The white wash

whitewashI’m not yet there, but I feel it’s close. There’s a vibration in the air. Something exciting is about to be revealed.
And I feel like I should be very still not to disturb it, to scare it off. That I should be very alert not to miss it.
And at the same time I feel like I’m in a white wash, being tumbled around in the eternal force of the ocean and have no control over my life. So all I can do is to give in and hope she’ll take me back to shore.

I’ve been fascinated with spirituality since forever.
When I was little it was presented to me through Rudolf Steiner’s antroposophic teaching. When I was a teenager it wore the face of Wicca. The past so many years I’ve been inspired by Eckhart Tolle, Spirit Science (youtube), Rolf Pots, Chuck Palahniuk (through Tyler Durden) and other, more diverse tutors. Traveling and Southeast Asia being very big ones!
A friend of mine, after a 16-month solo trip on a cargo ship around the untouristic Cook-islands put it like this:

“Travel, solo backpacking, is the best education you can have in life.”

The independence, the other cultures, your entire perception of the world and the understanding of how small and insignificant we are, yet how big a changes we can make if we honestly want to.

In our modern Western society we are raised with focus on the future. First, you need a good education, need to get good grades, perform well so you can make a ‘brighter future’ for yourself; i.e. find yourself a good job, one that pays well – if you should happen to like your work then that’s a happy coincidence. With this good job and good salary you can now buy a fancy car and a big house to flare your status. These in turn may be put to use in finding a good partner to repeat the cycle. But the career and the stuff and status are always most important.
I’m not saying it’s like that for everyone. In fact I do believe most of my friends have been fortunate with their families. Still, for most people this is how they’ve been programmed.

And I think that’s why I don’t mind at all staying yet another day in this quiet reggae town, wasting my days by staring at the waves and my nights by laughing with the boys.
In between and during, I get to experience a calm and more simple lifestyle, where it is more important to care for each other, help a friend out, take care of those you’ve taken responsibility over – may it be your banana tree, your fighting rooster or that boy from the poor family (remind me to explain later.) More important than to care for your own personal wealth, but with respect for all that lives around you.

The other day here in Bali, I saw a pig being carried off, probably to be grilled for a ceremonial celebration. It was a big one, its hooves tight around a stick which was hung in a cart that was pushed by four men. There was a cloth covering its head, and it didn’t make a sound. “I hope it’s already dead,” I said to myself “so it won’t have to endure this inhuman treatment.”
The pig then had to be transferred onto a boat, so it was lifted from the cart and the cloth fell of. And it screeched! A little… Once on the boat it was calm again.
And judging by its size, it must’ve had quite a good life. And judging by how calm it was it must’ve had quite a good life. Much better, actually, than the factory farmed pigs you find in a Western supermarket.
It wasn’t one of thousands, handled as meat, as food, as thing, without respect for another life form, under bare circumstances.
I imagine it had a backyard to itself, or maybe shared it with a few chickens and dogs. It would have been well cared for by the family, feed properly with their left-overs, maybe sometimes gently slapped on its back. It wouldn’t have been held like we keep our pets in the West, like a family member. But it would have been respected as a part of the circle of life.
Probably it wouldn’t be suitable to be sold in the organic butcher shop I’ve been working in the past one and a half year. But that has more to do with that almost complete lack of bureaucracy here in Asia, and I haven’t discovered much downside to that yet.
And where my first reaction, like any tourist’s would have been, was to be shocked, I realised really it was just fine. There is a much deeper respect here, something the human race seems to want to forget in order to better itself over other’s backs.

So there is very much to learn from simply keeping your eyes open, slowing down to the local pace and just letting it all wash over. To learn to observe, and to stop rushing off to the next thing (like I was already saying back in Cambodia)

There is a whole lot more that I want to say on this matter, so I’m going to leave you with this for now and hope to see you again soon.
And in the mean time, please give me your thoughts!
Interaction, conversation, thinking and conversing about ‘the meaning of life’ is after all the thing that makes us human beings different from, say, that pig in the cart, the other life forms that we’ve decided to cultivate and care for, in our thinking we are superior to Nature, and our want to rule this planet.

