Finishing the hat


For most people, a major national music festival is an opportunity to listen to some great music festival, watch amazing live artists and catch up with friends.  This was, initially, my plan for the Easter weekend in Canberra, but as I started browsing the National Folk Festival’s website something else caught my eye.

 

The Community arts projects!  I could have a go at weaving, Batik, tye dye, puppet making, wet felting, needle felting, making jewellery.  How would I have time to fit in seeing some concerts, perhaps do some singing of my own and my volunteering spots? Well I’d find a way somehow.

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I’ll rest my weary bones.


I know, I know, I’ve been slack recently, not even getting around to posting a song of the week, but frankly who knew that being a tourist almost non stop for 8 weeks would be so bloody tiring?  But it really is!

 

I spent the last week in the Blue Mountains, intending to catch up on some writing but instead I have slept and watched telly, sometimes at the same time.

 

I’m in Sydney now and I promise normal service will resume reasonably shortly.

What a piece of work is man


Warning: This post contains images and information you should find disturbing and upsetting.

I took GCSE history and in that we covered world events that took places from 1945 to 1989, essentially The Cold War but we focused on Britain, the USSR and America, because there’s a lot to fit in in a short amount of time.  We skimmed over the Korean War, Vietnam War and learned nothing about the Khmer Rouge and their treatment of their own people.  Why is this?  Perhaps, again, it’s a case of time constraints, perhaps it’s because Britain wasn’t overly involved and if it doesn’t contain our own, we don’t really care.  We have too much going on of our own.

For example, news reports.    Whenever there is a disaster of some kind, for example a plane crash, the report might say something like ‘Two hundred and eighty seven people were killed in the crash, including 4 Britons, 2 Americans and 1 Australian…’ Now I know that the fact that British  people died will be important information for their families, but I feel that by pointing out the nationalities of 7 people makes it seem that the other 280 don’t count, they aren’t worth mentioning further but now that we know our countrymen were affected, we’ll sit up and listen.

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Mud, mud, glorious mud!


Ahhhh I’m so behind, so let’s take a few posts and catch up…

 

On the 11th, after a long night bus from Hanoi, I arrived at Easy Tiger hostel in Phong Nha National Park.  I’d been looking for somewhere to go to that was a bit remote, but given that I’ve not planned this part of the trip particularly well, I’m having to just do highlights.  A guy I met in Vientiane, Alastair, recommended the Phong Nha Farmstay as a good place to go as it’s halfway down the country, in the National Park and they do tours.  Plus it’s a lovely place to stay.  They were booked up but suggested I try Easy Tiger.

Designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site to protect it’s amazing cave system, under it’s geological categorisation, but also has amazing bio-diversity and as the British caving Association and local explorers attempt to study and uncover more caves they are also finding more new species.  The area is also home to the world’s largest cave, which was ‘discovered’ only 5 years ago in 2009.

I hardly slept on the bus, so had a long nap and a bit of a rest while watching the new Jonathan Creek episodes.  Then I got up for a wander around the village – it’s not big, I took a leisurely pace and had finished within about 20 minutes. I passed houses, loads of locals looked both bemused and entertained to see a red faced white girl wandering past.  One handed me her child and laughed saying ‘100 thousand!’  The child didn’t seem too entertained, but people walked out into the street to laugh with her.  I walked over a rice paddy and heard the unmistakable sound of a school playground.  Following the noise I came upon the primary school, to be met by loads of children running up, waving and shouting ‘Hello!’  somehow they all managed to get in time with one another so for a little while it got a bit Midwich Cuckoos, but then I headed back to the hostel.

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The lady at the hostel wrote a note in Vietnamese for me explaining that I was a teacher and could I visit and they let me in.  The chairs are tiny, as always, they don’t seem to have any tables, but otherwise, just like any other primary classroom.

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The teacher, Thanh Huyen, was very helpful despite our language barriers and let me look around.  The parents seemed quite surprised to see me there when they came to pick up their kids.

Yesterday was the big trip to Paradise Cave, Highway 20 and Dark Cave.

Highway 20 is so called because on the 15th November 1972 the Americans carpet bombed this area of Vietnam as it is the narrowest part of the country and they were attempting to cut off supply streams and movement options for the Northern Vietnamese.  8 people were sheltering in the cave known as 8 Lady Cave and were trapped by a falling rock and died of starvation 9 days later, the local villagers powerless to help them.  The majority of those killed in the cave were 20 years old.

The highway, crossing over the border to Laos was built and maintained by local Vietnamese, many of whom were too young to be in the army, so around 5 years old, so our guide Chrissie (Joss Stone look-alike) told us.  They were given enough supplies to last them as long as they were expected to survive in the area.  how long was that?  2 days.  15 year olds, working on a road because they couldn’t join the army were expected to live for 2 days.  If they found someone dead on the road then they would collect their supplies and keep moving on.

