Skopje, Macedonia

When I got off the bus it was 11am; after awhile the time switched to an hour earlier. A couple of clicks later and I realised Macedonia was in a different time zone from Bulgaria. Wow. And why? The bus took only 4 hours.Already, I miss the abundance of wifi in Sofia.



I was due to meet Katy in a couple of hours. I took the chance to walk along the streets in the meantime. 
I walked past a shop. Why were there 2 flags?

A shopkeeper briefly explained the shift in the country’s flag design. 
More at: http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/05/24/409210151/to-build-up-its-history-macedonia-going-baroque
3. Average wage of 250-300€ a month
4. Unlike Bulgaria there’s no paternity leave, only maternal
5. ‘Skopje 2014’(https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skopje_2014)
Statues can be seen throughout the city, in a project known as Skopje 2014 
This was very noticeable, and I couldn’t help feeling somewhat amused by the number of statues around the city, almost every 5m you’ll spot one. Also, it was clear they were new structures, that looked like the old ones.
What I felt was more interesting was this tourist map board – these attractions (only top half displayed, bottom half photo not taken so there’s really many more statues not shown)
Firstly, the Jokerman font. Wow, been some time. Secondly, the ‘under construction’ sign – they were building so many things.
‘Identity crisis’? To attract tourists?

Katy drew my attention to the fact that some of these establishments were ‘imitations’ of popular infrastructures in other cities. Do these look familiar to you?

– No proper earthquake resistant structures
– Citizens are complaining that this is a waste of money (according to Katy)



Things I took away with me from Skopje

1. Mother Teresa

Part of Macedonia’s draw for me, admittedly, was the Memorial House of Mother Teresa. She was born in Skopje, Macedonia, it seems. 


Later, after meeting with Katy, I learnt the complexities of geopolitical boundaries and ‘claiming’ of popular figures for each countries’ attempt to boost national identity.

“Albanian politicians say they are angry at a proposal to describe Mother Teresa as Macedonian on the statue’s inscription. They say she was Albanian. 


When Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910, neither Macedonia or Albania existed. 
The streets of the modern capital, Skopje, were part of the Ottoman Empire.
But now that the world’s most famous nun is approaching sainthood an unseemly row has broken out over her identity.
Her ethnicity may have mattered little to her but it has tremendous importance in the Balkans.” 


Is Mother Teresa Albanian or Macedonian? 




2. Flag Dispute between Greece and Macedonia 



– Previously it was related to Alexander the Great, but seems like Greece has been trying to claim that Alexander the Great was Greek, not Macedonia, and so Macedonia changed its flag. There also seems to be some territoriality issue- Greece claims they have a state called Macedonia, and rejects the country’s name. Macedonia hence has the (FYROM) at its name; apparently it’s also Greece that has been hindering its entrance into the EU






Roma community uses horses as a means of transport (supposedly illegal)












A river runs through the city. Apparently a Ferris wheel is due to be constructed along the river, which may affect it. There are people lobbying against its construction, but who knows? I wonder how it’ll go.










Katy and I walked along this part of the park. It was calming and beautiful.




My hostel did not have an electronic radiator. The fire heated the whole place. The hostel owner eagerly showed me the fire, when I asked. I grinned. I was secretly nervous though, and as I lay in bed at night, I wondered if the place might catch fire, and if I would be able to escape. But nope, none of that happened, I’m pleased to say.









Would Skope 2014 work in attracting tourists? Frankly, the night view of Skopje is indeed pretty. I think Papa would like it.
It might, it might grow. 





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4. Couchsurfing in Vientiane, Laos

remnants of french colonization

Village vs city – “village at least you don’t have to worry about food, you get food the next day you go hunting in forests for birds at night, or you go fishing. Here in city you have to plan for the next day how you can get food.”





There is a part of me that misses frolicking around villages in my elephant pants, spamming mosquito repellant, observing plants and trees in the backyard and watching dogs and cats and chickens roam around nonchalantly. Playing with babies as mothers pluck the feathers off chickens, and maybe catching just a tiny, tiny glimpse of another’s way of life.