Reunion time

Day XLVIII – April 5

In proper local manner we drive off; the trunk too stuffed to close it, the 3 of us stuffed in the back and 2 more passengers in the front next to the driver.

When we get to Garden Village Guesthouse again, my long time friend Jasper is already sitting there. And it is good to see a familiar face, to meet a good friend from back home to share a little taste of Asia with. We spend the day strolling around and catching up.

In the evening we meet Pat and Rikke again to try the Khmer BBQ at the food plaza. It’s a sort of flipped-over colander with a gaslight under it, a soup and vegetables floating around it, and then you get a plate of different meats to grill on there yourself. It’s a lot of hassle for a little food, but it’s fun and tasty!

Back at Garden Village it’s reunion time again; I see Lara and Cain, the Welsh couple, saying hello to Rutger, the other Dutch in Spicy Laos Luang Prabang that tried to hide his nationality so much he ignored me as much as I ignored him.

When I’m telling my stories here I keep wondering how to put it; I or we. How do I say that really? I was with people that were briefly my friends and facebook gives this false illusion of staying in touch but of course you won’t in fact ever see each other again and will go on to go your own ways and live your own lives on different sides of the world again.

Jasper and I finish our last beers –he keeps gloating over my newly adapted drinking habbit; I only learned to drink beer here in Asia- in the rooftop bar around 1 o’clock. The noises die around 3 and this rowdy bunch comes in at 4; that’s backpacker budget hostels for ya.
jap angkor

School’s out

continental gameDay XLVII – April 4

Already it’s our last day here!
We made a little game out of all the subjects we covered. We’ve divided the kids in teams. We then ask each team to take a certain colour balloon and place it in a certain continent on the map we drew on the floor. And then to step into the continent and act out an emotion or disease, or ask them for directions to another continent. And they’re really enjoying it! And even better; they remember everything we’ve thought them!

After one of the classes this boy comes running after me to give me an origami swam on a rope and stick; just the cutest! That will make for a great bookmarker.
The principal leaves us with a present as well; a traditional Khmer scarf. So sweet!
One of the teachers –of that super good grade 6 class- went through lengths to thank us, taking photos and exchanging e-mail.
school's out
Even though I’d gotten pretty tired these last few days and was looking forward to my week of nothing along the coast, parting is heavy! So much is left to be taught, so much fun is left to be had
During our last lunch together we’re talking about supporting and adopting the kids in the orphanage and what we could do to help them once we’re gone.
This adoption is a figure of speech, meaning you’d decide to send one specific kid a monthly or annual amount to pay for his or her education or health or whatever you decide on. There’s a whole official form. Mr Ya gives us his details so we can also just send him something for all the kids to share or to put to a project.

greenway team You know what, the term orphan is also a figure of speech. Most of them do still have parents. It’s just that the parents got divorced, which isn’t uncommon in Cambodia. Children from a previous marriage make it harder to find a new spouse, they don’t fit in in the new situation and they’re expensive. So they’re thrown out. And that’s how they end up in the orphanage. Some of them still see their family sometimes, but it’s a very sad story.
All in all; this experience has been amazing and I am so grateful for how people here have opened up to us and showed us around in their simple every-day-lives. I truly hope to come back one day and be able to make a big difference.
I now totally see why Angelina Jolie felt the need to take one home…

Peculiarities of teaching in remote Cambodia

Day XLVI – April 3

It’s the time of harvest and planting anew before rainy season is here. Now the burning isn’t as bad here as it is in Laos where they burn entire acres of rainforest to create new land.
It’s just small piles of rubbish, and I think some of that has the purpose of drying and grilling vegetables. Still, a lot of the stray plastic ends up in the fires and a nasty stench fills the air.

