness is there. Constant, deep, endless.
What I have learned, is to not allow myself to think about it. all. the. time.
In truth, you have to block it out sometimes, or you will live your life in a perpetual state of anguish and sorrow.
I cannot look at photos of my father for more than a few seconds, because I know that the immediate feeling of love will quickly be overtaken by one of hollowness, and loss. My eyes fill with tears very quickly if I even allow myself to think about him for more than a few seconds.

It's just so startling. To have your father there, and then not.
An old friend wrote me recently asking how I was. This was my response:
"I am, in truth, much better. I will never stop being sad. It never goes away - I think that's the hardest lesson. It never fades, it's never over, you never move on. It just IS. I can't think about my dad without tearing up, I can't look at his photo for more than a few seconds. I can't shake the feeling that I can and still will call him again one day and have a chat and a catch-up with him, and then I realize that I NEVER EVER will again, and it hurts... SO... DEEPLY! But it is what it is. And there's not a damn thing I can do about that.

So I don't let myself think about it for too long. It comes into my head, I give it a moment to honour his memory, and then I banish the thought lest I plunge again. I don't want to be sad. I don't like it. I think I harbour a profound fear that if I one day let myself go, I will fall so far and so deeply that I won't have it in me to pull myself back up again."

...

The last vision I have of my father is from standing on the shore with my aunts, uncles, and a cousin... staring out at the black waves breaking on a black sky, late at night... watching my brother, trousers rolled up to his knees, standing in the surf, pouring my dad's grey ashes out into the sea - as per his final request.
We all sobbed, hugging each other in the dark, in the fierce night breeze blowing off the water.
Took turns, one by one, to walk down to the water's edge and say our own goodbye to him.

It was in that moment - hugging myself tightly, my whole body wracked with sobs, a myriad of thoughts and emotions washing over me so forcefully that I felt like I was physically swaying to-and-fro - that I suddenly heard his voice again: CLEAR, distinct.
"I love you, Daughter."
I remember looking up at the sky, at all the twinkling stars, the sound of waves breaking on the shore, feeling the circle of love and energy of my family at various spots on the beach around me.

"I love you, Pop. I miss you! Can't wait to see you again!"

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DADDY. xxxxx