I’ve not been able to write here for a while. Simply because there has been so much happening in my life that work, teaching and other writing commitments have gotten in the way.
Also because I’ve not really had the clarity to write anything I feel is in alignment with the theme of this blog…until now.
I recently posted a badly-recorded cover of ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries, translated into Gaeilge (the Irish language), and uploaded as a way to pay tribute to an inspirational female Irish artist who died this week, Dolores O’Riordan.
Also this week, I gave my first private yoga and meditation classes, alongside my regular public classes and retreat coordination in the stunning bamboo yoga shala in Sanur, Bali, that I now call my ‘office’. Any spare time I have is spent also practicing yoga, meditating, writing – anything from poetry to short stories to songs to whatever random thought pops into my head at the time – listening to Blindboy’s amazingly insightful podcast, learning Bahasa, planning classes, and reading….and overall really just tapping in to this overwhelming sense of connection and flow I’ve managed to access since being here.
Connecting vs Creating
CREATING. I’ve realised it’s all really just about connecting things. Having the awareness to connect certain aspects of life to another. Whether it’s the resemblance an old tree stump holds with the face of a vaguely familiar famous sportsperson, or something a bit deeper – it doesn’t matter. Formulating these connections into words, thoughts, artistic expression, photographs, drawings….however you do it. Whatever way occurs to you and presents itself in that moment. It’s all creating. Drawing something new from what your reality already presents you with. No matter how small it might seem.
What I feel that people find in following famous and inspirational artists such as O’Riordan is the feeling of connection they get on hearing the artist’s interpretation of things. After all, we live in the same world, have experienced and heard about the same events such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland to which ‘Zombie” refers. But it’s in hearing someone else’s well-crafted interpretation and connection of various elements of these occurrences that a way for us to feel connected to something a little bit bigger is presented to us, and ironically also allows us to see that deep down underneath it all, be it artist or soldier or victim or onlooker – we are all the same.
The important part is to GRASP this connection when it happens. When a thought occurs, a situation presents itself, an idea forms or inspiration suddenly hits – the necessity of acknowledging it for what it is is key to being able to solidify it into something tangible. Yoga and meditation have helped me to cultivate and expand on this awareness, just meaning that it happens a little more often now than it did before.
‘Trust the Process”
A huge aspect of this acknowledgment is self-belief. If we believe ourselves capable, trust in our own creative instincts and push forward with the vague idea that what we’re connecting is something of worth – even if you’ve no set plan for it whatsoever – then you will see beautiful things happen. Yoga has also helped me see that the end goal or product is not the point. The point is the process.
The creative process. The buzz I get from making these connections – in the form of jigsawing words together to express thoughts or feelings or ideas, or jigsawing notes into chords to fit those words and a tune to vocalise them musically – THAT’S the point of it. Not the response something gets. Not how many views, or likes, or clicks, nods of the head or generated web traffic.
Yes, it’s nice to teach a full studio of yogis there to take your class, or sing to a full room of people who want to hear you, or write for an audience I know will be larger than just my own mother (hi, Mum!). But sometimes that’s just not the case, and the creativity comes, regardless.
What happens then?
I used to let this excess of ideas and creative energy flow into negative places. I used to let it fuel the opposite beliefs of the ones where I send it now. What I’ve realised from becoming proficient enough with yoga and meditation to call myself a ‘yogi’ (for want of a better word) and cultivating this awareness is that if I’m honest, it TERRIFIES me how powerful our thoughts are. How capable we are of creating whatever reality we send energy towards. It scares me because there are as many negative outlets for my energy as there are positive ones, and it’s a constant battle to remain on top of it and ensure it doesn’t stray down old pathways and habits again.
If there’s one thing I’d advise anyone who is struggling to master negative cycles of thoughts or habits, it would simply be first to find a creative outlet.
Write things down. Scribble a shitty picture of what the inside of your head looks like. Sing a poorly formulated song about your commute or take some half-arsed pictures of your kitchen floor. There are connections to be drawn from even the most banal-seeming aspects of your life, and the truth of the matter is that human beings thrive on connection, in whatever form that takes – be it creatively, socially, or otherwise.
Thriving means to be connected to these areas, to be aware of them, and to use both positive and negative sensations or emotions or experiences to propel you forwards. To go the only way that it’s possible for us to go.
The only ‘you’ that exists is the ‘you’ that is reading this right now. There is no ‘used to be’, or ‘aiming to be’. Use what you have right now, to create something and gradually to draw some contentment into the present moment as you live it.
Sometimes I pretend that the steady stream of cars and buses on the busy, non-stop main road that runs right outside the house I’m currently living in is actually the sound of the ocean.
If I close my eyes and imagine hard enough, distance myself fully from the missing factors – salty air, a sea breeze, sand in nooks and crannies you don’t even know exist until there’s sand in them – it’s actually quite easy.
Caught between the need to create and the compulsion to propagate, sometimes these thoughts and other wild-but-tame ideas don’t go very much further than this. Imagining I’m actually in a tropical ‘paradise’ and not sitting mid-hurricane (or so they’re calling it) on a dreary day in Dublin might seem fairly fruitless, and yet to me it means that the course of inner exploration and healing work I’ve been on for the past 2 years or so now seems to be directly on course to succeed.
Depending on what ‘succeeding’ means to you.
To me, all it means is that at the moment, I’m balanced enough to allow my creativity to be put to good use instead of eating me up with incessant anxious thoughts or worries about things that happened yesterday or that might not happen tomorrow. It just means I’m pointed in the right direction for the next few hours.
And that is all I ever can hope to maintain.
(I also say ‘paradise’ in inverted commas here as I’m a firm believer that ‘paradise’ does not exist in one physical place, rather being a state of mind consisting of the right balance of factors, both internal and external, that at any given moment combine to give us an intense sensation of ease and wellbeing. But more on that later.)
What is ‘The Work”?
‘The work’, as I’ve put it here, is not merely a form of required duties, household help or course of up-skilling that most of us have come to associate with the word today. The work can mean a variety of things to different people, and it takes a while to figure out what that is for you.
For me, ‘the work’ was the process by which I eased my anxiety for the first time. The work was that which helped me understand my own mind, helped me figure out exactly what makes me tick, why I am the way I am, why I’ve done the things I’ve done, felt the way I’ve felt and proceeded on the course I’ve taken in my 25 years up until now. The work is something which still helps me do this. Whether or not some of those decisions were good or not, the work, my ‘work‘, has just helped me understand it all. It helped me become conscious of my actions. I won’t list exactly what ‘my work’ involved, because it’s not just any one thing, and it’s not easy work either. It’s the tough stuff, it’s dealing with whatever life throws us, circumstantial or otherwise, and becoming accountable for it instead of ignoring it or hoping it will go away.
It’s a combination of things, which when engaged with over time and through the ups and downs of everyday life and work and relationships helps us to figure out how to implement them on any given day.
Simply put, I became awareof my needs, I became honestwith myself about what was and wasn’t working, and then dedicated myself to slowly but surely adhering to what works as much and as frequently as I can.
Disclaimer: Before going any further I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I may have encountered during the course of this ‘work’ – anyone I may have misled, confused, hurt, hindered, irritated or in any way just bothered by being the way I am and neglecting social norms or expectations with this intense need to figure shit out or do things the way I needed to in whatever way it presented itself at that time. It wasn’t you. Really. It still isn’t.
It’s one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done and yet I uphold firmly that taking time for myself, not just one time that I was feeling particularly bad, but over and over again choosing to put my health first and to investigate the feelings I was having is the only way I’m still sitting here today to write this.
The terror and fluctuating levels of distress surrounding mealtimes, the general consistent low moods or occasional soaring heights of elation and 2am dance moves surpassed by none were all extremes that I was so used to inhabiting that any alternative middle ground seemed like an unattainable – for want of a better word – ‘paradise’.
For anyone who has any experience dealing with or trying to help someone with any mental illness, you’ll know that the intensity and details of these highs, lows, and panics in between can vary from person to person, and so it can be difficult to pinpoint what will or will not help in each instance.
Doing the Work
The work required to haul oneself out of said lows, down from these intense highs of bliss and misfitting euphoria, all at completely irrational things is not the kind of work you do once, and then it’s done. Oh no.
This work is something you must do Every. Single. Day.
When I started thinking of it more in terms of an actual responsibility, rather than a chore or something to be rewarded for, only then did I started noticing results. I was responsible for my own mind, my own body, where it went and what it did and what it ate, who it interacted with, and how. On no one else’s shoulders was it if I did or said something I’d regret, ate something that didn’t agree with me or damaged myself in any way.
The work I was doing was keeping this all in check, staying hyper-aware of everything, editing and refining and re-routing whenever something felt off or when I noticed the sly familiar onset of bad thoughts and sneaky triggers that used to go unnoticed. It was so particular that I almost went to the extreme of over-doing the work, which I guess is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just in my nature – the blessing being that I realised and pulled myself up on this when it happened.
