River as Prayer: Dong Hoi, Vietnam


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Photos by my husband Anthony ‘John’ Hill

Draft extract from my travel memoir

We got a taxi from Dong Hoi train station to our place. It was a hostel, with a bar with a pool table downstairs. Our room was up a couple of short flights of stairs and at one end of a long marble corridor. At the other end of the corridor was a small balcony with a view out onto the street below. In the middle divider of the wide empty street were bright pink flower signs, like metal sweets, precise symmetrical cut out flower shapes. Within the row of pink flower signs was a small cube on a pole with screens showing orange and red flowers, maybe advertisements? It was like a much smaller version of the big screen wall of waterfalls and advertisements by the river in Phnom Penh.

We went back to the noodle place and used a translation app to write our order in Vietnamese, vegetarian, for two people, tofu, noodles and vegetables. Two beautiful dishes of food arrived, light, nutritious and delicious, tasty fried tofu and a good variety and plenty of vegetables including spring onions and mushrooms. By pointing to the menu we also ordered peach iced tea. That peach iced tea was probably the most delicious thing we had tasted all year. It came in tall glasses with long spoons, a deliciously sweet cold drink with lots of ice and big slices of slippery tinned peaches, heavenly.

Nearby, between the tofu place and the sea, was an old building which looked a bit like a church, incongruous amongst the mainly utilitarian buildings and plain streets.

Dong Hoi was so quiet, we assumed it was still because of Tet but when we asked the man at the guesthouse he said that no, it was always like this. Only our place seemed busy.

At night the pink flowers became just lights and looked completely different. By day they were pink metal stylised but obvious flower shapes, by night there were no signs of pink or flowers just bright white lights. There was a light dot in the centre of each petal so that in the dark it looked like circle of dots, and one in the middle. Again it looked like it was inspired by the lights of Phnom Penh, a minor version, nice yet a bit incongruous for a quiet street.

There were lots of young tourists and backpackers there, mainly Westerners doing cave tours etc. We watched new arrivals get pounced upon on arrival and organised into booking excursions.

In the evenings we went for walks, looking for places for coffee or beer, sometimes looking at the map for places of interest but mostly just wandering. One time, a big dog followed us and wouldn’t leave us alone. It was more embarrassing than scary, we thought we’d have to go in somewhere and ask them to help us but eventually it left us alone.

Once we walked to the beach, there was nothing there, no shops or stalls, no tourist facilities, it was very different to Cambodia.

By the sea near us there were pretty colourfully painted boats. On the grass near the prom there was a family group, several men, and women and kids sitting on a picnic blanket, with loads of beer cans! And during the day on Sunday and in evenings, there were people relaxing in hammocks slung from the trees there.

Little huts stood on stilts in the river behind raised nets like the Chinese fishing nets of Kochi. We watched a person in a coracle go from the hut to under the centre of the net, check the centre of the net which hung down like nipple above the water. I assumed it had an opening hole for getting the caught fish out and that he was checking that it was closed. Then he went back to the hut and lowered the net into the water, via ropes.

In the river there were blue plates, square or rectangular, a lamp, gold with broken flower glass or shell. Were they put into the river as a prayer? Were they simply discarded or broken? The things shining, beautiful and strange looking in the murky water, and lots of thin plastic bags upside down under the water, floating like jelly fish.

I watched a Vietnamese woman on a bicycle, she had on bright pink trousers, and black bin bags of stuff loaded on her bicycle. It was a typical scene. I thought the same about another woman ahead of me in the street, wearing a Vietnamese hat and a purple velvet top and matching loose slightly cropped purple velvet trousers, a thin plastic carrier bag in each hand. A pure image: traditional cone hat, colourful velvet suit and thin plastic carrier bags.

One evening there was a big storm, lots of rain, thunder and lightning. After it finished we stepped out, from our room, through the noisy hostel bar and out into the street and flowers, maybe chrysanthemums, they were yellow and smelled a bit like ragwort but nice, strong, permeating the air.  It reminded me of the first rains of the pre monsoon and the smell after.  I love rain. Well, in the heat anyway.

We watched the film The Lady in the Van which was very timely given how much time and energy we spent worrying about The Future. Anthony said, ‘But she was okay, she lived in a van, in the end, rich or poor, everyone dies.’ The point being that lack of security didn’t really matter, she lived anyway, and no amount of security can stop you getting ill and dying.

The curtain pole in our room in Dong Hoi looked as though it were made of silver hologram wrapping paper. The white pole had a serrated curved and curled finish, as if it had been twisted, and with the light it sparkled like glitter. I briefly thought about just photographing things like this rather than writing about them.

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.




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Draft extract from my travel memoir

Hanoi in between SaPa and Dong Hoi

We had got up in the dark at four-thirty am but by the time we left TaVan it was light. In SaPa it was damp, drizzly and a bit cold. We wandered around looking for somewhere open; most places were closed as it was still early. We found a coffee shop that was just opening, a woman opened the door and served us wearing smart silk pyjamas with a coat over the top. We ordered hot drinks; cacao and ginger tea.

We arrived in Hanoi early afternoon, we had decided to get a room to use for the wait before our overnight train to Dong Hoi that evening. It was hard to find a place, nowhere looked that great- places were run down, too expensive, or turned out to be nonexistent from the map or people’s directions. We got tired and stopped at a cafe, which turned out not to have any food. We ordered orange juice and sunflower seeds but left most of them; neither of us had the knack and the amount of food didn’t seem worth the effort necessary. Afterwards we walked back towards the train station and found a hotel on the street. It had a restaurant downstairs which was empty.

It was a small room but just fine, with our own shower and loo with free toiletries, a nice bed and clean white sheets. To have a room to base oneself in, to have a bed to stretch out and lie down on just for the afternoon, felt luxurious to us. In the room was a mini bar, a fridge with beer, 7Up, Lipton Ice tea, water, and on top of the fridge a basket with Oreos, (famously vegan and available everywhere, I have become obsessed with Oreos since giving up animal products whereas I didn’t even really like them before!) crisps, cacao bars, instant noodles, with everything at reasonable prices; if we didn’t find anything else we knew we’d be able to get snacks and drinks for the train journey from there.

In the hotel in Siem Reap we had seen Western travellers hanging around downstairs all day after checking out, but for six pounds (US$ 7) you could have a room for the day, or ten, (US$ 12) here in Hanoi, which in my opinion was totally worth it when there was a long journey ahead. It was a level of comfort we afforded ourselves and was sensible, making allowances for how tiring travelling was especially when in your forties and fifties not teens or twenties! Plus like a lot of things I do, it’s also about looking after the hour by hour day to day experience not just doing everything as cheap or as basic as possible. I would not enjoy wandering around without a base*, and even though it seemed a bit extravagant to get a room just for the afternoon, I appreciated it so much.  *I mean wandering about all day between travelling. If I won the lottery or this book gets published I would very much enjoy wandering around without a base, a few weeks in Ho Chi Minh City, a few weeks in Phnom Penh, a few months in India, a few months in the UK etc etc! Just saying, dear Universe!

