Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Applause & Accolades

Waiting for the distant sun
To strike a suitable pose
Winking down at me
At just the right angle

There's a jaded eye
Waiting to come alight
But I'm not waiting
For the eclipse of ingenious notions
Or even for the clutch of night
I will share my devotion
Let you depart as you might


The silence of a writer afraid to dream
The chatter of those who consider him profound
Second-hand broken dreams
Original concepts coming apart at the seams
Seems the normal state of things
But just when I get used to it
Someone comes along to surprise me

Monday, 20 December 2010

In Pursuit of Stillness

I don't need to 'do something' to get something precious out of my time in Thailand... often just being in a public space, and open to all the attendant changes in the environment is revealing, pleasant and an adventure - if you're willing to explore the world through observation rather than being a swiftly moving object.
I think my sense of stagnation is unlikely to be lifted by returning to Sydney, if anything, it's likely to make it worse. I would like to experiment with traveling longer...

Multiple Directions

So time has come for me to make an important decision about where I'm going to go next, and, indeed, how I will spend my entire year...

Option A) Go to Sydney, Australia

This may seem an unlikely option given my insatiable need for travel, but I'm finding it difficult to motivate myself to travel much longer than a month. I find myself longing for privacy when I use a computer, most of all... since I don't travel with a laptop, all my writing must be done in a public space, where I am exposed to any variety of stimuli, most unwanted and often completely unpredictable. I find that I get good ideas when I'm reflecting in my room, and can't quite get them down when I enter the internet cafe. Since my writing is very important to me, this creates a difficult dynamic.

B) Go to Taipei, then Tainan, Taiwan

I just sent an email to a CouchSurfing/Facebook friend to ask her if I can stay with her at this time... we'll see how she responds. Living in a private home will allow me to use a computer with less potential distractions, though there will of course be time limitations. I have a deep interest in Taiwan, so this option is very appealing to me. The only problem is that I won't be able to stay in Taipei very long due to the weather (it's windy and rainy in Taiwan's north during winter, and I am so good at catching cold).

C) Go to Hanoi, Vietnam, then Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An before going back up to Hanoi
D) Go to Bali, Indonesia - I've never been there before, and it would be a nice complement to my travels in Malaysia, letting me in on what makes (parts of) southernmost SEA tick.
E) Go to Simgapore
F) Go to Macau
G) Think of some other ingenious solution, like catch an AirAsia flight to London then Ryan Air to southern Spain, where I will find a friend to stay with via CS.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Velvety Design

Springing forth like an oblique reference
So refreshing in the absence it evokes
Playing, posturing, we venture back and forth
Contentment milling around my shoulders

A new labyrinth to affect disinterest in

Whither you knew me matters not, it seems
I'm exactly where I need to be, and you're delicious
An endless supply of appetisers, sometimes turned mains
Say you celebrate me as I do you, we'll never be the same again

A wayward blond still feebly haunts my heart
He never knew me or suspected how I loved
How much indifference accrued, until it faded
How much caution was carelessly evaded

But it's alright and it's okay
I need a little heartbreak now and then
In the absence of immersive interaction
I smile through the longing, appreciate the pain

Everything and nothing
I could attach both these qualities to you
But now there is the residue - of something -
With which I'm not sure what to do

Disparate Excuses

Two disparate excuses for the same dream
I long for the unreadable scrutiny
I seemed to cultivate before
I find myself increasingly tangible
The sensation of it comforting
The thought of touch wilts my composure
Into something more vulnerable,
Something more affected
It's the inner fear of silence
Long neglected, now perfected
And I can't hold it in no more
All those interweaving fancies
Begging for attention
Don't know who to pester
Till they can't take any more
Wouldn't want any animosity
To fester

Is it okay if I open up?
Can we maybe become friends?
Is it too late for you to lift your chin up
And convince me I'll see better days?

So comfortable in summery attire
But I long for climates sprinkled deep in snow
Fusing characteristics of the locales I admire
The only question: From which place to go
From which place to depart
From which place to be
Always arriving
From which place to be bothered by
To take apart
Whenever its actors don't play its proper part?
Whenever I am left dismayed at unrealised potential

Deepening the Intrigue

An avalanche of literary proportions
Thoughts poetic and sharp, lost
In the maze of my own making
Along the carefully disconnected avenues of the mind
I hear the noise inside me heighten, and I'm left to wonder
What kind of outlet does this cacophony require?