Because the results were not spectacular – they weren’t jump-in-the-air, high-five oh-my-god-look-at-me kind of results – I didn’t initially pay much heed. Because I was used to this immediate and intense end-result, the balance I was feeling honestly felt…boring.
Gradually I began to notice however that the middle ground, this place of feeling ‘actually kind of alright’ instead of ‘omfg I’m fucking DELIRAH’ or ‘I want to disappear’ kind of shite, was so much more sustainable. Not only that, but noticing that when I was in this state, everything seemed to just fall into place and work so much easier – work, friends, family, creative stuff, fun – whatever it was, everything responded positively to this balanced frame of mind, instead of the irrational, eccentric and anxious me that nobody really knew what to do with except hug and pour tea for and promise everything would be fine.
Try. Fail. Edit. Fine-Tune. Repeat.
Editing and fine-tuning your life, mind and environment to fit whatever works for you is the only advice I have to anyone currently attempting to overcome any kind of mental illness or maintain positive mental health in the face of life’s challenges.
Thinking of yourself independently of anyone else – taking advice and help, definitely – but not assuming it as fact or convincing yourself of its truth until you’ve proven it works for your unique set of circumstances.
Know yourself. Figure out what you like, what makes you feel GOOD, what makes you THRIVE.
Take a day, take a week, take a month. Try things, fail spectacularly. Try something else, maybe don’t fail so badly. Keep trying until something clicks – and I promise you, if you’re self-aware enough to know and follow up on something big needing to change – something will.
This process, these trial and error and ups and downs and pushing through pain and confusion and trusting that something positive is at the end of it all – this is the work.
This is what it means to be trying, to be living, to be constantly editing and refining our lives and thoughts like we redirect unpredictable and mischievous kids away from dangerous river banks or running out on the road.
It’s a constant, unwavering necessity that we must remain on top of even at the best of times, and it all boils down to self-awareness and knowing yourself, recognising triggers or runaway thoughts when they start to play mental movies or imagine unlikely scenarios or pretend that the cars you’re hearing are actually waves on a beach a thousand miles away…you get what I’m trying to say.
Pull yourself up on it.
My particular combination of ‘work’ (even a glance at this blog might give you an inkling as to some of what it involved for me *cough* yoga *cough* writing *cough*) will more than likely not suit anyone else exactly. Just as someone else’s course of action wouldn’t have worked for me. I just followed the positive stuff, whatever that was, wherever I could, and did it as much and as often as it felt right to. I still do. Staying aware, staying alert, re-routing whenever signs of the ‘fuzzy head stuff’ (as I like to call it) surface and just knowing that all it takes is a little bit of concentration, time and awareness ’til the next move or feeling becomes clear.
Creating my own sense of rational ‘paradise’ in every day is how I see the balancing out of this tendency of mine to overthink, to worry, and to believe the negatives. Maintaining balance and using it as a foundation to move forwards and continue building on what I’ve already worked for is how I see myself now, and I just wanted to share a little bit about what worked for me to help anyone struggling to see past what might seem like a mountainous road of ‘work’ ahead – baby steps.
Start by just turning inwards. Forget about the external stuff – other people, expectations, comparisons and past events – even this is part of the work. Everything is part of it. Everything is important, and don’t ignore or belittle any aspect of what you have to bring to the table because I promise you – the world needs it. The world needs all the self-awareness and positivity it can get right now, and that boils down to each individual playing their part right, using their unique talents and passions and more importantly, believing in them.
Focus inward, focus on you, and the rest has a funny way of falling into place.
“For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.28).
“Om,” in the yogic tradition, is chanted at the beginning and end of class or practice. It’s one of those things that’s often assumed as universally understood yet it’s rarely explained properly, if at all, by yoga instructors.
Om is an ancient sound used by various Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduisim, Sikhism, Jainism, to denote the beginning and end of sacred scriptures, texts, and prayers. Many of the world’s religions indicate that creation began with sound, the vibrations of which are said to be contained within om. Each time we chant om, we connect with the eternal vibration of being that has been in existence since the beginning of all things and is the creative source of energy behind all existence.
The Om symbol consists of 3 curves, a semicircle, and a dot. The curves represent mind, body, and soul, and the semicircle at the top is maya, understood as an obstacle to achieving the highest form of enlightenment. Om is sometimes spelled “aum,” a more accurate phonetic spelling which divides the chant into its three individual sounds of a-u-m. “Aum” encompasses all possible combinations of sounds and lies at the root of all potential or pre-existing sounds. In linguistics, all sound is said to be produced between the root of the tongue and the entrance of the lips, the throat sound being “a,” the lip sound being “m,” and “u” representing the rolling forwards of all sounds until they stop at the lips. Like the letters of the alphabet, which in all possible combinations give rise to every word ever spoken, the sounds of a-u-m pass through every formation in the mouth necessary for vocalising language, making it a magnificently meaningful sound.
Om allows us to tap into the existing energy which always surrounds us but which modern distractions and lifestyles have shifted from our immediate awareness. For millennia, various names and personifications have been used by religions to represent a single all-powerful being. This placement of belief in a deity instead of in our immediate environment ignores the connection between the individual and that which surrounds us. We chant om to not only honor the beginning of all things but to appreciate all of creation that still surrounds us. The Upanishads refer to this state of collective consciousness and universal awareness as ishvara. Om is our key to accessing it.
We do not create om simply by chanting it. Instead, om serves as a medium through which we connect to these vibrations. Physically, chanting om creates a pranava or humming sound, as Patanjali describes, which stimulates the body into a meditational state, increases relaxation, and is said to stimulate the body to remove toxins and increase our capacity for self healing. Mentally, speaking om allows us to focus, shifting our attention outwards, away from internal struggles and helping us tune in to that which can provide us harmony in mind, body, and soul.
It’s common to hear the word “shanti” included after a final expression of om. Shanti means “peace” in Sanskrit and is intended as a parting wish for peace and happiness within the universe at large and within everything around us. Shanti is commonly used throughout India to express a light-hearted and peaceful state of being in casual conversation and descriptions of everyday occurrences, while om is reserved for more spiritual practices such as yoga practice or religious ceremony.
‘Come away o human child, To the waters, and the wild, With a faery hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping Than you can understand”
– W. B. Yeats
As we grow, whether we are taught to specifically or not, we learn and become aware of the destructive, hindering, and downright ugly habit of comparison.
To compare. To contrast. To look at others in relation to ourselves.
We are placed into this cut-throat ‘race’ – even the word conjurs up a sense of competition – to appear the most ‘together’. The most ‘on-track’, the most, the best, the highest of something, or anything…The details of the path to which no one ever specifically outlines, and to those few who through some happy fortune and lucky accident have managed to avoid the now ingrained natural inclination to compare, probably seem ridiculous. But it’s everywhere. Even the most basic and first obvious step to ‘progress’ in life – the process of getting a job. The very nature of ‘jobsearching’ in it’s most basic form being an exercise in the techniques we use to compare ourselves.
Because these details remain unclear, rather a vague ideology of what ‘should be’, or what you ‘should have achieved’ by now in your life, so too remain the steps ‘required’ to achieve it; unclear, and downright confusing.
In essence, what I have just described leads to a life lived solely for the purpose of pleasing or fulfilling the presumed ‘expectations’ of others. These expectations having been sculpted from a firm base of solid fact, into pliable muscles that can be flexed and altered depending on the strengths and weaknesses of others and ourselves, and described in relation to whatever perceived ‘flaw’ or ‘issue’ a person may be preoccupied with in any given moment. Implying that the energy a person directs correctly towards any given thought or outcome, is where prevelence will occur.
What I’m trying to say is, we end up using the energy which should be expended clarifying all this uncertainty instead to fuel false and/or inaccurate beliefs about ourselves and circumstances. By the time many of us realise where this energy has gone, it is often too late to change the course in which it has been expended.
The ‘flaws’ or ‘issues’ which caused the reckless expension of this energy to occur are seen for what they really are; our natural differences, unique qualities, and irreversible traits, consequences, backgrounds and composition, which in their realisation present us with a breathtaking understanding of our own potential.
Potential being the key factor here in our contemplation of all of this.
In all of us, there lies potential. Potential to add to the world as it already exists. As it already stands. A unique offering from our unique composition and the possibilities presented by it, that only we have access to and control over.
By comparing ourselves to any existing and unchangeable (from our point of view) person, place, achievement, action, idea, whatever it may be, we are tainting already the potential which breathes originality and newness through our uniquely crafted and formulated lungs of individual DNA, and wasting what it is silently nourishing.