3.1 LPB – Kuang Si Waterfall






How comfortable, she says 
Indeed, I agreed 
One should walk along this place with their bare feet 
I nodded, it was like connecting with Mother Earth with your soles 






Met a girl from Beijing – talked about China – one child policy – doesn’t seem to make a difference to her, Beijing? Because people who want a second child would probably be able to afford the fine in the first place. Also if both parents are ‘only child’ they are allowed to have 2 children( which makes quite a significant proportion of people in Beijing. 

Forced abortions- yes 😦 depends on province though. Smaller provinces may be stricter…? 
Unless you go overseas, give birth and come back. If you’re able to have the child it’s easier. 

They do learn English in school, but it’s not compulsory to pass to graduate, as long as you pass other core mods (something like electives it seems? I.e. It’s possible to graduate despite failing?) 

No xi zi when they learn Chinese 


Balloting for purchase of new cars – after getting license you submit your name for balloting. She balloted for 2 years but haven’t gotten it. Every 2 months they announce people who gets the car. Whole family can ballot; if your sis gets you can buy the car using her name but it’s still her responsibility. Eg buy car insurance, car accidents etc it’s still under her name. If whole family gets, you get the permission to keep this ‘ability to buy’ for 6 months after which its voided. Strangers no ways close friends also hard to say cause whatever that happens is my responsibility cause under my name. 
Also, car plate number reveals which days you can drive. Eg if car plate ends with 3, maybe you can only drive on tues wed. 
Except sat Sunday no limits, but daily have cause working days a lot of cars. 























Huge cave i gaped in awe but was nervous for some reason 
It was my first time wandering into a cave with no guides, no other tourists; it felt like really just stumbling into nature 
It was rather intimidating as we walked deeper and deeper into the cave, wondering when it’s going to end but when the torch is shone it just keeps going 










Her husband sleeps here, she says. She goes to Luang Prabang to sleep because of her child. Does she climb up all the way here everyday to sell drinks? I ask. No, there’s the motorbike! She says. It takes about one hour to Luang Prabang. But her husband sleeps here. Here? I point to the tent. She nods. 

I feel a wave of… Pity, of sorts, thinking about the ways they make a living. And me, happy tourist frolicking around. I mean having to stay here on nights halfway up some mountain, away from your wife and child(ren). Thinking about it again, maybe it is a commendable source of income, this job, so who am I to judge or to feel ‘pity’. I feel like tourism is a pretty important source of economy and employment for VV and LPB, a means by which they earn money. These nature and wildlife, it’s pretty good they have it. At what cost though? 


I think about those tourists this morning lining up to offer food to the monks. On one hand, why not? Everyone wants to engage in an ‘authentic’ experience. But also because of this search for authenticity, seeing tourists and their flashlight bulky cameras and the wave of excitement as the monks ‘arrive’ this morning after anticipation, made the scene… Less authentic. How do the monks themselves feel, with the cameras out everyday? Is it annoyance, is it pride, or is it nonchalance?
How do tourists spoil the landscape?
How do we contribute to them? How do we shape them? 
Ever-shifting, ever-changing 



1.5 Laos – Things I learnt about Laos

It was good to walk faceless and talk to myself again, to ask where I was going, and who I was, and to realize that I had no idea, that all I could tell you was my name, and not my heritage; my daily schedule for the next week, and not the reason for it; my plans for the summer, and not the purpose I had whittled out for my life. — Sylvia Plath


I ended school far earlier than I’d expected. The last comms class was cancelled, and I had more than a week to spare. More than a week! What a rare treat this will be in the future. I looked at the map and thought about the gaps in my Geographical Imagination, where I lacked an understanding about.



Capital of Laos: Vientiane
Currency: Lao kip (K). 1usd ~ 8000kip

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1. Laos is considered a Communist country.
There’s only 5 Communist countries left in the world – China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos
Before my trip I was trying to understand how Laos was Communist, and was confused between Marxism / Socialism / Communism 
I’m still not completely sure, but I asked my host if Laos was considered a Communist state (and you see the red flag hanging around the cities) and why
Economically they operate in a free-market system. Politically, there’s no elections political party espouses the ideals of Communism


2. Laos – ‘everyone in Laos knows Thai’
Someone said that, and Wikipedia confirmed the similarity between the two languages. Seems like it’s easier for Laotians to learn Thai, but not so easy the other way round. Other than the linguistic similarity, the economic relationship with Thailand is also evident from the Thai products / imports- seems like there’s a preference for their products, and the TV shows, the food they cook at home are also Thai-related / Thai-styles. Similar to Kampong Luong in Cambodia. Seems like Thailand has pretty strong economic/cultural influence within these borders. 

