Sometimes in this life you need to recognize when the higher powers are throwing lemons at you and saying ‘Come on! Juice me! Make lemonade!’
So on this one particular day I am making my way down the street on my way home after getting little work flyering during the week and having just paid my last rent check for a week. I have ten dollars burning a hole in my wallet and this is literally all I have to my name. That and the eighty one cents that I have in my bank account that I probably can’t withdraw. The plans are wandering through the brain…. “What exactly can I get in Chinatown for ten dollars that will feed me for three and a half days until I get paid? Mmmm…. 5 for $1 rice vermicelli noodles, Mr. Noodles, maybe even splurge and get a banana….. a person does need some vitamins.”
As I ponder these things I walk past a restaurant which has in the window ‘dishwasher for tonight needed’. “Oh hell yes!” I think to myself and I walk inside. “Hi! You need a dishwasher?”
“Yes. Are you a dishwasher?” he responds.
“I can be. What is the going rate?” I say.
“Ten bucks an hour for 8 hours. Maybe more. It is our closing night before we do renovations” he tells me.
“Feed me and you have yourself a deal.” I said.
‘Done! You can start now”.
So before I know it I am hustled up to the back of this kitchen and decked out in aprons and other fun things that are ‘chef like’ that are way too over-sized for me. Then I am shown around the kitchen. “Here is your hose to wash things off, here is your dishwasher, here is your bucket with a cloth, start washing walls”. Argh, shitful…. anyway. That is when the fun started and Alberto says “What would you like to eat?”.
So I tell him “I will eat whatever”. So my new best friend Alberto comes back with this salad with balsamic vinegar soaked strawberries and prosciutto that tastes more like heaven than any salad I have ever had in my life. I ate like a woman possessed who hadn’t been fed in about ten years and got back to cleaning some dishes. Then Roberto says to me ‘before it gets busy, maybe I can make you some food?’ Ummmm…. hell yeah you can make me some food! So then I wind up with a pasta covered in parmesan and olive oil with prawns and garlic. Amazing!
So then the real work began. And it was flat out. It was such a busy night that I struggled to keep up with things, but what made it all the more fun was that I got to listen to flamenco music playing live from just outside of the kitchen and it was incredibly uplifting. I was floating on air given that several hours earlier my options were Mr Noodles, Mr Noodles and more Mr Noodles. So I washed and danced in a state of merriment and before I knew it, it was getting on towards close time. Things were winding down. They had some desert left over from the night. Hello caramel flan!! I will have two of you thank you!
What is even better is that at the end of the night they had food in the fridge that they were going to throw out as they were closing for the renovations. Like a mad woman hoarder I am stuffing sliced oranges, tiramisu, chopped vegetables, half a prosciutto leg and whatever else I could get my hands on into multiple shopping bags. I must have looked like the biggest scab of a homeless person ever. If I felt that I could have carried more I probably would have stuffed another flan in my bra! But needless to say I finished up my night of washing, thanked them kindly for everything and headed home at 2am with my $80 cash in my wallet and my bags of goodies.
It is funny to think of how quickly the tides can turn in some situations. Eight hours ago I was walking down the street contemplating Mr Noodles flavours, and at 2am, I am happier than a pig in shit trotting down the street with all of my food and money with a flamenco music band dancing around in my head shaking my booty. Most of the patrons on the street probably thought I was drunk I was so goddamn ecstatic. Life couldn’t have been better! And neither could my stomach!
So as I approach my third time leaving for what I anticipate to be a year or more, I take some time to reflect back on the first major trip I took overseas on my own for three months. Here is my journal from that first day….
It was time to go and I was cutting it fine as usual. I finished chatting to Matt and with an overwhelming sadness about not getting to see him as much over the next two months, then set in sheer panic when I saw my clock! 8:57pm! My train leaves in 5 minutes and I haven’t even left the house yet! Sheel threw my bag in the car and we hightailed it through the back roads to the train station, where I barreled out of the car and started sprinting to the platform. The sign said one minute to go and I could hear it coming as I selected my fare on the ticket machine. Shit, shit shit! The ticket hadn’t printed yet and the doors of the train are opening and then there it is. I ripped it out of the machine and scanned it! Hurry up change. It clattered out and I grabbed a handful of it, leaving some smaller coins in the coin return and I raced to the doors, sliding in just in time for the doors to shut, and for the train to glide slowly away from the station.
