Tuesday, 4 July 2017

the end - 2/5/2016 - 3/5/2016

At the hotel I took 5 minutes to freshen myself in the small cloakroom at the back of the building, washing and changing out of my worn clothes into a fresh set before wrapping my dirty rags and wedging them into my holdall. With everything now secured, locked and strapped together I was finally ready to depart.

Before leaving I asked the lady at reception for a rough guideline as to how much a taxi was likely to cost to get me to get to the airport and she informed me that it should only cost between 300 and 350 baht. So bucking my trend of using the Thai public transport system that has reliably carried me on each subsequent visit since I first visited Bangkok, I decided on the strightforward option. The day had already shaped up to be long enough and with the heat still beating down viciously outside,  it had become one that I just didn't fancy playing around in any more than I absolutely had to. I thanked the hotelier for the stay, hoisted my bag back up for one final time and broke back out into the searing heat outside.

On the opposite side from the hotel, I flagged down the first passing cab and enquired his fare. "450 baht" he said with a smile to which my first impulse was to just let him go and then flag down another. But then I reasoned that with the tip on top of the amount I had been given as a guideline, I would have paid 450 anyway, so for him and me it was going to be the same. 450 baht. No tip. As I agreed he smiled back, maybe thinking he had pulled one over on me but you can't be sure. It's just a fact that everyone likes to smile here. I returned with a likewise expression knowing that even at what he may have considered to be a tourist inflated price, this was still going to be a fraction of the cost that a similar lengthed trip in a taxi would be stiffing me back in the U.K.

At just gone 2pm with bags in the boot and me in the back, the driver drove and I watched as Bangkok passed by out of the window for what felt like the final time. The street food carts and the sellers, the cars, the bikes and the tuk-tuks, the performance and the performers, the energy and the life of the city. There was a sadness about leaving, a wistful wanting to remain, but the reality was unfortunately, it was just time for me to leave it behind.

It took just over an hour to get to Suvarnabhumi Airport, with a small additional amount of Baht being paid en-route to take the faster roads. I thanked the driver and gave him 500 baht, roughly ten pounds GBP to help keep his beautiful smile topped up, grabbed my luggage and entered once more into the large check in hall. I had arrived there suitably early, around five and a half hours before the departure time so now I had time to kill before I could go through the checking in process. It's amazing how slowly time can pass when you just want it to get a move on. I charged my phone at a phone charging point located by the entrance before then moving further inside to hunt for a place to stop, dropping my bags in an unused space just below one of the hulking flight information boards . You are aware that there's a justified nervousness that can be caused from seeing unaccompanied luggage bags laying around and I was careful to never stray too far away, but at the same time I couldn't just sit there and stagnate. I took a few minutes to make some phone calls back home, messaged a few people and captured a few final photo's on my phone. I gazed wondrously as the sun lowered itself gently towards the horizon as its blinding glow bled through the large glazed windows and coated the hall in which I stood in yellow and amber hues...

...and then I went back to stagnating, with each second passing seemingly more slowly than the last.

After what felt like 7 days, 4 hours and 42 minutes of waiting around, the time eventually came for me to be able to check my things in, walk through to departures, grab a coffee and wait for flight boarding to be called. The only thing to note was just how uneventful the next few hours ended up being. The Qatar airlines plane trundled along the runway at 9.21pm and lifted gently without the usual dramatic thrust or fanfare, a trick the pilot of the connecting flight would go on to repeat as we departed DOHA some 8 hours later. Somewhere between those 2 locations I had managed to misplace 4 hours.

It was over the middle east that I decided it was time for a costume change, quietly grabbed some things from the over head locker and sloped my way past a few rows of sleepers to the first cubical I found. Here I changed clumsily into my british ready gear, a pair of jeans and another fresh t-shirt before then unceremoniously dumping my faithful old shorts into the bin. They probably deserved more of a send off in some respects. These relatively cheap cargo shorts from the "Big C" supermarket in Bangkok had seen me through nearly 10 months of what had proved to be occasionally tough and troublesome travel conditions. They had outlived better branded and more expensive compatriots and to their credit, after everything I had put them through, even now they probably still had a good 16 or 17 minutes life left in them. If they were only a little bit longer I could a worked in a quip about it being a "remarkable feet," but alas, as it happens, they just didn't have the legs.