3. No Macdonalds, no Starbucks 
Instead, they have ‘joma cafe’, similar premium-style coffee





4. Laos is a Buddhist country-
My host says that every men in Laos ‘has to be monks before they die’ (could be subjected to his own opinion/stance), which I was very surprised about. You could choose from 1 week to 3 months or more, not necessarily a lifelong decision. 
Reasons: Everyone has to be monks to show respect to parents / thank parents for giving birth to them, raising them (if you don’t become a monk, it suggests a lack of respect / lack of filial piety) 

Another reason could be the fact that they come from poor families. As the monks have government-sponsored monk schools (where they study a range of subjects, including Sanskrit – my host studied Sanskrit for awhile) so the people from poor families can then send their children to school, even up to University for free. 

Also they have to be tmonks / nuns for a day when the family or relatives pass away (funerals) to help out, though nuns don’t need to shave 

This was probably one of the more curious and surprising things for me.



5.  Laos isn’t exactly cheaper than Thailand
In fact, many backpackers I met highlighted their surprise at the prices in Laos. I mean, considering our (my) geographical imagination. The meals on even streetside stalls are about 10-15k kip, and seems to be 20-25k kip on average. My host say that this could be because they have to import everything – the sauces, raw materials etc except some that they can plant. Also, the potholes on the road makes the transport cost in land-locked Laos more expensive in terms of the transport (import) cost.

What i wrote when i went back to Thailand on the last day:
‘Actually, Thailand does feel cheaper.. I don’t know. In Laos meals at its cheapest cost 15k kip ~ 2usd, these are more of the street stalls, local eateries. If not, general prices are 25k kip. Drinks and snacks – about 10k for touristy places. No 7-11 that I saw.. Not as prevalent as in Thailand.’

Thailand a meal costs maybe 3SGD at the food court? 2+ at the streetside stalls?


Key aspects of economy: 

Electricity – electrical powerhouse of SEA, with their dam-building projects. My readings have highlighted the controversies generated from the dam-building projects. I asked what he thought about it, and he said, if it benefits him, he’ll be happy. If it doesn’t then whatever, it’s fine too. 

Mining
Export coffee, rice? 
Teachers earn like USD$200 a month? :/ 

Abortion illegal 
Driving license… Erm buy your way 



I climbed onto the upper bunk bed: seat 13B. As people continued to board the bus, I lie on the pillow and squash myself against the window, wondering who’s going to lie next to me for the next 10 hours in this tiny bed. This man glances over for a moment, then passes. Then another. A lady eventually places her shoes next to mine, and I smile with some sort of relief. As the bus tumbles towards Vientiane, our arms touch; she shifts and I try to move closer to the right, but I can budge an inch no more. We try to fall asleep to the rocking rhythm of the night. 


In fact, I think one of the scariest parts of taking the overnight train is wondering who the heck is gonna be sleeping next to you on this bed. 

Awkward….. 
Oh I think they do assign females with females. But what about fat people…

Now, I lie in the darkness as the bus zooms crazily down the road. I try to sleep as we ride over potholes, and I can’t help giggling as the French girls next to me do the same. The bus SWAYS to the side, and my mind flashes back to La Paz. Goodnight…… I hope. 


Girl turns to me: where are you from? 
Me: Singapore 
Girl: are there buses like this in Singapore?
Me: no, no way. 
We laugh, as the bus continues swaying and speeding down the road.
Me: I hope we get there safely. 
We burst into laughter again.



Last day when I returned to Thailand:

 After so many nights, I FINALLY get to lie on a bed that doesn’t move. I get to curl up and read – FINALLY. 
(appreciation for smooth roads – greatly amplified over the week)


Good morning Bangkok! I am pleasantly surprised when I hear ‘sawadee’ instead of ‘sabaidee’. Instead of khup jai, I say khup khun ka.