Although at first the menu in the SaPa hostel had looked good, after five days we had grown bored with it. Anthony found a vegan place to eat on Happy Cow that was within walking distance. As we left the hotel the restaurant downstairs was getting busy, some tables were full, one was covered with fresh coriander with a woman preparing it. We thought about trying to eat there but there didn’t look to be any obvious vegetarian options. We walked for a while, eventually we came to a sign for the vegan place, as if everyone comes looking and gets lost. A woman on a street stall directed us down an alleyway and there it was.

The food was cooked outside in the alleyway, there was a big frying pan of oil, the room where we sat was the downstairs room of a small house with a concrete floor, bare walls, two or three small tables, a staircase and a big fridge with a sticker of ‘food’ and ‘non food’ animals on. There was a woman and a man, they greeted us warmly and gave us a menu. They used seitan, a high protein meat substitute I’d only just started hearing about before we left the UK but is now in wide use. We ordered Banh Mi (rolls) and samosas/parcels. Just when I’d messaged a WordPress friend (Hi H) to say that we were struggling to find vegan food in Vietnam we found this place. Delicious fried parcels like delicate samosas, big full baguettes with seitan fake meats, salad and sauces.

A man and a woman who seemed like a couple and another man came in and sat at the next table, we heard the first man talking, he said he’d been in Hanoi for a month and had been to every vegan restaurant in Hanoi and that this was the best one for value and variety. He said that you can go to ‘the pretty places’ but ‘there’s no food,’ whereas the big cities are fine but you’re in a big city. Exactly, in TaVan our diet of vegetable spring rolls, French fries, plates of cabbage, and bread and jam had worn thin after a while and left us with gnawing hunger for proper food, even though the scenery and setting was wonderful. The man mentioned Tet, and how there was, ‘Nothing for a week.’ ‘Ten days,’ his girlfriend said.  Yes, I said to myself. I thought about how there was tofu on menu in TaVan but was not available as the person who made it had gone home for Tet.

We ordered a second lot of parcels to eat there and more Banh Mi for the train. We got back to the hotel with our bags of rolls and our tummies full of delicious nourishing food, feeling grateful to have found that oasis. The hotel restaurant downstairs was super busy, we walked through to the back and up to our room.

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.

About vegan stuff: for in jokes and mutual support as well as devastating arguments see Instagram @vegansarcasm and @vegansidekick

Opposite the clouds: SaPa, Vietnam Part Two


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Draft extract from my travel memoir

One day on my own in the restaurant I watched someone kill a fish at the side of the road. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first- was he just chopping it up, or did it move? I watched the next one fully- he lifted a fish out of a covered container attached to the side of his moped- ingenious- a fish tank attached to his moped- and hit it over the head. People stopped, he reached under the cover, got out a fish, killed it, weighed it, cut it up, put the pieces in the ubiquitous thin plastic bags, like you get at independent grocers or market stalls, thin flimsy plastic, blue, often, or other colours. The fish I watched struggled, tried to escape, he pulled it back and hit it again, its gills still moving on the weighing scale, then he cut it up and put it in a bag.

When all the customers had stopped, or he’d run out of fish, he packed away his things and left. A short while later a woman walked past where he’d been standing, a plastic bag of groceries in one hand, and a live duck in a bag in the other, one of its feet pushed through a hole in the thin blue plastic, paddling frantically, its head and beak sticking out the top of the bag as she walked on down the road. But its not as bad as factory farming*, or slaughterhouses.*

On the fourth day, the last day, it was not foggy. I went for a walk a different way. It got busy with tourists and a few people selling but up until then it was quiet.

A puppy with a curled tail was chained up. A big Doberman style of dog was loose, dragging its own chain behind it. The puppy was barking, excited. They started to play. Round and round, the big dog’s chain got caught up. For a moment I wondered if it would tether itself. Both dogs ran around and around each other and their chains. The puppy rolled on its back, submissive, the big dog must have nipped it as it yelped.

Near the puppy was another dog, a small white dog, loose, a little involved with the barking at first but outside the playing. A pigeon was watching from the corrugated roof, it flew down as if to take a closer look. The big dog saw and chased it and went to catch it, the pigeon escaped, the big dog went after it barking and lost interest in the puppy.  The puppy was barking as if calling to the big dog to come back and play, the puppy chained up, the big dog free and gone.

In the quiet area I went past a cafe. I thought I saw a television screen of mountains. I looked again, and thought it was a lit up picture. Then a mirror reflecting a picture of mountains. But it was actually a hole in the wall. Outside beyond the hole was a blue crumpled tarpaulin with a covering of grey dust, blue-grey in the light. The light must have caught it just right, for me to see it as a luminous mountain scene.

I saw chickens with little chicks, and chickens and ducks in round wire cages. I saw a black pig with black piglets and a big pregnant pig trying to eat food near the chicken pen; people shooed her away. Her teats and belly were hanging and touching or almost touching the ground.

I stopped for coffee and to write everything down. I’d numbered the things in my head, 3-pigs and piglets, 2- the screen, 1- the dogs. Again it was like those overwhelming insights or too much beauty. Those three things kept slipping away even as I was writing them. They were so special, so important to capture and yet so slippery. Unusual for me, usually I can remember things, especially if I count them. It was hard but so powerful especially the light screen/television thing.

‘Grey houses made colourful by washing.’ I was thinking of my favourite Kolkata line and at same time I saw grey dwellings/outbuildings with washing, opposite where I was having coffee and writing.  Or did I see them first and that sparked the line, without me noticing consciously? But I had been saying that line to myself so much that day and the day before it was not that surprising. Still, it was a nice touch to be seated opposite a pictorial version of it!

The cafe was wooden with a low wall beyond which was a river. Outside there was a waterfall, or river over rocks anyway. There were swallows outside and swallows inside- I could see a nest. The roof was made of frosted glass like tin foil, the same as the restaurant roof at the accommodation. Writing and coffee. My coffee came in a glass, a metal percolator and saucer forming a lid on top.

Why do I so often deny myself when to stop somewhere and write with coffee is so nice? The activity, and the coffee same, but the view, the table and chairs, the percolator/cup a little different each time. Most days I didn’t even take money, when I did, I walked past places, making excuses not to go in. Shy? Social anxiety? Money? But maybe I stop at the right places and appreciate it because I don’t do it so often and I find the right place?