As the plane approached towards Heathrow just before 7am, the sun shone through the painted blue skies and the pilot took the opportunity to swing his plane over the Thames, banking over slightly to afford the passengers inside a magical view of Tower Bridge and the city below. A few moments later we had come to a halt. A chorus of phones springing back into life and heralding our safe arrival. The aisles then filled with the usual structured lines of people, each waiting anxiously for their turn to escape the confines of the plane into the beautifully drab greyness for which Heathrow itself is renowned. It didn't disappoint.

A simple question about your incoming route can prove to be difficult after sleep deprivation has taken hold. "Doha, no Bangkok....Bangkok then Doha" I recalled at the immigration stand before the officers raised eyebrow dropped back into place and I was allowed to carry on through to collect my bags and begin my wait for the bus back to Bristol to arrive. During this time I took on much needed coffee and went through a rather convoluted process of getting my phone number switched back from "pay as you go" to a monthly contract. The bus arrived late. Normal UK service had resumed.

Safely on the bus I sat back, stratched out and relaxed, put my hat, passport and tickets safely away and watched as the countryside rolled past between moments of shutting my eyes. It was good to be back for sure. I was looking forward to seeing some people I hadn't seen for a while and I had been fantasising about the taste of a Sunday roast dinner for the previous few days, but I still needed some time to recover.

In Bristol I was met by Matt, one of my friends who I was going to be stopping over with for a couple of days. With my well travelled bags dispatched into the back of his transit we headed off to the supermarket to get a coffee, have a chat and pick up some supplies before heading back to his. It was shortly after this that I realised that my hat, the one I had brought in Bangkok only the day before was no longer part of my possessions. In just 2 weeks or so I had now lost 3 of the things, this final one just about capped everything off.

It took about a week for me to start thinking about travel again, to recover from feeling exhausted. To contemplate and muse that maybe I would rather be back out there doing more of the same but with further purpose and goals. Considering how tired I had come back it was a hell of a turnaround. It had been a long 5 and a half months which hadn't gone to my initial plan but had been far from a wasted journey. But despite all I had done in that time there were still itches that I hadn't manage to scratch, stones that had been left unturned either through bad luck, exhaustion or injury. Despite those feelings and wants though, my journey was now at an end.

But maybe not the end?

Despite everything I had done, everything I had seen, smelt, tasted and experienced in some way or another, there was one thing off my initial drawn up list that remained unchecked and unfulfilled.


I never did make it to Laos.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Finishing in Bangkok and tale of 2 hats - 2/5/2016

Rounding it off and the Journey back.  Part 1 of 2 (a tale of 2 hats)

Check out time at the hotel was a rather relaxed 12:00 pm, but I was packed and ready to go well before that deadline came to pass, all my sorting had been done well in advance. My green rucksack that had served me faithfully as a day pack since Vietnam had now become my designated carry-on holdall due to its ability to comfortably accommodate everything that I wanted to have (rather than just needed to have) with me. The items it held for the return leg still primarily consisted of the usual items that I couldn’t afford to lose, such as injections, partly broken camera, dented lenses, resilient laptop, battery charger and blood testing gear. Also shoe horned into the now rather tardy looking bag were some basic toiletries to enable me to freshen up en-route and a warmer, clean set of clothes which were packed in preperation for the change of climate I was expecting to encounter when I arrived back in the U.K. It’s not that the temperature in May is devilishly cold, but rather that there was undoubtably going to be a sharp step down in temperature from the near 40 degrees C that had been baking Bangkok.

At about 10 a.m I made my way down to the large, highly polished tiled floor reception of the Lullaby Inn, handing in  my room key and checking if it was possible to leave my larger bags somewhere for a couple of hours whilst I went to get something to eat and lose some more items. Courteously I was shown to the back, dimly lit corner of the room and invited to place my bags behind a large, solid wooden counter, completely out of sight from any passing eyes and in direct line of sight of the manned reception desk. It was good enough for me and with locks secured and bags hidden I exited the main doors and made my way out once more into the oppressive heat outside.

