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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Friday, 24 December 2010

And so this is Christmas

And so this is Christmas, my second Christmas in Phuket, where finally after weeks of ordinary weather the sun is finally starting to shine freely once again. Christmas is still Christmas no matter where you are in the world, the reason for the season is still the same. But here, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas, the excitement and anticipation of the festive season are missing here.

Although many Thais are Buddhist, Christmas is still celebrated here to an extent. Many restaurants, hotels and shops put up Christmas decorations and many Thai people exchange presents also. School even finishes early on Christmas Eve and our local beer garden always puts on a Christmas Eve barbeque where Santa puts in a special appearance and hands out presents to good boys and girls. But those are just the things that make it look like Christmas. It still doesn’t feel like Christmas.

Maybe it’s because I have missed the bombardment of Christmas advertising on television. I rarely watch television here and when I do it’s cable without traditional commercials. Maybe it’s because I don’t go to the shopping centres and participate in the mad present purchasing frenzy. Maybe it’s because I had no work Christmas party this year. Maybe it’s because I missed my family’s Christmas celebration and Christmas drinks with much loved friends. Maybe it’s because I have not put up a Christmas tree and filled the house with tinsel and other glittering decorations whilst singing my favourite Christmas carols.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t heard any Christmas carols. Maybe it’s because there aren’t any houses here thickly covered in bright multi-coloured lights and cut out Santas, reindeer and snow men. Maybe it’s because I will miss the Carols by Candlelight on Channel 9. Maybe it’s just a combination of all of these things.

Our Christmas celebration here is simple. A Christmas Eve dinner shared with friends at our favourite trattoria and a simple barbeque on Christmas day. No presents and no fanfare. Although I am recognising that the outside look and feel of Christmas is different here, when I sit and contemplate the meaning and reason of Christmas a whole new set of emotions emerge. Gratitude, peace and simple happiness. Gratitude for the birth of one of the world’s great teachers who lived his life in service of others to teach of love for one another and spread the message of peace. Gratitude for my life, for the people who are part of my life, for the many opportunities, experiences and blessings I have had and continue to have.  Peace that is ever present within me when I stop focusing on the external elements of my life. Peace that I know is within everyone and can be shared with the world when we stop focusing on our differences and realise the commonality we all share. And finally simple happiness from just being, from living life simply and having a simple Christmas celebration.

So as I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, I also hope that everyone finds the peace, happiness and gratitude within and their own unique way to share this with the world so that all humankind can live in harmony with each other and our beautiful planet.

Merry Christmas. Peace, love, light and blessings to all.




Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Hot and Spicy Lesson in Thai


I peer into the white, ceramic bowl. Guay dtiaao sen yai phak mai neuua naam tom yum, not necessarily said in that order but loosely translated as rice noodles, large, vegetable no meat, soup with tom yum flavour. Flat, wide rice noodles rest on the bottom of the bowl along with some bean shoots and some kind of shallots. They are surrounded by a brownish liquid upon which floats hundreds of red specks. I gasp. So much chili. I always order nik noi phet, a little spicy. But today in the confusion of unexpectedly ordering from a roadside vendor without an English menu, I have forgotten this simple but important request and my noodle soup is phet mak mak, gluttonously spicy in traditional Thai style.

I push the noodles around my bowl with my fork and spoon, stirring more of the red specks to the surface. I stare at them in semi-disbelief.  How am I going to eat this dish with so much chili? And just how much pain am I going to inflict upon my tongue and lips?

Only once before have I made the mistake of ordering a painfully spicy red curry. I was at a Thai restaurant popular with tourists and had assumed that spicy would mean tourist spicy and not Thai spicy.  I was wrong. Very, very wrong.  I suffered through the the dish in silence, my face redder than the curry I was eating, my eyes bulged and sweat beads formed on my eyelids. It took quite some time for my dinner companions to figure out that something was wrong, that my silence wasn’t quiet enjoyment of my deliciously spicy red curry. As fans of ordering phet mak mak, they found my situation amusing as I slowly ate small spoonfuls of curry quickly washed down with icy cold Tiger beer. I lost the battle with the curry and surrendered half way through the dish, my oesophagus and stomach burning from the chili consumption. Not even the two beers I swiftly sculled in 15 minutes could do much but momentarily quell the fire in my mouth and stomach. Ever since, I have always made sure I have ordered phet nik noi.

Thankfully this dish is not too big but I am fearful that I am about to experience a repeat of the red curry saga. I stop playing with my food and slowly, I lower my spoon into the bowl and scoop up a small amount of the liquid and bring it to my lips. It tastes sweet with a trace of lime juice and fish sauce.  I swallow and within seconds experience the subtle burning fire of the chilies in my mouth. That wasn’t so bad.  I repeat the process again and again.  After the fourth mouthful, the fire finally takes a hold of my mouth.  I gulp greedy mouthfuls of cold white wine knowing that it will do little but lower the flame for a second.  I try to scoop up more liquid without flecks of chili without success.  My spoon is a chili magnet.

