Cycling in Hirafu – Japan

Japan cycling is the best!
Cycling in Japan

I have found that life always presents wonderful opportunities and if you don’t grasp them immediately they fade away as thought they were never there.

One of these opportunities came for me when one of my Australian friends got a job in Japan. I asked if I could visit. The answer was “yes’ so with that said this is how I came to travel in Japan when I was actually planning to go to Laos.

I was craving a holiday where I could be alone and able to “tune in” to my own inner essence, that part of me that is wise and kind and very, very quiet. It whispers to me and if I am too busy or have too many people around I really get to miss it. It is like missing a lover, a deep ache inside that can’t be placated.

I schedule a long trip every year that involves me being alone so that I can just be with no distractions. People call it meditation but I think that being is more than that—it is getting back to that inner truth where the meaning of life is revealed 24/7.

The first time I really connected to that part of me was on my trip to Sri Lanka and I have taken time like this since. Once a year I give myself a week of silence or what I call “not doing”.

After visiting my friends I decided that cycling in Japan would be the thing to do and Hokkaido would be the place. I read that Hokkaido was mainly forrest and had a very low population density. That sounded perfect.

The time I spent in Yokohama with my friends it was simply amazing. A cooking class, the expats club, wonderful shrines and parks. We actually climbed Mt Fuji in one day that started at 3 am and finished at about 7 pm — five hours up and three hours down with about one hour the whole day to stop. The rest of the time was getting there and back.

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On top of Fuji with Jane

I do recommend some training before doing such a climb, a tad silly to climb it without any prior conditioning.

This  is meant to be about cycling so I will get on with it.

I took the Shinkansen bullet train to northern Honshu and over a week finally made my way up to Hokkaido. I was “feeling out” Japan trying to work out where to go to get my cycling trip. Every cycle shop I visited was either absent even although they were on the map, or the bikes were rickety and slow. I hired an ancient bike in Aomori and peddled around with the fast traffic and no map, I got lost a number of times and forever thank Google Maps— paid for by a Japanese phone company—not Telstra thank the stars! Last year I had used Google maps with Telstra for a few hours in Portugal. The bill was $1500AUD so I didn’t make that mistake again.

Sapporo had only rickety bikes in the hire places I found. Finally I gave up on my cycling trip and just decided to walk up mountains instead. I booked myself into a small Japanese place called “Ramina” in the town of Hirafu in the Niseko onsen and ski area.

Beautiful quiet and convenient Japanese home stay.
A lovely place to stay for a week.

It was summer but most places were booked out, I was lucky to get a room.

I took the local clackerty clack train to Kutchan and was picked up by the host of the Ramina and taken up into the mountains to the little village of Hirafu.

Hirafu has already been discovered by Australians and the locals seem happy with that. There is a good amount of “great big melting pot” stuff happening with many little  Euro/Japanese children around.

The guest house was exquisite, the food was top quality authentic Japanese.

Hirafu has a cycling shop called Rhythm cycles  I think it is owned by an Aussie or two, I didn’t quite work out who was the boss. Joe who was my main contact there spoke excellent English and he was one of those melting pot people half Japanese and half Swedish.

Here I am unfashionably dressed in-front of the Rhythm Cycles store with my bike.

Joe hired me a brand new road bike for approximately $45.00 a day and absolute bargain for the milage I got from this wonderful machine. It was an Allez bike now as I know nothing about bikes and don’t really care too much about the details. I sort of fell in love with this bike. I have a much more expensive Scott bike at home but this bike beat it hands down. It was stable and light and the gears were always just right. I guess some machines just connect with your body and some don’t?

The Allez road bike

I am not really a cyclist as such, sure I cycle and most times I get the right cycling clothing on but I am not serious about it. I simply love to move. I find that if I don’t move I can’t sleep well. Therefore cycling is a fun way to move and that is why I do it. I know nothing about bikes except that they have wheels and gears and I still don’t understand which gears are “high” and which ones are “low”.

OK I have just googled that. “High” gear is for going down low and “low” gear is for going up high. I guess that must make sense (?)

Andy another guy at Rhythm cycles gave me a small map and this was by guide. Another thing I am not particularly good at is following maps when I am on holidays. When I am at home and I have a time schedule I am excellent at following maps. To get lost or find a new way is not on the agenda I simply don’t have time for that.