What a great start to the trip. It is the way that I always do it. I think that in a way, if I am later for everything and constantly rushing, I don’t have time to sit back and take stock of how seriously petrified I am. I mean seriously, what the hell am I doing? I am headed off to go and visit several different countries in the middle of Asia, hardly a safe region, on my own, for seven whole weeks!
Mum called about 4 times between the train journey and my eventually boarding the plane. She is also total stressed. As I am boarding, I noticed how striking the Malaysian air hostesses are. Their uniforms are amazing and so oriental. Their dresses are made of green and fuchsia pinks and purples and goes the entire length of the floor. Their make up is always done exquisitely and their hair too. They looked very elegant, and amazingly beautiful. I sat in my aisle seat on the plane and conked out straight away.
Touchdown in Kuala Lumpur. Met Sylvia on the plane and we walked together to try and find our next gates. She was heading to Hong Kong so we soon went on our separate ways. I caught the air train to gate G8 and stood at the security screening for about 20 minutes waiting for it to open. Got on board the flight to Bangkok and had to sit next to this guy who thought so highly of himself that I am sure he was disappointed not to be first class. He certainly behaved that way for the entire duration of the flight. Putting his Louis Vouiton bag on the seat between us as opposed to on the floor where it should have been, acting like a diva over a language barrier between him and one of the Indian air hosts. He was just rude. I was just awkward.
Then came the moment that I feared the most. Landed in Thailand. Immigration and customs. I got off the plane and stood in a line behind a young girl who was fighting with her parents and refused to speak to them. I got through and they stamped my passport fine. From here it was to pick up the luggage. I located it on the turnstiles and then I checked through it so that I knew it hadn’t been tampered with. I got to the screening section and looked for the sign that said nothing to declare. I went to put my bag on the x ray machine but the lady just waved me on through. Tight security hey? What security is what I want to know?! Wow that was easy!
I found my name on the sign at the airport. The lady wheeled my luggage out on the trolley and loaded me into a classy black car that drove me through Bangkok on the way to the Royal Hotel. In a way it reminded me of Vanuatu. It is very run down and tropical looking. There were people who lived in wooden shacks built on the side of the road and children running around all over the place. There is a great deal of traffic on the road and the driving is completely erratic. People drive like maniacs cutting each other off. I am surprised that there aren’t more crashes, but then I guess that the drivers over here are used to it.
There are pictures of the king everywhere. I wondered whether this is because it is what the people want or if it is because the king has imposed himself on the people. There are nice buildings everywhere. Especially the temples. There are run down shacks and poor people living next to these exquisite buildings everywhere that you look. It is too surreal for words. The extremes between rich and poor, and I am only scraping the surface of it.
I got to the Royal Hotel on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and checked in. After a nice hot shower I went downstairs to investigate what there is to do. I am greeted with a couple of guys at the front and they shove me towards a guy with a tuk tuk telling me that it would be 20 baht and that he would take me around some of the temples. First we went to Wat Intrawihan, also known as the big Buddha. There were people all around that were praying. The structures were amazing. What continued to surprise me however was that next door to these magnificent structures were a bunch of shacks where poor families were living. I loaded back into the tuk tuk and we moved on to the next attraction.
After that came the Wat Benchamabophit, or the marble palace. Also quite spectacular. I got pulled up for not wearing a scarf to cover my shoulders and the guy at the door gave me one so that I was not disrespectful. I wandered around inside. The urns in the walls…. The Buddha’s. Wow! It was pretty amazing. I have never seen anything like it and it is spectacular!
From here my tuk tuk driver started taking me to jewellery and tailor shops so that he could try and make me buy stuff so that he gets commission. I caved and bought a scarf and two mango tree vases. Then he took me back to the hotel and I offloaded my stuff. Managed to then go find a 7/11 for some food and also chatted to the guys at the front desk who sold me a power point adapter. Then when I asked about the night market, got offered a drive there by a taxi driver who charged me 200 baht each way. It is still cheaper than it would be in Australia but I feel that I may have gotten ripped off. He dropped me at the night market and I walked around. Much of it was the same stuff. Clothes, bags, jewellery galore, not much of it interesting me. I bought another mango tree vase and a couple of clothes before seeking out a spring roll and vegetable dinner and catching the taxi back to the Royal.
