So far, that’s never been a problem. To the extent that in the same 24 hour period, two good friends suggested I take a ‘holiday’. Erm…
But it’s all good. My latest jaunt was a week in which I travelled to both Malaysia and Macau, China for work, returning to Thailand just in time for a ‘yoga exam’ at the school I’m at. Busy busy….
The Tip of the Iceberg in Malaysia
It felt strange coming into KL airport. I realised I really do take this kind of travel and new country in my stride these days, perhaps too much. Malaysia felt more familiar than it should (i.e. this was my first trip!), because so many of my friends in Thailand go there regularly for visa updates.
I’d been more focused on packing everything up in Thailand, unsure if they would let me back in, rather than preparing for Malaysia itself. If you’ve read the last post I wrote, you’ll know the situation in Thailand is a bit uncertain at the moment, and all my energies had gone into preparing as best as possible to get back into Thailand, and planning contingencies in case I didn’t.
Landing at KL airport, I felt the same familiar heat, saw the same tropical rain, the same intense humidity as other places in the region. But I didn’t see much else on my first evening, as I was staying in a hotel that literally was attached to the airport, the very nice Sama Sama. There wasn’t time for much more than a quick venture back into the airport – a golf buggy ride away – for a very cheap veggie curry for supper in the food court, then it was time for bed.
Heading into Kuala Lumpur in the morning for the work I was doing, I was amazed at how talkative and knowledgeable the taxi driver seemed, talking to me just like a London cabbie for the 40 minute journey, giving me his opinions on the Thailand situation, and telling me proudly about Malaysia and its democracy, the highlights of his country, and why everyone should visit this tourism hub.
The work I was doing in KL was fun, involving interviewing people and holding group sessions to understand some specific job roles. Slightly to my surprise, it all went easily and well (apart from a distinct lack of vegetarian lunch – this was not my most healthy week!), and I was back in the hotel coffee lounge at a reasonable time, typing up my notes from the day. The second day went well too, and afterwards, I headed for the ‘twin towers mall’, a huge shopping area, to the Apple store, to get a replacement power lead as mine was failing. The Apple store was also a very good experience, the sales assistant equally chatty and was also interested in the Thailand situation.
My Malaysian experience was brief, and didn’t really differ much from the kind of work trips I’ve taken throughout my career – airport, hotel, food, taxi, office and repeat – but my own attitude has certainly changed. Instead of being closed off to random conversations such as with the taxi driver and Apple sales assistant, I’m open, warm and curious. I listen. And it certainly makes life more interesting.
Arriving in Macau the next day (after a 4am start), I realised I was inappropriately dressed. The heaviest rain I’ve ever seen was slating down from gloomy skies. In the taxi heading to my accommodation even felt a bit scary, as visibility was so incredibly poor.
I had no coat, no umbrella, nothing of any kind to protect me from the rain.
The taxi driver stopped at the junction where I’d been told my accommodation was, and then sat in the front seat, resolutely looking forward. There was no way he was getting out to help me with my case.
I jumped out – into a puddle. I dragged the case out of the boot, and sloshed my way to the side of the road, under cover. Unfortunately, I realised that I was on the wrong side of the road.
By the time I reached the apartment where I was staying, I was drenched. My hair was in rats’ tails, and the dress I’d put on for work was sopping. There was no way I could head to the client looking like I did.
I was using AirBnB for the first time. In case you haven’t come across it, it’s a site which lets people let out spare rooms in their houses or flats, globally, to travellers. Entering the flat, I was really glad I had. It was a spacious 30th floor apartment, and my bedroom was roomy and comfortable. And it felt like a home rather than a hotel.
After I’d changed and dried my hair, and looked half-way presentable, I headed to the client’s meeting, where I was spending the afternoon working. It was in the Macau Sheraton.
What I hadn’t realised until I arrived in the hotel, was that Macau is basically the Chinese Las Vegas. A special economic zone in China, it has its own currency, you don’t need a visa as a UK citizen, and it is FULL of casinos. It even has its own Venetian hotel, sister to the one in Vegas – complete with canals and gondoliers.
Naughtily, I was tempted into waffles and coffee for lunch (well, there wasn’t anything else vegetarian!) which was delicious. I walked through the gaming floor, and was told off for taking a photo.
The work with the client went well, and even better, when I went back to my accommodation, the host was there and he and his girlfriend had cooked a veggie chilli, which was great. It was really lovely to just chill out in a home – although I did have to revise for my yoga exam, which included doing some asanas (poses) behind the sofa while they watched TV!
A Day of Fun in Portuguese Macau
I then got to have a day of ‘holiday’ in Macau. Sometimes – like Malaysia, earlier in the week – there’s not time to really stay in a city because I have other things on. But this time I’d arranged to leave on the Friday, so I’d have Thursday for fun.
