Tag Archives: Journey

Happy Hogmanay to All, And To All A New Year!

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the New Years Celebration, typically celebrated with fireworks and a procession of carrying torches through Edinburgh dressed in kilt. Photo compliments of Edinburgh Hogmanay official site.

 

Walking barefoot up the driveway, knapsack slung over shoulder, and hair pulled up in a patterned red bandana, I trudged up the long dirt driveway Tuesday morning, the 20th of December after too many hours of cross-continental journey.

Didn’t bother to tell anyone that I’d make it home for Christmas.

I guess it was a bit of a shock to them all. Mom started crying, and she got all emotional. I think it’s a mom thing.

Back in Dundee, Scotland, I think it was right about my twenty-eighth listen of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” that it began to sink in.

The way in which my Christmas playlist included every known version of that song from Bing Crosby to Rascal Flatts, Frank Sinatra to The Carpenters, Michael Buble, Elvis Presley, Josh Groban, Sarah McLachlan, Kelly Clarkson, Johnny Mathis.

They all had a go at the carol.

I would know.

I began to think that perhaps there was something beyond just a simple fascination of the song, some sort of subtext I still can’t pinpoint.

Needless to say, I made it home.

Never did figure out about that song fetish though.

My To Do before trekking back to the land of the Scots includes primarily getting a tan.

If only for the sole intent of ceasing the incessant inquiries as to the quasi transparency of my white skin if I was supposedly from “California.”

Well that, and procuring a cheese slicer before I head back over, to make the production of toasties a relatively simper ordeal.

Just a wee while back, would be measured round bout a year ago on this Gregorian calendar of ours, I fought, and bit, and fought some more to get outta this star spangled country and cross over quite a few borders.

It was something I needed to do.

This year, I fought (with myself) to be back home, paid 600 pounds, traveled for 31 hours, took a month off work, and abandoned the opportunity of a White Christmas.
Just to be back home.

Because it was something I needed to do.

I hope I stop needing to do things.

It’s getting kind of expensive.

Looking back over my pale Scottish shoulder at where I was this time last year, I figure I’ve covered a bit of distance.

Quite literally.

And, I may have learned a thing or two, although I beg you not to ask of me what seeing as I’m still not all too sure myself.

Written in my journal a year ago, from January 1st, 2011 as I sat in the airport about to fly out to Thailand for university at 12:04 am, reads,

             “I have been anticipating this moment since the dawn of time and before, marking it my bridge to freedom and the gateway to independence. But somehow in my mind, I’d always envisioned it with a bit less jet lag, and there was definitely a significant increase in the flowery scent of my aroma and my hair had a bit more curl, and a bit less grease to it. I was to be self actualized, with a fully endowed D-cup, and pristinely decoupaged matching suitcases. There would also be a scarf gently drifting behind me, you know, daintily traipsing in the ever constant breeze.

Yeah, well, that didn’t exactly happen. This new years as the clock strikes twelve, I’m considering it beneficial to mankind on a whole that I’m not kissing anybody, as I run the tip of my tongue against the grit caked up in chunks clinging to the back of my fuzzy travel teeth. Travel teeth, in accordance with contacts so dry I’m considering soaking them in Head and Shoulders. Not entirely how I’d imagined it, in fact it’s a little left of center, a little lotta left of center. But I wouldn’t have it any other way in the world.”

So I hope this New Year finds you not quite exactly where you thought you were gonna be, but instead, exactly and precisely where you ought to be.

And for me, that was home.

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Oh, To Be A Brit!

I must admit, I was a bit disappointed upon coming to the UK, to discover that my dreams didn’t immediately have accents.

If my laptop (moment of silence in reverent memory of Steve Jobs) could change time zones without my assistance, and my Ebay account show only UK listings, then surely my dreams would get the message that it was time to Britanize the settings.

But, rude awakening to reality, I’ve still got that horrific California drawl of an OhMyGod! accent…even while I’m sleeping.

The adaptation processes is currently underway.

The one where I’m consistently in the wrong about how to say, and how to spell, and how to eat, and how to dress, and how to cross the street.

And have got to start adding a ‘u’ to color and eating french fries with a fork (and calling them ‘chips’ while I’m at it) and making the word ‘you’ plural (as in, “Would yous like some butterscotch pudding?”) and getting made fun of when I pronounce ‘garage,’ and ‘tomato’ like an “American.”

Or if I use the word ‘pickle,’ or ‘pants.’

Or ask for napkins in a restaurant.

Or inquire as to how many touchdowns were scored in a rugby game.