After my dinner I headed downstairs where I got an oil massage from a lady named Three, like the number she tells me. It was pretty good and she massaged my stomach and it really hurt. She told me to come back the following day and she would help get the knots out again. From there I headed back up the stairs, off to bed. Quite a long day all round. But I am enjoying myself and I like Bangkok. Lots more to explore tomorrow. I just need to get my compression stockings on, elevate my legs and try and get all of the fluid drained from my badly swollen legs. Did not know that I would have this much trouble with my legs on long journeys on planes… but I guess now I know.
I decided on my latest sabbatical from school to do a whirlwind tour to visit friends in Melbourne, travel by train and bus up to Orange in Central New South Wales to visit my little brother and then over to Sydney to fly home for the start of the new term.
Big cities are big cities. And while they were fun, they were pretty standard. Not a great deal new to expect. The real adventure was in the exploration of the bush and surroundings of the small towns and parks around Orange, of which I got to explore for five glorious days.
My first adventure was to the town of Bathurst a couple of days out from the world famous Bathurst car race at Mount Panorama. I tried to drive around the track, but parts of it were closed off so I did some driving over the finish line and for the rest of it we walked around the entire track. It was a beautiful day and the views were spectacular. On my walk, I discovered that Australian’s are such massive alcoholics that to get around the ‘one slab of beer per person per day’ rule they impose in the camping areas around the track that the locals would go into this region which is completely open to the public outside of race week, dig a hole in the ground near their camping spot and then bury bottles of spirits in the ground to come back and dig up several weeks later when the event is on. Kind of like a treasure hunt for alcoholics….. “Now where did I hide my rum again?” If there is one thing that I can attribute to my peoples, it is that we certainly know how to hide our alcohol and have a multitude of inventive and imaginative ways of sneaking it into events.
My second day was spent hiking around the Mount Canobolas State Park. I went around the Federal Falls loop and then down to the Hopetoun Falls. There were wild mountain goats floating around and I saw a few echidnas on the track, but mostly I was fearful of coming across snakes. Snake season is upon us and it is not good to be out bush on your own treading on snakes.
The Federal Falls were stunning. They were a drizzle of the top of the cliff face at best because there had been little rain, but you could crawl around the rocks into a cave that is hidden at the back of the waterfall and hang out there for a while. It was beautiful. A very steep climb back up the hill and then it was off on another steep hill down to the Hopetoun Falls, which I must admit were a little bit disappointing compared to the Federal Falls. Back up another gruelling hill to the car and we are off to the next adventure, only half stuffed.
I met up with my brother late in the afternoon and we decided to go four-wheel driving through the abandoned gold mines at Ophir. On the way we stopped at Banjo Patterson Park to see the place where he was born. For those of you who don’t know, he was a poetic rocking legend back in his days and wrote the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda, undoubtedly Australia’s unofficial national anthem.
So off to Ophir Gold Mines. These mines were the first payable mines in Australia and are crazy to explore. In some areas you will be walking around and there will be giant holes drilled down into the ground where people had just dug downward in an attempt to find a quartz seam which is where most of the gold accumulates. There are also mine shafts that have been dug into the sides of the very steep cliff faces. He was telling me about the world’s largest nugget being found here. Rumour has it that the guy who found it didn’t want his wife to know about it as he planned to divorce her so he buried it under a tree, told a close friend about it and then a couple of months later he died. The friend who he had told about the nugget went out with his son around the area they were told the nugget was and started digging around the base of the trees until they found it. According to the locals, it was the son’s discovery, but the father took credit for it. All local stories, which are pretty cool and you wouldn’t normally know about unless you were in with a local.
So after nearly getting bogged, blowing up the gearbox in my brothers truck, exploring a whole bunch of mines and not finding anything of great value, we headed back to Orange to contemplate the following days activities.