Slowly, I make my way through the dish, eating the noodles, bean shoots and shallots. After each mouthful I pause and wait for the chili burn to crescendo, but after the eighth mouthful, the burn seems to have peaked. My lips and tongue are on fire and my eyelids are sweating once again but it is bearable. So hungrily, I chow down the remainder of the soup including the remaining bracken lake of chili. In celebration, I scull the remainder of my wine. But then promptly take another glass to aide the after burn. I ate phet mak mak and enjoyed it! But I’m in no rush to experience the daily chili burn.  For now, I think I will stick to ordering phet nik noi.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Luck in a Lantern

The moon is full and illuminates its brilliant, milky, whiteness through passing clouds. I follow the stream of motorbikes and cars to Naiharn Lake to join with others to celebrate the 12th lunar month of the year, Loi Krathong, with a small offering of thanks to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha, and, hopefully, to bring good fortune for the year ahead.

Many Thais and farang gather at the edge of Naiharn Lake, releasing circular banana leaf crafts of various sizes adorned with flowers, incense and candles, flames flickering in the breeze that skims the water. Many gently splash their crafts away from the shore, carrying their personal items of hair and nail clippings, to ensure their good fortune and trying to prevent the craft returning and bringing with it bad luck.

Krathong or no krathong, my life so far has been filled with so many blessings. Tonight, I am happy to watch couples, families and friends gather in this simple ceremony, offering something small of themselves to something infinitely bigger and hoping for blessings to be returned. Tonight, I turn my eyes to the skies and the partially hidden stars. I plan to send my own little light up to greet them and shimmer for a few moments in time.

We unfold the white, paper tube and attach the burning coil to the wires at one end as lightning flashes around us.  The lantern is of simple construction but it is huge. It is almost as tall as I am when it is sitting on the ground.  We light the burning coil in different sections until it stays fully alight. And then carefully maneuvering the lantern in the breeze so that it doesn’t accidentally catch alight, place it on the ground to allow the flame’s heat to expand the air trapped within the tube. Impatiently, we wait. We tug the lantern upwards to see if it is ready to fly but it settles back down on the ground and we trap it to the ground using our toes so it is not swept sideways with the wind. We move our feet and again tug it upwards, but it returns to the earth.

Farang and Thais stop and watch this motley crue of three Italians, one pirate and an Aussie girl, trying to get the lantern aflight. A well-meaning Thai lady comes over and touches the balloon.  
“Okay, okay” she says in her soft Thai drawl as she holds onto the second syllable longer than the first.
We heed her advice and lift the lantern up into the breeze. It takes flight at 45 degrees instead of the 80 degrees necessary to clear the pine trees between the lake and the beach. Within seconds, it is firmly lodged in the closest pine tree and the lantern catches fire. I cannot help but laugh as people stop to take photos of our lantern bonfire. Others groan wondering if the tree itself will catch fire. It doesn’t.

We are indeed lucky for we have more lanterns. We repeat the process of setting up and lighting the lantern. This time, we wait a little longer for the air within the lantern to heat and for the breeze to temporarily cease before attempting take-off.  We lift it up and offer it to the sky which gratefully accepts it and draws it gracefully upward. I watch our lucky lantern rise up and away, its light growing smaller as it moves away from us into the night sky. And as I watch it, I feel all the hopes and dreams held within my heart, in all stages of growth and even those yet not even articulated to my conscious mind, rise up and away with our lantern, offered to the universe for incubation and fruition. I watch until I can no longer see the light of our lantern and then we join the party on the island in the centre of the lake.

The sky is illuminated with light, man-made and natural as fireworks and lightning crackle and sizzle.  Oblivious to the approaching storm, we follow the path past food vendors, straight to the beer garden where we buy cold Heineken straight from the tap and sit down to watch the end of the Miss Rawai competition. Gorgeous, Thai girls stand on stage in a line, smiling in their golden, sparkling traditional dresses. The competition comes to an end at the exact moment the first drops of rain land upon us. We take shelter beneath some sturdy tarpaulins, just in time, as the rain has now become one constant, massive waterfall. We wait for the rain to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait.

As the ground beneath our feet becomes mud, then puddles then a miniature lake, it becomes obvious that the rain is not going to stop any time soon. I pull a few chairs together and lie down, curling into the foetal position as best I can in an attempt to keep dry and warm, and wait for the storm to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait. I watch the sections of the tarpaulin buckle under the weight of the water that it catches and cannot escape faster than the fresh rain falling. I hope it strong enough to withstand the weight, stay upright and keep us dry.

Two hours pass and I am gently nudged out of my short sleep. Finally the rain has stopped and we can ride our motorbikes home. Wearily, I drag my feet through giant puddles on the way back to the bike, grimacing as my leather shoes become saturated with muddy water. And I can’t help but wonder, what if our first lucky lantern had cleared the trees…..







Friday, 12 November 2010

She calls for me

Sometimes I think it’s just enough,
To sit and watch her from her shore.
But as I watch the waves roll in
I know that’s not the truth at all.
She calls for me to come to her,
To submerge myself, wash clean my care.
She calls for me, she calls for me.
Her beckoning voice
Is always there.
I could float upon her silvery skin,
Watch life below take place from above.
But it’s underneath her rippled waves,
I want to be, where I most love.

And so I answered her call. After seven months and thirteen days living above sea level, I finally returned home, slipping beneath her silvery skin. A few tentative breaths and then I relaxed as I stopped carrying my own weight and allowed her to envelop me.