Similarly, by considering ourselves in context to, in comparison to, or as an extension of or addition to any other person, we immediately limit the valuable streams of energy which hold the potential to pave new and undiscovered paths to places that people may have travelled before – but probably not in quite the same way.
In all this pent up worry, these comparative and analytical thoughts and emotions being focused on why we can’t just have what someone else has, be what someone else is, or what someone else wants, for that matter, there is no room left for joy. For happiness. For contented, simple, pleasure in one’s own company. Within one’s own skin, home, environment. There is simply no place for it.
It’s only when you’ve been away from it for so long, and failed to experience the contented, relaxed and genuine oneness with yourself and your own mind and body that you realise how far away from it you once sought validation and comfort. There’s also the rather shameful realisation that this validation and comfort could not possibly ever have come from anywhere but within.
A friend asked me recently (in more colloquial terms) how my love life is at the moment. I replied saying that to be honest I kind of like just liking myself right now, and that I’d see how that goes for a while before getting too serious about anything. If I happen to make a new friend along the way who shares a similar fondness and appreciation for me, and I for him, then maybe, with a bit of luck we might bond over our mutual interests.
If I can someday appreciate someone for all they are, whilst also(and most crucially) still appreciating myself and my own body for what it is, does, and appears like, instead of trying to change it and alter it to suit misguided assumptions of what will ‘work’; then I feel I will be doing well.
Comparing with something, with someone…with an image of what I perceive to be correct or acceptable, steals away all energy which should be used to focus on developing my potential as a human being; my potential contribution to the world; my talents, loves, passions, rather than on potential that is reliant on outside factors beyond my control; like the choices, preferences or tendencies of others.
In avoiding comparison, I am avoiding any potential and useless despair. In accepting differences, and my own self the way I appear, think, and react instinctively, though it may not always be favourable, I am ridding myself of the misery and unsolvable, unavoidable reality that for so long wasted all potential energy which could have been of benefit elsewhere. The only potential created by that person, is the potential for disaster. The sensation of joy, of childish contentment and acceptance which comes with the banishment of this comparison is so powerful that the potential which has existed all along seems magnified, and powerfully exciting in it’s possibilities.
In redirecting the attention to my talents, passions, and potential contributions… they might finally receive the energy they require to come to fruition.
To conclude, I’ll merely state that comparison serves nobody, and creates nothing in it’s destructive pattern of over-analytical and negative thoughts. In order to make room for any potential joy or happiness in our lives, we must first assess what is taking up the space so cruelly witheld from this contentment, and take steps to remove it from our lives in favour of that which allows us to grow and explore our potential.
“We are not creatures of circumstance; we are creators of circumstance.” -Benjamin Disraeli
Cultivating the right environment for your own growth and development as a human being, as a creative individual, as a cog in the system of whatever functional or dysfunctional structure you’re fitting into, whether willingly or not, is absolutely vital if you’re going to make any kind of progression towards a happier life.
Emotional dependency is a trap so easily fallen into and so commonly mistaken for security and self-confidence. If I’m depending on someone to support me emotionally, I am feeding off energy supplies they have cultivated themselves, whether consciously or not, for their own benefit. Using their positivity and wellness as a means to support failing efforts at establishing my own. It’s a sign there is some sort of imbalance within my own life that I have chosen to either block entirely, thus rendering me in need of reassurance, or else I have allowed it to engulf me completely, creating the need and habit for another ear or shoulder to help carry its weight. This kind of dependency and relationship can actually appear to be functional for a time, until it becomes evident that the weight of whatever underlying issue exists is not the ‘dependents’’ own burden to bear, and they withdraw from it reluctantly in order to prevent further draining of their own precious strength.
They can want to help and offer a shoulder to cry on only a certain amount of times before it simply becomes unfair to expect anything more of them – after all, have they too not got their own problems? Aren’t we all suffering?
Using others as scaffolding on which to support problems you yourself have failed to cultivate a resilience to is humiliating. It’s humiliating, and inconvenient for all involved. It’s difficult enough to admit defeat and take the help in the first place, without becoming dependent on it to keep going. Crops failed this year. No inner strength remains to feed off of. You’ll have to borrow a neighbours’ corn. Sorry.
For this reason, it is so important to learn to cultivate your own happiness. To figure out what works best for your unique organism of cells. The things that really make your eyes light up at the very thought or mention of them, catching fire and lifting you up when you actually put them into practice. The things that make life bearable for you; that can help you pass an afternoon of endless rain in a negative environment relatively contently.
Once you’ve reached this stage, the rest is simple: do them. As much, as intensly, and as often as you can. Work towards building something new, instead of retreating into the shell of what used to be; because let’s be honest, ‘what used to be’, wasn’t working either, so progressing forwards is really our only option here.
Once you’ve planted these roots, you can begin to feed off your own strength, your own individual cultivation, instead of digesting elements of an environment around you that don’t quite lend themselves to the elevation of your mood and happiness.
Metaphorical as it sounds, be sure to have some of this strength put aside for times of need. In the event of a storm, for example – the fat on the side, the blubber for insulation – every element of our world can be used in comparison to describe what’s inside us. The only difference with mental health is that you can’t see or visualise it. You need to figure it out for yourself, and that’s why taking time our from your regular schedule to do so is a perfectly acceptable form of ‘therapy’. Talking will only get you so far. As soon as you leave the doctor’s office, the old reliable neighbour whose crops seem to flourish year in, year out without fail; you’re left to try again alone.
Cultivation takes time, but each step successfully taken to further it onwards comes to be a comforting reassurance that you are getting there. It’s still nice to have a cup of tea now and again, to talk over plans, progress, reassuring those who have helped in the past that you’re on the right path, without allowing an emotional dependency to catch again like a swarm of locusts to the only food around they are aware of. That would be the easy option. Making your own is not only more rewarding, but soul-strengthening in every sense of the words.
As soon as the sun shines in again, that first sign of warmth and comfort, you’ll see it – the other side. The side where everything isn’t dark and stagnant and hopeless. Growth, progression, new life and strength is being cultivated even as you watch it; even as you sit and read these words your cells are fixing themselves and strengthening a core that has finally come to terms with the fact that it has the ability to stand up by itself. To nourish itself. To cultivate growth, to change, to age, and to progress. To depend on none but your own field of crops, your own emotional and physical strength rooted deeply into the ground beneath your feet, wherever they may find themselves today.
Today I witnessed an Asian lady purposely buy a tin of a now-familiar brand of instant-coffee that was sold by the mugful in cafés across Vietnam and Cambodia when I was there, instead of a regular cup of what we’d consider “normal” coffee. It was the very brand that only a few weeks ago I myself spent many trips into foreign supermarkets attempting to avoid, searching in vain for a familiar jar of Nescafé to mask the flavour and intensity of this special unique Vietnamese coffee that I just could not get used to. I could just imagine this woman’s face on discovering how different the coffee tastes over here, and I empathized wholeheartedly with the sense of loss and desperation that such a simple comfort as a cup of coffee not being easily attained when one strays so far away from home can bring.
I came home and poured myself a cup of my favourite coffee, or at least, what I’ve become accustomed to; an Italian blend of instant that may not be as good as the real thing, but which has become a staple part of my day and a relief after some of the frantic coffee-searches and disappointments in SouthEast Asia. I thanked my parents subconsciously for sticking with the same old, predictable and reliable brands, something I had recently become extremely frustrated with at having returned to a house that has remained relatively unchanged since I left.
Perspective is a funny thing, as it allows us not only to see others in a different light, but to see ourselves in ways we never thought we could imagine or be comfortable observing. Things that we may once have been afraid to try, or seemed impossible for us to embody purely because we said they must be so are all of a sudden as accessible for us as a cup of tea or coffee in the morning (this is provided you’re currently staying somewhere with a kitchen facilities of some sort!).
As we get older and look back on things we may have done or said in years gone by, it becomes easier to let them go, and to let go of the worry they may have induced at the time and anxiety they may have brought about since then. Letting go and embracing where we are right now becomes so much easier when you realise how powerless you are to change any previous actions; You can apologise. You can regret. You can remind and berate yourself again and again, over and over until you are consumed and defined by the very fact of this one occurance or circumstance. Or you can choose to accept it, and let go of the fact that it happened, that it was – for you cannot change it anymore. Only in the heat of the moment was it in any way changeable, and it was that very heat and urge to act which made it happen in the first place.
An effective exercise I have used to help myself rationalise things in the past can really aid in ascertaining your perspective on particular aspects of or current issues in your life which may be bothering you. It sounds simple (and it is), but even just taking the time it takes to complete it to be with yourself and acknowledge your thoughts and emotions can be of enormous help to someone struggling to escape a muddle of thoughts knotted up like Christmas tree lights after a year of being ignored in the attic.