Being a bit of a science nerd, there was no way I was going to come out this way and not make a trip to the famous “Dish”. For those of you who don’t know and are not familiar with the Australian movie “The Dish”, the broadcast of the first moon walk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the 20th July, 1969, to televisions all over the world came from this CSIRO satellite dish at Parkes. It is crazy to think that this parabolic piece of metal sticking out into the sky could be responsible for such an amazingly large feat at a time when our world was only just starting to get a grip on many different kinds of modern technologies like television, but I was pretty chuffed to be there and my brother got up to mischief while I ran around and read every surface of writing and played with every interactive display.
On the way home from Parkes, we stopped in at the Borenore Caves only about twenty minutes out of Orange. For a free cave I didn’t expect very much, but these caves were a total hidden gem. The large open caverns and beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites made it one of the best caves I have ever explored. We crawled through lots of holes and up and into small caverns exploring where every single passage in the cave lead to. It was such a rarity to find something in nature this fabulous that you aren’t charged a bucket load of money to go visit and isn’t riddled with tourists. We were the only people there and had the caves all to ourselves.
My last area of exploration around this region was just out of Katoomba at the Blue Mountains National Park. I spent one full day hanging out at Scenic World and riding the cable cars and the worlds steepest train among the mass amounts of hiking I did through the valley floor along the side of the famous Three Sisters. Given that I am in somewhat of a training mode for my pending Mount Everest Base Camp trip I decided that this time I was going to navigate my way up the famous ‘giant staircase’. It tells me on the sign that it is a 400m ascent of over 900 stairs… other signs told me different things but it was supposed to take 45 minutes according to the sign. Well imagine my surprise when I managed to mount those three sisters in just over twenty minutes. Feeling pretty chuffed with myself, I went in search of food in the form of KFC chicken nuggets…. hard work undone.
Another hike around this area was the Wentworth Falls hike that I did with my brother on the last day before I caught the train out to Sydney. This by far was the most spectacular hike I have done in a very long time. You climb down steep ladders to get to the valley floor and along the way you hike along paths that have been carved into the cliff faces by workers. They are really incredibly spectacular. The falls themselves were stunning and have multiple tiers, all of which are different. At the bottom of some of the falls you will find shallow pools that you can swim in or stand under the falls but you have to be super careful of the slippery rocks.
As we weaved our way further into the valley floor, my brother laughing every time we went further down on yet another staircase knowing that meant another staircase to go up, we reached the bottom of the falls and the lowest part of the trail. We traced it through the forest and around the cliff faces until we found the parts to start climbing up. It was not as bad of a climb as I had anticipated, and the waterfalls and cliff faces on the way up were different to the ones we experienced on our way down. Within three hours we had smashed it and were back to the car. Time for me to get on a train and make my way back to the city.
Ugh, pack, unpack, repack, need this, don’t need that, oops, maybe I do need this, now that doesn’t fit, unpack, repack……. rinse, lather, repeat. You would think by now that for someone who has done this for years at a time that I would have this shit sorted, but me!? No way, I still always pack waaaaayyyyy too much, and a whole bunch of crap that I don’t need and hoard for ‘just in case’ because I am like my mother.
So anyway, I have this whole journey planned out so far that you can stay tuned for in upcoming years let alone months, because lets face it, when I go, I actually go proper! In not coming back for quite a while and trying to plan for all of the potential adventures I may get up to, I have to seriously think about what I pack. So far on the list of my first six months gone I have plans to go to Indonesia, climb a couple of massive volcanoes on overnight hikes, take a boating trip through komodo and make my way overland to Jakarta where I will fly my way out to Nepal, probably through Thailand. In Nepal I will then hike to Everest Base Camp and then spend some more time in Nepal trekking before I make my way to India. After India, who knows….
Anyway, I need to think about what to pack for everything from trekking mountains in -25 degrees Celcius, to sitting on a beach in a bikini. So I have made a giant list of things that I will need including, sleeping bags, roll mats, liners, thermals, hats, gloves, scarves, bikinis, sunscreen, bandaids, duct tape, towel, hiking boots, going out shoes, flip flops, jeans, shorts, t-shirts, long sleeve shirts for mosquito ridden areas, shorts, socks, bras that don’t shrink in dryers, underpants, travel medications……….. ugh! And so the list goes on…. Even bigger than the list of things to pack is the list of things to do before I go and it is even more overwhelming.