Or try to read the weather report, or bake something, only to discover I have absolutely no idea how hot, or cold anything ever is.

As my terms for heat and frost have been reduced to just that, “hot” and “cold.”

Numbers and temperatures have gained a liberating sort of insignificance.

Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

But despite all those desiccately dry British jokes (the majority at my own expense…) that I simply just don’t get (because there is nothing TO get).

There’s something I absolutely can’t help but admire about a country thats’ trains are faster than their busses.

That loves Jaffa Cakes almost as much as they love their queen.

And that dress their policemen up in such cute little outfits.

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The Great Cracker Challenge.

  

Living in Apartment Number Two of the largest student-housing complex in town means that we get a lot of visitors.

Mainly due to the lack of flights of stairs required to scale in order to reach our front door. After a mere literal hop and a skip, you’re in the building.

News Flash: A rainforest genocide has taken place and the results are apparent by the twenty seven odd pamphlets slid under our door each half hour. Advertising new salons, an Indian food buffet, this Friday’s jungle themed rave, and a free bag of chips with the purchase of a new printer.

Believe me, there is quite a party going on beneath our doorframe.

And those are just the notices from those either to respectful, or just to lazy to knock.

There’s another whole genre of PR folks who’ll pound down your door with their various rhythms of knocking until you open it up and listen to their spiel.

We always glue our faces against the peephole and give the knocker a thorough once over evaluation before deciding whether or not to let them in, at the high stake sacrifice of giving them a couple minutes of our lives that we’ll never get back again.

But I’d take the PR staff any day rain or shine over the man who tests our fire alarms. He has this tendency to barge in at all hours of the wee morning, and put off the fire alarms under the pretenses of “testing them.” I’ve come to the sole conclusion that as a youngen he had many a sleep cycle interrupted by intrusive fire alarms, and from a psychological standpoint, he now seeks to make amends by persecuting countless other meager seekers of knowledge.

Just the other day after a bit of habitual knocking, I swing open my door indignantly to reveal probably the most intriguing triumvirate to ever grace the carpeted hearth of Flat Two.

They labeled themselves as architecture students, raising money for their new project of outdoor classrooms.

I wasn’t sure how pleasantly this would pan out with the harsh and icy Scottish windy weather. But I wasn’t there to interrogate them on the practicalities of their scheme, I was present merely to cock my head in wonder at the sign strung round the young mans neck, reading,

“Can YOU Eat Four Crackers In One Minute?”

I don’t know, could I? Surely four crackers wouldn’t be too difficult for a bigmouth such as I.

They all held uniformly mischievous smiles and a single orange bag of seemingly innocent crackers.

The challenge was thus: Consume four crackers in one minute, and win a bottle of Irn Bru (a type of strong orange flavored soda, so popular it’s practically the national drink of Scotland…and nowhere else…).

It was a tempting offer.

And I’ve never been good with temptation.

Reluctantly, I shoveled over a pound, and came to the realization that those elementary school wrapping paper fundraisers never really come to an end, they are just revamped to create a college rendition of the door to door give me all your money tactic of acquiring funds.

So I began.

One cracker at a time.

Liquids not permitted.

Biting through the stack of parched cardboard, the crackers crumbling beneath each other in their crispy shards of dry.

I chewed.

And chewed.

And choked.

And all I could hear was the sound of my relentless salty chewing.

I paced the hallway to the recurring sound of the architects dull counting down of the seconds.

And I heard behind me the muffled expectant cheering of my flat mates.

And then came the loudest sound of all, the dry chortle of sawdust spewing from my mouth as I bent over the bathroom sink gasping through splinters of wheat as failure glared at me in layers from the depths of my bathroom drain.

Most likely a photograph is neither necessary, nor appreciated, and I’m quite certain your imagination is vibrant enough to conjure up it’s own mental picture. However I’m never one to waste a perfectly good photo….

 

Trust it to students to come up with a fund raising idea of such ludicrous proportions, and leave it to students to actually participate in, and enjoy (relatively) said activity.

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Ready For TakeOff.

I absolutely NEVER sit next to cute guys on airplanes.

And I have been on a lot of airplanes.

The seating chart roulette always lands me next to those little kids that squeal and kick the backs of other people’s seats repetitively, and then those other people flip their heads backwards and send me those small snarky glares meant to intimidate me into controlling my child. Either that, or old woman.

Not that I have anything at all against them, it’s just that they don’t happen to be cute guys.

Which, biased though I may be, is always preferable.

“God, I love karma.”

I thought to myself while heartily examining the back view of the young man taking up all my compartment space in the overhead storage area.