My host was great, lending me a bus pass, maps, and directions to the city’s key highlights. I got the bus – an adventure in itself! – over to the old town. Macau used to be a Portuguese colony, and so there is a great deal of European architecture in the old city, which is disconcerting. Most of which is the ruins of the old cathedral, and a giant fort, where I spent a happy few hours mooching around.
But, gosh, it was busy. The street walking up to the cathedral was absolutely packed. To the rafters. I had to squeeze my way through, and several times got elbowed by other domestic tourists making their own way through. There’s definitely a different sense of personal space in China from in the UK.
After the historic tourist spots, it was time to hit the more modern areas. I took the bus back up to the Venetian and the ‘City of Dreams’ (yes, really), and walked around some crazy expensive shops. After a quick iced coffee stop – I had got up at 4am the day before after all, and was still feeling the effects – I headed to the theatre, for the activity I was most excited about in Macau, recommended by my host. The House of Dancing Water.
A sort of Chinese Cirque du Soleil, with water and diving is probably the best way to describe it. Acrobatics into the water. It was AMAZING. A huge theatre, with a stage that could either be a huge – and presumably very deep, considering the height from which the artists were diving – pool, or, a normal stage.
There were no words, only dance, acrobatics, swimming, diving, and in one memorable but slightly random scene, motorbikes which did some acrobatics in turn, zipping over ramps, a hairsbreadth between each, or doing their own somersaults in mid-air. Luckily they didn’t get in the water.
I loved it. One of the things I miss about London is theatre, and a relatively recent love of dance. Thailand isn’t exactly a cultural abyss, but I’ve chosen a rather remote island for a lot of my time here, so it’s not a desire and interest I get to slake much.
I drank in the sights of that show as if it was my last, entranced. I had got what I think was one of the last tickets, an odd single that I suspect was a return, in a fabulous position in one of the front four rows. They actually provide you with your own towel if you’re in these rows, which I used to good measure. But I was happy to get wet.
The water, the spray from the dripping actors as they repeatedly dove into the water in jaw-dropping ways was beautiful – the lighting designed to make each droplet of water shine and glow, like jewel-toned glitter. I took some photos, but of course, they don’t do it justice AT ALL. Hopefully I’ve given you a bit of a sense of it – and if you ever visit Macau, then DO NOT MISS IT!
After the theatre I met my host and his girlfriend and they took me to a delicious Chinese restaurant, where we had noodles they made in front of us. I had the flying dagger noodles – great, but very filling. We chatted about philosophy, religion, culture, travel and a host of other topics in what was a really relaxed evening. It was great to meet new, interesting people who were from a different background (they were both Canadians who were teaching English).
The next morning, it was time to head back to Thailand. It was another 4am start (ouch, twice in a week!), and I had to catch the ferry to Hong Kong, then get a taxi to the airport. It all took longer than expected, but while whizzing through the ferry terminal, picking up a brief wifi signal, I saw an email from my Aunt, which, in passing, mentioned that AT THAT MOMENT my cousin was at Hong Kong Airport, hanging around for 21 hours waiting for her plane back to the UK.
My jaw dropped, and I sent my cousin a hasty email. Was she really there? Because…I was on my way, and would be there in an hour.
In the end, as I was the last passenger on my plane to check in (i.e., cutting it quite fine), she had to come meet me at my gate. I think both of us were pretty gobsmacked to see the other, and we had a very long, and lovely, hug. She, at 17, was just returning from a Raleigh Adventure in Borneo, where she’d gone off with a group to do charity work in an impoverished area, and learn about other cultures. Pretty cool. She hadn’t seen anyone from home for a couple of months, and we talked at each other until I was the last passenger in the queue at the gate, and it was time to go. A strange encounter – of all the airports, in all the world…
Returning home triumphant
The day continued well, as I was let back into Thailand without needing any of the documents or arguments I’d prepared as to why I should be. It was almost an anticlimax, but one I was pretty glad about.
But there was no rest to be had yet. I arrived back on Friday afternoon, knowing that on the Saturday morning I had a yoga exam, which included both a practical and a theory exam. The school I’m at only has exams every now and then – you may remember the last exam I did at Level 3 last year. This was Level 8, the next big ‘jump’. I guess they’re a bit like gradings in martial arts – demonstrating you have taken in all the teachings and been doing your own practice. I had, though this last week in China and Malaysia it had been hard to do all the revision I’d planned.
I was up at 5.30am on the Saturday morning, warming up my body ready for the exam at 8am. Thankfully, although it wasn’t easy, it went smoothly, and I was most proud of the 15 minute shoulder stand that I did with barely a wobble. That evening, I attended the monthly ‘Final Ceremony’ in the school, and was presented with my certificate and sash, and I was exhausted, but elated.
What a week!