Post-trip Conversation

The day after I came back I slept on my bed, thankful for the comfort of home. The months felt like a dream of sorts. I went out, met people, my life resumed as normal. Some people asked if I thought I changed after my trip, and having met them 1 week after I came back, I shook my  head slightly and said ‘I don’t feel very different’. It was not something I was sure how to answer. Someone dear mentioned it again last month, and I thought it was a more nuanced response. I would like to keep it.

: Do you miss sa? Haha

: Do you think it changed you

I replied:

10/16/15, 12:07:10 AM: Siangyee: Hahah well that’s quite hard to say, I can’t say I changed for sure, but I can’t say I think I didn’t change at all

10/16/15, 12:07:23 AM: Siangyee: Cause i don’t remember who I was before?

10/16/15, 12:07:44 AM: Siangyee: But it was an experience that added another tangible layer to my understanding of myself I suppose

10/16/15, 12:08:00 AM: Siangyee: And because these writers put it so much more eloquently

10/16/15, 12:08:13 AM: Siangyee: “It was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limits of one’s ability and beyond, so- that thereafter one has new standards by which to judge oneself.” – Remains of the day

10/16/15, 12:08:23 AM: Siangyee: I feel like this describes the experience best

10/16/15, 12:08:32 AM: Siangyee: And this line jumped out to me on the bus ride

10/16/15, 12:08:55 AM: Siangyee: It just sums it up – the fact that I now have new standards to judge myself

10/16/15, 12:09:09 AM: Siangyee: I suppose in that sense I ‘changed’ because I feel no anxiety for the Balkans

10/16/15, 12:09:36 AM: Siangyee: Whereas before the trip I might have found it intimidating in some ways but the established standards now calm me more?

10/16/15, 12:09:50 AM: Siangyee: “But then eventually the surroundings grew unrecognizable and I knew I had gone beyond all previous boundaries. I have heard people describe the moment, when setting sail in a ship, when one finally loses sight of the land. I imagine the experience of unease mixed with exhilaration often described in connection with this moment is very similar to what I felt in the Ford as the surroundings grew strange around me. ”

10/16/15, 12:10:04 AM: Siangyee: Also from the book which I felt I could relate to when I was reading it on the bus

10/16/15, 12:10:46 AM: Siangyee: So interesting isn’t it hahah the text is based on a different context and yet it’s so deeply relevant to me at that point

10/16/15, 12:11:31 AM: Siangyee: And I guess how I feel / felt about that trip / traveling alone is relatable to

It was good to walk faceless and talk to myself again, to ask where I was going, and who I was, and to realize that I had no idea, that all I could tell you was my name, and not my heritage; my daily schedule for the next week, and not the reason for it; my plans for the summer, and not the purpose I had whittled out for my life. — Sylvia Plath

10/16/15, 12:13:07 AM: Siangyee: Maybe it changes my subsequent actions but I can’t say that for sure either because there’s no large indicator or tangible measurable actions that followed after that trip hahah perhaps a more tangible indicator would be like, going to Africa alone or shaving my head or something hahah but no actions of mine are tangible enough to say that I did change

10/16/15, 12:13:59 AM: Siangyee: I guess we realize changes only after reading back on your past / remembering the person that you were cause it’s very slow very subtle and who’s to say it’s necessarily attributed to that trip

10/16/15, 12:14:44 AM: Siangyee: Best of all though I fulfilled my geographical dreams of the Amazon!!! And favelas!!!! and that’s something more tangible of sorts to me that I’m really really happy about hehe

10/16/15, 12:17:08 AM: Siangyee: I feel like in this stage of my life I’m acutely aware of mortality though and I dk if that’s because of the trip either and the immense fear that I felt before and at some points during the trip and the sense of gratitude that I have for being alive and back, maybe augmented I dk

10/16/15, 12:17:50 AM: Siangyee: ‘The world is no more permanent than a wave crashing on a shore. No matter our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into the wash, just like watery ink on paper’

