The side of a ‘strong person’ you don’t always see

Having been cut off from the outside world for the last 11 days in a vipassana (silent meditation) retreat, I didn’t realise #worldmentalhealthday had just taken place. But maybe the universe was speaking to me, because during my time in the retreat – undertaking one of the most challenging mental and physical experiences of my life – I was thinking about writing this post. So now, coinciding (almost) with World Mental Health Day 2019 seems like the perfect time to put it out there. Even if it’s a difficult post for me to write.

I’m fortunate to have some amazing people in my life who not only support me, but also tell me I’m a strong person – I’ve even heard a couple of people call me the strongest person they know after what they’ve seen me go through and achieve over the last few years. Wow. 

This is a huge compliment, especially since my social circle is made up to a large extent of people I consider to be strong people (surround yourself with people you want to be like). These comments, combined with some of the inspiring posts I’ve ready from others in honour of #worldmentalheathday2019 have made me reflect on what many people don’t see. The side we don’t usually share on social media, or with those who aren’t closest to us. The side hidden behind the masks and veneers we create online. The vulnerable side of our lives. 

This idea has been heightened for me after I posted on social media about completing the mental “endurance test” which vipassana became. I received many amazing comments and messages from people about my strength completing the 10 day course, and I’m so grateful for every single one of those comments. I’m honoured to receive them, thank you all. However, behind every strong person’s facade lies a vulnerable individual with real fears, emotions and anxieties. The same fears, emotions and anxieties as everyone else.

Appearing strong, and being strong doesn’t necessarily mean you feel strong. And it doesn’t mean you don’t cry, get angry, frustrated, depressed, scared or anxious, it just means it’s not always visible, or that it’s not always something you share with others. It’s totally normal to experience a wide range of emotions. And to deal with it, express it, and behave – as a result of it – in different ways.

So I’m posting this to show a different side of me than the one I usually post on social media. I’m posting it to show that we’re all vulnerable, even those people we might look up to, who we see as strong, and who we might think are immune to feeling shitty or being scared or anxious or depressed. 

If there’s any person you look up to as someone to emulate, someone who is a kind of a role model to you or others, someone you think is strong and confident and brave, remember, they are not immune to mental health challenges. None of us are immune. We just don’t always see what’s on the inside of other people’s heads unless they choose to share it with us.

It’s important too, to remind ourselves that while others might not always agree with or support the choices we make or the way we respond to events in our lives, we have to look after ourselves first, to find our own path to well-being and happiness, and to do what’s right for us as individuals. No-one else will do it for us. And if others don’t agree or support you, well, let them go. Focus on what’s within your control. Focus on the people who provide you with support. Most importantly, focus on yourself. 

If this post helps one person to realise that strength is not just a mental state, but is about our externalised behaviour, and that it’s okay to feel down, sad, or whatever emotional label you feel and want to attach to it; if it helps one person realise that even those who appear strong on the outside have the same anxieties and wobbles and fears as they do; or if it helps one person love themselves a bit more, or feel a tiny bit stronger, or take action to improve their own mental health, or that of someone else, then it’s served its purpose. 

By the way, it’s not been easy for me to write this (I’m kind of crapping myself about making myself so vulnerable); maybe I’ve been reading too many Brene Brown books recently which has given me this push to do it, but certainly spending 10 days in my own head last week and philosophising about life, the universe and what everything is all about leads me to feel like this is the right thing to do, right now. So (gulp), here we go…this is me…

I might appear strong, but…

…when my long-term partner died in 2015, I had a breakdown. I took time off work. I had panic attacks. I was depressed. Even when I went back to work a few weeks later, I had anxiety. I didn’t eat. I drank my own bodyweight in wine for several months (wine is not the answer, btw 🙂 ). Watching a loved one die is something which will never leave you. I still have occasional nightmares and dreams about that night, and about the aftermath of the following weeks and months, and there are a number of stories about the circumstances which play over in my mind at times which will never be resolved, because I can never ask him the questions which remain unanswered. Last week I had a meltdown during the vipassana course when I realised on that particular day, I was the exact age he was when he died, and I sobbed in my room all afternoon. I’ve now been on the planet longer than he was ever here. Do I talk about any of this? No, not often. But it doesn’t make my thoughts any less real. So don’t judge others by how they deal with loss, and by how much they do or don’t talk about it in public. Be sensitive and supportive as much as possible to others as you never know what’s going on in their heads.  

I might appear strong, but…

…when I moved to Singapore six months later, people told me I was so brave for doing it, but in reality, I was scared shitless. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know anyone in Singapore, I’d never lived outside of Manchester (in fact, I’d never lived outside of Denton), I’d never been to Asia apart from a short scoping trip to Singapore, and I’d never run a business. But I also knew if I stayed in the same place and didn’t make some big changes in my life, nothing in my life would change and I’d stay miserable. And I came to the conclusion that if it all went wrong or I hated it, I could always move back. It ended up being one of the best decisions (albeit also the scariest) I’ve ever made, and I’ve met some wonderful people and had some incredible experiences as a result. So make changes, whether they’re small or big, to give yourself distance, space and time, physically and/or emotionally, to recover from the bad stuff which happens in your life, and to help you get some perspective. And say yes to opportunities when they come up. Better to regret things you’ve done, than things you haven’t done, at least in my opinion.

I might appear strong, but…

…I had breast surgery while living in Singapore, and for a while I didn’t know if this was malignant or not – luckily it wasn’t – but I do have to go back to the doctors to check on another lump early in the new year. I could have worried like mad at the time, and I could worry about this now, but worrying about something which hasn’t yet happened and which is out of my control anyway is, to me, a pointless waste of energy. So try to focus on being grateful for what you have right now and focus on the things you can control. This is absolutely easier said than done (as I mentioned, I’ve had anxiety, which feels all-consuming, so I’m really not being flippant here), but sometimes you can gradually shift your thoughts by shifting what you give your time and energy to.

I might appear strong, but…

…I was so stressed a couple of years ago I ended up with shingles, and had to take two weeks off work completely incapacitated. We all get stressed and we all handle it differently, and I clearly hadn’t handled it well at that point – so much so, it manifested physically. With hindsight my mental health self-care (e.g. meditation) had taken a back seat at that time. Meditation has since been a great medicine for me, but it’s not a panacea, so find what works for you.

I might appear strong, but…

…the last couple of weeks, the vipassana retreat has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, both mentally and physically. I’ve cried several times; I alluded to that earlier in this post, but I cried because my emotions became heightened in the hothouse of my mind where everything was amplified in the absence of any external stimulus (there’s no eye contact, mobile phones, reading, writing etc. etc. for 10 days, as well as complete silence). I cried because of the physical pain of sitting on the floor for almost 13 hours a day for 10 days. I cried because I felt claustrophobic in my own body and mind, and because I couldn’t talk to anyone. And then I managed to get some sleep, refocus and get my shit together. The meditation definitely helped me to become more objective and to clear my mind of the chatter and negative thoughts which had been building. I’ll write a separate blog about the whole experience, but for me, there is something in meditating in general (not specifically vipassana) which has helped me be more objective about my emotions and thoughts and less engaged with them. They’re still there, but rather than being in the road with the traffic (thoughts), I am better able to stand at the side of the road and observe the traffic (thoughts) going by before I jump in and react. What’s your coping mechanism for dealing with your thoughts and feelings? 

I might appear strong, but…

…while I might look like I’m having the time of my life travelling around the world right now – and to a large extent I am, I’m certainly trying to live my best life – I didn’t expect to be aged 38, widowed, single, and childless. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that this is not the path I dreamed of for myself when I was growing up. But after everything that’s happened in my life, I’m grateful to be alive and I’ve chosen to make the absolute best I can of the situations I’ve found myself in, and the opportunities which have presented themselves. I’m also very conscious that much of life is about how we look at a situation, and the stories we tell ourselves, about our own lives or those of other people. Take me as an example. I’m either young(ish), free, single and having the time of my life travelling around the world, or I’m approaching middle age, with no job, no home, no kids and no significant other. Both of these descriptions are true, but I choose to run with the positives. What stories do you tell yourself about your life and its context? Are you focusing on the positives or are you letting negative narratives drag you down?

