October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment
I want to feed my inner revolutionary.
He/she has been dorment for quite some time, and I demand an awakening! I will feed this being with tales of suffering, so it may rise once again with indignation and demand justice. So it may once again take action. Be a part of something greater.
Together, we will cross the seas to foreign shores, where we will learn a new language and speak with passion. Our heart will beat faster, fuelled by rich red blood, alive with the spirit of change.
We will learn also to be humble, and take solace in the arms of love. Suffering will fuel our compassion. Compassion will fuel our action. Action will fuel change.
Together, my inner revolutionary and I will revolutionise this very being, this flesh, bone and blood.
“We must struggle every day so that this love for humanity become a reality.”
Ernersto Che Guevara
October 1, 2010 § 1 Comment
My hatred of the ‘Recette Principale des Postes,’ (Vientiane Post Office) has been slowly increasing since my first visit 2 months ago, to the point where I now loath and detest receiving parcels from loved ones from abroad. This is clearly a reflection of how awful a place it is, as almost everybody on earth enjoys receiving packages via the post. Especially in this current age of technology in which the most meaningful thing you can receive is a Facebook message or SMS. Snail mail has become both nostalgic and exciting.
I seem to be the only person to have developed these feelings of hatred. Others seem to have positive encounters, telling me the service they receive is efficient and that they experience no obstacles when they do business there.
I am clearly doing something wrong.
The first mistake (and I am aware of this one) is that I always go after 12pm. This is the worst time to do any kind of business in this country. As soon as the day switches to PM, you are hard pressed to find any person eager to serve or assist you. This is because of lunch. Something I only mildly hate. In fact, I don’t hate lunch at all, quite the opposite, I adore lunch (like any good Greek girl should), I simply do not like the effect lunch has on the citizens of Vientiane. So because I too enjoy lunch, my hatred can only be mild.
The effects lunch has on public servants is remarkable. How any work is done afterwards is a miracle. It is as if everybody has a siesta, but because they can’t officially go home and sleep (come on, it’s a Communist country) they simply sleep with their eyes open. The result is a zombie-like person, eyes open, but no brain activity to speak of.
My second mistake (and the only other mistake I am making in my opinion) is that I don’t come armed with tracking numbers from the senders, or exact postal dates, or the exact contents of the parcel. What the post office staff don’t seem to realize is that people like to surprise, especially on the occasion of a birthday. The senders of these parcels don’t call or email me to tell me the exact date they posted the gift, let alone the tracking number and contents. I am simply notified that something is on it’s way.
Last week was my birthday, and I am blessed with wonderful friends and family who sent me numerous gifts in the mail. In normal circumstances, this would have been lovely and wonderful, but because it meant I had to spend my birthday week going in and out of the worst place on earth, I grew resentful of their kindness, and my birthday.
It seems pretty simple superficially. There is no home address post service. (With the exception of bills, which are delivered straight to your door, no escaping the mail you don’t want to receive). For the mail you do want to receive you must open a post box. I don’t personally have a post pox, so I use the box of my friend. Theoretically all you need to do is bring with you the post box ID card, the key and your passport to pick up a parcel with your name on it. Apparently it is not that simple. I haven’t seemed to work out why, it is possible the rules change for each parcel.
To be fair, my first trip was quite a success. After becoming extremely frustrated by the zombies at the front counter, I took things into my own hands and went backstage to find somebody who could answer my fairly simple question: “Is there a parcel for me?” I was greeted by a table of the most helpful Lao men I have ever encountered. This could possibly be related to the fact I may have been showing an unusual amount of cleavage that day. Nevertheless, I was treated extremely well, and somehow acquired my own personal team of parcel finders. On this particular day, there was no parcel for me. My team leader demanded I give him my mobile number, so he may notify me the second it arrived.
True to his word, a day later, I received a call, “Miss Kennelly? Please bring your passport and come to the Post Office.” And that was all, I walked out with a large package from my parents and an even larger smile upon my face.
This was a fairytale ending, and the last time I would ever walk out of the place with a smile.
I think the reason that I have such a ridiculous hatred for the ‘Recette Principale des Postes’ is because it seems to be the only place in Lao that seriously follows rules (whatever they may be). Outside a police officer will ignore a serious traffic offense, or take money to pretend it didn’t happen, but inside the post office, there is no bending of Postal Law.
Every time I enter the post office I feel I should come dressed in amour bearing a sword. Perhaps that would intimidate the zombies at counters 22 and 23.