10/16/15, 12:19:23 AM: Siangyee: I thought it was maybe more amplified after i got back, but then I stumbled upon this post in my archives this morning or yesterday

10/16/15, 12:19:55 AM: Siangyee: On 15th jan 2014

10/16/15, 12:21:14 AM: Siangyee: it’s a really long quote but im just gonna paste it here HAHAHAHA

10/16/15, 12:21:21 AM: Siangyee: “The real problem here is that we’re all dying. All of us. Every day the cells weaken and the fibres stretch and the heart gets closer to its last beat. The real cost of living is dying, and we’re spending days like millionaires: a week here, a month there, casually spunked until all you have left are the two pennies on your eyes.

Personally, I like the fact we’re going to die. There’s nothing more exhilarating than waking up every morning and going ‘WOW! THIS IS IT! THIS IS REALLY IT!’ It focuses the mind wonderfully. It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realise that, in the scheme of things, you really don’t have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer.

Death is not a release, but an incentive. The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life. My traditional closing-time rant – after the one where I cry that they closed that amazing chippy on Tollington Road; the one that did the pickled eggs – is that humans still believe in an afterlife. I genuinely think it’s the biggest philosophical problem the earth faces. Even avowedly non-religious people think they’ll be meeting up with nana and their dead dog, Crackers, when they finally keel over. Everyone thinks they’re getting a harp.

But believing in an afterlife totally negates your current existence. It’s like an insidious and destabilizing mental illness. Underneath every day – every action, every word – you think it doesn’t really matter if you screw up this time around because you can just sort it all out in paradise. You make it up with your parents, and become a better person and lose that final stone in heaven. And learn how to speak French. You’ll have time, after all! It’s eternity! And you’ll have wings, and it’ll be sunny! So, really, who cares what you do now? This is really just some lacklustre waiting room you’re only going to be in for 20 minutes, during which you will have no wings at all, and are forced to walk around, on your feet, like pigs do.

If we wonder why people are so apathetic and casual about every eminently avoidable horror in the world – famine, war, disease, the seas gradually turning piss-yellow and filling with ringpulls and shattered fax machines – it’s right there. Heaven. The biggest waste of our time we ever invented, outside of jigsaws.

Only when the majority of the people on this planet believe – absolutely – that they are dying, minute by minute, will we actually start behaving like fully sentient, rational and compassionate beings. For whilst the appeal of ‘being good’ is strong, the terror of hurtling, unstoppably, into unending nullity is a lot more effective. I’m really holding out for us all to get The Fear. The Fear is my Second Coming. When everyone in the world admits they’re going to die, we’ll really start getting some stuff done.”

– Caitlin Moran

10/16/15, 12:22:22 AM: Siangyee: and then i read it again (this morning or yesterday) and i just feel like wah ya i really agree so much with it, that the awareness of death “focuses the mind wonderfully. It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realise that, in the scheme of things, you really don’t have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer” and i was pleasantly surprised to know that my jan 2014 self had already started contemplating so

10/16/15, 12:22:27 AM: Siangyee: but i didnt remember

10/16/15, 12:22:50 AM: Siangyee: ” The Fear is my Second Coming. When everyone in the world admits they’re going to die, we’ll really start getting some stuff done.”

10/16/15, 12:23:12 AM: Siangyee: “The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life.”

10/16/15, 12:25:11 AM: Siangyee: so i guess i kinda realised it was this acute awareness that started creeping in end 2013 i suppose, and not necessarily attributed to my trip, and that when i reflect on the trip i probably gave more credit to it – thinking it changed my thoughts – than it might be worth (though it probably did augment it)

10/16/15, 12:25:48 AM: Siangyee: here ends my answer as to whether i think the trip changed me. TLDR: I think it did in some ways but it’s hard to define change IMO

End

“I had arrived. I’d done it. It seemed like such a small thing and such a tremendous thing at once, like a secret I’d always tell myself, though I didn’t know the meaning of it just yet.”


– Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed





As hard as it is to acknowledge, it’s my last few days in South America. That’s a really sad statement that took me some effort to type, not melodramatizing (or maybe a bit). It’s just that there’s a part of me that screams, FML, ITS YOUR LAST DAYS IN SOUTH AMERICA. I know it’s going to be difficult to come back, not within the next 5 years (I think) but hm, with my yellow fever vaccination, likely the next decade… There’s still so much to explore. I’m going to miss being surrounded by the Spanish language and being called a señorita and attempting conversations with my half-baked Spanish and feeling myself improving. Listening to Latin American music, learning new words, immersing in new cultures. Of course there’s things I miss back home, I don’t quite take care of my body well in the months. But I think opportunities like this don’t come. In all, I’m glad I stretched this for as long as I could (though, I wish I left earlier now, and f school and extend a few days longer so I could have perhaps gone to Ecuador / Colombia)
==
1.30pm – 1130am – 70 soles Civa economica
In this long and weaving bus ride I know it’s my last one in a long while
I am just not homesick. 2 months is too short.
Listening to the crooning of Latin American singers at the background of the bus
Figuring out the Spanish words
Thinking about how mine has improved
Going to miss this, all these – silly South America, the silly things that happen (random taxes), the silly traffic (van in salkantay zip lining), silly cab drivers (giggly Bolivian la paz), blasting music in our truck
Is it the last day already? Too fast. Not ready to leave. Feels really sad. When I go home I have to continue to listen to music, read Spanish, and so forth.
It’s also quite amazing how much my Spanish has improved. I can now listen to the tv shows and understand glimpses of it, as with songs. Conversations. I can carry conversations with locals, basic but also to some extent useful enough. Such a leap from when I first began. It occurred to me that learning a language isn’t really that hard, how silly I was to have thought otherwise. 2 years ago the self that said ‘I can never do that!’ She was wrong. Paco had said, ‘you know why you can’t? Because of what you just said.’ He was right. She was wrong, and the stubborn adamant self that I am can’t be happier than she’s wrong. Stupid girl.
I think about all the events that led me to this trip – exchange, couchsurfing, Barcelona at that time, making the decision to couchsurf with male hosts, Laura and friends, the conversations we had that planted this idea, and now this idea coming into fruition. The learning, and then the running – I remember one night after my 10km run I thought to myself, I wonder if I’ll ever have a version of myself this dedicated again. I was working for something, and I actually saw myself working for it – I was practicing and expanding my Spanish vocabulary on an active basis, I was running to get ready for my trek, I was working to earn some extra money to fund emergencies and extra gifts. I was working towards something, this trip I conceptualised two years ago. I love that version of myself – I saw someone persistent and someone working, someone chasing for something she wanted and I like it. I hope I always retain a version of that self.
I can just picture myself the next day lying at home, in singapore, on my ‘comfy’ bed, eyes closed and feeling depressed because I was back home. Withdrawal symptoms seeping in. Missing my Spanish and travelling and travelling from one city to another, one landscape to another, one revelation to another. And then I smile, because……… It’s time to plan my next trip, I think to myself as I grin, amused, my grin spreading itself wide across my cheeks.
In Lima only for a couple of hours and I hear warnings of ‘peligro‘ around me; I can’t help but feel a little nervous, though I do feel absolutely tranquilo walking around in the day. I asked for directions to the centro and a man advised me to walk in the other direction; I chatted with another guy and he said I probably shouldn’t carry so many things walking around.
In Lima I ate and walked a little, but not a lot, lugging my heavy backpack I now know is 16kg around miraflores. I had encountered miraflores in other cities as well; I now know it’s some sort of city centre, some touristy square. More than that I now think about miraflores as a Spanish word – Mira, look, Flores, flowers. Look, flowers. My brain, interestingly, has started translating words and sentences. Even as I think about things I often find myself trying to translate them. How interesting, immersing myself in this environment and the things it does to me. I like it, I like it a lot.
I walked into a book shop for awhile. I love walking into the book shops here because often I spot a paperback I recognize and I try to translate the words and titles. It’s like a game. Casually asked the lady about getting to the airport, if I need to call a taxi or if I could wave one along the road, since I’ve heard about the express kidnappings and all. She said it was alright, but it was probably better I called one. Another lady agreed, and started calling one for me. It was 45 soles, was I alright? Of course, it was less than 50 and it was my last day, last spending. Then the taxi guy hung up or something, and she couldn’t get others because it was Sunday and all was unavailable / busy, and they advised me to catch one down the road. The lady shopkeeper walked me opposite the street and flagged one down for me, near where a policeman was standing. This driver heard ‘aeropuerto‘ and shook his head. Sunday, I suppose it’s because it’s Sunday. Another cab stopped shortly after. She talked to the cab driver for me – 35 soles. Great! That’s 10 soles difference; that’s 3usd. It’s times like this I wonder about such differences – quite great differences, and almost inevitable differences.