As you can see, in recent years (and even in the last week) – that is, during the time lots of people have told me what a strong person I am – there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve struggled with what’s going on in my life and in my head, and how to maintain balance. I take active steps to focus on strategies which help me, like the meditation, and I focus on positive narratives I tell myself about events in my life, which I’m able to control. I try to let go of the things I can’t control, but of course, this is easier said than done, so I’m dealing with everything as well as I can, and I’m making progress every day, like many of us are. But things come up, and when they do, it’s okay to admit them, talk to those close to you, or take whatever action is helpful for you to regain some balance. And maybe sometimes that makes you appear strong to someone else.

So if you take one thing from reading this post, let it be this: no-one is completely fine, however they might look on the outside. We all have our challenges, we all deal with them differently, and we’re all a work in progress. It’s perfectly normal not to be okay, but if that’s the case, the best thing you can do is work on finding the most effective way of looking after yourself, whether that’s talking to the people closest to you, meditation, constructing narratives, therapy, medication or something else. And remember to support the people close to you with their challenges too, even if that’s just by being there as a friend. 

If you’re willing to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear more from you about your own vulnerabilities, your advice to others, and any builds on what I’ve said above. In the meantime, namaste from Nepal xx

#Worldmentalhealthday2019 #worldmentalhealthday #itsokaynottobeokay 

Photo taken at Begnas Lake, Pokhara, Nepal where I’m currently staying 

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Paradise Laos’d

Last weekend I spent two days on the slow boat from the Thai border down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, Laos. While I was sad to say goodbye to ‘the land of smiles’ after almost seven weeks, with the last two spent exploring the north (Pai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai), lots of people had told me how beautiful Laos is. I haven’t been disappointed.

I’ve read online that some people found the border crossing from Thailand to Laos chaotic; since I’m travelling in low season, immigration was all but empty except me and two fellow travellers from my bus, who navigated it pretty easily, picked up our visas, and then waited for a tuk tuk to take us to the slow boat pier.

The journey down the Mekong on a wooden boat, carrying a mix of backpackers and locals, was magical. Nothing but lush, green jungle for miles and miles, interspersed with the odd small rustic village, with locals embarking and disembarking periodically.

Occasionally you see local children playing by or in the river, and the odd water buffalo grazing by the riverbanks. At one point we also saw some elephants being lead back up hill, presumably after a bath, and presumably to go and work logging or similar 😦

It was so peaceful, and great to be back in nature after several days in cities. I thought I was obsessed with the sea, but on reflection I think maybe it’s actually just water.

I’d highly recommend the boat trip if you’re planning to come from Thailand to Laos. It’s about £40 including a transfer from Chiang Rai (about two hours) and well worth it for the experience.

The boat isn’t exactly luxurious but it’s comfortable enough; the seats are minivan seats which aren’t properly fastened to the floor, so you have to be careful not to lean back too hard or they get a bit wobbly.

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The slow boat, and minivan seats. A bit like the arc, all in twos, although we mainly had a double seat each

I imagine when it’s busy it’s difficult to find a seat, but most of us had a double seat each, so we had plenty of room to spread out. All the locals sat near the front, presumably to be further away from the engine (or maybe the tourists?), but it wasn’t too noisy. The boat also served beer so several of us partook in a few Laos beers – which are actually pretty good. I’ve sampled a few since then 🙂

We spent the night half way down the river in Pakbeng, which seems mainly geared up as a stopover for people travelling between Huay Xai, where you board the boat, and Luang Prabang. It’s about 7 hours the first day, then 8-9 hours on the second day, covering around 400km (I couldn’t find a reliable measure online so this is an estimate).

I booked my accommodation in Pakbeng before arriving, although there are plenty of people trying to sell you a room when you dock. While I don’t like to plan too much, I prefer to have at least some idea of what to expect from a place from the photos online, and the certainty of having a bed before I get somewhere! Here’s the view from where I stayed – which was the closest place to the pier.

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View of the Mekong from my guesthouse in Pakbeng

I finally got to sleep after battling with the light fittings which was like a really shit version of the Crystal Maze where you had to work out how to turn the lights off without also turning off the aircon and fan. There were several switches, on either side of the room, so it was a case of turn one on (or off), then go to the other side of the room and try another switch, and see what happens until you get the right combination.

Literally took me about 20 minutes. And I didn’t even get a crystal at the end of it.

After buying breakfast and sandwiches wrapped in banana leaf for lunch (Laos does good bread – something I’ve really missed the last few weeks!), we changed to a larger boat in the morning,  to continue for another few hours.

Arriving at Luang Prabang pier, me and two fellow boat friends got a tuk tuk into town. We were pretty confused when the driver unceremoniously just dropped us in the old town and refused to take us to our respective hotels – I don’t know what the point was of telling them specifically where we wanted to go. Luckily my hotel was only up the road so I walked, but the boat friends had to hail another tuk tuk who then charged them 30,000 kip (about £2.70) to take them to their hostel. Which was 10,000 kip more than we’d paid for a 7km journey, and their hostel was only 5 minutes away.

My hotel for the first three nights was right on the river, which meant another lovely sunset on night one. I do love a good sunset. Especially with a beer.

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Sunset view by the Mekong River

I’ve since moved to a different guest house as I like Luang Prabang so much I’ve decided to stay on for a full week. This one is very similar, but a bit cheaper and tucked away down a cute little street a bit closer to the night market.

Interestingly there is a set of accommodation regulations in Luang Prabang. According to them, I am not to make any ‘sex movies’ or bring any ‘prostate’ into the room. Not much danger of either of those happening, tbh, but I’ll pack the video camera away.

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Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and when you arrive you can see why – the architecture is a beautiful combination of traditional wooden buildings, with French and Vietnamese influences. It’s unlike any other place I’ve seen so far.

It also has a very laid back feel; while there are enough people, it’s pretty quiet; there are numerous little wooden guest houses (think creaky floors and lack of sound-proofing – which I think would put paid quickly to making any potential sex movies…), shops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, a daily (or rather, nightly) night market, and in the evening the streets twinkle with fairy lights and lanterns. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited.

The influence of the French is obvious in the cafe culture – baguettes, croissants, patries and bagels abound (including ‘bagel eggers’ which I thought was a typo until I’d seen it in multiple places. It’s a bagel with eggs on it lol). It’s generally more expensive for food than in Thailand, but since it’s basically in the middle of the jungle, it must cost more to transport everything. Beer is just as cheap though!

I sampled some amazing Peaberry cold brew Laotian coffee earlier this week while overlooking the Mekong, from a coffee shop which works with local hill tribes to produce the coffee. Well worth a try if you’re here (it’s called Saffron). It’s so good I went twice in two days. Nothing like establishing a routine immediately after arriving somewhere new.

I’ve also been to a small theatre to listen to Laos folk tales which were enthusiastically told by a young local, accompanied by a much (much) older gent playing a Khaen, a traditional Laotian bamboo wind instrument. It was fascinating to hear these stories, including how Mount Phousi (pronounced ‘pussy’) – which is not really a mountain but the tallest hill in Luang Prabang at 100m high – was formed, apparently by a Monkey King who brought it from Sri Lanka.

I climbed Mount Phousi the next day to watch the sunset. It’s 328 steps and when it’s 37 degrees and 80% humidity and you’re not used to working your calf muscles, you definitely feel it. The view from the top was amazing although half way down me and a few others got stuck in a ridiculous thunderstorm and torrential rain, and had to wait at the ticket booth for an hour before we could continue. It was pitch black, I didn’t have an umbrella, and I lost my torch in Pakbeng. Doh.

A couple of nights ago, me and my boat friends went to a French restaurant which has an extensive vegan menu and excellent ratings on TripAdvisor. On the way I managed to fall into a 3 foot deep ditch (good job I still have some antiseptic cream for my leg) which was a great source of entertainment for my boat friends as they didn’t realise they were hanging around with Clumsy McClumsy-some, and which (apart from the sunset) was possibly the highlight of the evening as the food was pretty disappointing – every course was either cold or inexplicably lukewarm.