All I want is to pick up the parcel with my name on it. But there is always a problem. One is the serious look of suspicion when I come with my friends ID card + my own passport. Each time I explain: I use my friends box, this is her ID card and her picture, but the parcel is for me, with my name on it, and this, is my passport, with my picture.
I don’t know what kind of criminal they think I am. Each parcel has the contents written on the outside, and you have to get it checked (searched) before you can take it. So it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the contents. Perhaps it’s simply my face they distrust?
Every time I questioned. And there is literally a good cop bad cop thing going there. The main questions: Is this your passport? Where is the parcel sent from? What date was the parcel sent? How big is the parcel? What address does the parcel have on it? Do you speak Lao? Where do you live? Is this your friend? What is the tracking number of the parcel? How was it sent? Priority?
The good cop bad cop is all in the tone of the questions.
To be honest, I don’t think there are serious Post Office rules, I think the reason it is so difficult to get my parcel is simply because it would involve the zombie getting out of his chair and moving. And that is clearly not possible as he has just eaten lunch.
September 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
I want to be:
I want your job. I want your qualifications. I want your experience. I want your drive. Your hopes. Your passions. I want your mind. I want your inspiration & your creativity. I want your home. I want your things. I want your outlook. I want your feelings. I want your career. I want your success. I want your dedication & application. I want your knowledge. I want your beliefs. I want your understanding. I want your direction. I want your courage. I want your confidence. I want your opptimism. I want your purpose. I want your will. I want your humility. I want your intellect. I want your gentleness. I want your personality. I want your responsiblity. I want your reliability. I want your heart. I want your compassion. I want your love.
I want your life.
I want to be you.
I want to be you, because it would be so much easier than being me. I would have a purpose. I would have a career. I would have a life that went clearly forward, in the right direction.
Because, if I was you, I wouldn’t have to decide. I would already know.
Because it would be so much easier not having to decide my own future. My own life.
So, can I please just have yours?
September 21, 2010 § 2 Comments
What is Pho you might ask?
I will take you back to start of my first encounter with this delicious food:
It was January this year, and my dear Calli and I decided to have a girls getaway to Melbourne. One night, Calli’s older sister took us to dinner with her friends.
On this fateful night they decided to eat Vietnamese food for dinner, and took us to a restaurant accordingly named, Mekong, or something along those Vietnamesey lines.
It was busy, and we had to fight for a table.
The only thing that seemed to be eaten in this place was this mysterious substance called Pho. Everybody was confused with its pronunciation, was it Po? or Fo? or Phoo?
Regardless, we all managed to order (the same).
Out came a bowl of steaming goodness. Beef broth with rice noodles and thinly sliced beef. Accompanying it, a plate of fresh green things, such as mint, basil, lettuce etc.
I knew little of the wonders that this bowl could contain; until, I took my first sip/bite.
& it was in this moment, I fell in love.
I don’t want to describe all the things it can make you feel, as you have try it for yourself, but I will say this: TRY IT.
Pho is traditionally a Vietnamese dish, most commonly served with beef and eaten for breakfast.
Laos is a place of many cultures, and luckily for me, the Vietnamese brought this wonderous soup over the border and into the capable hands of the locals.
It is not difficult to find a Pho shop. In fact, no matter which direction you walk in this town, you will find one within 100m.
After many months of not knowing how correctly say the name of my favourite food, I can now tell you, it is pronounced ‘Fur.’
So every day, I find a Pho shop. I sit down and within a minute or two, there is a steaming bowl of this delicious soup in front of me.
A Lao Pho shop is usually characterized by its plastic stools and tables, the variety of sauces and condiments on such tables, and the stack of (big) bowls next to the big steel pot in which the magic is made.
When you sit down, you are given a cup of icy tea, a plate of greens, and a small dish of Satay.
Lao people love to make little bundles of greens (snake beans, lettuce, mint, basil & possible garden weeds), dip them in shrimp paste and chomp away. Personally, I think shrimp paste tastes like (what I imagine) moldy feet would do.
When you get your bowl of Pho, you can literally make it taste any way you like. As mentioned earlier, the amount of condiments is amazing! There’s fish sauce, soy sauce, special seasoning sauce, chili sauce, sweet chili sauce, ground dried chili, fresh chili, vinegar, vinegar and chili, (at some places) MSG, and my favourite, sugar.
You know you are in a good country when you put sugar in your soup.
The small joy of picking off the mint and basil leaves, and and adding my chosen sauces brings me such great pleasure. It is while I prepare and then eat this magic broth that I meditate on the great things in life.