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Offerings to spirits

Offerings to spirits

8 Lady Cave where 8 people were entombed by a falling rock after a bombing raid.

8 Lady Cave where 8 people were entombed by a falling rock after a bombing raid.

The names of those killed in the cave and those who were manning the anti-aircraft posts.

The names of those killed in the cave and those who were manning the anti-aircraft posts.

The smoke of offerings burnt to send to the spirit world.

The smoke of offerings burnt to send to the spirit world.

Chrissie, our guide

Chrissie, our guide

We took some time to look around and the other guide spotted a couple of monkeys scampering across the mountain.  Luckily my camera has a pretty good zoom so this is what I saw through the viewfinder.

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As ‘Joss Stone’ kept on talking, briefing us on the history of the area, I spotted a tornado of butterflies across the road.

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Soon it was time to move onto Paradise Cave (Thiên Đường Cave)  31km long cave which gets is a bit of a walk up the hill to get there.  We could only go through the first 1km, on a raised wooden walkway, but that was enough for me.  There are amazing examples of stalagmites and stalactites, as well as helictites, which I’d never heard of before.

But the main part of the day was reserved for Dark Cave, so-called because it is formed from basalt instead of limestone.  We were to kayak to the entrance, then walk through mud filled passages, swim through a pool in the cave to reach the main part.

I was sharing a kayak with Gill, who has a bad shoulder, and neither of us has kayaked before.  So essentially I was doing most of the paddling and just as we set off, a random Vietnamese girl jumped in the back with no paddle.  We eventually made it to the cave in a beautifully choreographed movement of circles, back paddling and attempting to follow the others (who all looked very professional) in a straight line.  There were some locals fishing who were pissing themselves with laughter and beckoning us towards them.  I really would have been good at kayaking if I could have been, but, unfortunately I have to admit, I was crap.

As I’ve not tested out the waterproof case for my camera and it would have been pointless in the mud, I have no pictures of my own, but have found some on Google.

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The mud was thick and slippery, making farty type squelchy sounds as we walked.  I am not a particularly physical or active person and I always worry about my knee dislocating (it has 15 times before) so this was a struggle for me.  There was one section where you had to go up a steep mud bank, which I didn’t manage, but behind it was just a mud pool where a bit of a mud fight broke out.  The others in our group were not quite this covered but this is a good illustration:

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Next we clambered back through the muddy tunnels, slightly easier this time because I knew roughly where I was going (albeit backwards) and I just sucked it up and slid around on my bum a bit.

Then we reached the shore of the cave pool, headed straight in, pretty cold, but I adjusted to it, and swam across about 70m before reaching a pebbly bank and then swimming again through a narrow passageway and under a big rock.  We had a bit of a talk about this cave then swam back, me at the front, this time without the lights on our helmets on.  It’s quite a strange experience, swimming in the dark with a teardrop shaped beacon of light signalling the outside world to you.  The water, by the way, is definitely colder second time in.

We headed back towards the boats and Gill and I had the brilliant idea of swimming back to the jetty instead of taking the kayak.  I was really pleased I did this as I didn’t take the opportunity to swim in the River Kwai (no-one else was and I didn’t want to feel like an idiot in my swimming costume) or in the River Ping, near Chiang Mai.

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It was a long and exhausting day, but in a good way, and my legs have not yet recovered from the mud and the steps, but I think that when I get back home I will start to try messing about in boats a bit more.

…put your hands all over my body…


This post is probably not what about what you think it’s about, but the lyrics in the title seemed fitting, even though, thanks to Jackie Oates and Eliza Carthy, all I can think of with this song is ‘Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, put your hands all over my body’ instead of the Madonna classic.  I’m not telling you why the lyrics got changed (it’s not dodgy, don’t worry) but now that’s all you’ll ever hear for this song.  You’re welcome.

No, this post is about my first experiences of professional massage. See how the title makes sense now?

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Out of reach, so far…


I’ve got a bit of a problem.  I’m totally in love with Mark Darcy and I can’t get him out of my head. There is a good reason for this, I’ve had a fair bit of bus travel lately and so have binge-read Bridget Jones’ Diary and am now over halfway through Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (book is far superior to the film, to me the film never existed).

Am now though thinking, and writing, about self as ‘self’, starting to wallow in self pity at lack of boyfriend and wanting to resort to urban family for support.  Unfortunately, urban family is spread across 3 different continents, a number of time zones, many are no longer singletons (although in no way smug about it) and I should be doing other things instead of pining about something that it totally impractical anyway.