Yesterday I went on a trip to Pak Ou caves, which is at a junction where the Mekong meets the Nam Ou river. Inside there are hundreds of Buddha statues which are thought to have been left there over hundreds over years. There are two parts to the cave, upper and lower. And a ton of steps again. I should be getting used to this by now.

Afterwards we went to Kuang Si waterfalls. This place speaks for itself – beautiful! I had a dip in the bottom waterfall as the top one was full of people; the water was freezing which was a welcome relief from the heat.  I even took a cheeky selfie. It was nice to actually see a waterfall – many of the ones in Thailand are dry because of the season, so the only one I saw (in Pai) was more of a watertrickle than a waterfall.

This morning I got up at 5am to watch the alms-giving ceremony. Luang Prabang has 34 active Buddhist temples, and every morning at sunrise the monks walk around the town barefoot and meditating, collecting alms from the locals – typically sticky rice and fruit, which serves as their single meal for the day. This is a ritual which has been taking place for over 600 years, and in exchange for giving alms, the locals receive spiritual ‘merit’ for their good deed, making it a reciprocal relationship. It’s become a major draw for tourists to observe.

However, it is of course a deeply religious act, and apparently a lot of tourists use it as an opportunity to take selfies or get in the way (idiots). I was asked by a local if I wanted to take part, but I don’t think that’s appropriate unless you’re Buddhist, so I sat on the floor at a safe distance observing, from a side street just around the corner from my guesthouse (partly to avoid other tourists who typically go onto the main street). Admittedly there’s a bit too much floor in these pictures as I was trying to be discreet and avoid being one of the idiots!

During the alms giving, women have to keep their heads lower than the monks at all times, and no eye contact – or physical contact – with the monks is permitted. It didn’t last very long but it was pretty special to watch.

Then I went back to bed for a couple of hours. Unlike the locals, I’m not used to being up at that time!

On Sunday I’ll be heading to Vang Vieng before moving on to Laos’ capital, Vientiane. And perhaps I’ll blog about that. I’m conscious I’ve missed out the whole of my time in Koh Phangan, Phuket, Pai, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai over the last few weeks…must try harder (again)!!

8 things I’ve learnt in a month of travelling

It’s been exactly a month since I left Singapore. Already! And it’s already about 3 weeks since I last wrote a blog, so I’m overdue for writing something.

The initial idea for this blog was ‘8 travel tips from my first month of travelling’, but now I’ve written it, I can hardly say ‘don’t wee on your own leg’ is a travel tip (see point 7) – or really any kind of tip, because it’s just common sense – so I’ve entitled it ‘8 things I’ve learnt in a month of travelling’ instead. Yes folks, I’ve finally learnt weeing on yourself is not advisable. So at least something good has come out of my leaving my job and travelling around Asia. My parents will be so proud.

Anyway, that little treat is towards the end, once you’ve read points 1-6, so let’s start where all good listicles start – at the beginning. Here’s what I’ve learnt (it’s groundbreaking stuff):

1. I have great intentions about blogging and writing, but intentions don’t always turn into actions. While I work well under pressure and can smash things out when I need to, it turns out I am pretty good at procrastinating unless I have a pressing deadline (who knew?! Haha. BTW, this is not new news to anyone who knows me. But it’s certainly been proven true in the last month). I think I need to start setting myself a goal of writing, say, at least one blog a week.

2. Despite my initial trepidation, I am perfectly capable of living out of a rucksack. In fact, I massively over-packed and will be sending some clothes with my friends back to Singapore after their visit this weekend to give me a bit more space. This is what my rucksack looked like initially – it needed its own seat on the ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan.

rucksack on ferry

It was packed so high that when I put it on, I not only almost toppled over backwards with the weight (20kgs, which was lucky in a way because that was my maximum luggage allowance on the flights I’ve taken so far), I had to walk with my neck tilted forward like a right muppet because it’s not designed to be packed all the way to the top; the top has a drawstring and it’s supposed to roll down and sit behind your shoulders. Probably should have done a trial run of packing it before I left Singapore but, well, I left that until the last minute. See point 1.

While it’s definitely do-able, living out of a rucksack can be frustrating. Even though I always pack the stuff I think I’ll need near the top, this never seems to work, and I always end up needing something from at the bottom and emptying the whole thing out whenever I get to somewhere new. The solution? Just take everything out when you arrive at a new place, and dump it on the bed/floor/some other surface. Doesn’t work so well in dorms unless you want to encourage people to rifle through your stuff (maybe to take some of it and free up some space?), but okay when staying on your own. Another solution would be to use a suitcase, but no self-respecting travel wanker uses a suitcase.

3. After three years of living on the equator I thought I was used to the heat. Wrong! I was used to occasional heat in the 10 minutes or so I would typically be outside in between home and public transport or the office, and used to maximum airconditioning in almost all other conditions (trains or buses, home, work, shopping malls, bars, restaurants…). My first couple of weeks travelling were in places with a fan rather than airconditioning and in the last few days, I’ve upgraded to AC rooms. Turns out this is money well spent because not being able to sleep when it’s too hot is pretty rubbish, and waking up drenched in your own body fluids (not those kinds, get your mind out of the gutter!) loses its novelty very quickly. The heat is also exhausting and makes you sweaty and rank and I am by no means used to it at all, which brings me to point 4:

4. Make-up is overrated. It’s especially overrated when it’s so hot outside (and inside, if you don’t have aircon) that it drips off you immediately with sweat. It’s also overrated when you’re in ‘the zone’ of being a traveller and you don’t actually give a shit what you look like any more. I don’t usually wear a lot of make-up anyway, just a bit of foundation, mascara and lipstick, but I can’t even wear a tinted moisturiser here because as soon as I step outside, it slides off and drips down my face. Mascara is displaced by the sweaty drips and runs into your eyes; the panda look isn’t cool, and it’s also not cool to not be able to see because you have black chemicals in your eyes (maybe a waterproof mascara would solve this? But I don’t have room in my rucksack, so…). And lipstick – well, if we’re sacking off foundation and mascara and going ‘au naturale’, lipstick seems a bit redundant. I made an exception last week when speaking at an event in Phuket, but that’s only because a) it was kind of work-related, and I wanted to look like a professional speaker and not a traveller who definitely lives out of a rucksack, and b) we were in an airconditioned hotel, with minimum chance of profuse sweating (or make-up melting down my face) on the cards.

5. Mosquito spray is definitely not overrated. Mozzies are everywhere, and I’ve been bitten like mad. I even seem to get bitten while wearing spray and hiding in bed under a mosquito net. Maybe there’s something special in my blood. Mwuahahahahaha. I can definitely see the appeal of elephant pants now, with their covery-leg abilities and elasticated mozzie-up-your-leg-prevention system at the bottom. So I’ve bought some, which I don’t really have room for, as you’ll know if you read point 2. But, elephant pants are very much like rucksacks for the traveller – essential equipment.

6. Doing nothing is definitely underrated. I’ve managed to do nothing in 7 locations so far (1 in Koh Samui, 3 in Koh Phangan, 3 in Phuket), and to fill a whole month by doing very little, and it’s amazing! I’ve read about 8 books (separate blog with a list and short and probably useless reviews to come, which I’ve been writing as I write this one, so screw you, point 1), sat on beaches, been for a few walks, spoken at an event, eaten lots of Thai food, drunk plenty of Chang beer, watched multiple sunsets, been to a full moon party…you might notice none of these are particularly active activities. The most action I’ve seen was a yoga and meditation retreat for a few days on Koh Phangan. To be fair, this was more exercise than I’ve done in a long time. And it also involved more sitting on the floor than I’ve done since I was about 5 years old (which is probably about the same time I last did so much exercise). Never mind the yoga, sitting on the floor cross legged is *hard work* people. Another blog to come on the yoga retreat. Assuming I can get over point 1 (again). Here’s a picture of the place, just to give you a sneak preview. And break up the text a bit:

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7. The smell of mothballs (or whatever those gross smelling white balls are that look like old fashioned mint sweets which they put in urinals) makes me gag. Dis. Gus. Ting. Seriously gross. I have discovered this because some toilets in cafes have one toilet with a toilet and urinal in the same room, I haven’t gone loco*. I used a toilet today and actually weed a bit down my leg in my hurry to get out of there without throwing up. Which then actually meant I was in there longer because I then had to wipe wee off my leg as well as the regular ablutions associated with having a wee. The moral of that story? Don’t breathe through your nose in public toilets (really shouldn’t have taken me 37 years to figure that out), and don’t wee down your own leg (again, this shouldn’t be a thing at my age. What can I say? See point 8…).