Such as sugar in your soup, the difference between fast food here and fast food at home, what kind of life the little boy handing you your tea will have as an adult, how to buy a Chinese scooter in Sydney, if there are Pho shops in Russia and East Germany, if the tourists will eat this this if they see me doing it, whether or not I will be able to live in Australia again, if the locals think I am weak because I didn’t empty half a container of chili puree into my bowl, if I will study, why are we here, what is my purpose, what is my future….
My dear friends.
It is when I eat Pho that I think of you all.
This short amount of time in my day that I can dedicate to thinking of you, and how you might be.
& how I might be, when I see you again.
And sometimes, if I ask the right question at the start of my meal, the answer appears, by the time I have reached the bottom of the Pho bowl.
September 21, 2010 § 1 Comment
Currently I am lying spread-eagled on the tiled floor of my apartment in an effort to combat the intense heat of the day.
The floor is cooling & there is certainly a different perspective gained from this angle. I could be lying on my bed with the aircon on, but I like to think I am a little more Lao than that, & this is a country of floor lying people.
I just wanted to share an excerpt from the diary I kept for a grand total of 7 days. This one was written on the plane from Sydney to Bangkok, almost 3 months to the day.
‘I’ve ended a 4 year relationship & am trying to familiarize myself with me. With being alone. After 4 years of being totally comfortable with somebody, I now have to readjust & learn to be aware of myself; my actions, my words. Being comfortable stops you thinking, stops your self awareness. For me anyway.’
I wrote a lot about what I should be doing on that plane. Should. This word is so restrictive. I wrote about how I should stop being so attached to everything. How I should distance myself from my emotions.
This was fine to write when in the sky, but here on earth, well, that’s a different story.
I can see (very clearly) how it’s my attachments in this world that bring me such pain and suffering. But at the same time, they bring such me immense joy, I feel it’s worth it.
It seems to me that to live without attachment is to give up your humanity. I am aware that sounds harsh, and may even sound insulting to some of the world’s strongest beliefs, but I stand by it.
Call me corny, but an episode of the TV show House springs to mind. The one where they treat the “psychopath” lady. There was something really frightening to me about a person who feels nothing, & honestly, the concept scared me. This (fictional) character felt no remorse, no guilt, had no what we like to call “moral compass” guiding her. Her actions went without consequence, to herself that is. She manipulated everyone around her, pretending she felt/cared for them. Her motive was purely to get what she wanted. She could not cry, and her laugh was false. The character’s husband was blind to the fact she could not feel, and was very in love with her. She in return, felt nothing for him, & stayed with him only because he was rich. This character was so distant from her emotions that I felt it was hard to identify with her as human.
To live without attachment, I believe you have to distance yourself from the majority (if not all) of your emotions. For how can you remain without attachment with a heart full of hatred? The minute you feel hate, you are becoming attached to something. The same goes for love, joy, sadness, guilt (the list goes on).
And if you live distanced from these emotions, feeling nothing, does that make you the same as the character in House? A psychopath?
Obviously, feeling guilt, sadness, sorrow, brings pain, whilst feeling love, happiness, joy, brings contentment & elation. We all enjoy feeling elated and joyful, and we rarely enjoy feeling down or remorseful.
3 months ago I wrote in my diary that I should try to be non attached to everything.
At the time, it seemed like it was the way forward, but now, like so many things, I am unsure. For is not the reason we want to become non attached simply to avoid the suffering of our attachments? And is it not that our attachments bring us both suffering and elation/joy? And is it really worth giving up both simply to not suffer?
Again, I don’t have the answers.
I am no longer on the tiled floor, but in a small internet cafe, and the inspiration I felt from the different perspective has dwindled. Again, there was so much more I wanted to say, but it seems there are only small windows of time in which I can access my inspiration, my thoughts.
Until that times comes again.
September 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
There is something about a sunny day that puts me in the best of spirits. Today is a sunny day. You wouldn’t even know it’s rainy season. There is a lot to hate and a lot to love about this season. The thing I hate the most is when it buckets down the minute you want to go somewhere. It’s like the rain controls where you go and who you see. The rain is different here. When it pours, it pours. Big fat drops so thick you can’t even see a meter in front of you. It’s a heavy blanket of water that puts the entire city on standstill.
But it is also thrilling. Riding a motorbike home late at night through a wall of water is exciting (albeit a little dangerous).
Lately the rain has been kind. It has stopped its vicious day time attacks and has surrenderd to singing lullabies at night.
Sitting on a porch with a cold beer, in the company of friends watching & listening to the rain fall gives even the most restless mind a great sense of peace. & when the time comes to crawl into bed, the cool air and the sound of the wild weather makes you feel so at home, no matter where you are.