The water was a cooler 29 degrees celsius leaving me cold and shivering in my well-worn wetsuit, and the visibility was only around 8 metres. Although the black tip reef sharks did not grace me with their presence, the water was still teeming with life. Menacing moray eels hid within staghorn coral; bright and bumpy wart slugs decorated the walls and sandy bottom; moorish idols swirled in their coupled dervish dance; clownfish performed their version of the haka, safe in the tentacles of their anemone home; groups of lionfish rested vertically on coral fans; the shy little seahorse hid in his small cave; whilst above me, the great barracuda hovered on guard.

Carried by the steady current, the only thing for me to do was breathe and enjoy the life around me. I wished it was possible to stop, pull up a chair and just watch the intricate relationships take place around me, for this real life spectacular is better than any reality TV show or soap opera, no script or play acting required.

I longed to lie on the sandy floor and watch the goby and the burrowing shrimp living together in symbiotic harmony. The poor-sighted shrimp tirelessly maintains his burrow whilst the goby stands on watch trying to determine if I am friend or foe. If he becomes alarmed by my presence, the goby darts into the burrow and the shrimp heeding his warning, quickly follows. Their relationship is mutually beneficial as the goby gets a safe place to hide and the shrimp, a warning of any danger that he wouldn’t otherwise see. I could watch this interaction for hours, all the while wondering if humans will ever be able to live with eachother and the Earth in such cooperation and harmony or continue to be focused on individual gain. Today there’s no time to stop and wonder as the current carries us on. 

There is a very natural rhythm to life here. Everything goes with the flow and circle of life. Whether it be good weather or bad, every creature gets about its business, living one day at a time as it could be their last if their number is called up on the foodchain wheel of life.  Fleetingly, I dissolve into this rhythm.  I am part of this world, breathing, watching and moving through the water with life all around me.

After another hour spent submerged and part of this underwater world, I slowly rise to the surface to resume my place above water. I feel some peace. The sea did as she promised and washed away almost all my cares, except one. What if we, humans, don’t learn to live in harmony with the sea?  What, soon, will be left for us to see?


Wart Slug

Clownfish

"I'm coming to get ya"

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Il Dolce Far Niente, Monsoon Style


The monsoon is making a final stand. It knows it is time to leave and it is either hanging on for dear life or trying to remind me that it has complete control of things around here or making a grand exit in a “Remember me, I’ll be back” kind of way. Maybe it’s all three.

It’s cool but not cold. The sky is constantly light silver grey and the rain persistently plays cat and mouse with me.  It stops.  I come out of hiding only for it to start again. “Gotch ya” it says, sprinkling me with dewy drops of wetness in its shallow victory dance. Yes, the monsoon is in control of when and for how long I spend time outdoors. And for the last few days it has been telling me the same thing. “You are my prisoner.  You will not go anywhere and if you try to escape I am going to spit at you with my jagged little tongue making you wish you never ventured outside. Ha ha ha ha ha (evil laugh)”  Yes, this is the joys of monsoon.

Not one for conflict, I have become somewhat subservient to the monsoon.  It says “Stay inside” and I respond “Sure no problems.  Whatever you say Mr Monsoon.”  Occasionally my inner rebel attempts to wrestle control and in a defiant gesture I don my yellow poncho and I ride away from home, head held proud and high.  But within seconds, the rain makes my plastic rain coat stick to my skin like wet cling wrap and my fingers begin to resemble damp prunes and so I divert my course in favour of buying supplies and returning home, once again.

If I am to be honest, I am pleased that the monsoon is still here.  In a world where we rarely do nothing, where we are focused on achieving and doing things that we don’t really want to do but do so out of obligation or because we think we should do them (should , the word from the head and not the heart), the monsoon means I have every reason not to be outdoors, every reason to be confined to home, every reason to do nothing. I don’t even have to justify not doing anything because when you are on a tropical island and it is pouring with rain and your only mode of transport is a motorbike, there really isn’t much you can do.

Each day I wake from a long and peaceful slumber (well not quite peaceful, there is the issue of a constant snorer) and I get out of bed when I am ready to get out of bed, not because I have to go to work or I have something particular to do, just because I have had enough of sleeping and now it is time to do something else.  I always, always pour a big glass of cold water  Sleeping in the tropics is thirsty work.  And I brew some (Italian) coffee. I usually drink the whole pot. Apparently this is bad because it is enough for four people, but in my mind, this is completely acceptable since I have given up my twice daily perfect Melbourne latte.

So, coffee pot by my side, I sit down and find myself asking, “What do you want to do now?” Sometimes the answer comes back “I don’t know." This is the response that comes when I think I should be doing something grandiose but I can’t think of what it should be. Ahhh,  there is that word, “should” again. Word of the head and not of the heart.  To which I respond (and yes I do often talk to myself, not out of madness but because I like to and it is quite often an interesting conversation) “So, if you did know, what would it be?”

And this is when I find the simplest responses coming back. I want to eat something. I want to read my book. I want to write. I want speak to someone back home. I want to research some volunteer work. I want to figure out a way to help Dopey (my soi’s stray dog). I want to lie here and dream about endless possibilities. I want to lie here and listen to the pitter patter of the rain on the world outside. I want to take photos of flowers and bugs and rain drops. Or even, I want to feel the rain land like little kisses on my face.

This is my il dolce far niente. This is my version of doing nothing when it is wet and stormy outside.  Making one small choice at a time.  Answering the question “What do you want to do now?” from my heart and not my head. Feeling the sweetness of this slower life.