8. I’m clumsy. Okay, this is also not new news, but having fallen off a moped in week 1, I went on to stub my toe a few days ago on the edge of a wooden bed (no injuries were sustained with the weeing on my own leg, you’ll be pleased to know). I thought I might have broken my toe initially it was so swollen and bruised, but I was still able to move it, which according to the NHS website – and my own previous experience of injuring a toe (this was not my first rodeo) – is a good sign. And after a few days, it’s definitely getting better, I’ve managed to walk to the beach today. That’s two injuries in a month. At this rate, I’ll have to replenish my first aid supplies soon – or at least the painkillers. At least a first aid kit was a useful thing to have packed in my over-stuffed rucksack. And I’ve learnt quickly to keep that in the front pocket so I don’t have to empty the whole bag if I ever next time I need it 🙂

Stay tuned for more properly insightful blogs, if I can be be bothered to write any.

*Edit – I used the facilities again before I left, and it turns out I was in the men’s toilet. Oops. It’s definitely still a thing though, I’ve seen it elsewhere.

Encounters with the locals: local wildlife, that is, I’m still largely avoiding people

Earlier this week I left Koh Samui, and boarded the ferry to Koh Phangan. Again, I’m staying away from the main touristy parts [read: far enough away from the full moon party that I can go tonight, but won’t be kept awake by all night partying by all the youths if I go to bed early. Disclaimer, my transfer to the full moon party is at 10.30pm, so it’s not going to be a particularly early night either way. But at least I can escape afterwards when I realise I’m the oldest person there].

I’m in a co-working space this week, so there are plenty of people, unlike last week. There are several bars, cafes and restaurants all along the beach (just as well as I won’t be riding a moped to travel anywhere), and apparently Haad Yao, where I’m staying, is one of the nicest beaches in Koh Phangan. Boom.

I’m might even have an actual conversation with someone who isn’t my Airbnb host this week. Although maybe not, since it’s Friday so almost the end of the week, and my main conversations so far have been with a couple of friends on WhatsApp (including a 3.5 hour marathon call with Lauren this week, which replaced our usual Wednesday night out in Singapore) and the barman in what’s become my ‘local’ on the beach. However, I said hello to the woman in the next cabin when I arrived the other day – woah. Turned out she’d found a scorpion in her bathroom. She asked me if that was normal. Errr…no? I hope not!

But actually I’m enjoying my own company – this is not a particular surprise to me, but it is the longest I’ve ever spent on my own. I’m getting used to having the time and space to do whatever I like, even if that’s not very much. Including sleeping whenever I like. In my defense, I didn’t sleep well at all the first night I arrived in Koh Samui.

While a tree house in the jungle sounds idyllic, I hadn’t really thought through the associated jungle noises and creatures who would be sharing the space with me. All night, hearing creatures on the roof, bees buzzing, toads and frogs calling, and countless other noises I have no clue about. I’ve since worked out what one of the weird noises you can hear at night is…it’s a lizard, see the video below. They are soooo loud! They’re also pretty big, as I spotted one on the wall of the treehouse when I got up in the night. But they eat mozzies so they’re welcome to hang around.

On night three last week I got horrifically bitten by mozzies; my Airbnb hosts put a mosquito net over my bed, which made a big difference. The bed here in Koh Phangan already has one, which is definitely appreciated, although I’m still getting bitten pretty regularly, but not in bed, which is something.

Here’s my hut (shed) for this week. It’s again very basic and it doesn’t always have running water, but it does have a totally useless hammock which isn’t tied up high enough, so if you sit on it, you basically sit on the floor with your legs up; you can tell this by looking at it, but I tried sitting in it while drunk the other night, just to be sure. I could always retie it but I probably won’t bother. However it’s very close to the beach and I have a pretty sweet view while I’m blogging from the co-working space (picture on the right).

Anyway, back to the wildlife. In less than two weeks, I’ve seen lizards (small and big), birds, squirrels, a snake (which I was assured ‘probably’ wasn’t poisonous; just as well as it was pretty big and about 2 inches from my feet while I was brushing my teeth one morning), spiders, bees, crabs, fish, frogs and toads, a couple of baby sharks in the sea (at least, they looked like baby sharks), and a parrot behind the counter in a supermarket. The parrot reminded me of Kev and Mel. I wonder if they’re missing me. I WhatsApp called them when they first got back to Manchester because I was missing them. As they’re not so familiar with WhatsApp they probably found that extremely confusing.

As I’m writing this, I’ve realised I’ve had a massive fail as I have a grand total of zero photos of any of the wildlife I’ve described here. So here’s a picture of me with Kev and Mel instead, just before we all left Singapore.

Family portrait

Note to self – take more photos! (And use fewer brackets when writing 🙂 )

 

Learning how to fall off a moped

While I did very little all week in Koh Samui, on the one day I felt really adventurous, I decided to have a go on a moped.

Let me set the context. In Thailand, in fact in most of South East Asia, everyone rides mopeds. And not only do they ride mopeds, they carry shopping on them, and whatever else they might need to transport, which can be anything from a dozen crates of chickens to furniture.  If you’re not riding a moped…well. You’re probably a bit safer. Thailand is apparently the most dangerous country in the world to ride a moped.

While I have no particular ambition to carry shopping and animals on a scooter, getting around on moped is what most people do in Thailand, locals and tourists alike. It’s cheaper and more convenient than relying on taxis, easy to explore the local area, and since I’ll be in Thailand for a few weeks, I thought I should probably learn to ride one.

Since I was staying in a really quiet area with peaceful roads and hardly any traffic, I thought this would be the safest place while I’m travelling to learn how to ride a moped. Ha! I forgot I was using my own uncoordinated body. I do technically have a licence for riding a small moped, even though I’ve never ridden one before – apparently if you passed your driving test pre-2001 in the UK, you can ride up to 50cc mopeds without taking the test. Must be easy then, right?

Dave, the Airbnb host, showed me how to control it. Apparently most people forget to stop accelerating and brake at the same time, and this is a key reason learners come off. Okay, I said, confident. I’ve got this.

I strapped on my helmet, got on, lunged forward a bit, braked a bit, accelerated a bit, thought ‘I’ve sooo got this’, set off onto the road and managed to get about 30 yards before someone overtook my rapid 5mph speed and I panicked and fell off. Doh.

Fortunately I fell onto the grass, although I did sustain some scrapes and minor cuts and bruises – and had neck-ache the next day, who knew you could get whiplash at 5mph?? But without a doubt the most damage was to my ego. How embarrassing!!

Dave came over to check I was okay and to drive the bike back, which took him about three seconds because I was still within spitting distance of where I’d set off from, and the woman who’d freaked me out by overtaking me – not her fault at all – was very reassuring that it happens to everyone, don’t worry about it, etc. etc. Yeah, but where are all those learner muppets falling off bikes now eh?? Only me coming off it here lah!

Well, that was certainly enough excitement for one day, so I went down to the beach instead, where I couldn’t hurt myself or anyone else. The next day I borrowed a push bike, which was considerably safer, although I haven’t ridden one for years so I was still a bit wobbly. I didn’t fall off it though, so, you know, could have been worse.

I rode down to a nearby wat (temple), which actually wasn’t much further than I’d managed to walk down the beach the day before. But I went a different way so it definitely counts as exploring.

Here’s a crap picture of the bike (to prove I rode it) and wat in the background. I had to stay at a distance as I couldn’t get into the temple, having stupidly forgot to bring anything to cover my knees. There’s also a slightly better picture of the boat temple which was close by.

And so ended my adventures with mopeds. At least until the scabs have healed anyway.