Normally I’d be significantly ticked off by the intrusive demeanor of his luggage. Except that him placing his lumpy orange duffel all up in my space meant only one thing.

That my space, was his, to get all up in. 

Swoon.

I don’t remember his name, apologies, was a bit distracted. However I guarantee that it was a very nice one, in fact there’s probably a couple of colognes named after him, and one dedicated solely to his fresh and dewy in-flight airplane scent. 

So I’m sitting there, avoiding the armrest and all eye contact, safety informational tutorial droning on in the background. Alerting me in the case of emergency, to remove all high heel shoes, as they may puncture a hole in the aircraft slide. 

Here I am, trying to think of something remarkably stunning to say. Wishing I knew Cameron Diaz’s cousin or something, so that I could casually slingshot it into a conversation, racking up a jackpot of “cool by association” points.

When all of a sudden I blurt out, “I lost my passport!!!”

And it worked. Instant conversation. Just add water.

In no time flat, he became very interested in where and when the last time I remember having my passport (and ticket…) was.

This is a start.

Maintaining interest in each other is a key factor to any steady relationship.

And he was down on his hands and knees, checking around my seat, and under the feet of my neighbors. I was tearing apart my backpack, and flipping wildly through those pamphlets filled with overpriced items in the back pouches of each seat.

And all of this would have probably been just fine and dandy.

If it hadn’t been that I really had lost my passport, and if the flight attendant man with the perfectly parted, if slightly greasy hair hadn’t come over and informed us that in order for take-off all passengers had to be securely buckled as was announced in the safety instructional video. Which I hadn’t necessarily been watching said video as I had much more important tasks to complete at the time, like losing my passport.

Ever wondered how to lose something you’re clutching in both hands and guarding with your life? Look an Irish man in the eyes. 

When I stand up to do one last search in my overhead baggage, I glimpse a lonely looking passport neglected in a far corner.

Sure enough, it had my very own horrifically un-photogenic picture gracing the inside cover.

Maybe there’s a very good reason I never sit next to cute guys on airplanes.

…It’s for my own good.

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I Love Packing.

 I love packing.

Correction.

I absolutely adore packing.

Packing fits into my category of cleaning.

Which I also love, but only the fun type of cleaning, like emptying out old closets, sweeping up spilled Cheerios, and folding warm static-y post-dryer clothes.

Three activities of which I’m particularly fond of.

I must admit that cleaning my room is on the top of my favorite things to do, almost grazing writing in a plain black journal with a steamy cup of peppermint tea.

Emphasis on the almost.

Ironically enough however, my room is a constant disaster.

Although I often feel like I spend the entirety of my spare moments wading through cleaning it.

Still haven’t sorted through the complexities of that paradox.

Packing for a trip, to my delight, is like cleaning for a purpose.

It also includes, which I won’t eschew either, shopping for a purpose.

A reason to rid your closet of the most comfortable elastic-less underwear, third grade class t-shirt, and that faded pink, ratty old sweater that magically becomes the first thing you put on.

If it doesn’t fit in the suitcase, it’s got to go.

I made an exception for a pair of moss green beaded espadrilles, and hid them in the back of my empty closet, hoping their impracticality would mark my return to the States of America.

I do believe, however, I’ve somehow discovered the reason behind the majority of all suitcases being black, the most evident of which, includes the miraculous slimming qualities of the color black. That can make even the most abundant of overstuffed luggage look remotely thinner. Whereas, my own bright red polka dotted bags never manage to attain that same degree of sophistication.

But they are pretty cute, to say the least.

One thing that’s left me persistently baffled is the manner in which a girl such as myself, who loves organization to such a meticulous degree, has absolutely never managed to pull up to the gas station pump with the right side of the car facing the tank on the first try.

Not to mention all those times I forgot to empty the lint filter in the dryer, or left my quesadilla on the stovetop frying to a blackened crisp.  Or the way I consider it a rare blessing when I’m able to find the car keys in under five minutes.

Perhaps organization comes in hills and valleys, in ebb and flow.

Becoming too organized can leave a sterile taste at the back of your tongue, and a floor too clean to tiptoe on.

Being too flamboyantly gaudy with muddled disorder, obtrudes your mental space with materiality, and obstructs clarity of thought and vision.

I guess we just can’t win em all, and in the meantime, I’ll be over here leaving my coffee cup on the roof of the car in the Coffee Bean parking lot, as I peel out of the drive way, just to run home and measure the precise degree and angle each item occupies in my suitcase, and the additional weight it adds.

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Across The World Again.

In times of either peace or war have you, ever been involved in, or suspected of involvement in, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide?