So, reasons for being currently in love with Mark Darcy:

1) Is helpful in the kitchen and thoughtful at birthday (v.good)

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Pink elephants on parade, here they come! Hippety hoppety


Should you visit elephants in South East Asia?

I’ve been to two as part of pre-arranged tours and both have left me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But I think part of this may be because I was spoiled in Africa.

When I went to Nairobi I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which rescues, raises and re-introduces back into the wild, African elephants orphaned by poaching and a loss of habitat.  The centre is open only an hour a day when groups of animals walk down to be fed, watered and play, with people able to come and watch. The rest of the time the elephants go wandering around the park.  It was a really great trip and I took some of my favourite animal photos there.  I even had one trunk tickle my feet.

In comparison to that, my two day trip to Kanchanaburi, Thailand included an elephant ride.  I was a little unsure about this as I have heard tales about how animals are treated and forced to work, but I went with an open mind.  As the others in the group were on a one day trip, I stayed at the elephant centre waiting for them.  I watched as elephants loaded with saddles, some wearing chains, were walked up to a platform by their ‘drivers’, knocked gently with sticks to get into place as sweaty tourists clambered on excitedly.  Off they went for around 20 minutes, not much shade around the course, dropped off their human loads and were rewarded by bunches of bananas, bits of watermelon and sugar cane bought for them by the thankful and smiling tourists.  I bought some fruit and fed some of the elephants before they were loaded with people and taken on another ‘trek’.

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Wade in the water – goldfish shoals, nibbling at my toes


My trip to Laos was brief and, on the whole, brilliant, barring the scam fiasco of the last day in Luang Prabang.

I wish I’d managed to see a little more of the country and spend more time with the locals, but I didn’t quite realise how much time I’d spent in Thailand, not really doing much.  But there you are, you learn and I’ll be planning the rest of the trip a little bit more than just ‘ah I’ll go there next…’

The main impressions that I have of Laos are:

  • mountains, mountains and more mountains.  Covered in forests and jungle, long twisting roads passing through linear villages with small children walking to school, even smaller children playing by the side of the road.
  • the misty vistas that ideas of Asia bring to mind.   Mountains looking like torn tissue paper, fading off into the distance.
  • A father having a waterfight with his son as we drove past, the child giggling in delight.
  • Friendliness of strangers (mostly) offering directions, tips for good food options.
  • Resourcefullness and hard work ethic.  People were selling items made from the shells dropped during the ‘American War‘, flowers and peace signs shaped from the metal and destruction brought by American bombers.  I had no idea that Laos had been affected so badly, I’ll certainly be reading more about it in the coming weeks.
  • Water, water everywhere…

In Luang Prabang the main feature of the surrounding landscape is the Mekong River, winding it’s way past the city, conjoining  with the Nam Khan and in the evening you can sit and watch the sunset over the river.

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I am a wee weaver


What should you do if you are only going to a city for one day and then flying out? I had no idea for Vientiane but my cousin Rebecca gave me a good idea – she’d been and spent the day on a textiles course.  I asked her which one, she couldn’t exactly remember but googled and found Houey Hong Vocational Training Centre for Women.  Perfect.  I emailed, booked myself in for a day’s visit and off I went.

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Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch…


One of the things I discussed with my counsellor was that I’m too trusting.  I like to see the good in people and I don’t always notice when they are trying to screw me over. 

Well today I very nearly got caught in a scam thanks to my trusting nature. Now I know what you’re going to say, that I’m travelling alone and should be a bit more wary, but once I was in the following situation I did click on to what was going on. I do feel a bit stupid, but don’t worry, I’ll not be falling for this sort of thing again.

Scams are rife in this area of the world unfortunately and I’ve made sure that I’ve read through the common ones in the guide book.  Don’t fall for cheap overnight bus trips, they will steal your stuff.  Don’t agree to hire a driver for a cheap amount for a ‘personal tour’ as you’ll get harangued into buying jems and silver that you don’t want. 

What I didn’t expect was to almost be caught up in a gambling scam.

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Invocation and Instructions to the Audience


One of the fun things when travelling around on your own with very little money is staying in hostel dorm rooms.

My current room in Chiang Mai has 6 beds, well sort of beds.  There’s a raised platform with six mattresses on, separated by some interesting MDF frames with curtains hanging from them for a little privacy.  It’s alright and there is an interesting carousel of people coming and going.  Different ages, nationalities (all female in this room, but in Bangkok and Koh Tao I stayed in mixed dorms). 

 

I think I’ve manged not to annoy people too much.  I mean no-one has told me that I’ve pissed them off and some have stayed in touch.  I’ve tried to keep all my crap roughly in one place, use my headphones whilst listening to the radio or watching something.  I haven’t had any smelly food or anything.  I think I’m probably doing ok. 