Another extremely hot day!
Leak, who normally wears a black sweater and the long jeans and socks everybody wears to keep their skin out of the sun, has even reduced to a t-shirt and a skirt today.
I’m sweating so much the skin in my neck and on my back is covered in a rash.
And thus I discover the power of sugar! Maybe I’m weird, but I never noticed it like this before. Today is no cooler than yesterday, but I was dead-tired than, couldn’t even move. And now I seem just fine, after a lunch of Khmer pancakes with bananas and pineapple and sugar: noms!

When we come back to school the classroom is closed, hung with a padlock, the teacher’s gone home and took the only key there is. So, no class, we skip it all together and go to the next. Pretty odd, no?
Another one of those occasions you shouldn’t try to understand… I propose an outside class or in the library maybe? But we don’t have the tools there and it’s just not going to happen.
Another peculiar fact: when we’re repeating yesterdays lesson I tell the kids “Just look it up in your notebook, you wrote it down yesterday…”
Leak explains to me “They can’t read that.” She always gives them the Khmer translation so they know what it says. And those are very different letters, characters actually, from ours. They’re all very good at writing the western alphabet; they just don’t know what it means…

But despite these little things I feel completely at home here.
And I can hardly imagine my trip will be over and I’ll leave SEA in a month. I’m sure I don’t want to!
I’m reading back a bit to those first days with Sit and the crew in Thailand, and they still feel so close, yet it’s such a long time ago and so much happened since! It’s strange how time works on the mind in these circumstances.

And still you’ll have this notion that there is stuff you HAVE to do. I NEED to finish this book while I’m here so I can leave it behind. I MUST read up on this or that before I go there. I HAVE to book this flight asap.
The western code programmed to always rush to the next thing. And despite the pace in these regions being more like “It’ll happen when it happens, things will come around eventually. Don’t sweat it, it’s hot enough already.” it’s hard to let go of that little voice in the back of your mind completely.

This evening the sky is so bright! The moon is nearly full and there are no clouds except for a hazy veil caused by the fires. I walk for a little bit and when I’m out of the light, the land around me looks as bright as during a solar eclipse. It’s breathtaking! Again that loss for words.
The sounds of weddings have finally died down and all I hear is a concert of crickets, frogs, geckos and some far-away dogs. And all sense of time and space leave me. I don’t have to – anything. It doesn’t matter where or when I am. ‘I’ don’t even exist.

Khmer heat and cravings and weddings

class and me
Day XLV – April 2

I caught a tiny little gecko that was walking over my toothpaste, exactly the size I would want that tattoo to be. Is it a sign?

After yesterday’s shower things seemed to have cooled down, even this morning. But the sun has reclaimed his throne in the blue and taken over temperatures. I’m too tired to even teach today…

But it ends up being a fun day like all the other ones. We’re teaching about emotions, drawing smileys on the board and acting out the faces. The kids are having a hoot at it, and learn us the Khmer translation in return.

A sandwich with cheese, just Dutch cow-cheese. And mayonnaise. And ham. On a baguette. Not the fluffy ones they have here, but a crunchy French baguette. Like the ones I made in Lyon all the time. With a chipolata sausage and onion and grilled zucchini and selery salad. Or a rice cracker with proper Dutch peanut butter. And nutella. And a stroopwafel. But most of all just chocolate. Can’t find any real chocolate anywhere.
Cravings for your native cuisine; they’re bound to happen when you’re away for a longer period. (And it’s got noting to do with my being late.) But that doesn’t mean I’m not still loving the local dishes!

There’s an explosion of weddings going on. Leak explains to us it’s because everyone here gets married between January and May. There are both religious and traditional reasons for it, but mostly it’s because of rainy season. And rainy season is about to break, so every day there are a few weddings, squeezed in right before it.
By the sound of it they start at 5am, they take over 24 hours each and they’re very loud. It sounds like a festival sounds from the campingsite.