Monday, 25 October 2010

Soi Dog


I lie flat on my back. Relaxed beneath the blue, light cotton blanket providing a layer of protection between my exposed skin and the cool air in my bedroom. I listen to the silence beyond the hum of the air conditioner. The night is still, as if the whole world is asleep or at least lying in stillness like me. From where I lie, I can detect no movement, not even the buzz of a passing motorbike or car.

Lulled by the peace surrounding me, I begin to slip into slumber and a world of fuzzy dreams only to be jerked awake by the painful yelps of a dog in the soi behind my home. I focus on the commotion, as I try to make sense of what is happening. More dogs are barking. How many?  1, 2, 3….I cannot tell. The dog that woke me up continues to cry it’s painful yelps as if it is begging for its life. I don’t know exactly what is happening but my mind produces images of a pack of dogs surrounding and attacking one weaker pup. This may be just another night in the life of a street dog but the sound always makes me feel sick. I roll onto my side and try to let the hum of the air conditioner fill my ears until the fight ends and the night becomes peaceful once again. I think of Dopey, my soi’s stray, and hope that he has found a safe place to sleep tonight, away from the aggressiveness of this pack.

Dopey is just one of many thousands of homeless dogs that live on the streets and beaches of Phuket. Dogs that have been abandoned when they are no longer cute puppies or are the off-spring of already homeless un-neutered dogs and have nowhere else to go, make a life for themselves here. They scavenge for food from discarded rubbish and the occasional kind person, take shelter from the scorching heat of the mid-day sun, roam and play with other strays and sleep. They risk, and often lose their lives, attempting to cross roads congested with speeding motorbikes, tuk tuks and cars. And at night, they rule the streets with their own law.

Despite his shabby appearance, I fell in love with Dopey straight away. I discovered him sleeping under a neighbour’s car, hiding his scabby, oozy back from the glaring sun. I took him a small container of water and he came out of hiding for a drink and a pat. Dopey is always grateful for any love and attention he receives. He looks at me with his soft brown eyes and pushes his moist nose lovingly towards my face. I pat him tenderly around his face and on his snout, careful not to touch the sores on his back and cause him any pain.

Dopey has spent many years of his life on the streets and is old for a street dog. Most of his teeth are worn down to his gum line and must cause him pain to eat anything solid and tough. Most of the time he would have no choice. With a hungry rumbling stomach to fill, he eats whatever he can find and must bear the pain if he wants to fill his stomach and survive another day. He is also afflicted with a skin condition most likely caused by parasites that cause intense itching and result in loss of fur, infection and crusting of the skin. Dopey has many sections along his back and on his legs that lack fur. The exposed skin is dry with a crust of sometimes oozy sores.

I long to help Dopey. Feed him, treat his skin condition, give him shelter and protection and all the love a dog needs. And as simple as this is to do, it is more complicated than it seems. Unlike Dopey, I don’t live here permanently. I could take him in and look after him while I am here but what happens to him when I leave? Once again he would have to return to the street which could be too much for an old dog to bear. If I was returning directly to Australia I could make arrangements to take him with me once he was better but I am not planning to return in the short-term. And even if I just gave him leftover food, he would come to my home, waiting to be fed long after I have gone but there will be no-one to feed him and this is not a responsibility my neighbours want to assume.

Although he is clearly unwell, Dopey is not sufficiently at risk for the over-burdened street dog charities to help him at the moment. Charities such as Soi Dog  (http://www.soidog.org/) are inundated with dogs that are sick and unable to fend for themselves, at risk of poisoning or have been badly mistreated and need emergency treatment. They do fantastic work helping the stray dogs of Phuket and finding them new homes but there are dogs far worse off than Dopey that need their help first. Sadly, with the number of dogs on the streets here, there will always be more and more dogs that need help. Dopey is resourceful and still able to fend for himself on the streets. With his friendly personality and untroublesome ways, he is accepted as part of the furniture in our soi and lives here safely and quietly, except in the dead of night when packs of stray dogs rule the streets.

So, for now, I do the only thing I can do and that is to keep a watchful eye on my stray friend, show him affection when I see him and hope for a way to help him, so he doesn’t die unloved and alone on the street.



Sunday, 17 October 2010

Monsoon


My grandmother used to tell me, “If there’s enough blue sky to make a man’s pair of pants it’s going to be a nice day.”  Remembering her wisdom, I look up at the sky searching desperately for even the smallest patch of blue but there is none to be seen.  The sky is a bright silver-grey, so thick that the usually glorious sun is humbled to a meagre matte orange ball, desperately searching for a way through with no success.  It, too, is a prisoner of the monsoon.

In the distance, dense masses of craggy charcoal drift slowly towards my humble home, threatening in their size and darkness.  I lean against my front gate, gazing at them with wonder from the safety of my small front yard.   The breeze, gently playing with the loose strands of hair around my face, picks up in strength.  I turn my face straight into the wind, neither warm nor cold, and enjoy the sensation of it dancing with my long brown locks.  I know this sign well, the announcement of the impending storm.  “It’s coming, it’s coming, the rain is coming” it whispers into my ear before it rushes off in another strong gust to warn another.