 

 

The adventure begins; getting used to doing nothing

Now I’m officially unemployed for the first time in, like, ever, at the grand old age of 37 I’m taking my gap yaaah and travelling around Asia. Woooo! Bring on all of the cultural experiences! And maybe even some blogging 🙂

From what I’ve heard and read from people who go travelling, they often pack as much as they possibly can into the time they have. Have all of the experiences. Make all of the memories. See all of the things. I plan to do that at some point, but first I’m taking some time to chill out and experiment with doing nothing.

People always say you get bored of doing nothing. You know, like when people retire they say they’re bored, there’s nothing to do. Ha!

I decided I’d start my gap yaaah by seeing how long it would take me to get bored by doing nothing. I thought this would be a good experiment and nice way of settling into being a travelling hippie (which is of course, the goal).

I left Singapore last Monday and flew to Koh Samui, a Thai island. Bearing in mind my pursuit of doing nothing, and the fact this ruled out much contact with people or the outside world (because people have ideas and want to do things and such like), I booked a tree house above a cafe on the south of the island in Laem Sor, well away from the main tourist areas like Chaweng.

In the week I was there I didn’t venture more than about two miles in any direction from where I was staying. I realise Koh Samui is a beautiful place, but when you’re a two minute walk from the beach, are literally staying above a bar (even though you’re the only customer most of the time – good for avoiding conversations with other humans), which serves beer as well as nice food, has a hammock and a Peter Andre shower – an outside Peter Andre shower, no less – why bother going anywhere else?

To be fair, I did feel a bit guilty a couple of times. It’s hard to switch out of business mode where everything’s busy, busy, busy, emails, meetings, calls, and constant ‘doing’, to doing absolutely nothing and not having any kind of routine. Plus, at the moment I feel like I’m on holiday, rather than taking an extended break, and holiday usually means doing all of the things, having all of the experiences…

I kept feeling like I should go and explore the island, see some waterfalls or markets, anything which meant venturing out, even a little. And then I thought, why should I? If I’m happy doing bugger all, what does it matter? No-one’s relying on me or expecting me to do anything. Just enjoy the freedom of doing nothing!

My week was therefore filled, if you can call it that, with reading several books, sitting on the beach (in the shade, obvs, living on the equator for three years have proved to me that the sun is not friends with my skin), and watching the sunset.

With views like that, I could definitely get used to doing nothing 🙂

1 second everyday: year 3

For the last 3 years I’ve been taking a one second video every day and then using the 1SE (1 second everyday) app to mash it all together at the end of the year. A video of my life. Every. Single. Day. And no, I still haven’t missed a day. Yaaaaas!

Even though I’ve now been doing this for 3 years, I’m still amazed at how cool this idea is and I’m so glad I decided to try it back in 2015. Originally an experiment to capture my move to Singapore and share it with friends and family, 1SE has now become my ‘thing’ and I’m continuing it in 2019 which will be year 4 (so watch out for my annual blog next January 🙂 ).

It’s a great way of recording and then remembering the sights and sounds of everyday life, and the many little, insignificant things I’d have forgotten about if I wasn’t videoing every day. It’s also a brilliant way to look back on bigger events (or sometimes more ridiculous ones, in my case), and having a highlight reel of the way the whole year played out.

This year I moved apartments, starred in two plays – The Vagina Monologues and Mr and Mrs Perfect – tried (and failed) at going to the gym, despite having a free membership for 6 months (a pretty epic fail really), and drank the odd (!) gin and tonic.

Business-wise, I worked with lots of new clients, spoke at several seminars and events, wrote a few articles, was interviewed a couple of times by different publications, and started a keynote speakers training course.

I said goodbye to a colleague who left the business, as well as a couple of friends who left Singapore, but said hello to a friend’s new baby (which I threatened to steal, as evidenced in the video), started a new blog (the irony, given how little I post on this one), did a bit of sewing, and celebrated the life events of my little bro getting married and my Mum’s 60th birthday.

I was lucky to be able to travel to Dubai, Spain (Marbella), Thailand (Krabi which was amazingly beautiful, plus Bangkok a few times, including the most ridiculous weekend of my life with Bax, I’ve never laughed so much), Myanmar (Yangon), Malaysia (KL, as well as Malacca and Langkawi), Indonesia (Bintan), India (an epic trip – one I might even blog about at some point), and of course back to the UK – 3 times! Despite living so far away, it’s fab to be able to spend quality time with family and friends on my trips back, and especially with my nieces, who are all growing up way too quickly!

I tested Singapore’s health service with a minor operation – all good in the hood now, but it did mean I had several weeks of not drinking, which probably was a good thing for my liver, given the aforementioned ‘odd’ G&T – dabbled with veganism (which I’m trying again for 2019), and went to some fine and classy establishments for eating, drinking and cavorting, as well as some, well, not so classy ones (Orchard Towers and Kho San Road, I’m looking at you). I also went from having no ink to having two tattoos, had my eyebrow pierced, and changed my hair a few times.

2018 was a pretty busy year, and it’s amazing to be able to share the highlights, so a massive thank to everyone who was a part of it, and here’s to more adventures in 2019! I highly recommend you think about starting your own 1 second every day to capture your own memories; you can find out more about it here.

Sooooo…here’s my 2018 in just over 6 minutes (the detailed-orientated might note it’s one second too long for 365 days; I cheated, there’s one day with an extra second, because I didn’t want to miss out some of the family on a trip back to the motherland). Enjoy!

Here are 2017 and 2016’s videos if you want more of my life in your life.

2017 in just over six minutes

In 2016 I started documenting my life by taking one second of video everyday. I mashed it up at the end of the year into an app, so my whole year is condensed into just over six minutes, which is a bit quicker than reliving the whole thing. Think of it as like a highlight reel.

I loved 2016’s video so much, in 2017 I decided to do it again.

Creating something like this really makes you reflect on the big things and little ones over the year. As well as travelling as far as Fiji and the US, I’ve met a lot of awesome people, done some totally random things and had a LOT of fun. As you might be able to tell.

Thanks to all my friends and family for starring in my 2017, for making it such an amazing year, and for putting up with me taking videos all the time. A special shout out to Bax who is in it almost as much as I am.

If you want to do your own 1SE (do it, do it), download the app. Here’s mine…cheers! (Edit, this is version 2 of the video, which has an extra second on 30th December so I didn’t leave out Dani 🙂 )

And if you need more one seconds in your life, you can check out 2016’s video here:

 

One Harley Fat Boy, one Mustang GT, two Schoeys and one epic adventure through the desert

One Harley Fat Boy. One Mustang GT. Two Schoeys. One epic adventure through the desert, covering 1,530 miles, three US states, and with 39.5 hours of driving time. Here’s the proof:

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We faced extremes of temperature, altitude and the possible extreme of spending almost two weeks alone together, and at the end of July me and my Dad set off on what was to be an amazing road trip. So cool it’s inspired me to write a blog about it (only my second all year…that new year resolution about blogging I made clearly didn’t work out).

DAYS 1 & 2, LAS VEGAS

Our first two days in the US actually didn’t involve much driving; we met and stayed in Las Vegas which mainly involved eating way too much food in places like Denny’s (my Nana would have been proud, she loved a good Denny’s – and I’d almost forgotten how enormous every food portion is in the US), losing way too much money in the casinos, and complaining way too much about the dry heat. Well, I complained. I thought I was used to heat having lived on the equator for over 18 months. Turns out humid heat at a lower temperature is more tolerable to me than the dry heat of the Nevada desert, which basically feels like standing in an oven. I thought Vegas was hot. I later found out ‘hot’ is relative, especially when compared with Death Valley…

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I’d never driven a left hand drive car before, but if you’re going to do it, I guess you might as well do it in a big 5 litre V8 American muscle car, in my case a Mustang GT. I was soooo excited – I love cars and although I don’t need one in Singapore, I do miss being behind the wheel and occasionally scaring myself silly with POWER and SPEED. I’ve wanted to hire a Mustang and do Route 66 for a few years now, and here I was, actually doing it, woooo! I road tested the Mustang a bit while we were in Vegas, but driving in the traffic there was in no way comparable to what would come later: driving in the desert, tunes on, no traffic for miles…but more on that later. 