Have you ever supported or encouraged terrorist activities?

Have you engaged in any other activities that might indicate that you may not be considered a person of good character?

Wavering on this last question, I wondered how detrimental ditching fourth period to suntan in the quad during the last week of school senior year, would be for my record.

Gently bubbling in the blanks on my accusatory visa forms, I couldn’t help but wonder about all this prosecution aimed at my application, clearly the UK government harbored some secret grudge against philosophy majors. Then again, even Thoreau had to spend a night in jail.

My oldest brother calls it, “The fog.” It’s that patch of unknown, just over the hill that you’re about to reach. But still haven’t the slightest as to what lies beyond.

Just a bit of hazy expectation, built of photos ripped from magazines, and a folded corner in a guide book. 

So uncertain.

But more certain most of all, that it’s making sense.

Because when you lay on the ground, inspecting the details, it’s easier to get caught in the trap of practicalities.

 The trap of practicalities is a scary place to be tangled up in.

Although it likes to hide itself behind the pretenses of sensibility and rationality.

It really just trips on its own tail worrying about things like finances, and the potential career options accompanying a degree in philosophy, or, lack thereof. 

The trap of practicalities shot dangerous daggers of doubt at me, like wondering if I was ready for the commitment of college, of a degree, of a permanent location. I couldn’t hardly commit to my cereal for eight minutes after pouring the milk on it, how was I to commit to the rest of my life? 

But that’s just it.

Because I realized something beautiful. And that’s that I want this to be the rest of my life. 

Because the rest of my life, includes me, alive at this moment, and  insert your cliche of choice here, that was how I’d decided to spend my existence. 

Brian Andreas says it best, “There are things you do in life, and they may make no sense, and they may make no money and it may be the real reason we are here: to love each other and to eat each other’s cooking, and say it was good.”

I like their accents…so passport in hand, and plane ticket an arms reach away, I’m folding my favorite pair of cut-offs into my incessantly overstuffed suitcase and salivating over the journey to come in nine days time. 

Scotland.

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A Shade of Life and Sunshine on the Open Road.

Thwack. Thwack. Thuuud.

Calculating the crappiness of the karma received from inadvertently killing butterflies, I ducked my head to avoid hitting yet another gorgeously sequined turquoise butterfly.

They intruded in gnat like swarms covering the perimeter of the sixty-kilometer road to Pala U Waterfall.

After the first few thuds vibrating solidly within my metal helmet, I forwent my futile attempts to guide the motorbike in an awkward anti-connect the dot demeanor in avoidance of the butterflies.

Trees erupted from the mountainside at all angles in toe touching proximity.

 They met in unison with tips arcing across the road, encompassing the torn cement in a canopy of moist nature.

The slightest of sunburns, and a couple liters of water later, my dear Indian friend Ashutosh and I screeched into the pay station to buy our tickets for the national park.

“Cun naksiksa!” “Me student!”

I pleaded with the woman working the booth, pulling out both my Webster University ID card and my best starving college student look in an effort to bargain with the 200 baht entrance fee for foreigners.

Returning victoriously to Ash who waited idling on the motorbike, I informed him of the spectacular 100 baht discount I’d haggled for us.

Approximately three American Dollars.

He beamed and proudly informed me that I was becoming Indian.

Pulling into the steep rocky parking lot, already drenched in salty sweat from the hour long butterfly dodging motorbike sprint we partook journeying to Pala U, we secured a spot between two tour busses, one packed with Chinese, the other, Indians, and we set out to do a bit more sweating.

I knew no more about Pala U Waterfall than the road signs depicted, which was an assortment of Thai lettering, something to the effect of น้ำตกสิบสองกิโลเมตร.

Apologies if that spoils the ending too much.

Needless to say, I was unprepared in the best of all possible ways for the beauty of this mirage.

After a concise bridge-crossing walk, surrounded by every possible shade of green, we ended up at a small pool of water collected from several billowing waterfalls.

With the enormous sacrifice of a pack of coconut crackers I’d purchased that morning on a rest stop to a roadside 7-11 wannabe on the bumpy road to Pala U, we crushed the crackers to pieces and dropped them into the water.

Only to leap back at the hordes of catfish so thick I could have utilized them as stepping stones, that immediately began jumping on cue and hurdling over one another, flopping desperate for a taste of powdered coconut cracker.

Whatever nostalgia I’d originally felt at parting with my crackers evaporated instantly at the degree of coolness with which these fish were freaking out, plus the condoling knowledge that with another twelve baht I could purchase another, considerably drier package of my own.