The light disappears as the darkness descends, as does the rain.  At first a gentle patter as a spatter of droplets bounce off the apple green leaves of the trees shading my window.  Within seconds  the rain is intense, as if God has overturned one massive bucket of never-ending water over my home.  After several minutes it eases off before being tipped full-force once again.  It continues like this for most of the day and I find myself once again trapped indoors by the monsoon.

There is no way of escaping the confines of the house.  Riding a motorbike in this weather is not only unsafe but painful as even the lightest of rain feels like tiny razor blades slicing at my skin.  Even if I did escape, where to go?  The monsoon winds whip across the sand unforgivably and force angry waves upon the shore.  The beach is no place to be.  The shopping centre is too far to ride to and I’m loathe to put myself in a position where I am tempted to spend money I don’t really have on my traveller’s budget.   The dive boats remain in the safety of the harbour, it is too unsafe for them to fight their way through almost 3 metre waves to their usual dive sites, so no diving.

Instead I reacquaint myself with the doing of nothing, reading, writing, internet browsing, chatting online to friends far away, watching TV.  I eat Thai and western food and drink too much beer.  I let the tense knots of tiredness from months of hard work unravel with ease around me.  And when the persistent little voice calls forth feelings of guilt for the doing of nothing, I soothe its angry, jealous cry with lullabies of rest.

The monsoon will soon pass.  This time of rest will pass.  For now, I stretch back out on the couch and gratefully listen to the wind playfully toss the trees  outside to the rhythmic patter of the falling rain.



Friday, 15 October 2010

To Dive


How can I explain to you so that you can understand the beauty and the bliss of being submerged in another world?  Peace washes through every last molecule of my physical body, merging my being with the water surrounding me, overcoming my soul.

How can I describe to you the feelings that flow through my body, pumped from the centre of my being, when I am suspended in time and space by liquid sapphire?  The air I breathe from the tank on my back only keeps my physical body alive but it is the beauty that surrounds me that is my life force’s true sustenance, feeding my soul in a way food never can.

I wonder if you can understand that it is during a dive that I am most alive.  To swim alongside creatures, big or small, and to observe them in their world is a precious privilege.  This is the time I treasure most, the time I am most filled with love for Mother Earth.

Only if you have been there can you truly understand what it is like to be an earthbound creature, born of land but whose heart is owned by the sea.  Only if you have been there can you truly understand that to dive is to remember what has been forgotten, that to dive is to return home.

Photo by Ryan Bradley

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Wisdom of Trees

Seasons come and seasons go and you accept all that life brings your way; rain, hail, frost, drought, icy-cold whipping winds, dappled light to ferocious burning sun.

Your leaves turn from meadow green to sunny yellow to rustic orange and then brown like a crinkly paper lunch bag.

Your summer dress falls away in an elegant dance to the cold, earthy ground below, creating an artistic autumn carpet of divine design.

You wear your nakedness with beauty and grace.  Your branches outstretched towards the heavens as if in exalted prayer.

Yet your roots stay firmly entrenched in mother earth, warmed and nurtured, all your needs provided for from her deep love of your existence.

You continue to be, all that you have always been and always will be.  Life changes around you and you physically adapt.  But at your core, you are always you, ye old wise tree.


Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Gift of Returning

Coming back to Melbourne has been like slipping into an old skin.  Although everything is much the same as before I left, everything, for me has changed.  The cells of my body have retained the memories of this place and of my life here but it doesn’t fit as comfortably as it once did.

The city still looks the same, except for maybe a few new buildings and minor makeovers.  And life is largely unchanged.  I joined the Monday to Friday Zombie March and within a week found myself wishing 5/7 of my life away, longing for the weekend, for time to myself to do what I really want to be doing.

My carefree life-style in Thailand saw me with tousled, messy beach hair, wearing the same few simple dresses everyday, always in flip-flops and comfortable in a more curvier body but in Melbourne, I quickly found myself feeling self-conscious, as if what I look like actually matters more than who I am.

I felt a separateness as life continued to go on around me as it did when I was not physically here and the lack of community connection from big city living.  I  easily slipped into old roles, sub-consciously re-joining old, tired dramas.  I quickly decided that I didn’t want to be here and started to countdown my return to Thailand until I realised what I was doing and reminded myself that this is not what my life is about.

The gift of returning is that I can see Melbourne and my life with new eyes.  There is so much about being here and living in this city that I love and most of it is simple joys;
  • I love waking up on a crisp, cool morning feeling all warm and cosy snuggled under my doona.
  • I love, love, love the abundance of fantastic coffee in this city.
  • I love my brisk walk to and from work, past the Melbourne Cricket Ground, my blood pumping and  warming up my body in the cool of the morning and evening.
  • I love the green grass and autumn browns of Yarra Park and Fitzroy Gardens.
  • I love watching the full moon rise high above the city lights.
  • I love taking off my high heel shoes at lunch time to feel the tickly grass on the soles of my feet.   And if the sun is out, I love lying on the grass and feeling the sun on the exposed skin of my face, arms and legs.
  • I love being able to spend time with friends and family, coffees, brunches, lunches and being part of birthday celebrations.
  • I love being able to drink my favourite wines at exactly the right temperatures.
  • I love to go to my favourite book shops and spend hours surrounded by words
  • I love walking along the beach, rugged up against the cold, feeling the sand on my feet and dipping my toes in cool water.
  • I love the golden glow as the sun dips down towards the horizon , lighting up the Melbourne skyline in gold, bronze and tangerine.
And what I’m loving most of all at the moment, is the peace that comes from accepting my choices, the fearlessness of tapping into and trusting my own inner guidance and the freedom from observation instead of participation in the drama of life.