My recent two week holiday with travel sized suitcase has seen me purchase too many things whilst gone and having to pay for luggage on the way home because it is no longer under 10kg and somehow in this weather I don’t think I can get away with hiding laptop computers down my pants, phones and cameras in my pockets and all heavy objects in my handbag disguised given 1. It is too damn hot and 2. There has recently become quite stringent checking process in some Australian airports given that both airlines are running at a loss. (The laptop down the back of the pants did happen by the way on a Ryan Air flight in Europe… thank goodness it was -20 outside… easy to hide under winter coats!)
The other issue that I have with packing is that I am literally an ox. A pack horse. My friend says to me all the time, “if you pack it, you carry it”. Well my issue is that I can carry approximately 50kg, a substantial percentage of my body weight and if I don’t learn to curb my spending and excessive packing I will be like I was coming home from Asia with a whole new wardrobe, bed spreads, presents for nieces and nephews… I am like, only a month to go, I can carry it! You couldn’t even see me hidden underneath the piles of bags that I was carrying.
So this time I don’t want to do this…. I don’t want to overpack, I don’t want to carry it just because I am strong and I can, and I don’t want to overpurchase. So I guess what I am trying to say is… “HELP!!” Kill my teacher need to be excessively overprepared for all situations and get my pack down to 12-15kg! And so the challenge begins……..
So many people in this world live day to day life not ever experiencing the wonderment of their surroundings because they are “too busy”, “too stressed” or “too something-or-other-else” to actually pay attention to what is around them. If only we sat up and paid attention. If only we learned to appreciate things around us and expressed a graciousness for them. I feel that a huge part of being able to do this lies withing the ability to tune in to your senses.
During my time overseas I learned to look at things with completely new eyes like a child would in many cases. I learned to look up from what I was doing and take stock of what it is that is around me. On my drive to the coast today, multiple things that I saw gave me joy. The kookaburra’s sitting on the electricity wires and in the trees, the bright sun coming up over the mountains, the stunningly rugged lanscape of my surroundings that is so unlike what you would find anywhere in the world. It is beautiful. And although my eyes have seen it hundreds of times, I feel like everytime I see something new and every time I see it in a different way.
In your own life, I challenge you to look up. Look at something and actually see it for the first time. Every single day in this life there is a sunrise and a sunset. And everyday there is a different kind of beauty in these two things. Look up from the road when you are driving and see what is actually in front of you. See the rolling hills, the beauty in the trees, the streets around you, the people.
On my way home from work there is an old man that sits on the side of the road and ‘fishes’. In his chair he sits with a wooden stick from a tree that has a fishing line attached to it and at the end of the fishing line is a coke bottle. He sits out and fishes daily at the same time. And as I drive home from school I wave to him. The excitement he shows in waving back makes me happy. It never fails to make me happy and yet so many people criticize him, make fun of him and say he is weird. Sometimes all it requires is a different perspective. Choose love and show love. You will find love and happiness in return from places you never imagined.
Food is one of the most incredible things in this life. It is a gift that we get to undertake multiple times a day. In our busy lives however, it is hard to actually take time out to properly ‘taste’ all aspects of our food while we are chowing it down as fast as we can to get to our next meeting or wherever it is we are going to.
Let what you are eating roll over your tongue. Feel where the sweet, the salty, the bitter is detected on the different areas of the tongue. Feel how all of the different tastes come together to form one glorious sensation for the taste buds.
Eat new things and appreciate the flavours of things you may have eaten a hundred or more times. Appreciate the subtlety of some of these flavours. It truly is one of the most amazing gifts.
Sometimes when I am walking down the street, I can tell you whether people are watching television in their houses. Despite not being able to hear what is on the TV, there is this high pitched frequency that occurs when a TV is on that some people have the ability to hear and others don’t. And sometimes we learn to block certain things out so that we don’t hear them at all.
