S: Asia 2009 - India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia
FC: ASIA | 2009 | INDIA THAILAND LAOS CAMBODIA
1: Since I’ve been back, my thoughts on travel have been completely mixed. Initially, after the experience of India, seeing the poverty and struggle, and comparing that to my aimless wandering around with a camera, living like a king and writing home about it, I was very synical of the whole thing. I began to hate the western world of consumerism, or as I like to call it, the pursuit of sensual pleasures. I began to see the world purely as an opportunity to make positive change and influence. That then changed to a world of opportunity to enjoy the sensual pleasures, then to mixure both. Now, I’m just craving to be back on the road again. Nothing is like it. Nothing at all.
2: through words and photos...
3: ...memories of my experience through three amazing months and four unforgettable countries.
4: Finally I find comfort in an air conditioned internet cafe somewhere near Bugis train station in Singapore. Beach Rd I believe I’m on. Little sleep, no shower, no toothpaste (eek), lots of walking. It’s about 8am in the morning here. Just had breakfast. Thought I’d do it the Singaporean way and join the locals down at the markets. Food was cheap, not great, cold, have tasted better. Nothing worth writing home about (oh, the irony). Internet is actually a great break away from carrying that backpack around the place. I might hang around a bit longer. I fly out at 8pm tonight for Chennai. | Interestingly, internet has become my sanity. My connection to home and to the people there. I flew into Chennai last night and am adjusting to the way of life here. Becoming more and more aware of the comforts, partly physical, but mostly psychological that I take for granted at home. I’m home-sick.
5: "The security is simple. A big fat lock, plus my own big fat lock, concrete walls, bag wrapped up in a security mesh padlocked to the bed, and my passport, money and credit card on me. Simple, but trustworthy. I’m in Triplicane, inner-city of Chennai. Shops are all around me, and most of the essentials. Not much to report on so far. Settling in still. It’s crazy here. Still missing the world." | I think you operate here on a different level, and it takes time to adjust down. Everything here is simpler and more raw. You don’t have the space or the luxury to worry about things you usually would at home. I guess there are different levels of survival, and on each level comes a different set of priorities. What a great way of relinquishing the ego.
6: As the saying goes any more laid back they’d be laying down (and often they are). But 40 minutes to make a tomato and cheese sandwich tells you that they’re making it with love. My god, I love the pace of this place. I got up early this morning and went for a walk to the top of Trayambakeshwar Temple, ringing the bells as I go (the same bells that wake me in the morning, funnily enough). Thinking about religion and culture, I wander up the temple, noticing the hard stares from some locals (as if to say “what are you doing here”), the store owners and touts lining the walkways causing a racket (I think I remember a story in the New Testament about something similar), cameras, mobile phones, kids rushing around the temple and stairwells, running into people, and devouts just going about their daily practice oblivious to it all. I think to myself, “Perhaps we’re not all that different after all”.
7: Varanasi | "Along the Ganga, the ghats seem to tell a million stories. The masses of people who flock from around the country to bath there, the Ganga gives a beautiful sense of hope and celebration. The washing of the clothes, and the cremation. Rituals of life and death take place here. And nothing is more a part of these people’s lives than the Ganga. The Old City which settles along the river, seems to have as many stories as the river itself, equally as bright and cheerful as they are dark and sinister. The Old City seems to draw you in, the moment you set foot in it. It feels as though, the longer you stay in a place like this, the harder it becomes to leave. The city feels like a drug addiction, with ample dealers to sustain one. When you close your eyes at night you can here her whisper her many secrets. She keeps you company. You’re never really as alone as you think in a place like this." - Varanasi, India
8: My days here have been interesting. Frustrating at times, and very beautiful at others. I met a man visiting from Delhi, Tripurari. He shared his wisdom with me about the culture and the Indian people. He asked me to show him some martial arts, so this morning we practiced on Manmandeer ghat overlooking the beautiful Ganga, and then again we sat and he shared his wisdom with me. He has many stories to tell. I could sit and listen to him speak all day.