On the way back, the puppy and the little white dog were asleep, the white dog lying flush against the chained puppy, even though the white dog was free, unchained.

I paused to look at the view: little wooden shacks, rice terraces, hills. I saw one of the strange grey animals, like a very big pig or a yak, with their baby snuggled beside them. If you pause, even for a moment with intention, you see. Further on I didn’t even pause but saw anyway, a big beautiful orange-brown moth on an orange-brown door frame.

Sitting at the cafe with coffee, writing, looking at the waterfall. This feeling, not high happiness per se, perhaps it is better than that. Maybe the aim is to feel in power again, like the best most powerful version of me. Walk first, alone, coffee, writing, calm. Recharging self. Simple. Don’t forget to do.

For pics and more about SaPa see blog post with photos

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.

* What’s wrong with slaughterhouses and factory farming? Watch Earthlings on Netflix. If you are in the UK or Europe and think ‘that doesn’t happen here/that’s only in the USA’, watch Land of Hope and Glory on YouTube (film from 100 UK facilities including ‘organic’ ‘free range’ and ‘RSPCA approved’)

Opposite the clouds: SaPa, Vietnam


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Draft extract from my travel memoir

We got a mini bus from Hanoi to Sapa, a five hour journey in a luxury minibus with big comfy padded reclining seats. It was soothing just looking out of the window, for quite a while we went through Hanoi and its outskirts, then it was rice terraces and then green mountains.

As we grew near to SaPa, the scenery became much more hilly, it reminded me of Nepal only greener and with the roads in better condition. The road became winding, with steep drops, I thought about us putting notes in our pockets just in case. We were very happy, we had a great year, a great life.

The town of SaPa was pretty, with blue buildings, pretty faded paintwork, but it was very busy and we were glad we hadn’t decided to stay in the actual town. It seemed over run with tourists and had so many coffee shops- I couldn’t imagine how anywhere needed that many, and the streets were full of cars and motorbikes. Outside the restaurants and shops were plants with huge red flowers in big pots.

I was delighted by the clothes; a little girl in a swingy A-line skirt with pockets, the skirt material was thick beige fleece. Hill tribe women wore bands of material like cummerbunds around their waists over the top of their coats, such a great idea. I thought of my grandmother saying how important it was to ‘keep your kidneys warm.’ On the top, shiny navy blue padded overcoats. People were dressed for the cold in layers of clothes although to us it felt warm in the daytime sun. Men and women had black embroidery waistcoats with jewel tassels and jackets made of black cotton and wool with embroidery. Women wore baskets on their back and big silver chain necklaces and tassley beaded leg warmers.

SaPa to our village was a half hour journey. More amazing views of hills and rice terraces. The driver stopped at a viewing platform for us to take photos. Even more hairpin bends and drops; I reminded myself the driver does this all the time, but I still hoped that when we left it would be in the daylight. Along little roads with strings of villages and home stays, the buildings wooden or stone, some old, some new.

The journey there had been tiring but then to have ahead four nights and three days of this, just what the doctor ordered. I watched strange animals be herded, three at a time, I don’t know what they were, big grey animals, unfamiliar, almost prehistoric looking. On the opposite side of the road a man sat at a high balcony of the guesthouse blowing huge perfect smoke rings- not to anyone…

Anthony came out to sit with me for a bit. A hill tribe woman saw us and came down to the decking to do a hard sell of cushion covers and scarves; in the end we had to go indoors.

The place was like a hostel, in the food area there were tables with benches, roughly made, some of the bench slats were broken so it wasn’t all that comfortable. Breakfast was included, huge chunks of French bread, jam, and coffee out of a jug. There were lots of young people in Lycra and base layers. Outside hill tribe women hung around either waiting to guide people or to sell stuff. They waved to us but it didn’t look like they were allowed to come inside. I liked their clothes; green beaded leg warmers, a pink waistcoat, a purple t shirt, a green classic style hat like the Queen would wear.

At first we were pleased with the menu after the limited choice of Hanoi, and the food was nice; big homemade vegetable spring rolls, plates of garlic and ginger sautéed cabbage a traditional dish, vegetable noodle soup and French fries.

In the restaurant, inexplicably, they played children’s nursery rhymes- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Old Macdonald had a Farm, Pat-a-cake Pat-a-cake Baker’s man. There were no children there, but sometimes the staff would sing along. Why? To learn English? But surely they weren’t the most useful phrases?

The mainly young people went off for treks, either guided by small hill tribe women whom they towered over, or in some cases on their own; we listened with a mixture of amusement and mild concern as two young women were given what seemed to us rather vague directions for a trek by the guesthouse woman. ‘I hope we don’t hear about them on the news later,’ Anthony said (we didn’t.)

But for me just a walk along the road was enough. The first day was clear and bright and warm in the sun. I picked a direction out of the guesthouse, picked another direction when I came to a fork in the road, and turned back when I got tired. It looked like Nepal, it was quiet and I hardly met anyone. I hadn’t felt like stopping for coffee anywhere, so when I got back I ordered from our place. They said it would be ten minutes and that they would bring it to me. I told them I’d be outside and went and sat in my sunny spot near the ducks. Anthony in the room resting. Cacao and orange juice brought to me on my wooden pallet sunbed like a cold beach holiday!

The next day was different, misty, I stayed in bed cosy writing in between breakfast and lunch, to see if it cleared. Later I walked a different route, this time it was busy, stalls and people selling handicrafts, in the street, hill tribe people asking me to buy or grooming me by chatting. The women wore knee length wide soft thin black velvet trousers. I saw a baby in a purple velvet suit with a hood.

The dogs had short stubby legs with thick fur. I saw one adult dog one smaller one curled up together on a fabric bed inside an old tyre. I saw a chicken with two baby chicks one on back and a third an adolescent beside. I passed a cockerel in a cage, pecking and being pecked by another cockerel outside. It could have just moved back and been out of reach. Maybe it liked fighting and initiated it? The other could have walked away too. In the middle of the road was a lovely thick furred puppy with nice alert ears, foxish. Three big dogs came running, the puppy rolled on its back, the dogs sniffed, didn’t hurt it, me and two Westerners on the opposite side of the road watched. Then the biggest of the three big dogs came towards me and I left.

Later, at home, sitting in bed again, the plywood walls between the rooms had slight gaps, you could hear everything, even see if you looked. Next door there were new people in, European, speaking a different language, playing music- Amy Winehouse- and a man singing along, not well, but kind of sweet, and the proximity of us all felt kind of nice.

Part two on Sunday

For pics and more about SaPa see blog post with photos

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.


This weekend (from Thursday-Monday) I will be at Harlequin Fayre so am scheduling Friday’s and Sunday’s blog posts in advance. You can read about my previous experiences at Harlequin Fayre HERE and HERE. Harlequin Fayre is modelled on the old East Anglian Albion Fayres which I used to attend as a child.