I knew I needed
To leave
Nudge away the lingering touches
Avert my gaze from self-serving ocular entreaties
Stop taking in the scents that make my imprisonment more palatable
Make tracks into a way that seems less laden with familiar tracks

So here I am in a Chiang Mai guesthouse
Life's sweet and easy, crowded with people but lonely
I long to be locked into conversation with
Just one entertaining soul

I still dream of distant lands
But do so with a smile on my face
And when I get sick of the trails I trace
I know I'm welcome at the next, the only place

Friday, 17 December 2010

Teasing at the Heart

If only you could hear the echoes in my mind
The clatter of the outside world could not distract you from my hauntedness

Would you please be so contrary
As to love me when we both agree you shouldn't
Would your love be kind of scary
Or is love the grand delusion in this story

Wouldn't love be the mystery substance
Troubling all sense of loss
Dewy-eyed I walk across
Your eyes linger on my image and I
Wait for you to notice
You're the perfect sense of nuance unattained
Where will we both be when
We meet, and change

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Shell-shocked by Malaysian Misogyny

I didn't expect my stay in Kuala Lumpur to be so disquieting (or, in my case, 'quieting'). I hated the way the Muslim men looked at me, and it was the sort of situation where I knew that I pretty much had to 'sit down and shut up' or risk drawing unwanted attention to myself. Possibly the most unpleasant moment was when I was about to enter my mid-range hotel, the AnCasa. There were two Muslim workers, one at the driveway and one at the door, who shared a smirk as I went by. All I had done was smile at the first one - the second one didn't even make eye contact with me, he pointedly kept the eye contact with the other worker for the purposes of reaffirming some kind of damaging stereotype about Western women. I felt slightly insulted, and spent the rest of my stay in KL trying to refrain from working myself into a suitable state of outrage. I was a guest in a country I was not a citizen of, I reminded myself over and over. Other minorities such as the Chinese were responsible for bettering the situation, not me.

In a way, staying in Chinatown probably gave me a warped view of KL. On the other hand, in a warped country, the best perspective is the most skewered. Sort of like staying in the gaybourhood of a homophobic city.

Anyway, I'm shell-shocked because Malaysia is the best-performing economy in Southeast Asia. Thailand, which is so much more liberated, gender-wise, deserves this status, I believe. I'm continue to be soothed and taken good care of by Thailand's tourist infrastructure and impressed by the friendliness of the people, and I'm sure eventually the bad taste in my mouth left by KL will fade away...

I had some resistance to getting with the smiles here - reverse psychology, if you like. I'm slowly warming to the way this ritual is handled (like most others), and relishing its underestimated charms.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Memories of the Future

It's nothing extraordinary
The mere touch of my hand
Blinding and arbitrary
Left for myself to fend

A deep-seated loneliness
Only emerges
Around the times I
Think of you
In my temple of non-connectedness I grew
But everything new has become old again
Everything sudden proves premeditated
Or so says my nightmare logic
Why can't you just let me be
Let me marinate in my own headspace for a while
So many places to sink in, so many people to be
I watch the evolution of distant companionship
Be outclassed by the formation
Of intimate relationships
And I am left to (g)listen,
Here in my (g)local
Left to imagine
Everything I could long for
You're impassioned and I'm frail?
I could save you if I knew how to find you
Climbing up walls designed to toss off humankind
Until I find what I seek
And find you melting into my arms
Sunlight pooling on your cheek

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Travel Fantasies

What are your travel fantasies? You know, the trips you daydream about the most, that might feel a little out of reach for now? Here are some of mine:

a) Reykjavik, Iceland in summer

Is Iceland's capital the most eccentric city in the world?

b) A 45 day tour of Japan (in any season but winter)

One of the few English-speaking countries around where I can speak a little of the language, Japan promises charm, sophistication, poise and spiritual vibes.

c) Buenos Aires to Mexico City

I want to take public transport from Argentina to Mexico, only flying over the Darian gap.

d) Coasting Along in North America

Starting with San Diego, I'd like to wander up to Vancouver, then fly over to Montreal, do Toronto and then East Coast northern USA. (I'm not as keen on Virginia to Florida.)

e) Taiwan & China

Beginning with a comprehensive tour of China, I will then explore as much of the mysterious mainland as I possible can

Common travel fantasies I don't see the point of:

a) India
b) The African Continent
c) The Middle East (not including Israel)
d) The Pacific Islands
e) Much of the Caribbean Islands

Life in 2553

I always did say that I was 50 years ahead of my time... Well, yesterday I learned that the Thai calendar is quite different to the Western one, and it is in fact the year 2553! Lol.

So how is life in Chiang Mai? Well, for one, hello to lighter misogyny than in the country I just left... I've only seen one woman with a headscarf. Female beauty is not something which is seen as threatening to male chastity. And what beauty... the Thai people are some of the most gorgeous people on earth. I love getting into the Mutual Appreciation Society with Thais who take a liking to my looks - we admire the way each others' features work. Superficial, but flattering and overall positive.

The streets are laced with farang (foreigners), sprinkled with square spaces filled with colour, but often livened up by curvy design. The Jewish guy from LA I met today says that living with art is the Thai way.