10: This is such a change of pace. I’m in a totally different world. This place is beautiful, this place is so wonderfully relaxing. It’s a great place to be. Although nothing is really exciting me about this place, not in the way India did, I find enjoyment in watching my own thought patterns. And feelings too they’re starting to come back. Perhaps India has a way of numbing your senses, that’s what it seems like, while at the same time, making you feel so alive. The air here is thicker. Similar to home. That’s what struck me about India. In the way that people speak of “the air is thick”, the moment I was in India, I felt like “the air was thin“. A strange and previously foreign concept to me, but I think it’s true. In India, everything is just more raw. Everything is out in the open. There is no sugar coating anything. You can’t sugar coat India. It’s just what it is. From the most amazing parts of it, to the, ummm least amazing parts. It is what it is. You can’t hide it. At least not in the way we ‘hide it’. They hide things too here, in Phuket. Smiling faces, sweet talking, all the rest of it. There’s as much real here as at home. There’s a certain beauty in the rawness of humanity. Something that we never really see in our world. Not the world that I was living in anyhow. The sheltered, ‘prettied up’ version. Perhaps I was never really in India to see India. Perhaps I was there to see something else. Life without make-up perhaps? Myself without make-up even? Who knows?
11: After catching a ride from Rishikesh (at about sea level), to Gangotri (3045m) on Sunday, and then trekking to an ashram near Gaumukh (about 3800m) on Monday, we had well exceeded the daily recommended dosage of altitude. My limits were truly pushed, both physically and mentally. After a crazy, crazy night of no sleep, a few tears, a conversation with God every now and then and one very humbling realisation, I struggled to get up on Tuesday to finish the trek. But while sitting in quiet contemplation for most of the day, some little ashram in the mountains of the Himalayan Range became, for me, a little piece of paradise that I’ll never forget. I wish I knew the name of that place.
12: "Like my yoga teacher in Rishikesh said, we are like mud pots, molded by our parents and teachers into shape, hopefully a structurally sound shape. But a mud pot simply molded into shape does not serve its purpose. The mud pot must be put out in the sun to set, to gain strength. We too must go out into the world on our own, to gain strength and to test the shape to which we have been molded."
13: Nothing is more incredible than this. I’m on the road, wandering aimlessly through India, with no plans, just eyes to see. I’m meeting incredible people, people with whom just a slight encounter can change your perspective forever. I was in Rishikesh yesterday, the home of yoga, and today, Dharamsala, the home of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. I truly am so lucky.
14: I’ve come full circle. I’m back where I started. I have read the dharma, I have meditated hours on end, I have overcome fears, I have lived a life of purity and resisted temptations of selfish desires. I have experienced anger and jealousy, remorse and pity. I have loved, I have hated and I have cried. Somehow throughout it all I have found a harmony. I found a place beyond aversion and desire. And in this place was peace. But from within this peace came something else. After greed and anger comes a third poison, according to my vipassana teacher, a feeling of “so-so”. The poison is ignorance. The feeling is that of complete and utter boredom. While anger and greed may cause pain, boredom seems to be the most painful poison of all. I’ve done a full circle and found myself back where I started. While two paths lead back to each other, a new path from here seems simply undesirable. How entertaining it would be to continue playing the same old game, running around in the same circle, pretending that it was truly important. While some personal insights may be intense and dramatic, none compare to the anti-climax that leaves you speechless, wondering “where the hell do I go from here?” and thinking that this whole thing, this whole journey, is just some big kind of joke. This, Christopher, is boredom.
15: The place on earth is no longer of concern. I could be in any country. Incidentally, I’m in Laos. Often I forget. My attention on the outside world has been gradually drawn inwardly. After 2 months, I am no longer concerned by the outside world. I float through this town, aware, but unshaken by the happenings around me. Why do I remain here? Because there’s no reason to leave. My journey has not come to an end, yet the end is not coming. The external journey has slowly become an internal journey, which will never end. I wander through the streets concerned only on the internal world, my vision never swayed. I navigate my way through the crowds in the night market by way of peripheral vision, distracted only by the curious looks from a Lao child over the shoulder of her mother walking in front of me. I smile. My attention draws back internally. This is where I want to be. In here there is endless amounts of peace. If I were anywhere in the world right now, I would still be in here. This place is amazing.
