Tiny stories of moments in my life that have caught my attention, my eye, my mind. It’s been a while since the last vignettes (Spring 2014 and Winter 2013/4) – sometimes it’s hard to know where the time goes. I hope you enjoy these little windows into my life and my soul. Let me know in the comments below which resonate most with you. Ellen x
I’m in the UK, and have a couple of days to go before I go back to Thailand. I’m feeling melancholic. Even spending the day with a very dear friend, I feel distant and sad. I find transitions hard, harder than I realise. Switching between countries, cultures, lives, friends takes more of a toll than I take account of, almost as if I need some decompression time either side. This time, consulting work will have to do in place – I have 5 days of work to do in the next 6 days. And one of those will be spent in the air. Keeps life exciting, anyway.
Home is where…?
Home is a much more flexible concept these days. One of the most challenging questions I get asked is: what’s your address? Why do you want it? I ask, suspiciously. They always look at me in bemusement. Surely this is the third easiest question after what’s your name and date of birth. But, no. If it’s for physical post, it goes to my landlady. Not that I want post, so I’ll discourage you if you ask for that reason. Is it to visit me? Because that’s a different address. Is it for tax purposes? That’s my address with my mum in the UK. Is it about the flat I own? That’s another address again. And when are you going to use it? The Thai addresses at least, could change at any minute. So where’s home? Honestly, I don’t think I have one at the moment. Maybe ‘homes’.
I’m sitting on a sofa, in an oasis of air conditioning away from the intractable heat outside. And I’m in a meeting. I don’t go to so many these days. Conference calls, yes but physically present in a meeting, no. This is a meeting of volunteers, and yet, follows exactly the same path as every other meeting I’ve been in. There are two ‘Chairs’ so no one has ultimate accountability. There’s: the complainer; the talkative/over-enthusiastic one; someone who seems to be in the wrong meeting; and someone who sits back for most of the meeting, a supercilious look on his face, and then launches into his own issues just as we’re closing. Which one am I? Probably the watcher – the one who’s too busy over-analysing the meeting to contribute.
Never Say Never
I’ve just finished a poor fantasy novel, which, despite the bad writing, has left me thinking about a couple of lines within it. A character, describing a particular language (of the dwarfs, gnomes, something), said “You should always be careful when saying the word ‘never’. In this tongue, the word ‘never’ is a word that doesn’t exist – we would say ‘It’s an unlikely thing,’ or ‘It seems improbable’, but there is no word for ‘impossible’ or ‘never’ because the things you decide are never going to happen have a way of happening when you least expect them to.” The bad book, then, was worth reading. Good ideas can come from anywhere. It even inspired this.
My Thai’s still bad. The month of lessons wasn’t enough to ensure even the limited phrases I learned come when I need them. The five tones elude me, but the irony is that when I do say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Thai’ in Thai, it has the opposite effect and unleashes a torrent of fast syllables that I can’t even guess at. I consider going to more classes, but the cost-benefit isn’t enough. I’m often asked how long I’ve been here, and I’ve started saying a year instead of two, because in actual compressed time it’s probably less. ‘I travel a lot’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I feel a little bit sad today. Sightseeing, traveling. Watching. Without a community of friends I connect with every few days I don’t feel able to just say, hey, hi, I’m sad. Talk to me. I don’t feel I have the right to just drop that negativity into someone’s life when I’m only in contact every week or two. Of course, I probably felt the same when I lived in the same town for years. You take your personality with you.
A Flying Visit
I’m in Jakarta for 36 hours. I arrive, late at night, and go directly to the hotel. It’s an assessment centre, straightforward. The assessors are five different nationalities, all speaking English with me the only native speaker. I send up a prayer of gratitude that English is my native tongue. I’m not taken with the city. But I can hardly judge it given the brevity of my stay, which was mostly in the airport, hotel and client office. I was probably only in the ‘fresh’ air for 10 minutes, but that air was thick, hot, like soup. Almost tangible. The traffic was worse than Thailand and China, but not as bad as Egypt. When I leave I feel sad that I have no window onto this country. No time to explore and connect. But not much desire either.
A Study In Contrasts
The dusty orange of the desert is smudged into the clear blue of the night sky. The moon hangs heavy and low behind me, and the air has that tang of freshness that cool desert nights have. It’s a pleasure to walk down this busy Dubai road, despite the fact it borders an 8-lane high way and I can see the neon glow of multiple fast food places and hotels to my left and right. A perfect metaphor for Dubai – the modern glass, lights and gleaming metal of a city that seems a big deal until you look at how huge and inhospitable the desert is that surrounds it.
There’s a lot of complaining in online ex-pat forums in Thailand. For Chiang Mai, the two biggest topics are the ever-changing visa situation, and smokey, or burning season, when farmers burn the debris from the harvested rice in their fields. I haven’t been in northern Thailand in February and March before, spending it down on Koh Phangan in the South for the last couple of years. Today’s the first time I’ve really noticed the pollution. It’s hard to miss. The air is muddy, and there’s a haze that covers everything, My eyes sting a little, and the air catches in my throat. The mountain, Doi Suthep, which is usually every-present to the west of the city has disappeared, like a David Blaine magic trick. It’s 35 degrees outside. Today is a good day to retire to my little house and turn on the AC.
It’s one of those meaningful dates today. Where I try to remember the good, the wonderful, the love. But sometimes the other creeps in. Loss, that awful ache inside where you miss the person, and sadness because you know they’re not coming back. Remembering the nightmarish moment when I was told. The disbelief. How it all became reality. Cold, hard awful reality. The disappearance of hope. And I still get choked up thinking about it. My throat tight. My eyes wet. It’s still the kind of memory I shy away from because even now, seven years later, it’s too awful to relive.
Staring at the Moon
I have tonsillitis. It’s like knives in my throat. I am sick. I am grumpy. I text a friend: “I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself with the tonsillitis tbh, lying in the hammock staring at the moon…Did I mention how much I hate being ill?!” He replies: “Yes, the illness thing isn’t at the top of your list. But on the bright-side, it’s Sunday evening and you’re lying in a hammock staring at the moon…The tonsillitis will go with rest… And then you’ll still be the person lying in the hammock staring at the moon.”
And suddenly I feel a whole lot better.