If we take a simple circle; the circumference of a cup of coffee, for example. Beside it, make a list of every important thing which affects your life or has significance to you right now, be it work; family; boyfriend; girlfriend; house; car; money; a certain aspect of each of these which may be suffering or proving particularly difficult at the moment, or elements of your own internal struggles which may not be obvious on the outside. Simply write them down; in bullet points, sentences, picture sequences – whatever suits you best. Make a list, and then inside the circle, place all of the things from this list that are within your control to change, help, fix, or solve in any way. Outside of the circle, list the things that are outside of your control. Be honest with yourself, and with the things themselves. Make a note of how it feels to place each thing in it’s position within or outside of the circle, and adjust yourself to accept that they have been placed there.
Above all what I realised from completing this task is that the things I was anxious about and spent most of my time concerned with solving or changing were just that; things. There were things that no amount of anxiety or worry was ever going to get rid of or solve, things seperate to my mind and body, and outside of any kind of emotional or physical control I could ever assert over them. Why on earth was I expending so much energy in thinking about them??
This made the things within the circle seem so much more managable and simple in comparison, and it meant I was able to direct a more intent and full attention toward improving them or ensuring their continued success. The things outside of the circle I was forced to accept my ignorance of and inability to change, and this in turn allowed me a sense of relief and power over my own life that I never could have imagined possible. They may have posed as issues in my life or things that I wasn’t particularly happy about, but they were not mine (and still are not) to change. I was powerless to change them, and so I began to let them go one by one each time I was faced with things, thoughts or people that called them into question. From this acceptance of powerlessness stemmed an almost ironic sense of actual power, that I now had the ability to let things go, to ignore that which does not serve me, and that which I am powerless to influence.
The availability of my favourite coffee in Asia is just a minor example of something which I had to place outside of the radius of my own influence, and adopt the perspective I’ve attempted to outline above. Once you stop forcing yourself and expecting too much of yourself, (in this sense, expecting and pressurizing myself anxiously to go and find the coffee somewhere, anywhere), it’s a relief to just sit back and relax, and let these things pass you by. They’re not going to disappear completely – far from it- but even just the ability to observe them as seperate things and thoughts instead of getting yourself wrapped up in solving them is an extremely empowering sensation. I’d recommend taking the time to do the circle exercise – it doesn’t take long. At the very least paint a mental picture of it and slot your various anxieties and issues into it accordingly, and who knows? You may surprise yourself with how much you’ve been hoarding in a worry-bank that doesn’t actually cater for some of the things you’ve forced inside it!!
‘Because perfection comes, not when you’re watching golden sunsets over paradise, But when you have grown, Unbreakable, At peace, Within.’ – from ‘Pathways’, by Leah Fortner
As I sat in my miniscule double room on the 5th floor of a dingy guesthouse situated a stone’s throw from Phnom Penh International airport in Cambodia, completely and utterly alone in a strange country that I can honestly never see myself feeling comfortable in, I breathed an unexpected sigh of relief. At least that’s what I think it was. It might have been something to do with the fact that I’d just cast off the 18kg backpack containing everything I hold dear to me for the first time in a couple of hours, or that the prospect of an actual night’s sleep loomed ahead after several delayed and uncomfortable flights through tropical storms and some dodgy landings. Either way, I was more at ease than I’d been in a while.
I’d finally realised something about myself and about the reasons I’d felt the need to flee my life at home, albeit only briefly. For some reason I thought I, as so many before me have dramatically claimed to be in books and movies, had been ‘searching for something’; some sort of reason or reassurance to keep going and continue. I realised I’d been half expecting to find this something in every new place I stayed and new face I met, each one vaguely seeking a similar confirmation of their own validity or ‘pathway’.
In actual fact, at the risk of sounding awfully conceited and/or like a sappy American rom com (I realise I’m going to sound like it anyway no matter how hard I try), this whole time I have been learning to come to terms with myself; to love myself. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds cheesier than the Vietnamese vegetarian cibatta rolls that contained a single piece of lettuce along with 3 different kinds of rubbery ‘dairy produce’ and a slice of tomato in Hoi An. But there’s a kind of autonomy and respect one learns to have for the person who navigates them safely around unknown territory and through uncertain and somewhat dangerous situations. I realised as I sat alone in Cambodia for the second time around and with a pathetic amount of dollars remaining among the various other currencies in my purse that I’d orchestrated this journey to mean that the only person I had to depend on and to look to for help would be me. I’d forced myself to take care of me, to be the dominant voice of reason and force of reckoning for once, instead of depending on others and placing an unfair responsibility on friends and family who did not ask for it. I sat back and let my inner child be led and guided by the knowledge this world has taught me that I barely knew I had taken on board until it became necessary to utilise it. Led by the mistakes I have already made, and that I have seen others make, I have taught myself how to progress; how to power through; how to hold out for that one minute longer when it feels like you’re lost entirely and will never find your way back to where you want to go. I have fueled my body through lonely and rainy days where it felt like the last thing I wanted to do was get up, eat, and explore – perseverance resulting in enjoyable new experiences and friends, places and photographs that would not have been possible had I not correctly energised and motivated myself enough to be there. I gave myself no option but to recover and escape from whatever demons have held their grasp on me for the past few years, each step and flight taken away from them making them cower that little bit more into the corner at the strength and potential of what I am actually capable of doing in spite of them and without their crutch to lean on. I have practiced ignoring their voices and perservering independently without their help, and I have realised that I am capable of such great things, not only that – but that I am also perfectly worthy of them too.
I have sat with myself and accepted myself. Accepted the fact that I occupy this miniscule space upon the earth and that it is mine to take where I choose, and to do with what I please. Practicing yoga and maintaining balance along the way when it would have been easy to get lost in ‘holiday mode’ and indulge too much has been difficult, but extremely worthwhile. I’m not going to say I haven’t indulged at all, but I’ve done so in a way that has allowed me to also enjoy the moments before and afterwards, instead of focusing merely on the excessive bursts of energy and consumption, and cowering away from anything outside of them. Overall I feel I have learned things that cannot be taught, that some people are born automatically programmed with, but that others must experience and realise for themselves. Extremes of emotions have been dealt with and processed by myself and in a way that has helped me realise I am capable of overcoming them without leaning on anyone for reassurance or aid – something I struggled with hugely in the past.
The overall emotion I feel at leaving Asia and my first solo travelling experiences behind is one of intense and overwhelming pride. Pride for myself, pride for my strength, contentedness that I have managed to do this and prove the negative thoughts and people wrong who doubted my capabilities. They and my own anxieties were always going to be there, but I feel in a way that I have finally reached a place where I can focus less on their intensity and importance, and embrace more of the autonomy and experience that ‘living in the moment’ can actually bring. It may seem like an extreme way to finally come to terms with oneself and place in the world, but I can’t deny how effective it has been both in allowing me the space to realise all these things, and put them into practice; experience required to actually sit as strong and tall as I do today as I wait to board my final flights home.
I can’t change the fact that I am an anxious person, but I can change how that anxiety manifests itself, and how I process it. It is possible to change the direction it takes just like I can change the direction my feet are taking me. It’s a different kind of energy required to do so, but I’m now aware of it’s presence, and have more of an ability to access it, especially in the midst of chaotic environments and unfamiliar situations.
If nothing else, this is what travel teaches us. That there are other options, other paths, other ways to do things that might not initially appear obvious. There is always another way through, another route to take that will take you where you need to go and away from seemingly inescapable situations and emotions. Following your nose and going where your feet take you without worrying or questioning it too much and ultimately just trusting in yourself will inevitably eventually steer you right.
For now, I’m going to close the book on this particular chapter of my travels, in the knowledge that the next will lead me to even more exciting, mischevious and unplanned destinations, that I will come to terms with and navigate when I get there.
For now, the mischievous emotions and uncontrollable situations have been managed, and I’m ready to go home.
****LEAGAN BÉARLA FAOI – ENGLISH VERSION BENEATH***
An chéad rud a rith liom nuair a chuala mé an preabadh ísle, domhain i bfhad uaim is mé ag tógáil céime amach roimh éirí na gréine in Ho Chi Minh, ná go raibh an ‘oíche amach’ aréir nach raibh diúltaithe agam ach cúpla uair a chloig roimhe sin le mo chairde nua ón mbrú fós ar siúl. Bhí mé leath ag siúl go bhfeicfinn ag teacht ar ais iad leath-dallta timpeall an chúinne, nó ag léimt ó chúl ceann de na tacsaithe-moto nach molfainn d’aon turasóirí lena dtaitníonn a gcuid seilbhe luachmhara leo comh luath is a dúisíonn ceantar na mbackpackers in Saigon le titim na hoíche.