(On WordPress bloggers’ Stats pages there is a section called ‘Search Terms’ which lists the search terms which have brought readers to one’s site)

Sex, spirituality, the search for happiness, dysentery…

Whatever’s led you here, you are welcome!

In reality hardly anyone gets here this way, each of these was only one, so only twenty in five years, but even so these search terms produce a strangely accurate picture of the blog’s content, or as accurate as any!

Stats for All Time:

Search Term:

happiness looks like
how to escape the matrix
matrix 20 year
messing with boats
sub couch milega
renate in varkala with sunu
sadie wolf blog
bethany kays wordpress
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in love with life
labra swing kochi machine
“i met” “sex”
assamese hot word press x story blog
sadie wolf wordpress
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“we had sex”
dysentrol tablet kolkata
Thank you very much for reading!

Why not take a look at yours? #shouldbewriting #procrastination #enjoyyourself #onholiday #sillyseason

Bic Runga: She left on a Monday


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This weekend (from Thursday-Monday) I will be at Harlequin Fayre so am scheduling Friday’s and Sunday’s blog posts in advance. You can read about my previous experience at Harlequin Fayre HERE and HERE. Harlequin Fayre is modelled on the old East Anglian Albion Fayres which I used to attend as a child.

In 2004-2005 I spent a year in Wellington, New Zealand. I worked for a community mental health team and my son went to school. I didn’t write a book but the year had emotional highs and lows and rich personal, sensory and creative experiences in some ways similar to the year just gone.

I went with a boyfriend, we split up and got back together during that year. We lived for a while in a shared house with a vegan couple and their little girl and new baby. The little girl would knock on our door every day to come and say hello. We did communal shopping and cooking, it gave me the idea of why do we all live in separate houses as we get older.

I got close to and fell out with a work colleague. I did evening classes in creative writing and in-line roller skating. I wrote a blinding piece of writing- a rework of Beauty and the Beast set in a New Zealand biker gang (we lived opposite the biker gang house but we never met!) I wrote a wistful poem about Wellington harbour. I met Sam Hunt (a New Zealand poet- yes he was drunk and flirtatious.)

I performed at an open mic, an eight minute piece learned off by heart about the three craziest boyfriends I’ve had, and later, some poems including Divorced man in a Ford Mondeo.  I can still remember a fellow poet’s work: Beauty lies in the sink of dirty dishes… A cartoonist drew me a cartoon. I experienced a small earthquake. And a terrible haircut.

I fell in love with Wellington and the pretty wooden Newtown houses– our photo albums from New Zealand are full of houses- and New Zealand people’s energy and friendliness. My manager invited us to his house for dinner and lent us a three piece suite as we had no furniture. Phoning us up to arrange dropping it off, he called at eight am on a Saturday. ‘What, you’re still in bid?!’ he said. New Zealanders pronounce our short ‘e’ sound as a short ‘i,’ as a child my mum had a New Zealand friend who asked her where she kept the pigs. ‘The pigs?’ My mum was baffled. ‘Yes, the pigs, for hanging out the washing,’ her friend said.

The UK seemed so depressed in comparison when we returned. At least it helped to prepare me for what coming back after a year in South East Asia would be like.

Bic Runga is music royalty in New Zealand, and you may well know Lorde.

I used to listen to this (above) whilst writing.  It often made me cry.

And from recent concert for Christchurch.

New Zealand has probably the best Prime Minister in the world.  Here’s a link to an article about her. 

Lorde’s Team was one of the songs in my YouTube favourites I used to listen to during yoga at home or when getting ready for work or when mourning my cats link to blog post about that

Thank you very much for reading

‘Be someone you would look up to’ Hanoi, Vietnam Part two


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Draft extract from my travel memoir

The next day the guesthouse woman very kindly walked me to an open supermarket, Circle K, waited for me whilst I shopped, and then walked me to an open pharmacy.  I paid attention so as to learn the way, she pointed out the sign to the hotel alley; I took note of a place selling car oil, a corner with a closed shop, an outdoor gym, and a big bright blue building- a military school, she said.  She told me that she opened the guesthouse ten years ago so that her son and daughter could learn English.  At the pharmacy she translated so I could get some medicine for Anthony.  On the ground in between the pharmacy and the guesthouse were multicoloured shiny pieces of paper from Tet, rough squares like cut up homemade children’s decorations, like confetti.

All around were big new buildings, high rise blocks, dense housing, hotels and offices.  One further away building had a spiral bit like Tokyo, like Phnom Penh and amongst all these a tiny old traditional house like a pagoda with a triangle roof, surrounded on all sides by these upstarts.  It reminded me of the book The Little House, where a dear little once loved house in the country becomes surrounded by busy roads and new buildings and is forgotten.  The house falls into sadness and disrepair, until one day someone falls in love with it and moves it out of the city and lovingly restores it.

Even though it was unlikely, we got scared that Anthony might have malaria.  We were more scared about health now we were not in India.  After seven months there altogether, India was more familiar, and many more people spoke English.  But I just thought, there’s loads of ex pats and foreigners in Hanoi, what do they do, and looked up online, found a hospital popular with Westerners and saved the details.  They were open twenty four hours and had an ambulance service.  Then I felt better, which is probably why people say to research and note down the details of local hospitals and doctors when travelling.

The family cooked us rice and vegetables, brought up on a tray to our room, huge bowls of steamed rice and lots of lovely fresh chunky vegetables; broccoli, carrots and cauliflower.  It was healthy but very plain, maybe the sauces etc had meat in them.  Once we had noodles with bits of meat in which we had to leave.

The second day I went to a big supermarket we’d found online, alone, I took so long crossing the road that people stopped and asked if I wanted a taxi.  I was anxious, not used to going out alone, anxious about Anthony, and about making decisions- even simple ones like what to buy to eat.  A man in the queue behind me actually packed up my bags for me, he didn’t speak any English.  It was so nice of him.  Back at the guesthouse I asked if they could make us tea, they brought it up in pretty china cups, it felt like such an achievement to ask and get, and we had French stick from the supermarket and oranges with it.

Our guesthouse was down an alleyway, with other houses either side.  On the opposite side of the alley were chicken cages, one presumably belonging to the guesthouse, the other to the house next door.   The first cage was two tier with no floor, just criss crossed steel bars that I thought looked uncomfortable for their feet.  I saw a big plump brown hen sitting down.  The hen had a red comb and looked healthy enough.  I stood in front, pushed down my sorrow and sent them some love.   I told myself the eggs in our supermarkets or the KFC chickens are no better, probably worse off.  Sometimes you hear stories of workers in intensive farm settings or slaughterhouses torturing birds (and animals) for fun.  Not here, these belonged to the family.  The next cage had a solid floor with dirt on it not bars, plus lots of fresh greens and a feeder of corn.  lt looked like it had a second tier but it was actually a perch, which chickens like.  Better, good, in comparison to the first one.