At the National Stadium station I left the BTS and made the short walk over the connecting concrete walkway towards the MBK shopping centre, arriving there just after midday with the thought of food still bouncing around in my mind. As I shuffled forward in the queue for the mandatory security checks my fleeting thought of perhaps grabbing a final Pad Thai from the 5th floor canteen was almost immediately discarded. My rationale being that 30000 feet up in the air in a confined space passing over the middle east was probably not going to be the best place to be if I were to suffer from any sort of adverse reaction akin to the one that had jolted me a few days before. Still, one of the many great things about the MBK is that there is no shortage of choice of anything, and this happily extends to finding places to eat and grab a bite to drink. At the gate I took my hat off and placed it into my large right hand side pocket of my now tired shorts, opened up my bag ready for it to be inspected and passed through the checks without further hinderance or delay.

Once inside I meandered through the Tokyu department store then into the main complex itself, walking along the spaciously wide open corridors and taking the central escalator to the 3rd floor whilst my now one track mind continued to be almost solely occupied by food, wrestling with the thoughts of noodle vs bao and also how to balance out the timings of the next couple of meals around both diabetes and the upcoming shift in time zones. Before I had a chance to solidify my thoughts though, I started to tune in that something felt amiss, and as I dropped my hand down to my right hand side it dawned on me that my lightweight cap that had been purchased in Hanoi just a few days was missing from its well worn pocket.

It's difficult to explain sometimes, but it comes down to a question of head. Some, in fact most caps don't suit me at all. I am not blessed with a fashionably shaped dome and frankly most of the caps that I try just make me look like a horse that has been cast out from a local derby and has then rushed to put on a few items of clothing to hide himself from the world (going indonkgnito?). To find one that doesn't do this to me is a rarity. To lose one comes close to being an unmitigated disaster. To lose a couple in just under a week, well, that's just completely two-hat(ish).

I retraced my steps a couple of times, asking security whether I had dropped it on the way through the entrance, looking under the clothes and items that lined the avenues in the department store and scanning wherever I had walked, but all to no avail. On the ground floor I asked at the main information desk and a call was put out over the tannoy, in Thai, so I had no idea what was really being requested throughout the shopping centre. I know the 555 is used by Thai's as a way of writing / communicating laughter, but when it comes to interpreting dialogue (apart from a few simple sentences and words), I really don't have any command of it at all. For all I know they might have been tipping off security about the undisguised mule-man who was standing around looking hopelessly lost. What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs?

The last people I checked with were the ladies at the Tokyu department store's customer service desk, a last ditch attempt where I encountered a little more difficulty describing what it was I was trying to find. The ladies looked at each other seemingly over perplexed by my inadequate communicative efforts as I tried unsuccessfully to explain that I was looking for my lost hat, initially using simple english sentences such as "I've lost my hat" or "cap" or variants of before then moving on to the clumsily miming of doffing of the now missing imaginary hat. Things could have been so much easier if I had been able to speak just a little bit more Thai.

After incorrectly being pointed toward the hat section of the store where I could buy a new one if I wanted,  I fired off a last ditch English language salvo, carefully trying to avoid the english stereotypical trait of just repeating the same word louder and louder and louder until someone "gets it". I emphasised the word "lost," as this seemed to be the word that was causing the biggest problem, trying to think of an alternative and simple way to describe the same thing.

I couldn't.

So I repeated the word "Lost" as clear as I could, apparently getting no further along, until the magic finally happened.

As if transported back in time to a post analysed awkward 70's style sitcom scenario, my communicative efforts broke through their confining language barrier and a look of relief washed over the faces of the contestants of the opposite side as they finally deciphered what I had been trying to communicate, no doubt seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. "AHHH ROST" one of the ladies exclaimed as excitedly as Una Stubbs ever did when guessing a word on "Give us a Clue" and I kind of got caught up in the moment too. "Yes, ROST" I said back just as excitedly, not thinking how bad that must have actually of sounded until after the event. I take comfort though in knowing that however awful it might have been, it still falls way short of the infamous Steve McLaren interview that he gave whilst he was the coach of footballing side F.C. Twente, where he answered questions with a twang so dutch that you half expected him to conclude the interview by offering the interviewer a "Smoke and a pancake?".

The ladies took my local mobile number incase anything got handed in, but as I was now running out of time I explained that I was leaving for the UK shortly so not to worry too much, that I would just check back before I left. I then went back upstairs and grabbed my final Chicken Avosabi sandwich and lemon iced tea from the "Au Bon Pain" and sat there watching the clock tick by before then embarking on a quick tour around the market styled stalls to pick up the last of the lightweight souvenirs that I would be able to cram into my bag when back at the hotel.