Is mé an leanacht liom ar an tslí aitheanta anois don pháirc láirneach, ag trasnú sráid Le Loi nach raibh ach ábhairín níos ciúine ansin ag 4 ar maidin is a bhíonn i rith an lae, bhí muintir na sráide gafa ag ‘glanadh’ deannaigh ó áit go háit ar an tsráid le scuaib fite, is iad ag réiteach le haghaidh trácht na maidine. Thug mé le fios nach cur isteach drochbheasach ón oíche roimh ré agus ‘Happy Hour’ ag leanacht ar aghaidh go ‘All Hours’, a bhí sa cheol leanúnach a chuala mé ag briseadh ‘suaimhneas’ na cathrach, ach a mhalairt san iomlán a bhí i gceist. Bhí orm athbhreathnú a dhéanamh sular thuig mé i gceart a bhí os mo chomhair – grúpa ollmhór d’mhná meanaoiseach Vítneamis i lár spás oscailte sa pháirc, gleasta in leggings agus tléinte ildáite, agus iad uilig ag gluaiseacht le chéile ar nós airm aisteach polyester, in am don chuisle leanúnach nár shíolraigh ó áit ar bith faoi leith go bfhaca mé – ní raibh sé fiú geal faoin am seo. Faoi dheireadh d’airigh mé go raibh cead agam stanadh a thabhairt ar ais do dhaoine a thugann dom iad comh minic sin anseo, mo chraiceann geal agus gruaig rua mar chúis grinn do go leor daoine áitiúla – tuigim go bhfuil mé aisteach, ach ní bhíonn mise ag déanamh aeróibicí sa pháirc ag a 4 ar maidin!!
Bhí trácht cloiste agam ar an nós seo sa Chambóid, ach ní raibh sé feicthe agam ag tarlu go dtí seo, agus bhí sé deacair an gáire a sheachaint nuair a chonaic mé cúpla bean a bhí tar éis achar a chuir eatarthu fhéin agus an cuid eile sa lár, le casadh agus lubadh leo fhéin ar nós Sims ar an gcosán. Le firinne bhí mé ag iarraidh damhsa leo! Chuir sé an Hokey cokey i gcuimhne dom ón scoil sa Chambóid, ach amháin gur na céadta mná Vítneamis a bhí ann ag bogadh leo féin le púis orthu is iad i mbun cleachtadh coirpe na maidine seo roimh éirí na gréine agus an teas meanlae, seachas grúpa páistí. Is dóigh go dtugann na gluaiseachtaí rialta seo cead dóibh an bia friochta agus oiliúil sin a ithe gan mórán iarmhairtí freisin..
Is dóigh gur mar gheall nach raibh mé ag súil leis is mé fós leath i mo choladh ag iompar chuile rud gur liom ar domhain faoi láthair a tháinig an oiread sin ionadh orm iad a fheiceáil ann, ach seans mhaith freisin gur mar gheall nach raibh mé tar éis an cathair a shiúl comh luath seo riamh, agus toisc gur ‘early riser’ mé fhéin ar aon chaoi, ghlac mé nár tharla aon rud sular éirigh mise – cé comh mícheart is a bhí mé!
Thaitin Ho Chi Minh i bfhad níos fearr liom an uair seo, ach amháin an dorm le 18 duine eile sa mbrú buiséadach – ach ar $3 in aghaidh na hoíche, cé atá le gearán faoi? Cé nár éirí ro-mhaith liom roimhe sin mo bhealach a dhéanamh ann, an uair seo go tobann bhí mé go breá in ann na sráideanna a loingsiú go héasca le níos mó muiníne agus píosa cleachtadh taobh thiar dom. Thaitin an ‘World Food Festival’ liom a bhí ar siúl sa pháirc don deireadh seachtaine áirithe seo, thug sé neart deiseanna dom níos mó bia aisteach a thriail agus freisin tuilleadh nósanna aisteacha fheiceáil nach bhfuil mé cinnte a bheadh riamh in ann teacht i bhfeidhm anseo!
D’éirigh liom cúpla bronntanas Nollag Víteamise deirineach a fháil ( níl pictiúirí agam, mar….bronntanais!) le seisiúin crua ag stangaireacht in Aonach Ben Thien sa lár, agus d’fhág mé le tuilleadh ábhair ná mar a bhí ceannaithe agam riamh ar bheagáin airgid. Táim ag dul i dtaithí ar seo!
Sílim freisin go bhfuil mé ag dul i dtaithí ar na nósanna bóithre atá acu…tá feabhas tagtha orm ag transú na bóithre gnóthacha leis na sruthanna gluaisrothair agus gluastáin beaga nach stopann le teada – nílim ag iarraidh ‘jinxáil’ a dhéanamh ar seo, ach tá feicthe agam go n-éiríonn níos fearr leat do chuid spáis fhéin a léiriú le beagán muiníne, seachas a bheith ag braith ar chomhghlacaithe nó turasóir eile an bealach a dhéanamh duit. Chuir mé le líne tráchta is mé fós mar lucht siúl – ag seasamh le gluaisrothar ar gach taobh díom, bhí orm fanacht go dtí gur chas na soilse glas chun leanacht ar aghaidh – chuile fhear (nó bean) dóibh fhéin a bhí ann, agus bhí orm léimt ar thaobh chuig an gcosán comh luath is a lean mo réamhthachta ar aghaidh.
Is mé ag scríobh anois táim i mo shuí in aerfort Changi, Singapore, go héasca an t-aerfort is fearr le cúpla uair a chloig (nó 28) a chaitheamh ar domhan. Táim ag súil leis an gcathair a fheiceáil anois i gceann píosa tar éis an cupáin caife Starbucks seo (an chéad ceann le beagnach 2 mhí!!), agus mar sin fágfaidh mé é seo anois go dtí go bhfaighim áit an ceallaire a luchtú!! Vietnamasté!
***********LEAGAN BÉARLA – ENGLISH VERSION *********
My initial reaction to hearing a distant, low thumping beat as I stepped out into the 5am pre-dawn of Ho Chi Minh’s ever-chattering streets, was that the ‘night out’ with my new dorm-friends I had reluctantly declined merely hours beforehand had still not come to an end. Early-morning flight-jitters aside, I half expected to meet them stumbling in around the corner, or jumping off the back of otherwise ill-advised moto-taxis that prey on tipsy tourists once the nocturnal backpacker district of Saigon awakens with the dusk.
As I continued on the now familiar route to the central park-area and traversed the only slightly less chaotic dimly-lit Le Loi street as its’ occupants swept dust from one place to another with wicker brushes and geared up for another rush hour, it became clear that the music I was hearing was not in fact an intrusive occupation of an otherwise peaceful morning by the extension of a nightclubs’ ‘happy hour’ to All Hours, but frankly quite the opposite. I had to look twice before I could comprehend the abnormally large gathering of middle-aged Vietnamese women in a central clearing of the park, all dressed in leggings and coloured polyester tshirts and moving robotically in sync to a monotonous and crackling throbbing ‘beat’ that was coming from nowhere within my available line of vision – it was barely even beginning to get bright at this stage. I finally felt a sort of justification and permission to return the stares I am so regularly subjected to over here, my pale skin and ginger hair proving a source of great hilarity to many locals – I know I’m weird, but I don’t do aerobics in the park at 4.30am!!!
I’d heard of such practices in Cambodia, but had yet to witness it actually occurring, and I found it hard to hide my amusement as I passed several women who had distanced themselves from the main congregation to thrust and wiggle by themselves to the ‘music’ in a Sim-like manner along the sidelines. I’m not going to lie – I kind of wanted to join in! It reminded me of doing the Hokey Cokey with the kids in the school in Cambodia, only this time it was hundreds of anonymous early-morning Saigonese women shaking and gesturing with frowned and scrunched up faces in what I can only assume is a regular exercise regime that both avoids the midday heat of the sun and also helps to burn off excess calories supplied by the inclusion of oil and grease to every single dish and meal.Bizarre.
I think the fact that it appeared out of nowhere as I blearily trudged to the bus station with all my worldly possessions (or at least, everything I currently carry with me) was probably the main source of surprise, yet it may also have been due to the fact that this was the earliest I’ve ever roamed the streets of the city, and being accustomed to my name as an early riser had pretty much just assumed that nothing much happened before the hours I found myself outside. How very wrong I was!
Ho Chi Minh this time around was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, despite the rather dodgy 18-person dorm room in the budget hostel – but for 3 dollars a night, who’s going to argue?! Previous navigation having not proven so beneficial, I all of a sudden found on my return that I knew where to go and had the confidence to somehow find the things I needed, and the timely occurrence of a World Food Festival in the central park during the day and evenings was a fantastic find when it came to securing cheap eats and yet more bizarre interactions with customs and trends that I’m really not sure will ever properly reach our side of the world…!
I managed to secure some final Vietnamese Christmas presents (no pictures, coz , yknow, PRESENTS) in my most intense haggling-session to date in the Ben Thian Market, and proudly left with more plunder for my money than I have ever before! I’m getting used to this!