Thursday, 25 March 2010

Close encounters of the large kind

I drift effortlessly along in the current which is  steadily towing me northward.  There is a lot of plankton in the water reducing visibility to around 8 metres and obscuring my view of the landscape. I look around me. I am not familiar with this site having never dived here before.   Big limestone boulders surrounded by a sandy bottom littered with smaller rocks.  It’s not a pretty dive site,  lacking the colourful soft corals and proliferation of life I’ve seen elsewhere.   And it’s not where we would normally dive.  Today there was a ripping current expected at Koh Bida Nai rendering it an inappopriate dive site for inexperienced divers.  But here I am, and I intend to make the most of the dive, if not for myself, but for the two fun divers I am guiding.

I scan the area around me for creatures of interest.  Looking through the plankton into the murky distance, I hope to catch a glimpse of black tip reef sharks shyly cruising by.  I see nothing.  Disappointment creeps in and I start wondering why we are even diving here.  Few fish and no pretty corals.  Then “bingo”.  I spot a small hawksbill turtle feeding on the coral just a few metres from me.  I put one hand on top of the other and flutter my thumbs to signal turtle to my divers  and point to where it lay on top of a coral boulder.  Elena is looking somewhere else so I tug sharply on her fin to get her attention and point to the turtle.  We watch her as she burrows her head under a rock, beneath some harp coral.  I can’t be sure if she is trying to sleep, eat or hide but I love being so close to her. We spend 5 minutes with her and then watch her swim away towards the shallows whilst we happily throw ourselves back into the current and continue to drift the dive site.  My divers give me puslating OK signals, happy with having seen the turtle, as am I.  If I see nothing else today, this graceful creature has made my dive.

A few metres on, I startle a scorpion fish  on a boulder just below me and I follow it to its new resting place on the sand beneath some low-lying table coral.  I lie on the sand and signal to my divers to do the same to get a better view of this spiny, mottled pinky brown, poisonous fish.  Christian takes a few photos before the current takes us further north.

We drift for several minutes without seeing anything much.  I am gratfeul for the turtle and the scoprion fish.  “At least my divers have seen something here” I think to myself. I still scan the waters around us, praying for a glimpse of black tip reef sharks but still none are to be seen and I am doubtful that we will see any today.

Suddenly, the current speeds up and the visibility drops a few more metres.  Unsure of where the dive site ends and worried that we might be swept around the corner and off the dive site, I look for somewhere to shelter.  In between two big boulders, I spy a school of ten cornet fish and guide my divers in behind them, the two boulders providing a stagnant place to rest.  One of the cornet fish swims  just centimetres from my face, eyeing me curiously.  It’s long, slender body glides effortlessly past me, the long  spotted blue stripes on its back flashing irridescently.

I turn around to make sure my divers are behind me and that they are watching this school of curious fish and signal questioningly if they are OK.  They each signal OK back to me.   As they do so, movement behind them distracts me.  I adjust my focus to see more clearly behind them.  My eyes double in size, showing my divers massive amounts of white eye balls and I hold my arm out directly in front of me,  pointing behind them.  My mouth would have dropped open in a shocked “Oh my god” movement if my jaw wasn’t locked around my second stage, my lifeline, supplying me with air from my tank.  My divers look at me, puzzled by my reaction for a moment, then turn around to see what I am pointing at.

Swimming into the plankton-filled current is a gentle giant shark of the sea.  Identification requires no guesswork.  It’s size, it’s shape and it’s fluorescent white spots are unique.   We have been graced with the presence of a whale shark.  A 5 metre female.

I can hear the thump of my heart beat in my ears as adrenaline courses through my body. My arms are shaking with excitement.  In fact my whole body is trembling.  My eyes are still as large as the porcelain full moon as I watch, with awe,  this magnificent creature hang in the current  at 9 metres before slowly heading towards the surface.  She hangs at about 2 metres before slowly heading back down and changing direction.

The excitement of this experience causes me to suck more oxygen down for fuel.  I become conscious of my rapid breathing, as the extra dead air I have exhaled bubbles above my head and expands on its journey to the surface above. I check my dive computer.  We are 38 minutes into the dive.  I check my air which is plentiful with 140 bar.  And then we follow her.  Sometimes swimming with her and sometimes hovering in mid-water, swept along with the current, all the time watching her majestic snaking swimming movement, cutting the current with ease.  She comes within a metre of me.   I am so mesmerised by her, watching her looking at me with blinking curiousity.  Then as her body passes me, in a fearful split second I am convinced she is going to smack me with her tail and I reverse thrust to put some distance between us.

My fun divers are also clearly in awe of this wonderful creature.  I can see through their masks and solid regulators that they are happier than words can describe.  And I am so happy for them.  Christian has his camera in front of him trying to capture some of these moments forever.  She swims right towards him, her wide mouth ajar and gills fluttering as they filter the water for air.  I gasp silently as it looks like she is going to bump right into him but he moves to the side and she glides right past him. We watch her as she circles around us, ascends to 2 metres and then back down again.