On the second Vegas evening we took the slowest bus ever up to Fremont Street to the old part of Vegas, which turned out to be a melee of tourists, performers, neon lights, and random people holding signs asking for money, some because they were homeless, others because they had (apparently) a small penis. Random. More blackjack in the casino followed, and (obvs) more gin.

DAY 3, LAS VEGAS TO KINGMAN VIA THE HOOVER DAM AND GRAND CANYON, c. 210 MILES

We left Vegas on Saturday morning – road trip time! – and time to cement my new nickname, ‘Mustang Schoey’ (thanks Dad 🙂 ). First stop was the Hoover Dam, where we just stayed long enough to take a couple of photos – our real focus that day was the Grand Canyon. Apparently my brother and his mates once hired a car in Vegas and drove to the the Hoover Dam, commenting it was ‘pretty shit’. Seriously, it’s a dam, what do you want??

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Next was the Grand Canyon – of course, it’s huge (there’s a clue in the name) although you can’t really comprehend the scale until you see how small a helicopter looks when flying through it; we arrived from the west, and hopped on a bus tour which took us to a couple of viewing spots, including one by the skywalk (which we didn’t bother with).

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Leaving Nevada, we crossed into Arizona and spent the night in Kingman, my first ever US motel experience, but certainly not the last on the trip; also the first (veggie) burger on the trip for tea (that’s dinner to most of the world), which, like the motel experience, also wasn’t the last. The car and bike looked pretty cool parked outside.

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I tried to get my Dad to do a piece to camera in the bar while we were waiting for our food; he didn’t really get the point of doing a video diary but he did oblige me, which was nice because he even used his posh teacher voice. He got a bit more used to me pointing the camera at him over the next few days, although he didn’t really have much choice (‘tolerated’ is probably a better expression than ‘got used to’ but, hey…). Gin and chocolate from Walgreen’s topped off the night as we sat outside the motel like a couple of old folk watching the lightning. It didn’t really occur to me there would be rain in the desert…doh. While drinking gin I also met a woman who was fascinated by my British accent (many were, ‘it’s so cute’ etc. etc.), who described herself as a ‘local yokel’ when I asked if she was from around there. She must have thought being British made me posh. Guess again love.

DAY 4, KINGMAN TO NEEDLES VIA CHLORIDE AND OATMAN, c. 90 MILES

From Kingman we headed to Chloride, founded in about 1863. At its peak as a mining town it had 5,000 inhabitants but according to the latest census only about 352 these days; we only met about four of them. It has a shop which doubles as a visitor centre, handy for buying a cowboy hat – not just a fashion accessory but also very practical i.e. to avoid getting ridiculously sunburnt in the car with the roof down. Despite living in Asia for so long, I still manage to burn pretty regularly as I never seem to put enough sunscreen on; a hat effectively made up for my lack of sensible-ness. We visited the town jail where I tried to lock my Dad in, and although I didn’t quite manage it, it might have served him right to stay there as penance for lying on the manky mattress in the cell.

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After a detour for gas we were on to historic Route 66, one of my favourite parts of the trip. My Dad had warned me this part would be slow – I was like, hello, I’m in a Mustang, I don’t do slow – but it turns out the roads are really twisty and bendy and full of hairpins, and there’s a reason for the 25mph (and sometimes 15mph) speed limit. Although of course, they’re more of a suggestion, especially when you’re in a Mustang 🙂 . This part was where early cars, before the time of fuel pumps, either had to be towed or drive in reverse to keep the gas reaching the engine. I’m not sure it would have been as enjoyable going up it backwards, but whichever way you get up there, the view from the top is pretty special.

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As we stopped to take some photos along the way, I obliged a few tourists who were drooling over the car (I can’t blame them) by revving the bollocks off the engine for a bit before driving off with a big smile. Yeah that’s probably a bit childish but I never got tired of it 🙂

Next stop was Oatman, a former gold mining town with a real feel of the Wild West, complete with wild burros (donkeys) which were originally let loose by the prospectors and which now roam wild around the town. We saw a gunfight between some cowboys (okay, it was a show) and lots of cute little shops selling everything from Route 66 souvenirs, art and jewellery to old glass bottles and other random tat which apparently passes for antiques these days. We stayed there for a couple of hours; it’s a pretty nice place and although by the 1950s it was almost a ghost town, it’s now a fairly significant tourist attraction due the popularity of people travelling Route 66. 

We continued to Needles in California where it was so hot we decided to hole up in a motel even though it was a bit earlier than we’d planned to stop. I posted on Instagram at the time that it felt like the hottest place on earth; after sampling more burgers are some pretty epic desserts, it was still 106 degrees at 9.30pm. (Little did I know what Death Valley would have in store for me in a couple of days’ time, although according to Wikipedia, I wasn’t totally wrong as Needles occasionally sets national or world daily temperature records.)

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I found out this evening that the Mustang actually shines a horse onto the floor when you unlock it. Totally unnecessary. But also sweeeet.

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Day 5, Needles to Ridgecrest via Amboy and Ludlow on Route 66, c. 260 miles

From Needles we continued on Route 66 where we pitted Harley vs. Mustang in a race from a standing start. I won, although the Harley gave me a better run for my money than I expected until we hit 80mph where I dusted it; my Dad later claimed he started in second gear…whatevs Dad.

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We took some pictures where Easyrider was filmed; unfortunately some of Route 66 was closed which was a shame (it’s no longer part of the US highway system, so some of it has fallen into disrepair although we think it was being resurfaced), but we did as much as we could to get the full Mother Road experience.

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We passed through Amboy and had a break at Roy’s motel and cafe; it’s not open any more, but there is a gas station and shop. Apparently we missed Armin van Buurin and Enrique Iglesias filming music videos but we did pick up some ‘Root 66’ root beer. We also saw a guy who was cycling and planning to bed down in one of the old motel rooms. I thought my Dad was crazy on a motor bike, but this bloke must have been a bit special riding miles across the desert on a push bike. No wonder he needed a kip at 11am in the morning, he must have been cycling through the night to avoid the heat. I’m not sure what would be worse – cycling in scorching daytime heat or in the pitch darkness with the possible threat of being attacked by wild desert animals like coyotes. Safe to say I won’t be trying either any time soon.

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A bit further on we stopped off to look for a spooky photo of hands in a derelict house (random). Context: my Dad did a similar road trip a couple of years ago with one of his friends, and they found a spooky photo of hands on the floor as they were exploring the derelict house, which apparently properly freaked out his mate. My Dad thought it would be funny if we found it so we could freak out his mate from several thousand miles away. We didn’t find the photo (come on, as if it would be there three years later…) but we did see that someone had spray painted on the wall ‘Can you hear the children scream?’ We couldn’t, so we went for a cheese toastie in Ludlow, just up the road.

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More driving through the desert, we headed through Barstow and onto Ridgecrest for the night.

DAY 6, RIDGECREST TO LONE PINE VIA BALLARAT AND DEATH VALLEY, c. 280 MILES

After breakfasting on cakes which was the ‘continental’ breakfast offered by the motel, we headed out on a hunt for a watch which my Dad could throw on the floor later as we recreated the opening scene from Easyrider. Having never seen Easyrider, or even the opening scene at this point, I was slightly confused, but in the interest of humouring my Dad we ended up in a dollar store buying a kid’s sheriff’s play set which also included a Sheriff’s badge and gun – not bad for $1. We left the badge and gun by the bin outside in the hope a child would later find it, and my Dad seemed pleased with the watch, even though it was about 15 sizes too small for him. (Turns out Peter Fonda’s watch was a Rolex, which I imagine cost slightly more than $1.)

We passed through Trona and onto Ballarat for said filming. (Unfortunately we missed the nude dancing burros show.)

Ballarat is set about three miles off the main road down a dirt track, and as it’s a ghost town with only one resident (we thought someone might have been living in a trailer behind the shop, Wikipedia confirms this), we only had a donkey for company who wasn’t much good at using a Go Pro, so it was down to me to act as camera crew and producer. I can’t say I was director as I had no idea what I was supposed to be filming, so my Dad took on that role as well as playing the lead actor; he got to throw the watch on the floor and drive off on his bike, I got to shoot a movie and we both got to sweat a lot in the ridiculous heat (did I mention it was hot? I don’t know how Peter Fonda looked so cool in his leather jacket, he must have gone out of season, if that’s even a thing in the desert).

