So I’m sitting in the foyer of the New Siam II hotel, Bangkok. One street away from Khoa Sahn Rd, the backpacker epicentre of Thailand, probably SE Asia really. Everyone who graces the well worn dusty path down from Vietnam to Australia seems to funnel through this place so you see it all. Grey Nomads who outgrew their caravans and couldn’t face another lap around Australia. Families on their 3 weeks annual leave wandering along with plastic bags stuffed with souvenirs and gifts. The wide eyed travel novices on their first journey of self discovery alone out in the big bad world. And of course the professional backpackers who have probably taken out a long term lease on a hostel room above the rowdiest bar in Bangkok – sitting on the street side sucking back a 8am cigarette waiting for another 4 hours before they can crack the first Changi of the day. All dreadlocks and flowing colourful pants.
Then there’s us who don’t fit into a category easily. It’s hard to explain when the Tuk-Tuk drivers ask “holiday??” ….and I struggle to respond in a simple English that they would actually understand. Sometimes I have tried to explain and they just nod and smile and say “holiday” again. A holiday this is not. The thing that separates it is the sheer volume of insight that you gain as you journey. The Buddha moments – and this week has given me more than I can handle.
I was reunited with my journey mates after Houston and we left the beautiful predicatability of Singapore. This oasis of structure, man made beauty and order where trains run to the second and you can’t buy chewing gum in case you dare spit it out and dirty the streets. Where taxis have meters and you don’t have to haggle or fear being ripped off. The surreal, etherial architecture that at times seems alien like and is truly awesome. As in it actually fills you with awe – not as in “that was an awesome coffee” which is just silly.
Merely a few hours on a bus and we have glided across another border crossing into Malaysia and been deposited unceremoniously into the bowels of KL. Aahhh….the archetype of the Asian city. Too big for its own good and a spooky reminder of what happens when a place outgrows its infrastructure. But once again the girls are inspiring in their ability to adapt. They side step piles of filth to get to the roadside Chinese food stalls. They sit picking at noodle dishes and spring rolls as a tropical downpour drums and hammers the cheap plastic tarp above their heads then gushes off the side into the tub that our plates just got washed in.
We pushed on quickly to Penang and were greeted with the opposite end of the spectrum. A city groaning and oozing with character and colour. Smart enough to hold onto its history and push development to the fringes leaving a maze of colonial architecture that now bursts with the trappings of Chinese, Indian and Malay life. To top it off they have overlaid a series of mural artworks that literally step off the flaking whitewashed walls at you. A painting of children riding a bicycle that has actually been bolted to the bricks so you are not sure what is art and what is real life (there’s a philosophical quandary). We would wander up and down the alleys being swamped with an aroma that was the mix of all the national cuisines. Like walking into your favourite Indian, Chinese, Malay and Thai restaurants all at once. We rode bikes, took photos, sipped on really good coffee, hiked through the jungle in a tropical downpour and ate the freshest dumplings we have ever tasted. Melt in your mouth pieces of joy being hand made by the cackling smiling Malay women sitting behind us in the local open walled restaurant.
Yet somehow in the middle of all of this I had “bad parent phase”. Where one of any series of events get to me. Maybe its the thousandth time of being asked for something that you have said no to. Maybe its the shoulder slumped groan that emerges when you suggest an afternoon activity. Maybe it was having Mel and mine alone time interrupted by the 10pm knock on the door with “I can’t get to sleep” uttered by a child with their eyes falling out of their head with fatigue. Whatever it was I went into the short, irritated, stricter version of the parent I want to be. Needless to say I don’t want to be that version. It cuts deep and sends me into a tailspin of self doubt about my parenting abilities.
Then came the first Buddha moment.
We were sitting outside the local bakery cafe perched on a bustling Penang street. Sipping beautiful coffee, eating fresh warm croissants and rich fruit laden yoghurts….and I was scowling. I walked inside to check on the girls not really taking any notice of the 65 year old, grey haired, bespectacled man writing quietly on his laptop. As I passed him he caught my eye.
“You have very beautiful daughters” he said.
“Thank you” I replied a little indifferently. (After the constant attention they get in Asia I must admit I have become a little immune to compliments about them.)
“You are very lucky” he said, this time getting more of my attention. “I know some days it doesn’t always feel like that. But then other days it does.”
He smiled and went back to his writing.
“Thanks” I said dumbly and walked out and slumped back in my chair. Feeling the sting on my face from being slapped by the universe. Buddha Moment #1 – get over yourself and soak up the beauty around you you idiot.
That’s enough for now. More Buddha moments to come.