After the complete consumption of my crackers, the catfish flocked together beneath the water, idle at the edge of the rocks waiting for motive to move and another innocent bystander.

Pala U Waterfall has five levels to it, each plateau a significant hike further uphill and the cascades increasing grander and becoming far more intricate with the augmentation in elevation.

I overheard a couple of hairy potbellied men wheezing on their way up to the third level joking that after reaching the fifth level you’re so high up, you meet God.

It was only after the climb.

Twisting beneath boulders and slipping barefoot between rocks.

In that gorgeous creek bed style of half walking, three quarters running, leaping from rock to rock skimming the icy clear water.

That I realized they weren’t kidding.

Because I did meet him.

God, that is.

It was a nice moment of silence where the sunshine fills every possible spot of any word at all you could ever come up with to slip in the spaces.

I was standing at the edge of the stream on a simple mossy wet boulder that fit precisely into the panorama, identical to every other boulder you’d find up, down, or around for about twenty meters.

Except that I was in a grove of translucent butterflies.

Beautiful beyond belief.

And elegantly graceful in equal proportions of gentle wonder.

Reaching my hand up, I felt the legs of tens of tiny little beautiful butterflies trusting me.

Blue and purple and white and just the most incredible yellow, they were all so delicate and pinky up for a cup of tea sort of dainty.

Skeltering up and down my arms.

Absolutely surrounding me in a thin shelter of beauty.

Not flying, no destination.

Just hovering.

In the sunlight, precisely as I myself was doing.

I reached up into the sun and it felt like it’s only real purpose was lighting up my boulder.

And I saw little raindrops almost as elegant as the butterflies themselves. 

Falling from the sky so lightly that they disappeared before ever hitting me.

And I saw God.

And I felt God.

And above all, I knew that he was there.

Driving back from Pala U, several significant hours later, sopping wet from so much sweat and too many dunks in the waterfall to count, our clothes exhausted from all that drying out, only to get drenched yet again and again, we sang an off key top of the lungs assortment of Beatles tunes whenever we could remember the lyrics.

Halfway through a unique rendition of “Eight Days a Week” artistically merged with “Yellow Submarine,” Ash stalled the motorbike with a thwacking of it’s ancient brakes.

I peered around him mouth open in mid-“Yeah yeah yeah shanananana” to see an elephant standing in the middle of the road.

Standing isn’t necessarily the best word in this case.

It was more like, venting, or, needing to vent, as it appeared to be.

There was one extremely enormous, very pissed off elephant in the middle of the road.

Oh.

Hey.

Didn’t see you there.

Something like that, more or less, describes my conscious stream of thought.

Ash’s must have taken a more neanderthalic approach, with the fight or flight route running rapidly through his skull. As he floored it.

No really, I was impressed because even with the extreme lack of floor in the motorcycle, or, presence of open air where a floor potentially could have been, Ash really did manage to floor that beast of a motorcycle.

Heading precisely and directly towards the elephant.

I, in addition to the elephant as it turned out, assumed that Ash’s plan was to swerve to the right, fitting neatly into that little slice of street that the big grey guy hadn’t yet covered.

However more full of ferociousness than of not, he stampeded towards that empty space of road and, more frighteningly, towards us, in one powerful trot of a tantrum. 

With a screeching skid, Ash turned the motorbike around and we fled backwards, in a horrified mixture of shocked laughter and disbelief that there was indeed an extremely pissed off wild elephant that seemed to be have knighted himself king of the road and wanted us to Billy Goats Gruff it across the asphalt.

He also seemed fond of stepping on us with those big old wrinkly clubs of feet of his and grinding us into oblivion, but that was a thought I slipped out the side of my brain for dwelling on at a different time.

Waiting for several other cars to pass, and watching the elephants benign reaction to their presence, we decided to try to slip in behind an automobile and quickly, and painlessly cross by the elephant.

It was a nice plan in theory.

As soon as he spotted us, the interracial motorbike, he set out stamping and guffawing to keep us from crossing his blessed asphalt.

In a shriek of sound and speed and the smell of too much confusion and a lot of petroleum.

We somehow managed across that blasted barrier and away in a flash of Hindi curse words that had sprung a leak from Ash’s mouth.

A couple kilometers down the road, we spotted a few more innocent Thai passer byers on their motorbikes and honked at them shouting and pointing, “CHANG!!!!! CHANG!!!!!”

ELEPHANT!!!!!!

ELEPHANT!!!!!!!!!!

Fortunately that was one of the few Thai words floating around in our foreign vocabularies, thanks to the way in which the cheapest laundry detergent in Thailand is brand named “Chang.”

Essential knowledge for any college student.

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