I also think that since being alone I’ve become more accustomed to and adept at crossing the roads and incessant torrential flow of motorbikes and vehicles that do not stop or cater for pedestrians whatsoever in their narrow span of vision – I don’t want to jinx this, but I’ve found that in literally just asserting your space and striding with a bit of confidence instead of looking to a companion or fellow tourist to pave the way for you, I’ve had more success crossing the roads and have even found myself adding to a line of traffic as a pedestrian – locked in on four sides by motorbikes, I literally had to wait for the lights to go green before I could walk in any direction – it was literally every man (or woman) for themselves, and I quickly had to leap to one side as soon as my predecessors revved forwards.
As I write now I’m sitting in Singapore airport – easily the coolest place I’ve ever had to kill a few hours. Hopefully I’ll get to see a bit of the city as my flight onwards doesn’t leave until the early hours of tomorrow, so I’ll write a post on that as soon as I find a free plug socket….! Vietnamasté!!!
Fánaíocht fánaíocht fánaíocht. ‘Sé an t-aon rud a dhéanaimse na laethanta seo. Níor thosaigh mé amach le plean faoi leith. Níl aon rud faoi leith bainte amach agam go fóill seachas meas níos láidre ar mo chuid scileanna loingseoireachta agus cumais féin, agus freisin an t-eolas go bhfuil mé go breá in ann aire a thabhairt dom fhéin agus mo bhealach a dhéanamh go dall (nó bodhar) trí chuinsí nach bhfuil leagtha amach go cinnte romham.
Tuigim go maith freisin agus airím na rudaí beaga sa bhaile – frása a usáidtear i bhfad ró-(Ho Chi) mhinic(!) ach faoi láthair comh fíor domsa gur féidir liom an t-aistear abhaile a shamhlú agus dinnéar na Nollag le fataí breá na hÉireann os mo chomhair a bhlaiseadh cheana féin – is i bhfad ó rís agus soy sauce a togadh mise! (#Notions)
Cairde réidh le casadh tar éis téacs scioptha i ndiaidh na hoibre; bia réidh le hollmhú sna cófraí; nósanna coitianta; ranganna íoga le freastal orthu agus coinní rialta nach bhfagann mórán le bheith buartha faoi ó thaobh athruithe gan fógairt; córas taistil a bhfeidhmníonn sách maith agus caighdean slándála nach dtugann cúis imní ar bith d’germaphobes ar nós mé fhéin…leanann an liosta ‘home comforts’ ar aghaidh. Ach fós, is láidre an maitheas ná an t-olc leis an gcineál taistil, slí bheatha féin-cruthaithe seo, agus mar sin is féidir liom glacadh leis níos fearr anois agus é a shlugadh siar, mar a deirfeá. Níos tábhachtaí ná haon rud eile anois ná gur féidir liom sult a bhaint as na ‘droch’ rudaí freisin, seachas díreach iad a fheiceáil mar gnéithe a bhfuil orm cur suas leo.
Is príomhchathair Vítneam í Hanoi a bhfuil tréithe cosúla aici le roinnt príomhcathracha eile atá feicthe agam, sa chaoi is nach bhfuil an iomarca deacrachtaí ann í a thrasnú…tuigim go bhfagann an pictiúir atá in éineacht leis an bpóstáil seo a mhalairt le tuiscint, ach thug ár mbrú (Drift Backpackers’ Hostel) léarscáil dúinn (comh maith le bricfeásta agus beoir saor in aisce!) a bhí sonraithe go maith agus a chuir go mór lenár gcúpla lá ann. Níor chaith muid pingin ar iompar taistil an t-am uilig is muid ann, agus fós d’éirigh linn na pointí spéise is mó sa chathair a fheiceáil agus a aimsiú, ar nós Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), leis an Turtle Tower agus Huc Bridge a mhaireann ann ón Ming Dynasty, iarsmalann Ho Chi Minh, iarsmalann Staire, agus Airm Hanoi, agus Mausaleum Ho Chi Minh (sa phictiúir). D’éirigh linn teacht ar an ‘Bia Hoi’ san oíche freisin, le cúpla deoch ‘al fresco’ i measc na sluaite daoine áitiúla ag stanadh orainn ach ag baint sult as an oíche, muid uilig inár suí ar stólanna beaga plaisteacha ‘nós na cinn a bhí againn sa gháirdín sa bhaile is muid óg, a bhí mar dréimirí dúinn don doirteal sa leithris.
Theip orm teacht ar an studio íoga a chonaic mé ar líne, ach ní gan iarrachta ar mo thaobhse a tharla sé- chaith mé uair a chloig ar fánaíocht thart timpeall an cheannscríbe a leag Google Maps amach dom, ag cuartú in aisce an Zenith Yoga Café nach bhfuil ar an bhfód a thuilleadh, de réir dealraimh. Is ar éigin a d’éalaigh mé ó roinnt mná ag seastáin a bhí ag díol maisiúcháin Nollag bándearga, a d’iarr mé orthu go neamhurchóideach faoin áit – arís leis an bhfánaíocht – sular éirí mé as an iarracht le seacláid te a cheannach ar an mbealach ar ais – tá sé ag éirí fuar i Vítneam! Níor cheap mé ariamh go ndeirfinn na focail sin!
Bhí roinnt cómhráite thar a bheith spéisiúla agam le grúpaí mic léinn a bhí beartaithe i hataí, cótaí agus geansaithe móra cíbe uair a thóg ár gcosa in aice an locha muid. D’iarr siad cead orainn go cúthaileach pictiúirí a glacadh linn, cómhráite a thaifead ar ghutháin chliste agus taibléidí, agus go bunúsach labhairt leo i mBéarla go nádúrtha faoi rud ar bith – faoinár mbaile fhéin, ár nósanna, tír, agus teanga. D’inis siad liom a gcuid freisin, agus dúirt siad go raibh siad thar a bheith buíoch as an t-am a thug miuid dóibh – ach le fírinne, ceann de na rudaí is spéisiúla le tamaill a bhí ann domsa comh maith! B’iontach spreagúil an díograis a bhí acu i dtaobh foghlaim teanga, agus bhí an cur chuige díreach ceart acu comh maith – labhairt go nádúrtha le cainteoirí dúchasacha, ar bhonn neamhfhoirimiúil…d’fhéadfaimis go leor a fhoghlaim uathu!
Bheadh lá nó dhó eile an chathair a thaisceáladh go deas, toisc gur laghdaigh an fhaitíos a bhí romhainn dul i mbun rudaí a chuartú nuair nach raibh muid cinnte cén treo le tabhairt faoi, ach san iomlán fós thaitin Hanoi liom i bhfad níos fearr go Ho Chi Minh (Saigon!). Chuir sé seo ionadh orm toisc gur Hanoi an phríomhchathair, ach b’fhéidir léiríonn an chaoi go bhfeidhmníonn sé agus an chaoi go bhfuil gach rud comh héasca le loingsiú go leor i bhfábhar an teideal seo. Tá sé fós ina cíortuathail, ach cíorthuathail faoi a thuilleadh smachta atá inti!
Mar fhocal scor, tá cuma melodramatic ar an abairt seo ach caithfear a rá go bhfuil rud eicínt thar a bheith teiripiútach ag baint leis an tuiscint a aimsiú go bhfuil tú go hiomlán caillte agus leat fhéin i gcathair iomlán éagsúil agus i bhfad ón bhaile, agus teacht ar an eolas go bhfuil tú in ann do bhealach a dhéanamh ar ais go háit nó sráid aitheanta faoi leith. Cé nach raibh muinín agat ionat fhéin in aon chor, is mothúcháin thar a bheith láidir é. Cinnte, tá go leor le rá faoin gcumas agus umhlaíocht a bhaineann le ceist a chuir i gcomhair treoireacha nuair nach bhfuil an léarscáil ag obair i gceart (ní mise atá ann, I swear!!) agus tá an dorchadas ag titim go scioptha timpeall ort. Fós is fearr liom an rogha seo a choinneál mar ‘Plan B’, ach sa chás seo, airím go láidir gur fearr i bhfad an modh ‘tástáil agus earraid’ a chuir i bhfeidhm is tú ag taistil thar aon rud eile.
************LEAGAN BÉARLA *** ENGLISH VERSION
Wander wander wander. It’s all I ever seem to do these days. I set out with no specific plans. I’ve achieved no specific sense of anything just yet other than a greater respect for my own capabilities and navigational skills, and also the knowledge that I am actually perfectly able of taking care of myself and finding my way blindly (or deafly) through a lot of seemingly impossible situations. Okay, so maybe I have learned something.
