Recently I was reminded of the fact that each and every one of us has a unique story. For a lot of people, these stories are positive. For others, their stories are unfortunate or even sad. I have spent most of my life tiptoeing around the fact that every person has their own history and story to tell. It have always felt awkward listening to another person’s deepest thoughts and, on the most part, I have refused to let myself get close enough to another human being for them to trust me so completely that they want to tell me their story.
Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that I am changing and am becoming more compassionate and empathetic towards others, that I can now sit here and listen to another’s story without feeling that I am intruding. Much of my life up until this point has focused on one story, mine. Being able to admit this now makes me think that perhaps my selfish years are drawing to a close. I now realise that I am not just the protagonist in my own story but I am also a bit player in a number of stories. A periphery character who at times plays the villain, the joker, the lover or the friend.
My part in most of these stories is fleeting. Blink or take your eyes off the stage for a second and you will miss me. I depart just as seamlessly as I breeze in. In other stories, my presence, while not always lasting forever, remains with the person for the rest of their days.
While listening to another person’s story, their dreams and hopes for the future, it is difficult to not form your own judgements of their past. The beautiful thing about taking the time to listen to another’s story without judging them is the understanding that without their past, they would not be the person who stands in front of you today. The person who wholeheartedly trusts you with what makes them most vulnerable.
The thought that the people around us don’t exist simply to act out their part in our own story is one that many of us don’t entertain. Taking the time to listen to someone else’s story can actually teach you a lot about yourself. Slow yourself down and listen to the narratives of those around you. It is how we build relationships and it is the only way we can truly experience the beauty within others.
With the return to normality comes the return of day dreams. My desire to sit down and write out my thoughts and experiences over the last two months has been minimal to say the least. I have come to the conclusion that this is due to the fact that I was living my dream instead of living vicariously through my thoughts.
I got married just prior to Christmas and then hit the open roads of South-East Asia with my new wife. We did nothing except explore new places, eat great food and immerse ourselves in cultures that are completely different to our own and to everything to which we have grown accustomed.
Now that I am home, the grind of normality, and the fact that I am working harder than ever to pay my taxes, has got me feeling that our trip was just some kind of cruel dream. One that gave me only a sniff of the freedom that I have been craving for so long, only to be shaken awake just as it seemed to be my reality.
The smells, tastes and chaos of life in South-East Asia are addictive. Immediately upon landing, the excitement and anticipation shoot through my veins. I feel like a child again. No cares. Nothing holding me back.
Of course, Asia being Asia, things rarely go to plan and you inevitably end up with some kind of setback, but the key is to let it ride out as a part of the chaos. You take the good with the bad and without the bad; the good just isn’t quite the same.
One of the gifts of travelling through countries that are not as ‘economically well off’ as our own, is to see the genuine happiness of a lot of the inhabitants. I know that poverty in a lot of these countries is rife, but I had a hard time finding too many people who did not have a smile on their face. This perplexed me for some time, but I came to the conclusion that their pleasure in life comes from their interactions with those around them, their family and loved ones.
The idea of saving over the next six months in the hope that they might be able to afford an overseas holiday simply isn’t a reality for these people. I doubt they sit there in their simple house, thinking about the fact that they are mortgaged up to the eyeballs and wondering how on earth they are going to afford their Friday night $18 cocktails. A lot of the people I came across seemed to be at peace their reality and were happy knowing that they had their loved ones around them and the basic elements they needed to survive.
In contrast to this, the pressure that we put ourselves under due to our lifestyle choice is immense. This pressure is facilitated by every aspect of our society. It is the backbone of our financial system, one that requires us to spend more than we earn in order for it to succeed.
Now I am home, the chaos of Asia has become extremely appealing. The trade-off for living with such chaos was being able to surf a few times a day, sleeping in if I felt like it and having the time to take in my natural surroundings - time to reflect on how lucky I am. Life just seemed to slow down.
Coming home is always great. Nothing beats that first night back in your own bed. Now that the novelty of sleeping in my own bed has worn off, I turn my attention to the future and find myself once again pondering the complexity of combining my 9-5 life in a big city with my deepest desire to slow my life down. Talk about first world problems right?
After much thought and reflection, my focus for the foreseeable future is concerned with slowing myself down, enjoying what I already have and deriving happiness from the people around me. Sounds simple, but in essence, this ideal is a difficult one to achieve when I live and breathe a reality that promotes and is indeed the total antithesis of what I hope to achieve.
Here I sit, in my ideal state. Red wine in hand, Eddie Vedder’s ukulele album playing in the background and my head filled with the thoughts, smells and taste of the street food that I have been enthusiastically consuming over the past couple of weeks.
For me, Vietnam has the best food in South-East Asia. Bold statement I know but one I will die for! The simple mix of fresh herbs, sugar, chilli and fish sauce is a taste of which I will never grow weary. Whether it be in the form of fresh spring rolls, a steaming bowl of pho or the grilled pork skewers made by the little old lady on the corner,the freshness of Vietnamese food is second to none.
Of course, being in Vietnam, pho has made up a significant part of my diet for the last fortnight. It is the national dish of choice and really warms you up in these colder months up in the mountains of the north-west. Now I am half way down the country in Hoi An. I think it is fair to say that Hoi An is the ‘Paris of Vietnam’, considering its artistic culture, cafe scene and romantic atmosphere.