Conscious of the current and decreasing visibility, I continuously check my divers to make sure we stay together and don’t lose eachother.  Losing a diver now would mean an instant end to this experience as  the poor visibility would require us to surface to reunite.  The current picks up again and I see deeper water coming up ahead of us.  I am worried that we really are about to be swept around the corner and off the dive site bringing a premature end to our dive.   If she came off the dive site with us, then it wouldn’t matter to us if we didn’t see the rest of the reef.  We were now swimming with a whale shark, a rare event and a diver’s dream. 

Again she hovers effortlessly in the current just above a huge rock.  I fin strongly into the current towards the rock and grab onto it and signal to my divers to do the same.  Elena is a little distance behind me and struggling to fight the current.  I hang on and reach out my hand for her to grab so I can pull her in safely beside me.  We dip down and shelter from the current behind the rock, three mesmerised divers alls in a row with this 5 metre beauty hanging just above our heads.  I signal to Christian to take video, hoping he understands my hand signals.  We stay in this position until 50 minutes into our dive, she swims off into the current.  We watch her until her massive body is swallowed up by the murky water and she is out of sight.

Christian signals to me that he is low on air so I signal for them to stay close to me and I give them the safety stop sign.  I inflate my surface marker buoy and shoot it to the surface.  Hanging onto the buoy line, we three happy divers, drift into the blue with big OK signs and drawing big happy smiles in front of our second stages.  We will never forget this dive or this rare close encounter of a large kind.

                                 It's a turtle, a green one not hawksbill, but it is a turtle :)


                                           Scorpion Fish


                                           Cornet Fish




                                           Her majesty, whale shark
 



Friday, 19 March 2010

Life in the sea

I lie on my back, my arms loosely by my side and legs stretched out, slightly parted.  The warm salty water supports my body, pushing it gently up to meet the sun’s hot, sweet kiss whilst a gentle breeze softly grazes my exposed skin as a lover’s affectionate touch.  The sky, the roof of the earth,  looks much higher than usual today, with a fine cover of thin white cloud stretching out, subtly paling its normal bright blue hue.

I close my eyes and tilt my head back so the water enters my ears and blocks out most of the surrounding sound of people talking, laughing and splashing in the water.  My long brunette locks stream like a furry halo around my head, Medusa style.  I listen to the air gently enter then leave my body as my lungs perform their regular function.  I feel so still, so peaceful and centred but full of life.  I slowly scan my body and strain my ears to see if I can hear my heart beat.  I cannot but in this moment, I could not be more alive.

I feel the waves of water gently surge beneath my body, lifting me skyward then earthward in a supportive rollercoaster embrace and I listen to the sloppy slapping sound the water make as it laps against my bare skin.  Occasionally I hear a larger wave break against the shore, a crumbling rush of air and water and earth as these elements meld together.  In between these sounds, there is silence, pure, magical silence.  And in savouring the silence, there is a sweet and pure bliss.

Just metres away from me, in this often crowded paradise, lies rows of multi-coloured umbrellas and lounge chairs covering the whole expanse of the wide shore.  It is peak beach time, full of holidaymakers from all walks of life sunbaking, swimming, walking, sleeping, talking and laughing, drinking beer and playing ball games.  Amongst the throng of tourists, I have managed to find my own peace.  Lying here in these tropical waters, I have found peace and love in a feeling that whole of life is supporting me.

My brain wanders from this moment, imagining a time in the not too distant future when I will not be living in this paradise.  The natural smile upon my face vanishes and a deep sadness tugs at my heart.  Just like the flow of the ocean’s currents, my life’s tide has turned and is very naturally taking me back to Melbourne.  Once again, the process of letting go of my attachments to a place and time manifests as pain.  As if tearing invisible roots planted where I currently live,  I ache, as a plant must ache when it is uprooted from its space in the earth.  My thoughts linger on what I will leave behind here, life in the sea, a dear friend and my Amore, my love.  I feel my eyes pool with big blobs of sad and happy tears.  The sadness of leaving is intermingled with the happiness of home-coming and reunions with family and friends.

Each day I have left in paradise is now bitter sweet.  I dive into the torrent of emotion to embrace and experience every moment of it.  This is my life.  This is life.  As much as I have accepted that the flow is leading me away, I knowingly and patiently wait for the tide to turn once more and bring me back to this place and life in the sea.



Friday, 5 February 2010

Magical Morning

I love the moments leading up to dawn, when the night is dying a peaceful death, letting go, gracefully, and letting a new day in. It is still dark, the cloudless sky reveals the midnight blue universe with a sprinkle of twinkling stars and a waning full moon. Everything is quiet and still but movement is commencing as the Thai people begin their days. 7 Eleven and twenty-four hour supermarkets are no longer the only beacons in the lonely night. Restaurants and road-side kitchens start to open, preparing to serve breakfasts to the early risers. Monks begin their silent, sometimes shoeless walk on their alms rounds. There is a gentle transition from stillness to activity that slowly crescendos to reach a peak, mid-morning.

This morning, I watch Phuket come to life through weary eyes from the comfort of the dark, air-conditioned mini-van that is taking me to the airport. Tired from the early start and lack of sleep and unexcited about the day’s journey ahead of me, the sole purpose to be stamped out of Thailand and stamped back in for another thirty days until I can decide upon my next movements.