On the ground floor I passed an Adidas shop, and in my acceptance that my week old hat was gone, I walked in to see whether I could find an alternative. There at the back of the store was the exact same hat and as the price was right I grabbed it as a replacement, paying the 350 or so Thai Baht and getting the store assistant to cut out the tag inside so I could wear it straight away. The heat in Bangkok can be brutal at times, so it was comforting to know that my bonce was now ready for the outside again.

At just after 1 pm and earlier than I had expected to, I cut my losses and left the MBK to travel back to the hotel to prepare for my trip to the airport. My time here was nearly at an end and I felt I was just about ready to leave.


Friday, 27 January 2017

Running down a dream. 28/4 - 1/5/2016

The morning after the night before........

I awoke in surroundings that had thankfully now become fairly familiar to me, the carefully drawn curtain of my personal cube separating my space from the rest of the well maintained dormitory that lay outside it. I led there for a couple of moments before moving still feeling slightly punch drunk, taking my time to gather up my fragmented thoughts in order to form a cohesive plan for the day before forcing myself up, to shower, dress and lumber downstairs to make use of the breakfast facilities before the deadline for that passed. The shower took longer than it usually did, as did the dressing and the lumbering downstairs. Even at my “slower than usual” pace, I still managed to bang my head on a low concrete beam that hung above the stairs between the first and ground floor. I had done so every single morning during my stays at this hostel, and sometimes evenings too when my though process was away from "ducking". At least in this uncertain time, something was remaining constant. 

Downstairs in the open spaced communal area I placed a shallow, empty cup under the nozzle of the coffee dispenser and pulled the lever into the on position, turning away for a little too long to deliberate the quandary of whether to toast the white or the brown bread. “AAAhhhhhfuuuuuu” inadvertently broke free of my mouth as I whipped around just in time to see the expanding pool of black coffee drop over the side and begin splashing onto the tiled floor below. It was now obvious that despite my preparation for the day, the overly long shower and inadvertent concrete "WAKE UP" bang on the head, I was still pretty far from firing on all 8. I felt like my brain was being pulled out out, battered then compressed turning me into a a shuffling, mumbling liability. I apologised profusely for the mess I had caused and cleaned up what I could, finished my breakfast and then headed out to get hold of the now absolute requisite blood testing kit. “Liability” decided it liked being around me so it also decided that it was going to stick around for a few more days, I can’t say I was overly glad of its company.

Although I previously hadn't managed to find any new strips for my existing meter, each failed endeavour had given me an idea of prices to pay and places to buy. By the early afternoon I had taken a couple of short train rides, walked lengths of air conditioned malls and arrived at the Big C Supercentre not completely overheated, At "Boots" (the chemist) I asked the counter assistant a couple of quick questions before paying around £40.00 for what would be needed to get through the next few days. I left the store with my shiny new replacement meter, a box of 25 testing strips in addition to the 10 supplied in the pack and then sat at a window seat at the nearest McThai. I watched the day pass by as it suffered under the oppressive heat outside. I stayed cool with my second very, very large and very, very cold vat of iced Coke Zero.

The first one I had fumbled and dropped off the tray as I turned back away from the counter. It had made a hell of a mess.

The initial relief that I felt was soon replaced with slight disbelief as I checked over and read through the instruction manual of my new toy. To simplify things immensely, there are 2 different methods commonly used for measuring blood sugar levels, in the same kind of way that both Centigrade and Fahrenheit get used to detail temperature. I have been using mmol/L (millimoles per litre) for the duration of my diabetic life and the machines I have had access to usually had the ability to switch between the 2 measurements if required. This meter however used the one I wasn’t familiar with (mg/dL, milligrams per decilitre), and without any obvious direct correlation between the measurements of the 2 or knowing a way to simply calculate from one to the other, the numbers on the meter were practically useless to me, or possibly dangerous as you are always going to draw a connection between what you know and what you don’t, even when you know you shouldn’t. For example, a blood sugar level of 9.0 mmol/L might not be overly drastic, but with the converted figure of 162 your mind can’t help but think that your levels might be in need of some serious correction as opposed to a simple, mild adjustment.