I got in, and shot her a last worried grin before getting in. She nodded assuringly, knowing my fears, and waved goodbye. I sat at the backseat, wondering if I was going to be robbed at my last taxi ride, my last ride in South America. Especially since he had stopped for me with my backpack, rather than my flagging. I mentally wondered how I would feel; alright, my trip had ended, I had barely a hundred soles left, I just needed my notes in my phone, and if I had my sd card they could have the camera. But mostly I guess I’d be fine, because I had done everything I’d wanted. I suppose it’s under these circumstances that I realise I’m fine with losing the replaceables, except my words. They are pretty precious to me, testament to my state of being, my memories. The most invaluable (the irony).
These thoughts took place over a span of three seconds. I laughed nervously (though likely more cheery sounding) before chatting with him about living in Lima, how it was, about Peru, and all I’ve learnt – the Japanese president, cusco, the coca leaves, the altitude, how I was in Machu Picchu and South America and needed to improve my Spanish, how I wanted to go to Columbia and Ecuador and travel more. La playa in el ciudad. We laughed a little along the way and as I felt our camaraderie increased I felt a little more relieved – maybe he would like chatting with me, and maybe this decreases the chances of him driving to a secluded spot to rob me. Lol. I am paranoid, am I not? On hindsight I feel I am paranoid – or am I? Nah, frankly not really, in alternative universes I might have been less lucky. We drove into streets (where one flash of a moment I wondered if I should jump off if it was absolutely secluded) and then out into crowded lanes, and when we drove past the blue sign that said ‘aeropuerto‘ pointing ahead I felt a part of me sink with ease. Hurray! Hurray! I chatted more cheerily after. It’s nice to know I can actually converse a little now, though still not completely understanding at times but managing fine. Being able to ask some questions at least, and getting to know someone, about someone. Think about week 1 and week Now. We reach the airport and I thanked him and got off, stepping into the airport, my final destination in South America. This feeling washes over me.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me — Pablo Neruda
Bought Spanish poetry books because I’m certain I’ll be able to read them within a decade. Gonna miss being surrounded by Spanish all the time, gonna miss the Latin American music and feeling reminded of my smallness in the vastness of the world. 😢
I gazed at the person in the mirror. She was a little slimmer than I remembered. As I had expected, and was slightly pleased to say. After all, all that exercise! Looked the same in general, one can hardly tell how transformative the weeks have been.
And has it really been ‘transformative’? Is that the right word? I wasn’t ‘transformed’ – perhaps what I mean is… Tweaked. My life course tweaked a little further from my initial conception of my future prior to my trip. I had plans, future plans of what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go that did not exist prior to those weeks. I now knew I had (not only the ability to, but also) the – confidence? – to do so.
Glanced at the mirror again. Dark circles. I didn’t even care that I was washing my hair in the airport toilet. Or that I was sleeping here. It’s better than a rocking bus. My minimum level of comfort required has dropped, I think. The toilet has toilet paper, and hooks. I couldn’t help but notice how it looked new and shiny. I was happy to be in a developed country again; I suddenly recalled that I could drink from the tap water at ease and for free. Hurray!!
The girl in the mirror looked young, and I was pleased, and proud of her. I was pretty proud of her. When I’m 70 I’m sure I will remember her. ‘Remember how you were when you were 23…?’
There is a part of me that is almost delightfully surprised that I didn’t die – I’m alive, i’m alive! There is a part of me that mocks that ridiculous week 1 self that was so scared, and there’s the other part that knows I can think this only because in many ways I got lucky (or is it?) that I’m fine with only scratches from the tree branch. What is danger? This trip calls into question.
Mainly I’m thankful to be alive – and being alive more than ever feels like a great gift, a blessing that I cherish, I really really do. Prior to my trip and during my trip and now after, it is clear that I love life and I’m happy to be alive.
Yesterday when I arrived in London I could still hear Spanish everywhere – in Primark, along the streets, I could hear Spanish. And hearing Spanish brings me some sort of wistfulness. It was still nice to be back in a developed country though. I stepped into the toilets of the airport and couldn’t help noticing how bright and shiny it was, and how it had toilet paper. Been a while.
Flying home, my flight home. At the airport I overheard people conversing in Spanish (again). On the plane I felt my ears pop along with the altitude and it reminded me of Peru. I really do miss South America, particularly because it’s so far away and inconveniently inaccessible. I try to picture the next time I return, when I’m older. South America will always be a special continent to me, tremendously special because upon this continent locks the person that I was once upon a time, a version I don’t quite want to lose.
Tucking this chapter of memories into a box to peep into if ever I feel down and defeated
Pinning it onto my chest like a badge of honour I proudly sneak a peak at proudly