I stare out the window watching the morning unfold and that is when the horizon catches my eye. I focus my eyes on the furthest, tiniest point that I can see. There is a faint but subtle glow, growing by the second, washing away the stillness of the night. The glow on the horizon continues to grow as the sun continues to rise. It is almost like a changing of the guard with no fanfare, unnoticed, played to an oblivious audience. But this changing of the guard deserves attention, homage and gratitude as nature paints another magical landscape. Midnight blue becomes deep violet grey and then a rainbow of mauve, pinks, peach and soft apricots. Softening and warming the sky, the sun eases its way into view with majesty and grace, matching the gentle energy of the morning.

I wonder just how many sunrises I have slept through in my life unaware of the beauty that was occurring while I slept. I watch the Thai people get on with their days, seemingly unaware of the magic taking place. I watch men, women and children, piled on motorbikes in ones, twos and threes, wearily riding to school and work, looking straight ahead. I see people stop at roadside vendors to buy some breakfast, intent on the transaction at hand. I watch a lady pay homage at a shrine at Heroines Monument and I wonder if she has said a silent prayer of gratitude for this beautiful morning.Then I see a sight that makes me gasp. Rows of perfectly aligned, tall, skinny rubber trees, their trunks shrouded in low lying fog, standing meekly before a gentle rolling hill, all silhouetted by the peach light of the rising sun. I wish I could stop the minivan to savour, fully, the magical landscape before me. My fingers itch for my camera, left at home, so I can capture this perfect image forever. Instead I crane my neck and keep my eyes on the scene until moments later it is out of sight. I am abuzz with gratitude for the beauty I just viewed and a desire to observe the world at sunrise more often.

This morning I am reminded of how I so often tread through my daily life unconsciously, focused on myself and with lack of awareness and gratitude. This morning, the nature of this planet gently and lovingly calls me to awaken and pay attention to what is important in life and in this world. I promise myself to try and live my life awake and to try and see the beauty in every moment.

I look back to the horizon and see the sun come into view. This planet is awake. In this moment, I am awake.


Sunrise over Ganges, Varanasi

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Hazy Days

There is s a kind of cloudy haze that has settled over Phuket, the type of haze that blinds your view of the horizon and brings a premature end to a sunset, swallowing the blazing sun, like a bright orange smartie slipping slowly down one’s throat, whole. I look up in the middle of the day and can still see blue sky but as the day progresses, the haze increases and by late afternoon, I can barely distinguish the grey sea from the hazy horizon. The usually vibrant scenery is a glaring shade of dull. It is almost as if everything is stagnant, but not in a negative way.

Each day passes slowly. The sun rises, the sun sets, the moon rises and the moon sets and then the sun rises once more, repeating the daily routine. And every day, I watch the horizon, hoping that nature’s curtains don’t close early, allowing me, to once again, watch the sun set in its entirety.

My days are filled with nothing much but everything at the same time. I feel a contentment and peace I cannot remember ever knowing before. Not wanting to be anywhere else, not searching anxiously for something unknown. But at the same time I am wondering, what is on the horizon that I cannot yet clearly see?

Beneath my contentment is a subtle stirring reminding me not to get too comfortable. The world is calling to me in a way that I am still not wanting to hear clearly, just as I am not wanting to see, clearly, what is on the horizon. I am not wanting anything to change. I want to stay in these perfect days forever but life is drawing me forward, in a slow but certain way. Whilst I’m reluctant to move, I’m not resisting the flow, trusting that as I near the horizon, the haze will be replaced by beautiful clear light. In the meantime, I live each day with peace, patience and gratitude. Thankful to be in this place, in this space even with the haze all around.


Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Endless Days of Summer

Sleeping in. Waking up with love wrapped around me. No schedules or commitments to keep. No need to jump out of bed and into action. Not wanting to move and break the moment. Eventually, coffee calls and I slowly roll out of bed to be greeted a by a hot cup of sweet, espresso.

Read the news, email family and friends, skype calls and online chats. Connect with the world, near and far. Think about life, what is important to me, where I want to go, what I want to do. Dream.

Breakfast in or out? Sneak a peak beyond the curtains to see what weather the day brings. Blue skies, sparse clouds, blazing sun. Breakfast in. Shelter from the sun. Lady red papaya, banana, pineapple and mango, tropical fruits of choice. Breakfast perfection.

Grab the beach towels, pack the camera, jump on the motorbike and take a ride around my island home. See the sea, anchored yachts bobbing in the gentle swell, golden sands, multi-coloured beach umbrellas framed by forest green. Every view a postcard photo. Joy and gratitude to be in paradise.

Sweat trickling down my back from mid-afternoon sun. It’s time to swim. Head to Naiharn Beach. Wade into in the warm acquamarine water of the Andama Sea. Stretch out on a beach lounge under the shade of an umbrella. Watch the parade of culturally ignorant top-less farang women whilst speedo-clad men perform multiple crimes against beach fashion. Listen to the happy, multi-national cries of children splashing in the water’s flow. Hold hands with my beloved. Bask in happiness.

The sun begins a more rapid descent towards the horizon. Beer o’clock chimes. After Beach Bar, Heineken, and an uninterrupted view over the Andaman Sea. Nature’s sky show delights. Crimson, pink and orange intermingle and splash the sky fading into the midnight blue.

Dinner at a favourite restaurant with friends. Shared stories and laughter. Then home once again in the cool of the evening. Stretch out on the couch, love by my side and nature on my mind. Drift into a contented slumber, ready for another day in my endless summer.