Anyway, I digress… Back to the food.
Everyday in Vietnam is a new day of culinary discovery for me. Last time I was here, 10 years ago, I was only a young chap and decided to lean towards the safety net of avoiding street food. One of my biggest regrets in life, hence I am making up for it now!
While the pho and spring rolls have a place in my heart, my favourite morsel to date is definitely the grilled pork skewers. The thinly sliced pork is marinated in chilli and crushed lemongrass and makes for the perfect snack on the run. And at 30 cents a skewer, it is hard to settle for just a few.
The price of streetfood here is not the only bonus. The flavours are authentic and the produce is fresh, which is usually guaranteed by the high turnover. Lining up for food off a street vendor also gives you an excuse to stop and chat to the locals without appearing to be that ‘over the top tourist’ who tries too hard to become a part of the local scene. As the little old lady smiles at me with her only three teeth, thrusting the hot pork skewers into my hand, I only have happy thoughts.
I am in Vietnam on my honeymoon and I had my first massage ever today. I was expecting a relaxing hour of remedial bliss but what I got was 45 minutes of awkward discomfort.
Upon arrival, the waiting room was abuzz with masseuses milling about waiting for their customers to arrive. I was introduced to a young man who I was told would be my masseuse today. Ok, I thought, no problem, it is only a back rub.
After being led to the massage table I was given some privacy to undress. I was also given a rolled up pair of underwear that I was told were mandatory attire for all customers. Upon unrolling the small package, I was confronted with what appeared to be a pair of women’s panties. The lace trim and the lack of “junk-space” was the dead give away. The option of changing into these did not even cross my mind and within a second I was out the door insisting that I would be wearing my own boxer shorts, no questions. After contemplation, the little Vietnamese man agreed.
“Please laying down on your stomachs sir”, I was prompted. Doing as I was told, I was sure that the awkwardness was now over and I could enjoy my massage. “I will be starting on your legs sir”. Great, might as well start there I thought to myself. After lifting the towel, the masseuse proceeded to pull my boxer shorts a considerable distance up my butt crack, exposing the bottom half of my left cheek. Shooting bolt upright , I encouraged him to leave my shorts in place.
I will give the man credit at this point and tell you that he was pretty good at his job (apart from reading my discomfort) and the massage side of my experience was pretty good. 30 minutes in, and feeling very relaxed, I was told to “please rotate over sir”. “No mate, just the back is fine this time”, I politely replied. He continued to rub down my shoulders before he very intimately interlocked his fingers around mine for what I can only assume was to gain more traction to ply his trade. I again made some polite excuse for him to pause so I could roll my hand into a closed fist.
Having taken some kind of offence, the man pleaded with me to flip so he could “rub down my front side”. That was the point of no return. I sat up and thanked him for his work before quickly dressing and heading for the hills.
Obviously there was a lot lost in translation in this ordeal but I don’t think this is just a cultural thing that I was not aware of. As you can guess, I am not in any hurry to book in another massage anytime soon.
I am having one of those days today. I am sitting in an inner-city office going through the motions. The air-conditioning is broken (again) and the surf is pumping. The first I heard of it was on the bus this morning on my way into work. “Should I just stay on and head home?”, I wondered briefly before herding off with the rest of the cattle.
The afternoon is here and it looks like conditions haven’t deteriorated over the day. The emails are flooding through into my Inbox of all my local breaks looking the best they have in the last couple of months. “These days only come about a couple of times a year” the captions rudely scream into my face.
Sure I’ll be able to pay the mortgage this month and will have food on the table, but you have to wonder don’t you, whether all this is worth it. There is a lot to be said for being surfed out, sleeping on a mate’s couch and eating boiled rice for dinner.
In case you did miss it, I’ve included some shots from local photographers. Subscribe to their daily email so you can also dream of being elsewhere.
OURS (photo shot by http://www.oneshuteye.com)
(photo shot by http://www.oneshuteye.com)
(photo shot by http://www.aquabumps.com.au)
(photo shot by http://www.aquabumps.com.au)
I’ve been getting some use out of my GoPro Hero 3 of late. Below are a few stills of a shore break session from a couple of weeks ago at my local beach.
I’m heading out on a deep sea fishing charter this weekend so will hopefully have some more footage to post soon… Fingers crossed it is of 10 kg tuna or a marlin on the end of my line!
The last 12 months, and what seemed like all the time in the world, has past me by in an instant. Despite this, I am ready. I am getting married.
I have spent the vast majority of my life up until this point knowing with full confidence that I would not find myself in this position. After seeing my parents fail, I decided early on that marriage was not for me. I remember thinking that there was not a single person in this world that I could spend the rest of my life with. That was until I found the one person who I realised I could not live without. There it is. The difference in perspective that changed my mind and my life forever.
So, here we are, one month out, finalising a few last-minute details. And me, the eternal sceptic, looking forward to this day more than I have looked forward to any other.
Not only am I looking forward to having all of our loved ones in the one place to celebrate with us, but I am looking forward to our extended honeymoon where I can get back to one of my other true loves: travel writing. The thought of being back on the road, with my new wife (saying that is going to take some getting used to!) and nothing but a laptop, my camera and a good book is something I have been longing for, for the last few years.
Before the wedding however is the true test of survival: the stag weekend. I’ll keep you posted.