Same old

Things to get used to again:
Strange currency, counting in the thousands again
Everyone ushering you into their store or offering services
Everybody saying you’re beautiful, great hair, nice tattoo, good body
No smoking inside? Why no smoking inside?? And what is inside anyway?
“Hallo miss, where you go?”
Don’t make an offer if you don’t intend buying. Once you start the haggling game the only way out for the salesman is with a profit turned over a now happy customer.
The townwide powerdrop, especially at night when everything goes dark

Things I forgot:
The kites they presumably put up as scarecrows.
To buy water so I have something to drink in the morning.
To bring a cap. When I checked it off my packlist, I thought I’d suffice with just a scarf to cover my head. On day one of course I got sunburned (it was quite cloudy so I slacked on applying sunblock) and now I don’t have anything to keep my face in the shade.

And the list grows by the day. Until they’re all normalities again.

That first day back here in my sweet Padangbai where the air is a mix of insence, petrol, gambalan and prayers and always someone somewhere playing a guitar, I woke a few times, threw off or pulled up my blanket and turned over. The so-maniest time I check it’s 8 am. Must mean it’s okay for me to get up and be done with the jetlag. The crowing of the roosters or the sun thrying to burn my curtains away was no measure; they start before 6am.
I still don’t feel like I’m on a holiday, or in an exotic place in far far away, so I’ll start with some housekeeping. I plan to spend some time here anyway.

After I’ve enjoyed the banana pancake Ibu baked me it’s time to see what’s become of Bias Tugel.
First things first: a dive. The water is still just perfect, cool, but not too cold, with gentle waves to play in.
As I dry off Nyoman comes running up to me, “My friend finally coming back!” At warung Pari I grab a cold coke, and again get a warm welcome back.
When I stroll down the boulevard, one of the Kinkyboys calls out to me “Hey! You remember me?”
Really? Wasn’t that my line? Don’t you have millions of blonde tourist girls traveling through your town every month? I know we were all on a very friendly foot one and a half year ago, but I’m very surprised they all do remember me.

About a week later I find out what it is: still most people stay for only one or a few nights tops. So whomever overstays a week makes an impression. In the mean time countless locals have started talking to me “I think I see you before. You was here maybe 2 year ago? Ya I remember.”

Slowly I’m finding my footing again, and though I still have a lot of contact with back home, I’m beginning to feel all too much at home here again. Like last time, I have plans to go to the Gilies and Lombok and see more or Bali. But the thought of leaving Padangbai doesn’t sit right just yet, even after two weeks.

So what do you do all day, wasting time in paradise? (As I planned to get all this writing and posting done and we all know that’s not progressing much.)
It’s pretty simple.
The waves at the beach keep me mesmerised during daytime.
At the beach I try to do a little reading, but before I finish a page I find myself in conversation with a fellow-traveler or local. Or I just get distracted by the little local kids letting themselves be thrown around in the whitewash. Or I let myself be tempted to another lesson at riding the waves on a boogie-bord by one of the boys. Or I indulge in a game of boss with the Paries. And of course I have to enjoy their exquisite cooking and freshly grilled fish at some point of the day.

At night it’s the boys playing hits like Another Brick In The Wall and I Want To Hold Your Hand and of course a lot of reggae, sharing Bintangs or arak balinese style; filling the same glass and passing it around the bar.
One night I find myself in Moonlight, one of the three bars around the central parking lot, who take turns so there’s live-music somewhere every night. The name and owner of this bar have changed in the mean time, but aside from that everything is much the same. Mario, the town fool, still bangs the tambourine, the same band still jams, and chain-smokes even while playing. Bob Marley is still favourite.

I’m sorry I haven’t found anything inspiring to write about yet. Sometimes change is good, but I guess sometimes same old is just better.
And it looks like things are going to be quite different from what I planned. Or well, it all remains to be seen. In the end, the only plan you can make is not to make any plans. Which is what I initially said I’d do.