Now there are some things that can be quite annoying to hear, but next time you are outside, listen to the sounds of the wind, for the birds in the trees, for all of the sounds in your environment and focus on them separately. Embrace the sounds around you and let them resonate as a part of you and you will feel way more in touch with your environment.
Tactile sensations are wonderful. A simple hug releases a large number of chemical endorphins in the body that make you feel happier. So get your daily dose of hug. Often it is nice also to go and get a massage and just relax with the sensations smoothing out all of the knots in your muscles. But feel is more than just physically touching things.
One of the most magical things I find is the warm feel of the sun on your face on those cold winter days when the summer is starting to appear. Feel your breath and all of the parts of your body working together in harmony to keep you going. Feel your movement and your vibrations and be aware of your surroundings. Appreciate the wonderful gift that this sense allows.
How many times have you heard the saying ‘wake up and smell the roses?’ There is nothing quite like the glorious smell of roses and flowers in spring as you walk down the street in spring. Or the smell released by the fungal spores in the air after it rains.
Smells have long been associated with memories and triggering them. Smells associated with people especially. Stop and take note of what smells you have in your house, outside in your surroundings. Take in the aromatic smells of the food you cook and how they make you feel.
By combining your senses and developing your awareness of your surroundings and of your body and how it responds to things you will find that your appreciation and love of life will increase. Your levels of happiness will go through the roof as you find a gracious attitude that is not only calmer but more respectful of the things you have in your life. So take time, sit, and be aware. Use your senses, develop your sensibility.
So excited this morning. After a bit of a sleep in I got up and had a shower and got dressed for the elephant camp. After breakfast I sat in front of the building and waited for the driver to come and pick me up. I was waiting…. And waiting…. And it was fifteen minutes past the time that they had told me and I was starting to get worried. I saw a van go past and it was full of people. It pulled up further down the road. I was curious as to whether they had gotten the wrong place and as I looked down the road and saw the sign outside of where they were parked and it had the word Maniphone. I picked up my bag and started sprinting down the road as the driver got back into the vehicle. I threw myself into the open window of the driver seat and asked whether he was from the All Lao Elephant Camp and he said yes. I told him that I was from the Maniphone Guesthouse as written on my form and not the Villa Maniphone. I almost missed out because of this. Lucky I was on the ball.
The journey was very French. The entire car was filled with a French family and all of the kids. I was starting to feel like maybe I should have gone with the others but when I arrived I met Amelie, a German girl who was also glad there was someone other than a French family here. We were paired off to share an elephant.
After much waiting and anticipation, we could see the elephants coming over the hill and we moved up towards the platform so that we could get on them. It felt really unsteady as my foot brushed over the rough skin covered in splinter like hairs that were very coarse. I sat down in the carriage and Amelie sat beside me locking the bar over so that we couldn’t fall out. Our mahout sat on the neck of the beautiful beast and gave him the command ‘bai’ meaning go, and off we went. It was such a weird feeling and I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. The elephant wobbled from side to side and I felt like I was going to fall out at times, especially when we were going down the hills.
Her name was Huong Huol and I later found out that she was one spirited elephant. She liked to stop off and have a snack or a drink as we were moving along and occasionally she decided to go her own way instead of the way chosen by the mahout. I laughed so much. He was yelling at her ‘sai’ (left) and ‘kwaa’ (right) and ‘bai, bai bai’. It was one of the coolest things ever.
The mahout jumped back and allowed Amelie to ride on the neck of the elephant and it was really wicked. I was hoping that I would get a turn. As luck had it, Amelie had sore thighs from the elephant hair rubbing her legs and she let me up front. This was even more cool and more wobbly than before. I sat with my legs wrapped tightly around her neck, dangling behind her ears. To manage to balance and stay on her neck I had to lean forward with my hands on the top of her head. I stayed on her neck like this until we got back to our starting place.
The hour and a half went too quickly and the experience was somewhat surreal. I was so glad that I had the opportunity. We said goodbye to Huong Huol and headed down for lunch at the hut. After shoveling down lunch, we sat in eager anticipation of bathing. After about twenty minutes, we were told that it was time to go. We walked half way back around the track to the river and there were our elephants waiting for us. The woman took our bags, shoes and cameras for us and we went to climb aboard.