16: I have to share about this crazy little Thai Boxing dude down at the gym I had yesterday. By the way, yeah, I woke up pretty sore this morning, was a great feeling!!! It’s been a while. But anyhow, this dude I rock up for my first session and he asks me to take my shirt off for training. As I do, he’s like “Ah! Muay Thai!!!”. I thought for a second that I was in one of those bad dreams where you realise you’ve tattooed something really stupid (like “Muay Thai”) on your skin and you don’t realise until someone points it out, like as if “why did you get that stupid tattoo?” But no, I was not in a dream, and did not have “Muay Thai” tattooed on my skin. No offence to anybody who has “Muay Thai” tattooed on their skin, really, it’s cool. So, the session goes on, and before long I realise that it’s kinda like some cool little catch phrase they have (or at least he has, perhaps it’s just his thing). With every hard round house, “Ah! Muay Thai!!!”. A big left – right – spinning elbow, “Ah! Muay Thai!!!”. A big knock out over-hand right, “Ah! Muay Thai!!!” Absolutely brilliant. I’m bringing that back with me to the club. If I picked up nothing else from my $20 one-on-one session, at least I picked up “Ah! Muay Thai!!!”. Now, I may not look authentic, but at least I’ll sound it. | “Ah! Muay Thai!!!”
17: "This place stinks. I love it, but it stinks. Really bad. Worse than, well, it’s pretty bad. I’m going to the airport. I’m going to try to find a nice quiet island somewhere. Peace." | "I’ve been to the capital Phnom Penh, was there for a couple of nights. Went to the S21 museum and to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. Intense! I took some photos but haven’t uploaded them. Intense!" | "The serenity of the town, to speak of it would almost spoil it. A difficult place to be in anything other than the most peaceful and quiet of mental states. Just amazing!!! - Dharamsala, India
19: I’m in Si Phan Don, literally 4 Thousand Islands Beautiful!!! Absolutely beautiful!!! I went exporing today!!! I went to see a waterfall, a ‘beach’, some dolphins and I had a beer in Cambodia!! And I gave myself a bit of a hair cut because it was getting in my eyes and it was annoying me!!! Ooh! a toad just hopped passed my foot!!!
20: And then, like a lightning bolt had just hit, I think back to religion in Australia, and realise that I’d almost forgotten what religion used to mean. Being so immersed in the intensity of religion and religious practice here, while listening to and reading about religious and spiritual philosophy, I’ve come to think of religion as a poetic description of a search for and experience of inner peace, as a means of passing this experience on to others and a way of bringing people together in harmony, in an otherwise separate world. I’d almost forgotten the other perspective, the one that I’ve unconsciously adopted over the years. The more unappealing and mundane view of religion, which tells us that religion is something for depressed people in their greatest time of need, for people who can’t develop opinions for themselves and need others to tell them what to believe in, or, even worse still, for those who need to understand “why it rains” but can’t comprehend the theories of evaporation and precipitation. We believe that religion has nothing to do with politics, and perhaps Gandhi was right, perhaps we don’t know what religion is after all.
21: Cambodia | Siem Reap, what a wicked place to hang out!!! Well, Ive been sitting for some times now here on the free wifi at Le Tigre (yeah, everything is French around here if you didn’t realise) going through iced coffees, tiramisus, apple juices and every other delight this place has to offer. I’m truly pigging out so much for my living a life of purity and resisting urges to indulge in selfish sensual pleasures. Sometimes this is fun. I had too many iced coffees last night that I couldn’t sleep. I spent the night pacing up and down my large, and almost empty hotel room which looks suspiciously like a cell in the loony bin, considering the intricate details of theoretical randomness, in an ironically predictable fashion. I’ve survived an attempted food poisoning by the evil Cambodian lady at one of the dangerous looking food stalls in front of the famous Angkor Wat. I miss the girls. Excited about home. There’s not too much more to get through now and family is keeping me up to date on facebook with the number of sleeps til home. Yay!!! Love you all!!! xoxo
24: Afraid | What I’m scared of: * My fisherman’s pants falling apart the moment I get home * Spending too much on a tuk tuk and being lied to for money * Having my passport or my wallet stolen * Losing all my photos * Some day losing the amazing friendships I’ve established over here * Punching this silly Australian woman who sits next to me at the internet cafe complaining non-stop to her boyfriend, Daniel, over Skype about how sleazy some American guy in Cambodia is * Ever dating her What I’m really scared of: * Losing the sense of peace I’ve found on the road * Forgetting the amazing places that exist within the human mind * Remembering they exist but forgetting where they are * Losing my centre to the pushes and pulls of regular life * Never being able to find this all again What I am excited about: * Going home What I am afraid about: * Going home