I’ve also come to really appreciate the little things at home – a phrase used all too often, but so true for me at this moment in time that I can vividly imagine Christmas dinner and fine Irish roasted potatoes on the table in front of me – it’s far from rice and curry I was rared! Friends ready to meet at the drop of a text message, food ready to prepare in the cupboard, routines, yoga classes to attend and regular plans that leave little to be apprehended regarding last minute changes, functioning transport systems, general cleanliness and standards of hygiene that give those with germophobic tendencies such as my own no reason to be sent into overdrive…the list goes on. But still, the good outweighs the bad in this kind of travelling, self-induced lifestyle, and as such I’ve also learned to better ‘suck it up’, for want of a better phrase, and most importantly of all enjoy it, instead of merely enduring.
Hanoi is a city akin to several other capital cities I’ve visited in that it it is actually fairly managable to navigate…I know the initial picture and caption in this post suggests otherwise, but our hostel (Drift Backpackers’ Hostel) provided us with a map (along with free breakfast and beer!) which honestly made our few days there seem so much easier. We didn’t spend a dollar (or dong) on transport the entire stay, and still managed to find and see some of the main attractions the city has to offer, including the Turtle Tower and silver Pagoda, the night markets, History museum, Ho Chi Minh museum and mausoleum (pictured), Women’s museum, and Bia Hoi old quarter for several beverages ‘al fresco’ – seated at night along a crowded street on tiny plastic stools like the ones we used to have in the garden and use as stepladders to reach the sink in the loo at home.
Considering the streets all have actual names, instead of numbers which don’t match up to any neighbouring street or follow any sensible sequence of address or postal code (ahem, here’s looking at you Phnom Penh..!), we actually found ourselves not needing the map to find the more local places after a day or two!
I failed to find the yoga studio I’d located online, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying or any failure on my part – I wandered the 100 metre area of where Google Maps had led me searching in vain for the non-existent Zenith yoga café, asked numerous people and even ended up almost buying some tacky pink Christmas decorations just to fend off a particularly pushy vendor lady whose shop I unwittingly wandered into on a whim – again with the wandering – before accepting defeat and buying a hot chocolate on my way back. It has actually begun to get cold in Vietnam. I never thought I’d say thse words!
Fascinating conversations were had with local students wrapped up in hats, coats and scarves who approached us nervously whenever we strayed near the lake, looking to record conversations with us in English, pose for photos, and mostly hoping to maintain a sensible conversation with a native speaker for more than a few minutes. Their dedication was frankly inspiring, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to them and exchanging knowledge, traditions, and facts about our own countries that couldn’t have been shared otherwise. They also had the perfect way of approaching language learning, which was fascinating to see in practice – speaking naturally and informally to native speakers in a casual setting. We could learn a lot from them….
I would have liked a bit longer to explore the city as I felt once we got a grip on the basic layout of the place it became an awful lot less daunting to go searching for things without knowing exactly where they were, but in general I much preferred it to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)! This surprised me considering Hanoi is the capital, but maybe it’s functionality and general heightened sense of accessibility says a lot to support this choice. It’s still chaotic, but nowhere near the rat races of Ho Chi Minh!
It sounds fairly cheesy, but there is something extremely theraputic about getting completely lost in a strange city and managing to somehow find and guide yourself back to an area of relative familiarity, taking a chance at each turn and trusting basic instincts to lead you right again. Of course there’s also a lot to be said for being able to admit defeat and ask for directions once it starts getting dark and you can no longer see the street signs or map in front of you, but I like to think of this option always as Plan B – in this case, I feel trial and error is always the best way forwards.
Gaeilge *Leagan Béarla faoi – English Version underneath*
Oibrigh. Sábháil. Taistil. Arís.
Bailigh milliúin Dong ar do bhealach thar ‘Go’ (an ATM), agus cuirfidh sé ar aghaidh thú leis an chéad cúpla céim eile a thógáil….
Le coicís anuas is ar nós míreanna meara de laethanta, smaointí, pleananna agus droch-ghluaiseachtaí atá an aistear seo caite againn, cuid dóibh a d’oibrigh amach i gceart, cuid eile nach raibh comh maith sin. Cluiche boird mionsonraithe de bhusanna, brúanna, modhanna taistil agus ceannscríbeanna atá leagtha amach againn dúinn féin le haimsiú atá taobh thiar dúinn agus os ár gcomhair. De réir mar a buailtear chuile chéim ar an aistear, gach bus déanta in am, sráid aimsithe, agus lóistín sroichte, airím go bhfuil éacht suntasach bainte amach againn agus neamhspleachas cosúil le turas taisce a líonadh i gceart aimsithe dúinn féin. An difríocht a bhaineann leis anois ná go bhfuil duaiseanna éagsúla ag an deiridh – bricfeasta saor in aisce nó pionta fuar ag an lóistín, radharcanna difriúla agus cairde nua spéisiúla chuile lá.
Tá sé spreagúil. Tá sé scanrúil. Tá sé luachmhar mar thaithí saoil……tá sé réadúil. Tá treoireacha gairid cosúil le seo leagtha amach againn don chéad coicís eile – treoirlíonta gairid agus dáta le bheith in áiteanna faoi leith, ach teada anuas ar sin.
Chaith muid cúpla oíche i mbaile beag stairiúil agus traidisiúnta darbh ainm Hoi An le déanaí, agus cé go bhfuil sé ráite agam cheana is muid ag teacht ar áiteanna nua ar an mbealach, bhí an baile seo mar an stop ab ansa liom go dtí seo ar an turas. Ciúin agus socair i rith an lae, na himeachtaí is mó ag sioscadh ag an aonach sna seastáin ag na céanna, freastalaí ag úsáid a gcuid Béarla teoranta le turasóirí a mhealladh earraí baile a cheannach; ‘You buy somthing?” ‘Special price for you!”, ‘No pushing here! You buy!’ (go híorónta), agus turais rialta don abhainn ag fágáil ón gcé.
Tar éis an leisciúileacht agus saol ciúin i Mui Ne, bhí neart le déanamh in Hoi An, agus bhain muid sult as an deis a bheith mar ‘turasóirí’ cearta arís. Tá clú agus cáil ar Hoi An mar gheall ar na tailliúirí traidisiúnta atá lonnaithe ann, ag dul siar thar na glúinte sna clainne a maireann os cionn na siopaí beaga ar fud an bhaile. Fuair mé sciorta breá fada táilliúrtha, a leithéid de ceann a bhí feicthe agam in Topshop sular fhág mé ar phraghas €90, i gcomhair $30. Bualadh beag sa bhuiséid a bhí ann fós, ach b’fhiú é nuair a smaoiním ar sin agus ar an gcaoi go bhfuil sé táilliúrtha dom go pearsanta i Vítneam – ar fhaitíos go bhfeicfinn ar éinne eile sa bhaile é! Cé mhéad duine atá in ann é sin a rá?!! Is buatóirí muid uilig! (Seachas Topshop!)
Níor phleanáil mé an costas breise seo ach murach é airím go mbeadh cuid den espéiris Hoi An caillte agam, go háirithe nuair a d’aithin mé go raibh gach ceann de na cuairteoirí eile ar chas muid leo san oíche ag fanacht le ceirt eadaí a bhailiú an lá dar gcionn idir culaith, gúnaí, bútaisí agus eile. (Táim sách gafa le headaí ar aon chaoi agus mar sin bhí sé cineál dosheachanta go nglacfainn páirt!)
Cé go bhfuil sé níos ciúine i rith an lae, is san oíche a lastar tuirne na beatha in Hoi An, go litiriúil leis na soilse agus laindéir ildaite atá le feiceáil agus le ceannach ar thaobh na sráide agus in aice na habhainn. Le hísliú na gréine lastar na soilse agus coinnle ildáite ar foluain go séimh san uisce ar thaobh na gleoiteoga beaga, agus neart earraí le n-ithe ar díol ar na sráideanna anois idir pancóga, torthaí le siúcra agus uachtar reoite. B’fhéiríní álainn iad na radharcanna agus bolaithe do na céadfaí, ag leanacht leis na turasóirí go mall síos na sráide ag blaiseadh agus ag breathnú thart timpeall orthu le hiontas, ag caint is ag druidim i dtreo na bialainne agus tithe tábháirne. Níos fearr arís ná an teas – bhí muid go breá in ann do nuair nach raibh an ghrian ag síneadh anuas orainn go trom – ba leor gúna éadrom agus flip flops le píosa taiscéaladh a dhéanamh timpeall na soilse ag margadh na hoíche.