Yesterday I met Milos. Milos was originally born in the Czech republic, studied in Vienna, the USA and moved to Thailand twice. He runs meditations courses each night with the tourists he can attract as he walks 8kms each day around the city. I either saw the spirits of two past lives last night, or... not. ;o) Either way, Milos was kind enough to offer me invaluable advice about where to go to meditate. There is a forest monastery that not many farang know about which allows you to stay as long as you like (they recommend a minimum of a week) for the price of your choice (pay by donation and/or helping out with chores), and I never would have known about it if I hadn't met him.

When asked how he was able to learn 7 languages, Milos says he was in the right place at the right time. He speaks English, German, Czech, Slovakian, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai. And some Dutch. I aspire to be (more) multilingual myself.

I have been travelling so much this year that it no longer feels unusual. I am less photo-camera-ready, les easily impressed (this is after all my 6th time in Thailand), but still heartened to be here, and very gruntled. 

Friday, 10 December 2010

Back in Thailand

Thailand I often associate with innocence - a gritty dedication to pleasantness, no matter the deeper personal networks this marginalises; out of that, a psyche informed by smiling on principle. This may seem like tyranny, and in a way it is, however if you do something a lot, you tend to do it really well, and also find increasingly innovative ways to do it.

It's both the fullness and fragmented nature of the smile that follows around my perception of Thai people. Smiles deepen and fade, stay constant or flicker, phase out or transform into some other gesture of amiability.

The air is fragrant. I paused in a section of my soi (lane) which was particularly aromatic, wondering if I would see the flowers responsible for this public perfuming service in the morning, when darkness didn't obscure my ability to identify them (limited as that is).

Martin 's addition to my poem a few days ago made me reflect upon how the phrase 'restless heart' informs me. Well, I often feel like I'm bursting with things to say, and limited outlets for their expression. How long can my postmodern rhetoric interest someone before they lose interest? How can I splatter my conceptual paint, from one shade to another tone, over far-flung and differently textured surfaces, before someone starts to close their mind?

I have been following the WikiLeaks releases over the past few months and I'm a bit exhausted... Thailand reminds me of a more innocent time of admiration for the pleasant visuals (today was a tone poem in light green, pastel blue and cotton candy pinkm, as I walked by one fresh-looking shop to a next), where the world offered so many possibilities in the limitation of the economic sector, nevertheless. As I said to my father, Thailand made me realise that I don't need a lot in my life; the buses which transport me around Thailand don't need to be upgraded to be pleasant and effective, to be useful, pragmatic, and a wonder of modern day technology. Thailand is enough - more than enough.

It is true that, in past times, I have also felt small. I felt like I couldn't really catch up to others due to some of the setbacks I have experienced. These days I feel more comfortable with my identity as a traveller, a bridge between cultures, and an exuberant investigator. An animated observer.

Reflecting on my recent journeys, I am learning to do away with the notion of 'irrepairable' and 'devastating' - with the careful application of controlled optimism, you can achieve anything.

Debra has become the model for both awareness and ignorance now, a more balanced role than I had affoded her before; I can relate to her satisfaction with Asian social relations, on both a deep and superficial level. I admire her for changing her world - actively making a home for herself in a new old country (China) frm not very much. To really move, to really transplant yourself into a different culture, takes a lot of hard work and sheer stubbornness, from what I can see. It is my hope to pull off such a project one day, when it is within my financial means.

Until then, I have countries to visit, people to fall in love with, friends to cuddle, and infinite batches of new ideas to nurture.

Iceland & Nigeria

In the past few months, CNN (the news network I no longer actively seek out, having switched recently to the Guardian) created a segment called Connect The World, in which two countries who were supposedly very different in the "collective consciousness" were paired together. It was up to the readers to find connections between them. This appealed to me because I am a fan of the would-be incongruous, the ostensibly ill-fitting, the tenuously associated. I went through a phase where I listened to every mash-up I could find. I made mash-ups my personal philosophy to life - find two things (ideas, people, whatever) that seemed to contradict each other, or at least create a lot of friction when placed in the same sentence or conceptual framework, and watch people react. I like the sense of discomfort, of re-adjustment, that this kind of unusual combination-making inspires.

It so happened that today I saw two thought-provoking stories which draw on postmodern themes, on Ted.com. One was by Hala Tomasdottir of Iceland, and the other was by Chimamanda Achibie of Nigeria. I recommend you find these speeches on Ted and let them take you on a journey.

Let's start with Chimamanda. She was determined to bypass the tendency to focus on one dominant narrative so popular in our society (e.g. African men are all violent, Mexicans are all trying to gain access to work in America), and to actively seek out a multiplicity of stories, so as to create a complex reality. It's a simple concept, but a powerful one - if you are ever stuck with just one story about a nation or its people, find another one. Search high and low, if you must, for that underrepresented perspective of the multifacetedness of a nation.

