I wanted to share with two things I have fallen head over heels with since I returned to Thailand in May.
My Hammock. And my Scooter.
My first night in Thailand, six months ago, I was a passenger on my friend Caz’s scooter. I had never been on any kind of scooter, motorbike etc before, and I was terrified. I clung on to Caz, stiff and unyielding, gritting my teeth and digging my nails into her waist at every acceleration or corner. The traffic flow in Thailand is very different from the UK. Flow is the right word, with many scooters that twist in and around the few cars. No part of the road is sacred, scooters are just as likely to go along the limited pavements as any other part of the road. It took maybe a month or so of being a passenger before I started to be more fluid and relaxed, sometimes even opening my eyes.
Caz had to leave for a while, and I was on my own in Chiang Mai. A mutual friend was heading off for a weekend, and after giving me a couple of short lessons on his bike, said he was happy for me to use it. Unfortunately, at that time, I was suffering from bronchitis, but as is my way, was trying to pretend I was fine. Trying out the bike when I was feeling pretty ill and woozy wasn’t a success. I got on the bike in the car park of my apartments, and drove it straight into the road. Luckily there wasn’t any other traffic, and all was well, but the security guard at my place had to wheel the bike back inside and park it for me. I went back to bed and decided to ‘park’ the idea for a while.
The next time I tried learning was on Koh Phangan. I had been here a few weeks, riding a bicycle as my transport. That had increased my confidence on two-wheeled vehicles, but in the heat of Thailand, at 30degrees plus, riding a bicyle was a lot of effort. And everyone here rides a scooter. Plus the traffic is pretty light. So, Caz, on the island with me, helped me out with a few lessons on her bike.
We found a small dirt road, which had about 100 m of run, but required a u-turn at each end. I managed the run, but was less good at turning the bike, and at one point I rode into a fence. Luckily the fence was quite robust, and I was fine, but at that point Caz and I called it a day.
Fast forward to 2 months later. I’ve been home to the UK, and am now back on the island, planning at least a 2.5 month stay this time. Caz decides on the total immersion method to get me over what is now quite a big anxiety. “We’re going to hire a bike in Thong Sala [the main port town about 20min drive away], and you’re going to drive it back”.
I am paralysed with fear. And excitement. I ensure we have our phones with us in case we need to call someone to come and drive my bike home. We go to the shop, and due to low season, negotiate a good price with the woman in charge, who Caz hired her bike from. We’ve parked Caz’s bike round the corner so she can drive my bike away – we think me having a lesson outside the bike shop might not fill the woman with confidence about hiring the bike to me.
We reach Caz’s bike and she runs through the controls again on mine. It’s an automatic, so it’s straightforward enough – the only thing that caught me out before is the accelerator being on the handle, next to the brake. The, er, excitement of braking and accelerating at the same time coming out of my previous apartments is still with me.
We have a straight road in front of us. All I need to do is turn the accelerator, slowly, and balance. I start turning the accelerator in my hand. The bike starts moving. My heart rate increases. The excitement and fear are combined in a massive adrenaline wash. I wobble. But I stay on. Caz rides in front of me, slowly.
We make it the 20 mins home. I am thrilled. Excited beyond measure. I feel like I have scaled a mountain.
The next day, I do several short rides. I practice. I gain confidence.
A couple of weeks later, I take my first passenger. I warn her in advance, but she’s relaxed. We are coming back from Thong Sala. There’s one hairy moment, going round a corner, where I don’t allow for the weight of a second passenger, and we drift across to the other side of the road. But all is well, and my passenger, when I apologise again at the end of the trip, has already forgotten it.
So now it’s July, and I’ve been back on Koh Phangan for 6 weeks, and in Thailand, on and off, for 6 months. And now I whizz around on my little scooter, and I am so happy, my heart feels like it will burst.
The other day, I went to a live music place on the beach with some friends. Past midnight, I decided to go home. The band were playing an anthemic U2 song. I walked out of the bar, the song still washing over me, found my scooter, got it out of its squished up parking space, and started it. It is, of course, a warm night, and I’m riding along in a little dress, which ripples gently as I drive along. I feel a huge surge of joy that I have mastered the bike, and gratitude for my life here.
The scooter has given me freedom on the island, whilst also feeling like a huge accomplishment in terms of getting over my fears by riding it. And it’s also a lesson to me. Getting over our fears is hard. Really hard. But not impossible. And sometimes, you can’t imagine what getting over that fear will bring you.
Then there’s my hammock.
Most places in Thailand have hammocks. You can find them at every house, bungalow, and shop. Sometimes, in shops on Koh Phangan, there’s one out the back, and the proprietor will retire back to it once they have served you (cafes etc. don’t tend to be what you’d call busy out here). In fact, sometimes in tuktuks, the proprietor has a hammock they can string up inside the vehicle for down periods.
My bungalow also has a hammock, on its spacious terrace area – where I also have a table and a couple of chairs. Essentially, in this hot country, it’s an outside room. As big as my bedroom or kitchen, I often write or use the laptop on the table, and I have taken to the hammock for thinking time or reading.
The hammock, for me, represents stillness. Quietness. Calm. When I’m in the hammock, gently swinging backwards and forwards, my face is pointed upwards and outwards. I can see tree tops and the sky. The stars. On stormy nights, I can watch the rain pour down and see the lightning flash, still retaining a sense of security and peace. I can’t rush in the hammock. I have to stop. But I’m cradled and protected. Almost a cocoon.
I’ve come to love the hammock. When I spent time there, I am often creative, thoughtful, and restored. I can breathe deeply.
Attachment to things
One of the tenets of the yoga philosophy I am learning about is detachment from things. To not cling too tightly to possessions and other material goods which are worthless from a spiritual point of view. So when it comes to leaving the island and letting go of my scooter and my hammock, I will relax my grip and let go easily and gently. But, the feelings that the two items have brought me: freedom, courage, joy, and relaxation, calm, stillness, will stay with me.