Bhí ‘Happy Hours’ á fhógairt acu ar chuile casadh, réimse leathan a thosaigh am ar bith idir a 11am agus 12pm, le díolacháin eile agus tuilleadh oibrithe ag brú á mbiachlár agus lascainí eile orainn don oíche ar fad. Neartaigh siad seo de réir is a laghdaigh na cúplaí níos sine agus clainne óga ar ais go na hóstáin agus lóistín níos costaisí ar thaobh na habhainn, ag fágáil an bealach don slua ‘backpackers’ níos óige, mar a cuirtear orthu, nach dtógann mórán le tuineadh isteach don ‘Tiger Tiger Bar’ nó ‘Funky Monkey‘ ar an mbealach tar éis beoir ar $0.75 a fháil roimhe sin. D’éirigh lenár bhfiontar isteach don ‘Tiger Tiger Bar’ cairde nua ón nGearmáin, Sasana, ón mBeilg, agus ón Alban a fháil dúinn, a d’fhán linn ar turas ar aghaidh don chlub is oiriúnaí don chineál oíche neamh-phleanáilte a bhí tar éis titim amach- an ‘Why Not Bar?’
Meascán de cheol a bhí le cloisteáil anseo ach arís b’fhiú an turas a thógáil isteach leis an éagsúlacht pearsantaí, náisiúntachtaí agus taisteálaí uilig ag iarraidh cairde nua a dhéanamh agus spraoi a bheith acu a bhlaiseadh.
D’éirigh liom áit a fháil sa chlub do dhaoine le ‘Moto-Exhaust pipe-Burns’, de réir mar a d’aimsigh muid go raibh an-cuid againn le gortaithe ar nós an ceann a fuair mise ar mo chos os cionn coicíse ó shin anois, uilig ag stáistí difriúla den phróiséas slánaithe agus mar ábhar spéise toisc go bhfuil siad comh héasca le fáil amach anseo nuair nach nglactar le bristí gearra mar bhaol is tú ag fáil gluaisrothair ar cíos. Oíche amach iontach a bhí ann ar aon chaoi, gan smál go dtí gur thosaigh an báisteach is muid ar an mbealach abhaile – le fírinne b’athrú deas a bhí ann ón ngrian.
Bhí foireann iontach cairdiúil ag obair sa mbrú inar fhán muid, Phuong Le Villa, a bhí suite go háisiúil agus go breá glan freisin. Bhí neart eolais acu maidir le turais agus modhanna taistil, agus 2 lachain gleoite a choinnigh súil amach ag an bhfáiltiú chuile oíche, a bhí muid an-mór le roimh dheireadh na cuairte!
Fuair muid rothair ar cíos freisin ar dollar amháin in aghaidh an lae le píosa fánaíochta a dhéanamh timpeall na sráideanna, ag seachaint na turais treoranta níos costaisí agus ag cuir dushlán romhainn fhéin in ionad teacht ar an trá mistéireach seo nach raibh fógartha go maith ar léarscáil ar bith. D’éirigh linn é a bhaint amach tamaill beag sular bhuail an teas láidir meanlae i gceart, rud a d’fhág an bealach abhaile oscailte tríd na páirceanna ríse agus droichid beaga, agus bhí orainn deifir a dhéanamh leis an ngrian nocht a sheachaint.
Fuair na céadfaí an lámh in uachtar orainn ar an oíche dheirineach nuair a thástáil muid cuid den bhia sráide – an rud ab ansa liomsa ná cáca beag déanta de fataí milse (sweet potato?), peanuts, agus coconut.
Bheadh Hoi An foirfe do saoire rómánsúil le seachtain a chaitheamh go ciúin i Vítneam, ach dúinne agus do go leor daoine óga eile ar labhair muid leo, ba leor cúpla oíche a chaitheamh ann, cé go raibh sé go hálainn. Ar deiridh, bhí brón orm an áit a fhágáil, ach ní comh brónach is a bhí mo sporrán tar éis cúpla lá a chaitheamh ag na margaí!
*********Leagan Béarla ******************
Work. Save. Travel. Repeat.
Collect 1 Million Dong when you pass Go, (aka the ATM), and this will see you through to the next few rolls of the dice as you take the next uncertain leap forwards…
The past two weeks or so have been like an exciting jigsaw of days and ideas and trial and error plans that have often turned out to be the worst decisions, but at other times have pleasantly surprised us. It’s been a detailed board game of buses and hostels and modes of transport and destinations we’ve set out and reserved for ourselves to find and reach. As each step of the journey is ticked off and achieved, each bus made in time, street navigated, and budget accomodation located without too much struggle, there’s a sense of achievement and autonomy akin to successfully completing an Easter Egg or treasure hunt , only this time it’s real life and the prizes at the end are a free breakfast or cold beer at the hostel, and new incredible views and interesting accquaintences every day.It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s fulfilling…it’s living. The next two weeks have been planned out in a pretty similar way, a brief outline and a date to be in certain places by – but nothing further than that.
We spent a few nights in the stunningly dated and historical town of Hoi An, and although I’ve said it before on discovering new places, this town really has been my favourite stop off on our journey so far. Quiet and reserved during the day, the main activities chattering in the market stalls at the docks as the pushy vendors use their select phrases to entice Westerners to purchase many of their ‘homemade’ mass produced goods; ‘You buy something?’, ‘Special price for you!’, ‘No Pushing here! You Buy!’ (ironically), and regular river-tours departing from the docks.
After the laid back laziness of Mui Ne, the sheer amount of things to do and see in Hoi An was amazing, and we went full throttle on the tourist clichés on our first evening and got sucked into having skirts made by one of Hoi An’s most renowned traditional tailors. It was a bit of a blow to the bank balance but definitely worth it when I consider the skirt I had made was modelled on one I’d seen in Topshop before leaving home that had retailed for about 90 euro, or something outrageous like that. I paid 30 dollars in Hoi An, it fits me to a tee and is also a uniquely crafted original piece that I won’t run the risk of seeing on someone else at home! Everyone’s a winner! (except for Topshop).
It was an unplanned purchase, but considering everyone we encountered in the town seemed to have paid a visit to one of the many family-run tailors dotted here and there between the market stalls, be it for tailored suits, dresses, boots or otherwise, I would have felt like I’d missed out on a brilliant part of the experience had I not partaken (I also adore clothes and couldn’t say no, so I suppose it was inevitable really..!).
Although quieter during the day, the main walkways along the river and over the main bridge of Hoi An come alive as soon as the sun sets with an array of stunningly lit lanterns, floating candles, and even more stalls selling everything from pancakes to marinated and sugar-coated guave fruits. The sights and smells and easygoing flow of tourists wandering, tasting, talking and moving in the general direction of the restaurants and bars which line the streets is a real treat for the senses, especially considering the warm air means that even after nightfall a light Summer dress and sandles is perfect attire to explore the bright lights and pretty colours of the night markets.
‘Happy Hours’ abound on every corner, ranging from anywhere between 10am and midnight with specials and yet more pushy staff offering discounts and deals all day. These gain intensity once the older couples and families begin to drift sleepily back to their more expensive lodgings in the various higher end hotels, making way for the backpacker generation, easily persuaded after a few $0.75 beers to try the ‘Tiger Tiger Bar” or “Funky Monkey” along the mainstreet. Our venture to the Tiger Tiger Bar served as an introduction to some new Scottish, German, English and Belgian friends, who became out companions for the night and shared moto-taxis on to what is supposedly the most lively bar in town – the persuasively and aptly named ‘Why Not Bar?”. The music here was varied but it yet again pulled through with the wonderful mix of travellers and identities all willing to make new friends and have a good time.
I became a member of the ‘Moto-exhaust-burn Club”, as a shocking amount of fellow backpackers revealed similar burns to the one I received over 2 weeks ago now, all at varying stages of healing and the source of much disbelief at how easily obtained they are over here – uncovered exhaust pipes not proving successful partners when combined with short-legged trousers – another thing left unconsidered whilst travelling. It was honestly one of the best nights out I’ve had since coming to Asia and was only briefly tarnished by the rain on our way home – although it was welcome change to the heat we’d grown accustomed to.
Our accomodation Phuong Le Villa had incredibly friendly and helpful staff; as well as being brilliantly located and extremely clean they also offered a huge amount of information regarding tours and transportation, 2 cute fluffy ducklings keeping guard of the main recpetion area each evening, which proved popular amongst the international clientel.
We also rented rented bikes for a dollar a day and meandered around the streets, avoiding the more expensive guided tours and instead challenging ourselves one day to find the vaguely signposted beach (to be honest everything is quite vague here). We succeeded shortly before the midday heat properly hit, which meant the journey home through open rice paddy fields and over bridges was a rushed affair to limit our exposure to the naked sun.
One final trip into the town on the evening of our last day saw our senses get the better of us as we sampled some of the street food – a personal favourite and high point being the discovery of a sweet potato, coconut and peanut grilled patty-cake thing – yum!
Hoi An is honestly a dream destination for a chilled couply getaway – a few nights for us was enough, but if you were one of the many couples I observed jealously around the town with a slightly larger budget allowing for tours and more thorough exploring, I’m sure it may have proved a more fruitful experience. All in all I was sad to leave, and regret already the strain on my budget the market stalls and stunning colours everywhere have brought…!