One day when I was returning to the guesthouse I saw a small fawn and cream coloured cat sitting on the roof of the chicken hut eating some meat.  I called to it but it ran away, startled.   The next day I was at the desk speaking to the man.  In the alley outside the chicken huts was a little handbag sized dog on a chain beside a cardboard box.  Later I saw the dog and the cat both inside the box, the dog chained, the cat free, the cat smooching the dog.  ‘Friends,’ I said to the man.

Anthony felt slightly better and fed up with being in the room, and we both went to Circle K to eat.  It was a small supermarket with a few tables at one end beside the freezers and the drinks cabinets, and served a few simple dishes as well as coffee and tea.  I was impressed that it provided a cheap place for people to sit down and eat or even have a beer.  We ordered plain noodles and Thai ice tea, one of each kind, one green and one brown, the tea tasted strange to us, and I who will drink and eat anything ended up having both of them.

We walked up to the main road, after Circle K, past new and half built buildings, one covered in mesh, like the buildings in Sihanoukeville.  There was no building going on thankfully, presumably due to Tet.  When I went out alone, I orientated myself by the big tall new buildings beyond the main road, many with neon names, some snazzy and done, some just a metal frame shell but still kind of beautiful, and beyond them, the pink sky.

On day four Anthony was getting better and I felt comfortable going for a walk and leaving him for longer.  I did a few loops of our local area, past a smart looking college with inspirational quotes on boards;  ‘Be someone you’d look up to,’ ‘Go wherever you want,’ ‘Question the answer,’ ‘Why ask why.’  There was a nice little coffee place nearby.  I had seen it the day before but it was closing.  I went for a walk down to the main road with the huge new buildings, and off down a side street, with old buildings, washing hung up, the balcony and rooftops caged in.  I went down another road, looking to see what was open, everything still closed, except the same little coffee place from the back.  This was day four, Saturday, Tet started on Tue, and aside from Circle K this was the only one, and this the only proper coffee cafe.

My coffee came in a dear little brown earthenware cup and saucer with a metal percolator on top- a metal ‘saucer’ on top of the cup, on top of that a metal cup with a lid, perfect to draw, if I could draw.  It dripped out one drop at a time, an exercise in patience.  Coffee with sugar, the tiny coffee cold by the time it had gone through but still nice.  They also gave me a glass of water, it was a hot day and I drank half before I remembered I shouldn’t drink the water and spat the last mouthful back discreetly.  I sat outside, the garden area had a brown wooden fence, brown tables and chairs.   Each table had a big square umbrella sunshade, much bigger than the table and chairs, that would really cover everyone even with seats spread out.  I saw a white butterfly, red flags and crazy wires.  A thread from my black scarf got caught on my bracelet and I made it into an imperfect bracelet, finger knitting, one loose end, mis-tied.  I asked if they had cake.  No. We have fruit.  Fruit salad?  No, just fruit.  No then.  They came back, we can do fruit salad, fifteen mins.  I shouldn’t have complicated it, but I had fruit at home and imagined them just bringing fruit, but then of course it would have been prepared? Control freak…  Or not; they brought me chopped fruit covered in mayonnaise, I ate it all.  When I told Anthony later he said, ‘You ate it?’!  ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘I just thought of Waldorf salad.  Afterwards they asked me, we have never made fruit salad before, was it okay?  Usually I would just say yes, but then I thought what if another Westerner came and asked for fruit salad and got that, so I said, it was very nice, but for Westerners, it’s okay to do it without sauce, just fruit.  Which may well have been what they would have given me had I said nothing… probably everyone was more confused by the end.

Later the same day we went out together to see if anywhere else was open, or if not to go to Circle K for noodles, or my place for coffee and fruit salad.  A restaurant/cafe looked like it might be opening, there was a super cute puppy poking through the fence, and a man in the garden.  We used the translate app on the phone to ask if it was open later, No, he said.  A Vietnamese family walked past, using sign language, empty hands, we said to each other nowhere open, ‘Coffee?’ They asked.  ‘Yes, anything,’ I said.  They beckoned to us to follow.  We just followed them and went where they showed us.  We followed them all the way around the block again, them looking around and showing us which way, past bushes and plants in wide shallow stone pots on the pavement, past a woman’s garden with bonsai and lily pads, and coriander, the smell delicious.  They took us to somewhere we hadn’t noticed but had probably walked past.  We said thank you, and went in.

A woman greeted us warmly and said she could make us noodles, which were served nicely in a white bowl on a big white plate.  Beauty in simplicity; my coffee earlier with its tiny apparatus on top of the tiny cup, and the necessary patience.  The instant noodles made beautiful with coriander; beside the white bowl a little leaf green oval dish with two pieces of lime to squeeze.  Chilli sauce, chop sticks, a spoon, and coffee and tea.  The glow from the people’s kindness who had taken us there and the friendliness of the woman, and the relief of Anthony getting better.  We made a list of all the Netflix shows we watched on the trip and tried to remember where we were when we watched them; some powerful place links such as watching Wild Wild Country (about Osho) in Kerala then coming across Oshos guesthouse, some we struggled to remember where we were when we saw them, we stayed in so many places…  Link to blog about everywhere we stayed on the year long trip.   Link to Everything we watched on Netflix blog

I wished I’d done better- done better shopping, gone out alone more, gone to the ATM by myself, done all the booking, been more capable, made decisions, not leant on Anthony at all, been in total charge when he was ill- but I didn’t, my mind disintegrating under stress plus not used to it.   But as they say in AA, all you can do is ‘Do the next right thing.’

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.

‘Be someone you would look up to’ Hanoi, Vietnam


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Draft extract from my travel memoir

On the plane from Cambodia to Vietnam we sat next to an Indian man, a Sikh from the Punjab.  He was very friendly and keen to chat.  He told us about himself and asked us what our experience of India had been like.  We told him the places we’d visited and about how friendly and helpful Indian people had been.  I told him about the train from Kolkata to Varanasi, about how a whole family came to chat to us; and about us being called Grandma and Grandfather not Auntie and Uncle.  ‘It’s a natural stage of life’ he said.  ‘I know, if we’re lucky,’ I said.

In the taxi from the airport I saw lights like fairy lights or Christmas lights decorating narrow houses, and chrome banisters like the peachy orange house in Siem Reap.  The narrow houses got narrower and narrower from bottom to top; fascinating.  There were hotels with lots of chrome.  I saw a woman holding a white dog, the dog was fluffy and furry like a toy.  Just after that I saw a woman wearing a white woollen jacket with three buttons in the centre, the material dense and furry like the dog.