The solution as it so often has been was to be found on the internet, with a bit of research leading me to find a conversion table* which would show the correlating figures of the 2 measurement types.  This I could then keep folded up alongside the meter for reference. This was going to be a little bit cumbersome when testing on the move and a little less than pretty once it had acquired a few small blood spots on it from being folded up after testing befoe my fingers stopped bleeding, but it was a workable solution which is what I needed. It didn't need to be anything else.

* http://www.joslin.org/info/conversion_table_for_blood_glucose_monitoring.html

With only few days left to survive from my travels my attention had now turned to preparing properly for my return leg. I left my hostel early the next morning to carry my bags the 10 minute walk up to the Lullaby Hotel that I had booked for the next couple of nights to give myself the space I needed to sort out everything in my possession, to rid of the items that no longer served any immediate purpose and clothes that had been worn out on during their time on duty. The overall objective of course was to get my luggage under the maximum weight allowance for the upcoming flight, in order to avoid any unnecessary additional costs.

The hotel itself was located on Deco Road and was just along from the LubD hostel where I had spent maybe the most nights during my time travelling, it therefor seemed like a somewhat fitting location for my trip to come to an end. The room itself was beautifully presented with a large comfortable bed, large bathroom and large slatted wooden doors which opened up to a small balcony looking out onto the familiar busy junction below. On the opposite corner of the street the restaurant that I had helped ease me back in to travel over 5 months before was now gone, abandoned and dressed with boards advertising its availability for rental. I took this as a reflection of how things are in that part of the world are always moving, changing and adapting, a complete contrast to the slow, plodding pace that things can often take to get things done back home. To this end you could be fairly sure that the place wouldn’t be empty long due to its busy and prime location, but its current plight did give me reason to think back and reminisce. Here was a visual representation of my own self-imposed exile. A personal journey that had taken me the best part of two and a half years to complete was now drawing to a close and the empty building in it's current guise was a reminder that nothing ever lasts forever, no matter how much you might wish that it would.

A few shopping trips came over the next couple of days, fresh t-shirts and clothes to replace my well-worn rags, small gifts and a set of bathroom scales to ensure my bags were under their travel limits, 20kg for the larger backpack and 7 kg for the smaller, carry on bag. The scales eventually fitted into my backpack after a quick bit of reorganisation but it wasn’t long after that I realised that old liability had struck again and I rushed back to the pillar outside the shop where my re-fit had taken place, finding my camera sat on its own on the tiled floor exactly where I had left it, watched over a bemused looking couple who perhaps though the setup was a part of a TV show’s elaborate prank. With my camera safely back on board I then headed back to base to start with the sorting out process.

I didn’t take long before I had a bin full of discarded items and 2 piles of clothes, ones to keep and ones that would not be making the trip back. Clothes from the latter pile would then be used for the rest of my time in Bangkok to ensure that I had a full set of clean and tidy clothes for both the forthcoming travel and imminent repatriation. With the bags now down to their target weight I checked my flights to ensure everything was in order and nothing had been altered late on, noticing then that my flight had been moved back a couple of hours and my baggage allowance was actually 30kg rather than the 20kg I had worked to achieve. However, I reasoned that the stuff in the bin pile was still to be binned, I could no longer be bothered to carry the extra weight both to and from the respective airports, sometimes you just need to have that cull.

With most things now in order I spent the next day at leisure, relaxing as I visited coffee shops and outdoor markets, photographing what I could and memorising the sounds and smells during the little time now left to me. For the first time in what seemed like an age I saw rain fall in Bangkok and I watched as the people outside, for once unusually unprepared, dash to shelter under nearby concrete structures with inadequate, short-term cover items held above their heads. I just sat there and sipped on a Green Tea latte from the comfortable confines of a ground level coffee shop.




As I sat there I knew very well that I was going to miss so much of this after I left, but I was also aware that in myself, I was completely drained. I was exhausted in both my body and my mind and hadn’t been functioning well enough for the last few weeks at least, probably longer, struggling more than I should have since breaking that bone in my foot several months before. It's amazing how something as small as that can change everything as much as it does. Everything required more time, more effort, more energy effory and when you're already running close to the limit, sometimes you just don't have that ability to sustain that kind of demand for any prolonged period of time 

As departure day edged ever closer, I started to see it as a sort of half-welcome inevitability. It had been a good run.