It is a feeling you want to share with somebody else. On nights like these, I crave the touch of skin on skin, of warm embraces, of soft whispering and intimacy.
I have been here for 3 months now. When I left Australia 3 months seemed like such a long long time. But it is not. It’s as if I blinked and time just flew right past me. I am not ready to leave this place.
I wish I kept a better record of my experiences here. There is so much that is a blur, so much I cannot remember clearly.
There is something wrong with me. I have lost the ability to express myself. I remember times here when I have had so much inside that needed sharing, but I mentally stopped myself from expressing it. I have done nothing creative here. When I arrived I dreamed of all the photos I would take, all the adventures I would go on… But in 3 months the only adventures I have had are adventures of the heart, and alcohol fuelled body.
But today is a sunny day, and my spirits are high and maybe I shouldn’t talk of the heart ache and sorrow and pain I have felt here. Rather, the fun and wonderful characters I am surrounded by.
As always, life must be in balance, and for all the heartache, I have equally felt immense joy and love & happiness.
I don’t know if I have changed. The things I do have certainly changed, but I am less and less certain that our characters ever really transform. Fundamentally I believe we all pretty much stay the same our whole lives, only minor things change. Is that a pessimistic approach? Does it suggest we can never develop? I don’t have the answers.
I live in a Buddhist country. On any given day you will see saffron robed monks, shrines, offerings and temples on almost every street. I used to believe Buddhism was the way forward, but now, I see it differently. I see it the same way I see Christianity. I have less and less faith in religion. My faith is in the fundamental teachings of all religions, but it seems to me these fundamental, universal truths are simply lost when they turn into an organized faith.
But I am no expert. I have no degree, no proof I understand humanity.
I feel like I should be writing more about my life here. But to be honest, I have stopped noticing the differences between home in Dural and home in Vientiane. I should have written earlier, in my first weeks here, then I could have made you laugh comparing the craziness here to life at home. But now, it just is, and I can’t think of anything that would make you laugh.
I think I should come back when I have something to say. For now, these ramblings will have to do. I don’t even know who I am writing for. Perhaps you?
Maybe I could have spared you all, and just kept it simple: Today, I love everybody.
Yesterday was different and I don’t know about tomorrow. But today, I just feel that you should know:
I love you.
September 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
77 days ago I boarded a plane.
I left everyone and everything behind, bringing only what I could fit in a backpack, and fit in in my heart; which at the time was not a lot.
We all leave for different reasons, and 77 days ago, I was happy to board a plane. To leave what I knew, leave what was comfortable, leave everyone. I was happy to leave everything behind.
This post does not tell the story of all the new experiences I have had here in Vientiane. It is not a window into my new life. Rather, it is a reflection on the small things. How I was so quick to disregard them, so quick to leave them behind.
I remember on my third day here, I wrote in my journal (a journal I only kept for a week): I miss toilets with a strong flush, hot showers on cold days, cleanliness, order, quiet.
It is funny. Initially when I felt overwhelmed, it was these small things that made me crave home. Today, I don’t even blink when I use a squat toilet with no water and no paper. I never even switch the hot water on & have more or less adjusted to the constant heat and humidity. I no longer ride around the city photoshopping it in my mind. The crowded houses and thousands of electrical cables no longer effect my obsessive mind and I no longer feel the urge to scrub every inch of the city. I find more order in the disorder. And the constant noises (cars, motorbikes, bells, fans, airconditioning, TukTuks, crying, talking, singing) have all found their respective homes in my head.
Now, on the days when I am overwhelmed, the small things I yearn for are vastly different:
The sound of my mum’s voice in the kitchen. Having somebody to cuddle with. Having somebody to hang out the washing with. Being able to jump on a train and visit a dear friend. When the nights for drinking where only Friday & Saturday. Talking to people who understand everything you say. Having people who genuinely care about how you feel. Having that one person who loves you. No matter what. Who will always care, and always be there. Sitting with my family on a Sunday night eating dinner and watching TV together. Having two families. Holding hands and walking up the road to eat over priced Thai food. The feeling of joy when my grandmother opens her door and welcomes me inside her home. Holding the person you love the most in the whole world while they sleep.
77 days ago, I was happy to leave these small things behind in exchange for excitement and a new life.
And today, for the first time ever, I truly appreciate these things. And while I might not be willing to jump back on a plane back home, I just want to say, I truly appreciate each and everyone the small things. The small everyday joys of home that I was so quick to disregard.
Today I can say, I truly appreciate you. Each and everyone one of you. 100% as we say here in Lao when we really mean something.