So here it is. The last post. Sob. I am writing this watching the sun come up as I sit on the balcony of Faye’s apartment in Singapore, having returned from Japan late last night. In keeping with the erudite tone of previous blogs, you will forgive me for starting with a toilet description. Given my obsession with the squat toilet on this trip, it seems only appropriate that I end my trip with a visit to a country where the lid opens and the toilet lights up as you enter the bathroom, before you sit down on a heated seat (great when skiing and once you overcome that uncomfortable sense that the warmth means someone has sat on the toilet for a considerable time before you) and face a bemusing choice of washing/drying/musical accompaniment options. I am in toilet heaven. I want one.
They all seem to be the same brand and I have found myself talking to the toilet, saying “Hello Toto” as I walk into the bathroom and the seat lifts in greeting. Is this perhaps a sign that I have been travelling on my own for too long and it is time to come home? And is talking toilet habits just a step too far for this blog? I will move on…..
Japan: A last minute addition to the trip, booked at New Year when recovering from my Cambodian Kontiki hell, and now somewhere that I wish to return to and discover properly. 36 hours in Tokyo was sufficient to whet my appetite for this beautiful country with its friendly, helpful people. As for the skiing (further north in Niseko): those of you who have skied with me know it is not really one of my strengths, but even I can feel like a supreme athlete on the slopes out here – amazing powder snow, great runs and with a brilliant group of people – just a perfect way to end my trip.
And end it must. 5 months has flown by and in 24 hours’ time I will be on the plane back to the UK and to reality. It seems like no time at all since October 6th when I flew to Bali to start my journey. When I was on the boat in the Whitsundays a couple of weeks ago, I sat on deck one evening and, shutting my eyes, tried to replay each country quickly in turn, seeing what immediately sprang to mind in each place. Unsurprisingly it left me feeling quite emotional. I worry that I have forgotten my experiences but then I re-read the blog and look at the photographs and the memories come flooding back. Some favourites on this post….
Along the way people have asked me what my favourite bits have been and I have found it hard to answer. I have swum 18 metres below sea level and climbed 4075 metres above it. I have travelled by bus, train, boat, tuk tuk, truck, plane, stayed in some great hotels as well as some terrible hotels, met some brilliant people (and some less so!). I seem to have done a pottery and/or weaving workshop in most SE Asian countries, bought more t-shirts than my case can hold, laughed a lot, cried a lot, been lost (literally) a lot. It has been amazing. Every country held a different appeal. I found my journey through mainland SE Asia challenging and fascinating in equal measure. I took so much away from that – a love for the countries and their people, an understanding of different cultures, a better appreciation of living in a democracy (even though I still struggle with UK politics) and freedom of speech, in a world where we take so much for granted that we really should appreciate more. I now have a thirst for knowledge – there is so much history I was and remain ignorant of. Whilst away I have evolved a “40 before 40” list of things I want to do or achieve in the next 6 months before my big birthday and understanding more history forms a large part of that (as does eating a tomato – it’s a diverse list – although I finally did that in Australia).
I loved everything I did in different ways and have learnt so much, even from the bad times (thankfully few). Laos was a really special place – I haven’t met anyone yet who disagrees with that. Borneo was also magical from start to finish, even at 2 a.m. climbing a steep mountain ledge in the dark. I had a number of brilliant experiences in Thailand – from catching up with old friends in Bangkok, to sailing round the islands and living amongst the elephants in Chiang Mai. Without a shadow of a doubt the 2015 leg has been the highlight and, back pain apart, I have loved every minute of this year, I don’t think I have stopped smiling. And I can even cope with the back pain because I truly believe everything happens for a reason – had I not had the pain, I wouldn’t have found Cory the healer and had the wonderful treatment from her in Chiang Mai. As a consequence of that, I am now booked on a Reiki healing course in April (I know – I can hear all you non-believers sighing from here!).
Before I left people told me I would change and I wouldn’t want to come back etc etc. The latter is true to a certain extent – the idea of returning to a chilly England in the lead up to a general election, and returning to the same routine, fills me slightly with horror. I am however excited to see my family and friends. At Christmas I was feeling a bit blasé about the whole travelling experience, questioning whether my frame of mind had changed at all and what I would do differently back home. If you have followed the blog regularly you will know that in January that shift in my frame of mind finally happened. What it was, I don’t know – did I finally relax, chill out, let go of stress? I have a few theories. But I definitely felt a change and have felt relaxed and happy ever since.
The lawyer in me has to reference back to the beginning, to remember why I took the time out in the first place. I wanted some time to myself, to work out how I could make changes to the way I lived life. I don’t have the answers, but I have lots of ideas and I am content to “sit” with the experiences I have had and see how life feels once I am back home. Because if there is one thing I have learnt whilst I have been away it is to be more patient. Climbing a mountain, that manifested itself in the need to take small steps in order to preserve energy over the 2 day journey. More generally, I have accepted that I don’t need to have my life planned, or know all the answers, these things come with time and experience and it is more fulfilling to slowly find your way than rigorously plan your way, if that makes sense.
And I have learnt a lot of other things about myself on the way, too. I had to laugh this week when I had a one-off ski lesson with Faye. In a very short space of time the instructor had the measure of me – telling me I shopped too much (in this case for an easy place to turn on the mountain) and also that I overthink the whole skiing thing too much. Shopping and thinking too much – two very consistent themes on this trip!! My credit card is maxed out so the shopping has stopped, but I am still working on this overthinking malarkey although I think that will come as I learn to stop planning so much.
I think a pretty defining moment for me came on the boat in the Whitsundays. As I said in the last post, I was close to bailing on the trip as I was feeling distinctly unenthusiastic about boarding a boat in the rain and the wind. Thankfully I did, and spent 4 days with a lovely bunch of people, one of whom as I mentioned previously was a Dutch musician. Remy (his name was Remco but as that is the name of a former client of mine I felt obliged to unilaterally rename him, and if he objected he was too polite to say so) is someone who has followed his dream. A gifted musician, he shared his time and talent and entertained us throughout the trip with songs and improvisations of various genres. Watching him play the guitar and sing to us all, something made sense to me. I have angsted for so long as to what my life plan was going to be. I still don’t know what it is going to be, but I know what it should look like. It should involve something that makes my face light up, has me smiling with happiness and enjoyment, that fills me with such confidence that I can do it without inhibition, changing the mood of the room that I am in with my presence and enthusiasm, something that makes people want to join me on my quest/journey, whatever it may be (although I think its safe to say that quest will not involve singing, for the avoidance of doubt). So Remy, if you are reading this: Thank you, you inspired me and I owe you…
HHHmmmm, a bit evangelical? Too idealistic, or just stating the bleeding obvious? Maybe, but I have to believe that it is possible. And I am in a frame of mind that does believe that right now. The answer may not show itself for years, but that’s fine. Whilst I work on it I have a bucket list to achieve*, a load of places I want to visit, and a lot of friends to catch up with on the way.
A special thank you to Faye for being my SE Asia bestie, hosting me numerous times in Singapore and holidaying with me twice – it made such a difference having a friend from home out here. I also made some amazing friends along the way who I have shared so many different experiences with.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had the time and the opportunity to do this trip. Right now, I am excited for the future and whatever it may hold. And if, in a year’s time, I have simply gone back to my old routine, please wave this last post in front of me and remind me of the hopes and aspirations I have returned with. In the meantime, smile, be happy, do good, love life. That’s my plan.
*the 40 list is now on the blog on its own page and if anyone wants to help me out with parts of it, get in touch!