Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos

After two months travelling in Southeast Asia, I came home and woke up between 3 and 5am every day for well over a week. During this time, I thought about many things. I thought about how happy I was to be home, to have use of my own private throne and to drink from the tap. I knew where everything was in my kitchen, and I could nuzzle my cat’s belly without worrying he’d bite my face off and give me fleas. But also, I thought about how too quiet and spacious everything seemed, how it felt like I had too much stuff, and how godforsaken a winter morning could be once swapped for crowing roosters and morning bells below a mountain framed by a hot, rising sun. I thought about how the heck to sum up the echoes of this blip in time, and am still not sure if there will ever be a way. The smell of incense and diesel. Smoking meat and sewage. Every single tastebud reacting to one bite of food. Acclimatizing to spice. Gardens, geckos, potted plants, overgrowth. Incessant honking. A rotten shrimp. Nausea, diarrhea. Saffron robes in 7elevens. Lanterns lighting at dusk. Lullingly lyrical languages. Gripping the roof of a tuk tuk. Teenagers side-saddling the backs of motorcycles, texting. Hellos, smiles, bows. Sweat. Freshly washed feet. Ambrosial fabric softener. Yowling cats, howling dog packs. Dogs saying hello. Dogs eating garbage. Elephants. Ruins. Sunburned hands. Mango smoothies. Coconut. Rectangular ice cream. Getting lost on foot, on bike, in the stifling afternoon, in the maze of market vendors. Watching traffic while listening to headphones. Rows and rows of kids on small stools in a school courtyard, singing. Kids selling souvenirs. Kids serving beer. A street that shifts in appearance from morning to noon to night. Wi-fi passwords. Skype chats home and teary phone calls. Being very tired. Sleeping in and missing all the good street food. Breakfast rice. Breakfast soup. Sizzling white fish and dill. Lemongrass. Noodles. The in-between time in airports, on planes, busses, boats. Standing for hours on a very bumpy, very stinky train. The offensive smell of caves. Bat poop. Cleaning bat poop from your shoes. Ovaltine. Omelettes. Water spinach. Hot meals bagged in plastic. Plastic water bottles. Plastic jammed into the crevices of ancient stones. Never ending stone steps to the top. Pagodas. Yellow rice paddies. Deep green mountains. Views. Quiet. Stillness. Cameras and selfie sticks. Tourists. Hordes of loud tourists. Sweet frangipani flowers. Thick brown river. Temple on a hill. Jellyfish. Purple sunsets. Lightening storms in the highest parts of the sky. Downpours. The loudest thunder I’d ever heard. The tide.
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My first few days in Bangkok, I woke up around 2am, then again at 4am, and would try to fall back asleep until about 6. And then I would get up, slip out of my hostel in Bang Rak and walk through the tight twisted street in the warm morning rain to a coffee stand on the corner. The coffee cost 10 baht and was bold and aromatic and made my heart beat. Early vendors were setting up grills and large pots and hotel staff were dragging cleaning supplies from one building to its sister across the alley. Cats were drinking from puddles and scooters were putt-putting past monks on their alms rounds. I thought about many things during those first few mornings, including everything I was afraid of, how far I’d moved in kilometres, and how long it seemed I was going to be away from home. There’s no real meaning to be made of this, except maybe the obvious: jet lag is annoying; the world gets bigger and smaller simultaneously every time you reach a new corner of it; some of us get this great privilege; etc. But if we are one of the lucky ones, maybe all we need is to stop thinking long enough to listen for the echoes; the wonder, the pungent, the roosters, the distance. And then we’ll know how to tell the story.