 

There do seem to be some unspoken rules though:

When you meet someone you have to ask the following questions:

  • Where are you from?
  • How long have you been travelling?
  • Where have you been and where are you going next?

If you remember to you might also ask their name, but that seems to bee coming half way through a conversation most of the time in an ‘Oh, I’m Ellie by the way!’ ‘Yeah! I’m….’

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Oh dear me, the mill’s going fast


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I spent most of my day wandering around museums and markets  My plan was to head out of the old city of Chiang Mai and have a look around the Textiles Museum in the Old Cultural Centre.  Unfortunately, after spending an hour and a half looking for it, stopping for my new favourite drink at a coffee shop called ‘3 way coffee love’, I found that it was shut so headed back into town for a visit to the Lanna Folklife Museum. 

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What a difference a day makes


I have Swimmer’s Ear.  It’s a pain, but luckily not painful.  I’ve got ear drops, a slightly seasick feeling and 11 hours until my train back to Bangkok. 

 

It started off with a muggy feeling in my ear, then this morning I could barely hear out of it at all.  But last night’s hostel, Salsa Hostel in Chumphon was clean, comfortable, immaculately fitted out in Ikea furniture  and, best of all, has super fast internet.  Call me shallow, but when I’m feeling a bit crappy all I want to do is be able to top up my itunes, stream a bit of telly and go to sleep in comfort.  Check out wasn’t until noon, so 45 mins ago I re-packed my bag (gonna get tired of that really soon, but what can you do?) trundled downstairs and bought an icecream.  

 

I’m going to sit here until i’m hungry enough for lunch, read ‘The Long War’ by Terry Pratchett and Steven Baxter and kill time until they politely move me on. 

 

I’ve done quite well reading books recently – just finished ‘Little Exiles’ and ‘Bloody Women’ the former by Robert Dinsdale and the latter by Helen FitzGerald.  Both good. 

 

If you’re interested Little Exiles is about the children taken to Australia after WW2 and touches on the Stolen Generation, Bloody Women is about a woman arrested for having possibly murdered and dismembered some of her ex-boyfriends.  Not normally things I’d go for but they were in the kindle daily deal.

Dreams of breathing underwater


The first film I remember seeing at the cinema was when I was 5 years old. It was Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  I was amazed by it, immediately decided I wanted red hair like Ariel.  We went to McDonalds and I got an Ursula toy with my Happy Meal. It was 1989.

Some time not long after I was amazed to see the video in Ritz (as it was then, don’t think it had become a Blockbusters, or indeed a cafe at that point) and begged Mum to buy it for me so that I could re-live that magical underwater world at home.  Mum said no.  It wasn’t the film.  I disagreed, it had Ariel on the front and I could definitely read the words ‘Under the Sea’ there too.  Mum said it wasn’t, it was just in the cinema. I disagreed and must have pestered er for ages because somehow I acquired that video.  Of course it wasn’t The Little Mermaid, it was ‘Sing-a-long Songs Under the Sea‘ which did feature some of the Little Mermaid soundtrack, but also other vaguely water related Disney songs including one from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in which Kirk Douglas seems to be telling his shipmates about some sort of dalliance with a fish or two.  Mr Jim Causley has been known to do an amusing cover of this if you ever get the chance to see/hear it.  Ask him nicely.

My obsession with TLM grew and I was exceptionally jealous of my cousin Rebecca because she had an Ariel doll.  I even used to pretend to be Ariel when swimming at Brackley Pool – the pool has two sets of steps in the shallow end, if you swam around underwater, legs together because you are a mermaid with a tail, singing ‘Part of your world‘ to yourself and timed it right you could push yourself up the steps, breaking out of the water at just the right point to recreate the iconic waves/big stone moment.  To me, I was definitely a ginger mermaid, to everyone else I must have looked mental.

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Life lessons, fear of failure and why I left teaching.


Yep. That’s it.

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This morning, I found out an excellent teacher, someone I respect and look up to, received a Requires Improvement from an Ofsted QA Inspection. Needless to say, she’s gutted. I’m furious for her. Not just because she blatantly does not Require Improvement (and any idiot who spent more than 20 minutes observing her would realise this), but because this is the reason I decided to take a break from teaching.

I loved being a teacher. I loved the buzz of the classroom, and teenagers are the most inspiring, frustrating, wonderful, bonkers, infuriating and downright excellent people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The workload was hard, but a lot of the time it felt…, well, not fun, but certainly not boring. I loved designing lessons, trying to bring in new stuff as and when I could. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I never once felt…

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