The driver took us through back streets, dusty like Chennai, with nail bars in the front rooms of houses, and red flags with yellow stars (the flag of Vietnam.)  He stopped the car and said we were there.  It was the wrong place, no guesthouses in sight; he must have wondered why we would be going there.

Near our place, we saw a blue house the paint faded, next door a faded orange-yellow house with wrought iron.  In the morning we walked over the moped bridge to the old town and the market.  It wasn’t for the faint hearted, there were gaps in the floor and on the outside one rail and beyond a big wide river.  The traffic was relentless and the pollution was unpleasant; like most of the riders, we wore thick fabric masks.  Many mopeds had big bunches of flowers, or branches with flowers or even trees in pots on the back for Tet.  Below there was so much green, and lots of fruit trees, wrapped in plastic to protect them.  A woman went past in a beautiful gown-like red velvet dress.  At the end of the bridge, we saw a group of tourists taking selfies on the rail track.

We walked through small streets, a market area.  It had a feel of Kathmandu with small shops and eating places, and a bit like where we stayed in Kolkata but less faded, with lots of bright yellow.  Then we came to the tourist area and suddenly lots of white people, and lots of North Face, like Nepal, which is made in Vietnam, and loads of coffee places.  We stopped for coffee and coconuts; really great coffee.  Cambodia and Vietnam were great for coffee and baguettes, in Otres Village in Cambodia Rupa said, re the baguettes, ‘There’ll be the undoing of me trying to lose weight.’  Furniture shops sold cheap veneer, in contrast to  the heavy carved antique looking mirrors of Cambodia, but there were also lots of antique shops.  A wedding dress in a shop window, the mannequin like a slumped teenager, reminded me of a cover of a punk-pop 80s album like Transvision Vamp.

We had a rest at home and returned later to see the night market.  Balloons, branches of yellow flowers, orange trees in pots, flowers everywhere, TET decorations, new year cards, lanterns, pigs, lots of red, pinks and gold.  Glassware, oil swirled, gold, like Venetian or my grandmother’s; cake stands, tea sets, trays, all piled up on the pavement.  There was lots of street food, most of it was meat but we did get thick handmade crisps on a stick.  We ate them whilst we walked along.  People on mopeds cruised slowly past stalls; they got in the way of the pedestrians and brought noise and exhaust fumes.  It was easy to get irritated.  At the front of a rack of clothes on a stall was a jumper embroidered with the words:  ‘Venture out of your comfort zone, the rewards are worth it.’  I held my wooden stick from the crisps until we went down a side street, where there were small piles of rubbish at the edges of pavements near the road, mostly from street stalls.  It was clearly a rubbish pile, and would be burned or otherwise dealt with later, but I still found it hard to throw things on the street.  Outside street stalls or just sitting in the street, were young guys with good haircuts dressed in smart cool clothes, black with silver zips.  People wore silver chain handbags.  We saw some people let off big party popper streamers; cut up pieces of gold sparkly paper landed on the ground.  As Anthony said, it was ‘the biggest assault on the senses since India.’  

The day after Anthony got ill, presumably due to getting too much pollution from being out all day and evening.  It started as fatigue and a tight chest and then got more like flu, with him sweating and shaking uncontrollably.  We were booked to do a twelve hour overnight journey but he could barely get out of bed.  As much as we wanted to get out of Hanoi, we couldn’t leave.  We sat in bed and cancelled the train and the guesthouse we’d booked, and tried to think what to do next.  The trains in Vietnam were also heavily booked and we had to plan ahead and decide what we wanted to do in advance rather than just going with the flow.  We had around three of four different options and struggled to make a decision; Anthony feeling too ill and me feeling too anxious.  I had relied on him to do all the booking and suddenly faced with it I felt overwhelmed and anxious.  Oscillating between anxiety and peace- it’s amazing how quickly that can happen.  We decided to go to SaPa and booked a bus for five days away and somewhere to stay in Hanoi until then- we had to leave the current place the next day whatever.

That evening there were fireworks, people celebrating Tet.  I love fireworks but I didn’t really enjoy them.  It was hard to enjoy them in my anxiety, and also, being acutely aware that they were only adding to the pollution.

I hadn’t bought enough orange juice, the only thing it turned out Anthony wanted.  The next day I went out, there were a couple of tiny little shops open in people’s houses, a few items on a cabinet, no orange juice at the first one, but then I came to a woman with a fridge full of cans of juice.  I bought a pack of eight cans of gloriously cold pure orange juice.  She invited me in.  I automatically slipped off my flip flops but she pointed at my feet looking horrified, maybe like in Thailand feet are disliked?  She offered me tea or some kind of drink but I didn’t stop, wanting to get back to Anthony.  I asked how much in Vietnamese (bon you); that and hello (zin chow), and vegetarian (an chay), was all I knew.

The next day we left.  It was hard to get a cab, standing by the busy road with our bags, conscious of the pollution.  There were very few cabs about, fewer stopped, and sometimes those that did were taken by other people.  After a while Anthony got one, the cab driver used a translate on his phone app to tell us not many cabs, ‘they are at home with their families for Tet.

We’d booked a double deluxe room that looked very nice on the photograph but on arrival we quickly realised we couldn’t stay there, even though it felt as though Anthony couldn’t move anywhere.  The room was barely bigger than the double bed, and made from a partition off the landing, with the tops of the partition open, so there was no protection from mosquitoes, and no fan.  A window at the end of the bed faced the dorm next door and we could see into the dorm.  No privacy, no space, and no fan.  I went to take a look along the road, to ask if there were anywhere else nearby, another homestay, but they were closed.  Outside one of the houses was a big guard dog in a cage barking at me as I went past.  It filled the cage.  Dogs tied in cages was sad, but again I reminded myself about dairy cows.  Farm animals are no different in their suffering it’s just us that feels it differently.  Anthony lay on the bed, simultaneously not being able to stay and not feeling like moving, and looked for somewhere else.

It was a long journey, as we neared there was lots of building, and we worried it was another poor choice of place.  There was a big dog chained up outside the hotel, the chain not long enough for it to get to us over at the counter, but we waited for the man to hold it anyway before stepping forward.  I was a bit daunted at first, my first impression was negative, but the young man at the desk knew our names and was expecting us, and the woman owner came straight away and greeted us and was very friendly.  She was wearing a red velvet knee length dress for Tet.  The room was nice, big, with our own bathroom, a duvet, pillows, and clean.