Joy

Seeps in as I race to the toilet immediately after I drop my backpack

Grab a fresh clean towel 
Open the tap and step into the embrace of the warm shower 
Sit on the tiled floor 
Step out into a tiled kitchen 
With no ants carrying leftovers crawling across a cement floor 
I step into the living room and turn on the fan and 
Lie against the cushion of my sofa 

Sometimes I get flashes of memories

I took out the last of my llama keychains today. I was telling the L5SW girls that the colored ones were from this little boy who persuaded me to buy it.
When we fell quiet after our lively chatter this morning, the scene in Cusco crept to my mind again – it was a night dimly lit, the crowd was excited and the fireworks erupted in the festive air. I sat down for awhile, to catch a short rest from my incessant walking the entire day. He came up to me, and his tiny fingers clutched my arm. His other hand dangled the chain of llamas at me. He mumbled something I didn’t quite understand. Cuanto cuesta? I asked.
I bought 5, reluctantly because I had already bought so many from Bolivia. But what I remember is those clammy small hands against my skin, tiny fingers that skillfully opened the ring to pick out the ones I chose, his dark untaut skin vaguely reflecting the street light.
His little sister, younger than he was, came up to him awhile after, and I saw his mother coming up with other merchandises as I walked away.
While I do not want to pick on assumptions, I wondered: Would a parent allow so (even with cultural acceptance) if not under specific circumstances? How does my childhood fare in comparison?
Along the ride in Indonesia I saw people selling souvenirs and toys and food by the roads while the cars stopped. I couldn’t help thinking about the traffic light stops in south am. To me, it’s interesting that miles and hours away on another continent, the practices are similar. Just like that one magic trick of people ‘floating’ in the air as they sat on their metal rods with a plain cloth draped over.

Puno – Floating Islands of Uros

Like the floating village of Kampung Luong, here there is a floating island of the school (until 11 years old before they go to Puno for further education), the doctor, a place to get purified water, which they pay taxes to the local government for. Unlike Kampong Luong, here the moment you enter you’re greeted with ‘hola amiga’s and persuasions to buy touristy souvenirs. The kids too, sing on the boat for tips. It makes me a little sad, because our key interactions with locals revolved around $$$ – commoditized relations. But I suppose there’s no good or bad, just different ways of living. (How different would it be to do fieldwork here?)
I suppose I know what it is – it is the fact that in kampong Luong you know the locals are sweet and friendly because they simply are. As always money commoditizes (is there such a word) relations; I suppose the fact that the key interactions we had revolved around purchasing of souvenirs / drinks / selling of jackets did make it feel.. Tainted. But who am I to say what is ‘pure’? Just, money money money.
How different would it be to do fieldwork here? Very, I realise. When looking at the things I was told something about paying for school; I did buy a cup. Truths are malleable by personal agendas I suppose.

there’s something sad about this picture

demo of the construction of the house

The little girl sang on the boat as we floated towards the other island. The sun was setting slowly, quietly, as her melody filled the sky. I felt like I was in a movie.