Producer note: we filmed in the right place, but as it’s about 50 years since Easyrider was originally filmed, not all of the building remnants remain. Check out the edit here (there’s a bit of creative licence going on, especially in the second half, but this is me so what do you expect?):

And here’s the original – specific scene starts at 0:52. This was such a cool thing to do, and I think we did a pretty decent job 🙂

We parted ways after Ballarat as I went on to Death Valley and my Dad headed to Lone Pine, where I’d meet him later. Apparently you’re not insured on a bike in Death Valley because it’s too hot, and to be honest, it’s hot enough riding a bike in the 100+ degree desert heat for several hours a day, never mind torturing yourself in Death Valley (I guess it is anyway, it’s hot enough having the roof down in a car, I’m not mad enough to do this stuff on a bike completely exposed to the elements and without the ability to put your roof up or the air con on). Technically my Dad did ‘do’ Death Valley as he entered a bit of it…but he was off to find a motel, and I was off to melt in the Death Valley heat. I said I thought Vegas was hot. Then I thought Needles was hot. Death Valley was like…well, I can only imagine if I ever go to hell, the temperature would be pretty similar.

With a gallon of spare water for emergencies and no phone signal, I had lunch in Stovepipe Wells (another burger) and went on to Furnace Creek where the temperature was an eye-watering 126 degrees. That’s 52 Celsius. I don’t look at all hot and bothered at all in this pic.

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I’d agreed with my Dad that I’d get to Furnace Creek and head back so I wasn’t sure if I had time to go on to Badwater – which has the lowest elevation in North America – and back to Lone Pine without my Dad worrying I might have broken down or got lost; as well as my emergency water, I had a map, GPS and a compass so I was pretty well-covered, but there was no mobile phone signal so I had no way of getting in touch with him. But then I remembered I was in a big silly Mustang which meant I had both POWER and SPEED. So I carried on to Badwater Basin where I literally got out of the car, took a photo, got back in the car and whacked the air con up. JEEEEZZZ it was hot.

I saw Artist’s Palette on the way back too, an area of the Black Mountains where oxidation has coloured the rock in shades of red, pink, green and blue. Again, a quick photo, back to air con.

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At various points along the route your ears pop due to the changes in elevation – you’re up to around 9,000 feet in some points, and back down to 228 feet (86m) below sea level at Badwater. The main roads through Death Valley are huge and long, with great views and not a lot of traffic – although as it turns out, this is where everyone takes their Mustang. We didn’t see many other Mustangs on most of the trip, apparently they were all in Death Valley waiting for me to overtake them. Well, except the ones we later saw in Yosemite Park, as there were a lot there too. Not so much overtaking there though as you don’t want to smash into a bear.

After speed-demon driving and getting back at a reasonable time and therefore not worrying Dad, our night in Lone Pine including a visit to a proper saloon with swingy wooden doors, and we stayed in a motel which John Wayne often frequented – as you can imagine, there was a lot of John Wayne memorabilia. We shared a room and didn’t have a toilet. That’s what you call a motel experience.

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DAY 7, LONE PINE TO MAMMOTH LAKES VIA BISHOP, c. 100 MILES

From Lone Pine we arrived at Mammoth Lakes via Bishop. The temperature here was significantly lower than we’d experienced at any point on our trip so far, which for me was very welcome. There was even snow on the mountains!

We were warned by the guy on reception at the motel not to leave any food in the car overnight as this was bear country and they may try to break in if they smelt any food (all of the bins in the area were designed to keep them out); we didn’t see any bears but I did have a family of birds nesting in the roof above my room, and there were a lot of chipmunks knocking about. If you were the size of a dime and squinted while sitting in the dark, I reckon a chipmunk might pass for a bear. However, I’m not.

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Before tea (dinner), my Dad took me for a spin on the Harley which was pretty cool, as it was my first time on the back of a bike. While I’ll be sticking to four wheels, I definitely get the appeal, and at least the temperature outside was cool; I don’t imagine it’s such a great experience riding a bike when it feels like a hairdryer’s blowing at you constantly on the highest heat setting in the desert.

While we were out, we bumped into some deer – still no bears though.

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Tea was a ridiculously large pizza and we got chatting to a US couple on ‘vacation’ who thought us having separate transport on holiday was ‘one way not to get sick of each other.’ I set them straight that we weren’t actually a couple – they might have been right about the having your own space thing, although if we were a couple, taking a holiday in separate vehicles would also have been weird. When we set them straight they were quick to say my Dad ‘looks very young’ which I think my Dad liked almost as much as I liked being asked for ID in the casino in Vegas on the first night.

DAY 8, MAMMOTH LAKES TO MAMMOTH LAKES VIA YOSEMITE, c. 200 MILES

Today we were off to Yosemite National Park. We hoped for bears, but didn’t even see any chipmunks, only a family of ducks who were shared our dinner (lunch) with. Ahh well. I suspect if we had seen a bear, I’d have crapped myself anyway. If you see a bear you’re supposed to stand your ground and look intimidating. Easier said than done when you’re 5”2.

We did however see some incredible views, a big stone which goes by the name of El Capitan and a lot of Mustangs.

That night in Mammoth Lakes I left food in the car – accidentally – but still didn’t see a bear, and we had a little drive around the town before tea which consisted of cheese, bread, cream cakes and some sort of weird tomato and chilli flavoured Budweiser. It didn’t even taste like beer. Who wants to drink beer that doesn’t taste like beer? (Note to self – just buy normal beer next time.)

DAY 9, MAMMOTH LAKES TO LAS VEGAS VIA BEATTY, c. 310 MILES

Dad set off 6.30 in the morning to avoid the desert heat on the bike. I had a lie in because not only did I have air con, I’m also lazy, so I set off at 11.15 to meet him in Beatty and only got there an hour after him (there were some pretty decent roads to belt it down that day). My Dad assumed that meant I hadn’t been able to take in any of the scenery…of course I did, I stopped for a quick toilet break in the bushes a couple of times (there were no services for a couple of hours, so I had to keep a close eye out for snakes while peeing – they remained as elusive as the bears though) and otherwise the scenery was whizzing by me all the way, just quickly. Turns out Dad didn’t need to leave so early, it was probably the coolest day of the trip.

There’s something really awesome about driving along in the desert on big, open roads, no-one for miles except the occasional car or bike passing the other way, roof down, tunes on full whack, singing loudly with no-one able to hear you, and the wind in your hair. You might think it gets boring spending hours in a car on your own but I loved it; you have a lot of time to think, to reflect on just how big the desert is and just how small you are; and you’re on the open road doing what you like which gives you a great feeling of freedom. And there’s nothing better just being able to floor the accelerator and throw yourself back in your seat with the POWER and SPEED. I actually giggled every time I did it, and it never got old. I could have driven a lot more so doing the whole of Route 66 one day – which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – is definitely still on the cards.

Dinner (lunch) was a solo picnic with cheese butties and caramel M&Ms in the desert. Classy.

Meanwhile back in Singapore, Mel was escaping from her cage at home, worrying the parrot sitter and causing damage to my photos and frame and pottery handicrafts. We tighten all the screws on the cage on a regular basis because she has previous form, but she is like the Houdini of birds. Fortunately she didn’t manage to break out of the apartment.

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Although there were a couple of motels at Beatty, we decided to head on to Indian Springs and chance finding a motel there. Turns out, that probably wasn’t the best decision (sorry Dad); Indian Springs was basically a correctional facility, and we didn’t stay long enough to check if they could accommodate us. We ended up continuing on to Vegas, arriving a day earlier than expected, although we had a quiet one that night (more burgers, of course); after covering 300 miles, my Dad must have been shattered.

DAY 10, LAS VEGAS

Today we had to say goodbye to the Harley. We did a bit of shopping in Vegas, and as it was our last night, I decided it would be a great idea to get hammered and do shots, wooo! What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas right – unless you’re writing a blog about it…

I realised the next morning that shots were possibly not the best idea I’ve ever had: there are no measures in the US and I drank more than I should have done (so a fairly standard Saturday night really) which resulted in much drunkenness. We adopted a random guy in a bar called Neil from Portland Oregon, Dad had a go on a rodeo bull and I ended the night by literally crawling back into the room on my hands and knees with very little memory, but Go Pro footage to prove it. It’s all a bit hazy so here’s a pic from earlier in the night before we got smashed.