Just as we were settling in, the woman came up to our room and brought her son up to introduce him to us; they brought us packets of ‘Lucky money,’ for Tet.  They told us all the restaurants were closed but that they would cook for us.  Later, the young guy from the desk took our order, carefully explaining the prices, and checking the ingredients of the instant noodles for us.  ‘Taste of beef but no beef in it,’ he said.  ‘That’s fine,’ we said.  He brought us instant noodles with added home cooked vegetables.

There was a small desk where we ate and I mostly did my writing there.  The bed was comfortable.  There was a big window but no view, it faced only a concrete wall and we kept the curtains closed.  Beside the bed was a big stained glass window with lots of fish, it faced out to the landing.  During the day natural light came through it, and at night the lights on the landing lit it right up.  It had curtains but I often left them open and lay in bed looking at the fish wall glowing in the dark.  The window in the bathroom stayed open a little and we had to watch out for mosquitoes if we had the bathroom light on.  The bathroom window at night was a cracked mosaic of blues and purples, the light through the coloured glass broken up by leaves from a tree that pressed against the window.

Part two on Sunday

Thank you very much for reading

About the author

Sold house, left career, gave away almost everything else.  With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India.   Here are my India highlights.  Now back in the UK, living on a narrowboat, and writing a book about the trip, a spiritual/travel memoir, extracts from which appear regularly on this blog.

‘Order beer with your breakfast we won’t judge you’ Siem Reap Cambodia Part Two


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Draft extract from my travel/spiritual memoir

See you in another life, when we are both cats*  

*Vanilla Sky

I watched a couple of YouTube videos with Anthony about ‘the matrix’ and felt trippy and inspired, as usual.  I scribbled down quotes and ideas :

Words are spells that programme you

Make friends with your body, subconscious, conscious, make all one

People inside same age- body irrelevant look past this 

Don’t live in the past

Don’t live in the future

Stay in the NOW

Don’t live in fear

Raise your frequency

Dream where you are now

One of the comments mentioned language and conditioning; would we be freer without language?  I’d talked about this before when thinking about the man at Osho’s guesthouse in Kerala who couldn’t read.  If you didn’t see any ads, if you weren’t exposed to all those ideas and conditioning… But it is double edged: the good books get you there, wake you up, the bad ones keep you sleepy and distracted.  Who defines good and bad though?  I’ve had an inspiration moment through a car ad and they’d (car ads) would probably be banned if I was in charge…

Anthony had seen The Thirteenth Floor and told me about it but I hadn’t seen it.  In Koh Rong I had a conversation with a fellow blogger who had written a blog post about Westworld and its effects re thinking about consciousness etc.  I mentioned Battlestar Gallactica which we had recently finished and had similar themes.  Anthony said, ‘Tell him about The Thirteenth Floor.’  It turned out that The Thirteenth Floor was kind of like his (the blogger’s) The Matrix, he had gone to see it with his cousin, hadn’t known what he was going to see and had his mind blown unexpectedly.  The internet wasn’t strong enough at Koh Rong to download it.  We tried again in Siem Reap: bingo.

We switched off The Thirteenth Floor.  I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror, still kind of in the film, feeling or imagining that I had just ‘arrived.’  I noticed two new moles on my body.  I came back in, still feeling floaty, as if I was a film character.  I looked out of the window.  There was an unrecognisable animal sitting on top of a car.  I couldn’t process what it was, and I couldn’t find the words to name it.  It was black and about the size of a monkey.   But at the same time it looked like a cartoon; with big orange triangles inside its ears and an orange ‘O’ shape for a mouth.  It was as if my brain didn’t recognise it at first.  A monkey?  A cat?  A completely unrecognisable animal, before coalescing into a recognisable creature; a black cat.  Or possibly a small monkey.  I remember returning home at seventeen and thinking the cats were enormous, having not seen them for a while.  Anthony didn’t look until it was almost too late; he thought it was a cat, although he admitted it did look weird.

We went outside, me tripped out on a drug free high, everything colourful and sparkly.  I pointed to a building, struggling to speak: ‘Look- orange- no- purple-.’  I couldn’t find the words, couldn’t say the colours.  I was looking at a small purple house set back from the road.  Next door to it was a bigger building, a guesthouse, peachy orange with shiny chrome balcony rails.  Draped in front were sparkly tubular lights, plastic tubing, it was still daylight, sunny, and the lights in the tubes were subtle like a prism or glitter.

I wanted to talk about the cat.  I kept telling Anthony off for not staying with me; I used to say this a lot when I was trying to explain something strange and he was either trying to ground me or finding it hard to follow me.  Plus he was hungry.  We went into the 7/11 next door.  I told myself:  ‘Don’t think about coffee or deodorant or mascara (things I wanted).  Don’t speak.  Wait for him to eat and go back’ (To the cat, etc)

We sat outside the 7/11 on a bench.  ‘Don’t let me get put off.  Don’t look at anything.  Pick the most boring thing to look at.’  But even just sitting on the bench, it was hard to keep my focus on my ideas, a man walked by, some interesting dogs, always distractions…

To wake up is to realise.  To unplug is to disconnect- no distractions, no phone, no unconscious actions/interactions; no actions/interactions that aren’t conscious.  Act in awareness.  Wake up.

We walked down to the river.  I had to sit down again.  Even under normal circumstances I can get overstimulated walking and talking.  It’s easier for me to be still when talking about something serious, and if the visuals around are interesting I can’t take both in and process everything.  So we sat down on a bench.  I looked down- it was made of shells, like a mosaic.  Like the paving in Otres Village, like the path to the village in Koh Rong.  Even the bench was overstimulating.  Shells and mosaics seem to be kind of a thing for me, maybe they signify arrival?.

So are there blank lives we go into, available slots that we light up on the circuit board?  I have visualised this like a ball of stiff string, with many intersections, our lights/us moving around it and lighting up different places.  Like a circuit board crossed with a ball of wool attacked by a kitten; like The Thirteenth Floor?  Or is it remembrance of other lives?

It was hard to focus on thought.  So many distractions- a man acting weird, on drugs, two weird dogs.  Keep focussed, wits about.  It felt like it was a matrix.  Experiment with thinking it’s a matrix.  Stop saying hi to everyone- waste of energy.  Don’t worry about what others think; people near/walking past. Parents, possibilities; if not real then not scary. Personal power.

We kept looking for a quiet road- but it just got busier- and then the neon lights of Pub Street with the multi coloured tumble blocks of lights. Eventually we came to a dusty road, three stools were set out at a mini table; I felt like I could sit there.  ‘I think that’s just where the staff go for their breaks,’ Anthony said.  It was the back of a hotel.

Even underfoot, so many distractions, so much to focus on, sand, uneven paving of all kinds, constantly watching footing, feeling footing, small chairs in the path to go around, being aware of obstacles, constantly aware/distracted, how much variety/stimulation can there be?

