Thursday, July 26, 2012

First night travelling in Laos

March, 2012. A flight, an official meeting, a dusty bumpy 4WD drive, a guesthouse with a bare concrete floor and cold bucket shower...

We walk through a mostly pitch-dark town to the only restaurant. It's 7pm and they are out of food. After negotiation, they serve us sticky rice, egg, salad leaves and a wad of mekong algae.

Afterwards, wandering back, we hear rhythmic twanging & see lights up ahead - a group of a dozen women on their haunches in the fluorescent light, a cloud of carded cotton in the middle of their tarp. They each hold a bow held sideways that they put into a pile of cotton, then hit it with a piece of wood, the vibration loosening up the fibres and sending them floating around in the air.

There is a loom off to the side, and when we express a bit of interest one of the wrinkled older ladies with a towel wrapped around her head beetles off & brings back her weaving - carded, spun, dyed and woven by hand. She names her price, and I feel like I should bargain - upwards. I buy a 2m length for $3.60, and she kneels & presses the money to her forehead as she thanks me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

It's more fun in the Philippines*

...this time!

So, it's my fourth visit to Manila. The first was my first overseas travel, a whirlwind introduction to the world for a naive young woman. It's the third time here this year, and I haven't necessarily loved it. Manila is big, busy and dirty, the food's generally average, and I was living slightly too close to the red light district to relax. But I vaguely amused myself to look down from the aeroplane and feel something akin to homecoming - at least, a sense of familiarity, that it wasn't all brand new again, unlike most of my other touchdowns this year.

After a stint at the office, I rode with my boss to the other side of town, unlocked the door to a friend's apartment, and realised that this time, it would all be a bit different.

Twenty-sixth floor, with a glimpse of the sunset. Soft couches, tropical plants, funky artwork and a swimming pool downstairs. An oven, a cupboard full of spices and all the ingredients for a banana cake - in short, heaven.

To get to work, I tag along in my supervisor's diplomatic-plated car. Dinner at Japanese or Moroccan or Serbian, real wholegrain bread from the market, a real wine shop a couple of blocks away. I catch the train home - a squishy cultural experience - and meander past water-featured international hotels, through the Stock Exchange Plaza and under lantern-lit trees across the park. My guard is down, and that is fine.

This week - a special two hour drive out of town to the best restaurant in the country. A music festival, a live soccer match. Pedicures, dancing until three, fresh citrus juice and good coffee. A new apartment with a view onto the park. And a farewell cake with my name on it.

Walking through the dark streets to another new friend's house, I realised - I'm happy. For an introvert who finds some connections with people a challenge, I've met so many amazing and wonderfully fascinating people. For a perfectionist medico who doesn't like being told what to do, I've been able to handle being on a much lower rung again - and thrived. I've seen that public health changes are possible, but that the clinical side is where it's at for me - at least in part. I can see that my career path will stay rather windy, but that spaces in the systemic gaps are where the interesting stuff lies. It's ok to fly in and out, as long as there is community to be had. And letting myself off the hook once in a while makes life a lot more fun.

So, a big thanks to the gorgeous bubbly CK, who very generously lent me her place while she went gallivanting around South-East Asia. The cute and funny J, who subsequently gave me his keys and is currently enjoying Thailand. K and KiBo and the other wonderful warm characters who have let me into their lives, fed me, refreshed me and taken me out onto the town.

And N, can't wait to explore some more of the country with you!

*Actual advertising slogan.