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DAY 11, LEAVING LAS VEGAS

After checking out an hour late because neither of us could face getting up, we sat around in the hotel food court for a few hours feeling sorry for ourselves. The minute I lay my head on the table to have a little nap I was accosted by security and told I must ‘stay awake ma’am’ – whaaaat?! Although we didn’t see any real bears, my Dad had bought me a toy bear from Mammoth Lakes, which is a nice reminder of our road trip, and probably a better bear experience overall because I didn’t crap myself or need to stand my ground and look intimidating when I saw it.

Eventually it was time to drop off the Mustang – I was so rough it was a fairly unceremonious parting – and head to the terminal; I was flying to San Fran while my Dad was internash, so we parted here. This was slightly more ceremonious and we were both quite sad that it was all over after spending so much time together, visiting so many places and having such an awesome adventure. Awww. Much hugging ensued, followed by waving as the bus whisked my Dad away to the next terminal.

Unfortunately for me, my flight was delayed which meant I missed my connection to Singapore, so I spent the night in San Francisco in an airport hotel with no luggage. I’d initially arrived in Vegas on Thursday lunchtime, having set off from Singapore on Thursday morning – this is a head melt due to the epic time difference, and despite 19 hours’ travel time. Even worse is going home on a Sunday night, missing your flight and a day of work and not really knowing what day it is (or what time zone you need your head to be on). I eventually got back on Tuesday night Singapore time, via Tokyo. Could have been worse, I managed to get the duty free bottle of gin I couldn’t face buying in Vegas because I was too hungover. Every cloud…

Spending so much time on the road definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for a petrol head who no longer owns a car and a lifelong biker, this was perfect for us. And how many people get to do something as cool as this with their Dad? It was a once in a lifetime experience* and we had an awesome time.

We had a lot of laughs, including some of the bits I’ve missed out because I can’t recall exactly when they happened (or because they happened often) – like my Dad getting his right and left mixed up because ‘we’re on the other side of the road out here’ (errr…). Or trying to being like the bikers who invariably all let on to each other when passing, so creating a way of letting on to other Mustang drivers by forming an inverted ‘M’ with your fist that makes you look like you either have a claw or are having some kind of episode. That didn’t stick, here’s what it looked like:

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There was also fairly frequent mocking of each other’s use (or non-use) of technology – having a compass in my phone and an app for everything is not impressive to my Dad who didn’t even change the time on his phone when he arrived in the US so had to do maths every time he wanted to know what time it was (?!). Apart from that, much crap was chatted, which is always the best kind of conversation if you ask me.

So if you’re thinking about doing something really random like a road trip with your Dad, what are you waiting for? With all the driving, exploring and seeing so many places, eating so much food and (ahem) drinking way too much on the last night, we had a lot of fun – it was awesome!

*Disclaimer. We haven’t ruled out doing something similar again 🙂

2016 in just over 6 minutes

2016 was a pretty momentous year for me. It was the year I packed a suitcase, said goodbye to everybody and everything I’d known my whole life, and moved 7,000 miles away from Manchester to Singapore to run a new business and start a new life.

I didn’t really have any idea what I was letting myself in for, but to document my new life and adventures (assuming I was going to have some. I did…) in Singapore, and to do another image-based challenge – plus give me something to do, since I came on my own, and didn’t know anyone in Singapore – I decided to take one second of video everyday. There’s an app called 1SE which you can use on your phone which runs it all together for you and helps you create your own video-diary-blog-thing. I was introduced to it at the end of 2015 by a client at work and I’m so glad I was, as it’s been a fab project to do.

People I’ve mentioned this project to have had various reactions. Some don’t get it, or think it’s weird. Which is fine, because I do weird things sometimes. Some freak out a bit when I say ‘let’s do a one second video’ and they don’t want to be in it. (I usually just take them anyway. I’m talking about friends mainly, not random strangers though…that would be really weird, even for me). And often people say, incredulously, one second? What can you get in one second? Ahhh. You’d be surprised; you can capture a lot more in one second than you’d think. And when you run it all together, you get an awesome snapshot into someone’s life.

A few observations from my experience:

  • The app sends you several notifications a day to remind you to take a video, but after a while it becomes a habit. Having said that, I always try to get a video early on (a ‘banker’), advice I gave myself when doing my 365 project a couple of years ago, and which has served me well. You can always take another, better one, later, but it would be really annoying to forget on any given day.
  • After a while, I stopped using the app to take the videos, and used my camera and uploaded them into the app later. You can select the specific second you want in either case, but this meant I didn’t need to commit to which second represented my day immediately. It also meant I had the original video stored on my phone and, I felt, gave me more flexibility.
  • Phone storage can be an issue if you don’t save (on your laptop) the videos after uploading them into the app, at least if you have a phone with limited storage like I do. Or lots of other stuff saved on it, like I do. There were a few times I had to rapidly delete some music or photos to make room to do a quick video. It’s worth saying this is largely because I’m lazy and took ages to get around to uploading them onto the app. The app itself doesn’t take up a ridiculous amount of space, although obviously the size increases the more videos you add. You can delete the original video from your phone after uploading the clip you want to use, as the one second will be stored in the app. So if you do run out of storage, it’s probably because you’re lazy, like me.
  • Some of the videos are wonky as they were mistakenly filmed in portrait rather than landscape. Hopefully a future app update will address this – very annoying when you realise later but can’t adjust it! I now always check I’ve filmed in landscape rather than portrait as soon as I’ve taken the video, to be on the safe side. On that note, if you’re ever taking a video on your phone – use the space, do it in landscape! If you view it on a bigger screen it looks crap in portrait mode.
  • Some of the one seconds won’t have any significance to anyone except me – like when I opened my bank account, or got my employment pass. Or when I used the gym – which with hindsight was actually a pretty momentous occasion, given that it only happened twice all year. Some of them are just run of the mill things, like the train station I use everyday, or spending time with Kev and Mel, my parrots (although since it took 6 months to get them out here with me, they definitely deserved to be immortalised on film a fair amount). But I wanted to document the day to day of my life, as well as the exciting stuff. Plus, I don’t always do exciting stuff, which means you have to capture the day to day as well.
  • As time goes on, you’ll notice more people in the video. Like I said earlier, I didn’t know anyone when I first moved here, so didn’t have anyone to film (sob). I also realised part way through this project it’s much more interesting to record videos of people, and not just things. Plus I had actual friends to film at that point. I’m not big on selfies, but it’s different when you have people to share the screen with you and you’re doing a quick video rather than just posing for a photo. I realise as I’m writing this, there’s actually not that much difference, but it does feel different – to me, at least.
  • It’s easier (and better for your back) doing a project which uses your phone rather than having to lug your camera and kit around all the time. Although as a result of doing this project, I’ve neglected my camera and hardly used it since moving to Singapore. Must sort that out this year.
  • I enjoyed it so much I’m doing it again in 2017. Wooo!

As well as my adventures – and daily routine – in Singapore, I’ve also captured snapshots of my visits to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Brunei, Tokyo, Indonesia (Bintan, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, and Bali), Sydney, Phuket in Thailand, Cambodia and of course, Manchester. I’ve got my amazing family and friends in it, my beautiful birds, lots of reminders of the lovely people I’ve met in Singapore – some who I’ve only met once, and some who I am sure will be lifelong friends – the food I’ve eaten, the places I’ve visited for work and pleasure, and…despite the exorbitant prices, a lot of alcoholic beverage drinking (ahem). I think I’m going to love watching this in a few years’ time and remembering what an awesome year it was – the small things, as well as the big ones.

If you’re thinking of trying one – do it! If you don’t like it, then stop, but hopefully you’ll love it too – and let me know how you get on.

Anyway, here’s my 2016 in 6 minutes 10 seconds. And no, Mum, we are definitely not drinking shots out of a rude vessel at any point. You missed it? Have fun trying to find it. Lol.