Home….  The plastic cable lights of the orange-pink and chrome guesthouse were brighter now that it was dark, I could see all the different colours, blobs on a loop…

Day after, had I changed reality?  Egg off the menu- avocado egg sandwich.  I used to order without the egg, almost every day, a wet, full sandwich chock full with avocado and salad, absolutely delicious.  Now it had a blank sticker over the egg!  I was excited, Anthony not so much, he said he tends to just notice and accept things like this and move on rather than focus so much on them as I do. Aside from whether it was exciting or not, we agreed it was a sign of being in flow like Instagram synchronicities, like all synchronicities.  Like ‘conjuring’ sheets, towels, beans on toast at the ‘wrong time,’ in Kerala.  Why so hard to believe, when people have vision boards of Porsches and trips to Australia?  Because people think the little things are just coincidences.  As if The Thirteenth Floor wasn’t enough, we also watched Vanilla Sky:  exploring consequences, the little things, decisions… ‘There are no bigger things.’

The hotel had really lovely staff but ultimately they weren’t all that effective; they never did fix our window mosquito mesh which we improvised a repair for by stuffing tissue in the hole, and they didn’t book our cab for the correct time to get to airport.  Still, it didn’t matter.  The happiness of Siem Reap, me experiencing a work-pleasure balance, or at least, both things; us both physically well and feeling close again, the out there experiences…  It was a very full six or seven days, and we didn’t even go to Angkor Watt…

Thank you very much for reading

‘Order beer with your breakfast we won’t judge you’ Siem Reap Cambodia


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Extract from my (draft) travel memoir

Even from the road the hotel looked good: shiny, clean and smart with a cream facade and at the front a blue swimming pool; to our eyes it was like a pop star’s luxury residence.  The outside was neatly paved, with pots of bright pink and orange flowers, and lots of pretty summer shoes outside the entrance.  As it was early our room wasn’t ready so we waited at the bar/restaurant: fruit salad, baguette and jam, and lots of coffee.  We met two women sitting at the next table, one from South Africa, one, younger, from England, they’d met on a previous trip and decided to do a trip together.  We went on about India and how great it was.  The younger woman didn’t like India, she said she’d got hassle from men.  She was the only person we’d met who hadn’t liked India.  But of course there’s a flipside to every country, no point pretending otherwise.

The reception staff, young men with good haircuts, were lovely and friendly, they did us a hand drawn map of directions to the barbers for Anthony and a place that did proper massage for me.  ‘Not like-’ he mimed someone giving a very lazy massage and chatting- ‘Ten dollars please.’

The room was big and clean, painted white with its own bathroom with a hot shower and towels provided.  The bed had white sheets, duvet and pillows.  The headboard was solid wood, shiny and carved, mid colour wood not pine not mahogany but sturdy and heavy.  At the other end of the room was a wardrobe with double sliding mirror doors, it was like having my own private yoga studio!  A desk and chair, two bedside tables, and everything so clean and polished and shiny.  That room, although no more expensive than our average, felt luxurious.

I had read about travel fatigue in someone’s Instagram post.  As well as the normal missing friends and family, dealing with the stresses and strains- unfamiliar foods, new places- of travel; some people also over schedule, moving from place to place too fast, packing the days with long tours, and over photographing everything.  There was no danger of us doing that but we still got tired sometimes, especially when ill in Delhi, hence why we cut our plan to travel around Rajasthan down to a month in Pushkar.

Nearby the hotel were smaller restaurants, cycle hire places and travel agencies.  A short walk away was the main food area with lots of restaurants, pubs and an indoor market which we had a look around.  I became temporarily enamoured with glazed and decorated bowls made from coconuts, elephant purses and checked scarves, the prices going down as I looked without me doing or saying anything.  Other than a pair of sunglasses to replace my ones from Phnom Penh which had broken, I didn’t buy anything, and the feeling of wanting things soon wore off.

That first night we had tofu, pad Thai, ‘no fish sauce,’ staff familiar with vegetarians which was good, and fresh mango juice, thick and gloopy, ‘sexy in the mouth’ like the noodles of the first night in Bangkok and then later our first night in Cambodia in Phnom Penh.

There were lots of big Westernised bars and restaurants as well as street stalls with small plastic tables and chairs on the pavement, stalls on the back of motorbikes, plugging into power supplies installed on trees.

The room in Siem Reap represented real comfort and luxury; especially after a week in a tent, with everything sandy.  On the polished wood bedside table, my lipbalm, my kohl eyeliner, my earrings, a charcoal face pack I was excited to buy from the 7/11, and my new glamorous (but cheap) black mirror sunglasses which I always kept there, the ceiling fan reflected in them.

We’d noticed shrines in Koh Rong, here there was a big one in the hotel foyer, and another big one in the restaurant we went to most often.  Every day fresh; two cans of coke; a can of drink, cups of coffee, a cup of tea in a glass cup; two glass cups of hot drink; two apples; a bunch of bananas; a basket/bowl of all sorts of fruit; fruit and veg; stacks of money; a bunch of incense, something new every day.  It was like the morning rituals we watched in Pushkar, shop keepers sprinkling water and lighting incense before the working day began.

I wondered if we should do it at home, make a shrine, have a morning ritual, make a tea for the shrine, light incense, set an intention, not directly from or connected to a recognised religion.  Anthony said religious practices look like a kind of OCD sometimes; he once had a friend who used to walk around the room fifteen times before he went out, everyone thought it was a big problem but Anthony always wondered why was it a problem, why not just accept that it was something that he did, like a kind of ritual.  Like I could change my OCD checking of the taps before I go out into a mini ritual, say thank you for having water.

The restaurant where we ate regularly was open to the street, we watched people going past on motorbikes and scooters and parking outside.  I liked looking at people’s clothes, a lot of the women looked quite glamorous in lacy dresses and one day we saw a woman with astonishingly long hair.  On the opposite side of the road there were shops, I saw a bird going in and out of an electrical box, a small box on a pole with a slit; I saw that in front of the shops next to it there were also boxes with birds nesting in.

At the restaurant, I was excited to notice that there were fans reflected in my sunglasses again, just like in the room.  Anthony pointed out that I put them on the table facing up, and fans are on the ceiling… Another time, in the market, I saw my sunglasses reflected in two big blocks of ice.

We talked a lot over meals at the restaurant.  I noticed that we were able to discuss things like politics better without annoying each other or getting annoyed.  It’s not so much that we disagree on big picture stuff, more that the way we approach things is different and used to cause conflict during discussions.  Each difficulty this year has moved us forward in terms of how we handle discussions, personal issues and the way we are together….  Part two on Sunday

Thank you very much for reading