Hala also sought to bring a new perspective to light - the way in which female presences in the workforce are the lifeblood of diversity in groups. Without harnessing the full potential for diversity, a male-dominated team makes decisions which are weak and limited. If they allowed women to naturally play a big a role in their companies as they do in life in general, the benefits to both women and men would be enormous. My favourite part of her speech was her denouncement of the hysteria to recreate the old system (the one which got us into the present mess) instead of creating a brand new one. She quotes Einstein to establish how insane our society is, and how feminine power can help balance not just the workplace but everything it affects and is affected by.

Continued in Part 2...

Monday, 6 December 2010

In the internet cafe

I'm surrounded by mountains, or waves, up on the wall
Where one ends and the other begins, I can't tell
Both or neither motif seems to fit
Somewhere in between
Wakefulness and sleep

Last night I dreamt
That lessons were held in the sand
Last night I dug up old notions of splendour
Retrieved an older sense of fervour

A group of Malays chatter indiscretely
With no respect for the unease apparent in my demeanour

In search for melodies most resonant
I cajole my coarser creations into retreat
Plunging into the bittersweet company
Of the epiphany better known as me


Upon reading this poem, Martin Goldstein decided to give it his own touch, below:

I'm surrounded by mountains or waves - were they on the wall?
Where one ends and the other begins - I could not tell!
Both and neither motif seem to fit
Somewhere between
Wakefulness and sleep

Last night I dreamed
That lessons were held in the sand
Last night I dug up old notions of splendour
Retrieved an older sense of fervour

A group of Malays chatter indiscreetly
With no respect for my restless heart

In search for melodies most resonant
Cajoling my coarser creations into retreat
Plunging into the bittersweet company
Of the epiphany better known as me

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Beyond the Surreal

AirAsia flies the good flight. Epiphanie Bloom was exhausted from staying up all night the night before. Worried that this state would make her less attentive to nuances, she created a hyper-alert state for herself, happily drained away by three nights in the latest Asian capital to catch her attention, KL.

At home, I find myself slightly dumb. I let some of my knowledge of the world slip away. I let my parents make decisions for me which I try not to resent. I feel mired in negative thinking. Overseas, I'm surrounded by new situations which require me to move quickly, update my sense of motion. I travel to feel alive.

KL is an intriguing mix of inviting and repulsive, as various minorities interweave themselves into the fabric of an Islamic philosophy and create hot-spots of calm, tolerance and beauty. I'm not going to pretend to have any appreciation for traditional Islamic values (or contemporary ones, for that matter) - I'm only in Malaysia because this was the cheapest way to get to Thailand. So the Chinese in particular offer me some respite from the unfortunate attitudes of some.

I'm taking a music break here in an air-conditioned net cafe just off Chinatown, reintroducing my ears to the sounds of Robyn, Lady Gaga, and, presently, Ace of Base.

My respect and admiration for Julian Assange grows. More than anybody else, he makes me proud to be Australian. WikiLeaks has made the market for news a much more exciting place, and in a way I wish I had more time to devote to the news, as so much material has been released. Then again, there's only so much reading you can only do without going bonkers.

At the restaurant of the AnCasa hotel, where I was staying up to yesterday, they had a very funny promotional spiel, full of references to madness. Think: Our psychedelic chefs go bonkers preparing a maddening array of food for you... all for the crazily incredible price of... :o)

The Kuala Lumpur air, as expected, is difficult on the respiratory system, but I only cough when on the edge of a particularly hectic road. The pavements are quite dodgy so I'm careful, but apart from that I feel safe and like my curiosity is well-rewarded.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

24 hours from now...

I should be in Kuala Lumpur. Despite my parents' best efforts to dim my enthusiasm for exploring the capital of the most prosperous South-East Asian nation, I look forward to sampling the historical, cultural, social and culinary delights.

Whilst researching Malaysia I discovered that there is a very brave woman there who is helping people become more open to GLBTI folks in her country. Her name is Gabrielle Chong Yong Wei, and you can read her prize-winning speech on gay rights here. It features emotive and clever phraseology, such as:

When one man is not free, all are bound.

And when the gay community triumphs, our triumph too, shall be [humanity's] triumph.

Apart from a 2-day stint in Istanbul, I haven't had much experience with majority Muslim societies, so I look forward to learning more about the world, near and far, through my 7-day examination of KL culture. I hope that I will feel more confident visiting Bali, someday, as a result (even though it's Hindu, it's informed by Muslim Indonesia).

I have developed a rather unpleasant eye twitch, and so I'm thinking about seeing a traditional Chinese medicine person for help with this minor but aggravating affliction. It should help that I'm staying in Chinatown... ;o)