To get up on the elephant, the mahouts told them to sit down for us and we climbed up onto the necks. The elephants then walked down the steep hill into the river where they waded out for a fair way until it way deep enough. Then they were given the command, and their trunks went into the water, sucked up the water, and sprayed it at me as I was sitting there. I was completely drowned and I have never laughed so much in my life! The elephant kept doing it over and over and I gave his neck a wash by rubbing his thick, coarse skin. She sat down at one stage and when she reared up with her trunk I almost fell off and the mahouts were laughing their arses off. This was the most amazing thing ever and if I though that my day could not have gotten any better after the ride I was completely mistaken. This is one of the most incredible things I have ever done, and like all good thing, it was over too soon.
The elephants started to get out of the water and the woman took photos with my camera as we went. The elephant knelt down to let me off but before I could it was standing back up again and I literally slid the whole way down the side before thumping on to the ground. I said goodbye to our elephants and then headed back up the hill, completely elated, and completely drenched.
After attempting to dry off and waiting for an awful long time for someone to take us back to our guesthouses, we eventually found a driver who said he would take us back to Luang Prabang. He didn’t know very much English and he didn’t know where our guesthouses were so we used the commands that we learned today with the elephants to get back. Sai for left, kwaa for right and straight with hand movements for straight ahead. It was quite the experience but we got back to our places eventually and said goodbye.
For any long time traveler out there, you will know exactly what it is that I am talking about. The Backpackers Big Four are those four big questions that all backpackers seem to ask each other as we live in this giant little bubble that serves to isolate us as we trek on down the road. A standard first conversation will generally go something like this….
Backpacker: “Hi! How are you? Where are you from?”
Backpacker: “Oh cool. How long are you traveling for?”
Me: “Don’t know. One way ticket.”
Backpacker: “Oh my God, that is so amazing! Like, so where have you been so far?”
Me: “From Mexico down to here in Costa Rica.”
Backpacker: “That is crazy! Where are you going next?”
Me: “Don’t know. Probably back to Canada.”
Backpacker: “That sounds so amazing!”
I don’t know about you other long term backpackers out there, but I have had this conversation about a million times. And as we would say in Australia, it gives me the shits! (No I do not have diarrhoea, this literally just means that it annoys me immensely).
The Backpackers Big Four Questions are:
“Where are you from?”, “Where are you going? “, “Where have you come from?” and “How long are you travelling for?”
Note that in among these questions, one of the most basic common courtesies gets left out. And that is the question “What is your name?”. Half of the time people don’t even ask. They just drop the big four and everyone goes off to the pub and has an awesome time.
There are multiple issues that I have with this standard structure of backpackers introduction. Firstly, it often does not allow for or lead to any kind of in depth discussion for the most part on deeper topics. Half of the people I meet traveling don’t even know where to take a conversation after the Big Four and this is frustrating because it never allows you to get to know a person with any kind of substance. You never really get to know a person at all based on these questions.
My second issue with this standard structure is that once you get off the road after a year and try and go back to normal society, you seem to lose your conversational skills. Meet someone in a bar that is kinda cute and you want to go talk to them…. well you can’t drop the Big Four at them, because we are no longer in ‘Travel-land’ so how do you go about this? Ummmm…. I don’t know…. I apparently lost my conversation opening skills…..
As a traveler/backpacker, I implore you to think outside the box. Try asking people about their family, their passions, their challenges. Talk about history, culture, scientific discoveries, current affairs. Talk about things that you are passionate about. Make a joke. Talk to locals about their lives and what is going on in the area. Discover. Or otherwise you are just feeding into the never ending cycle of tourists who go on these trips, spend their entire time on the road drunk, learn nothing about the people they are with or about life and think they know and understand everything about the world.
To grow, you need challenge. So think up some new conversation topics and give them a go. Try and try again. Develop your ability to have conversations with people in a rich and fulfilling way that doesn’t feel like groundhog day every time you set foot into the next backpackers hostel. Have conversations where you can learn something new and of substance. Have conversations that will challenge your ways of thinking about things and that challenge and change who you are. And better still, when you start these conversations, open with the most important question that you should ask every time and never forget….. “What’s your name?”