Inside the cycling store

On holidays I go into another time zone and I tend to just play around and find my own way. This proved to be very good for my health because daily I would add another 7 or 12 kilometres to my ride because I simply missed a turn or was having so much fun zooming downhill that I would just not be thinking of where I was meant to be going.

The Rhythm Cycle – Cycling map

I love to get lost and found again – interesting experiences occur when you allow yourself to “not know” what you are doing or where you are going.

The first day I cycled around the base of a mountain called Mt Yotei. I didn’t read all about how far it was or anything like that I simply saw there was a cycle around the base and thought that it would be pretty thing to do on such a lovely sunny day.

Mt Yotei

It was is a 59.4 kilometre cycle around the base of this mountain, by the time I limped back up to Hirafu my quadriceps were complaining. This cycle can be a tourist cycle with lots of stops as there are shrines, a organic tofu making place, a National Park and all sorts of restaurants along the way.

I went back another day, here the local collect fresh mountain drinking water, they back their cars and vans up and fill containers full.
Fresh mountain water directly from the “gods of the mountain”.
It was freezing cold and delicious.

I simply got on the bike and did it I stopped for the odd photograph and once again when I got a puncture. Murray an Aussie  from Rhythm cycles came out and fixed the puncture for me. Mobile phones are just so useful on a trip like this and a hire bike that gets fixed by using a phone is just the thing.

Japan has smooooooth wide roads. The drivers are respectful and calm  they leave lots of room so I didn’t feel any danger, I actually got a surprise at the difference between cycling in Japan compared to Australia. I didn’t realise how much stress I felt in Australia where I am constantly feeling as though drivers are too close and much too fast. I only realised it when I didn’t feel the stress here!

The sides of the roads often have a lane that is wide and smooth, however you have to keep your wits about you if you use it because it often peters out or there are huge drains.

The drains often mess up the side of the road “cycle way”

They are not a cycle lanes but often you can use them like that in places. To top off the amazing cycling Hokkaido is not very populated so there is hardly any traffic.

Smooth wide roads

The second day I cycled what they call the Goshiki Loop. Again I didn’t really take much notice of the map and of course I got lost and did an extra 12 kilometres. The Goshiki Loop is meant to be a 43.3 kilometre loop around another mountain called Annuputi.

What I didn’t realise was that the ride was up for 16 kilometres you get to the top and then the rest of the ride is down. 16 kilometres up and 16 kilometres down with a few kms getting to the up bit and after the down bit.

I started this ride in a wonderful blissful state as I don’t know what I was in for.

Then the road went up and up and up. At one stage it sort of levelled off a bit and it looked like the road was going down. So, I changed in to my big gear thing on the front and decided to coast. Now that caused me to come to a complete stop and I just about started to roll backwards! Back into the little front geary thing and keep peddling hard! It had been so steep that a gentle rise looked like going down, an illusion.

At first I thought “just around this corner it will go down”, and then “just around this next corner it will go down”…however after a long time of that I simply peddled and stayed in the moment listening to the trees,birds and insects looking at the view and enjoying the slow burn of muscles.

At one stage I had to ride thought a tunnel.

As I was cycling up other cyclists were coming down and talk about respect! Each person who passed nodded at me as they went by. Even the Westerners. Mind you there were not many cyclists doing this silly mountain. Finally I reached the top and then had this terrifying feeling that going down was going to be as difficult as coming up. I am not a star at going fast down hill.

On top of the Goshiki ride.

I spent the whole time cruising down being very careful to keep my speed in check and finally made it to the flat bits of the land and then I was completely lost.

Anyway, finally after some faffing around I found my way home.

When I got back to Rhythm Cycles they told me that the other direction was the best way to go for various biking reasons that I failed to listen to.

Therefore, I did the whole thing another day the other way around. Guess what? I got lost again. I simply don’t switch my serious “business woman” brain on during holidays.

I think that Japan must be one of the worlds best places to come to cycle. Give it a go and if you ever get up this way Hirafu has the best food and accommodation as well.

Garbage in Japan – an art and a science.

I was in Japan visiting my Aussie friends Jane and Tony. One morning I found Jane sitting with her cup of tea catatonic with “post-traumatic rubbish disorder”

I will explain.

Last Thursday morning Jane thought that it was “bottle day” for the rubbish collection. In the searing heat and high humidity she took four bags full of bottles and cans and clanked her way up hills and down stairs only to find that the wire cages that were meant to take them were all collapsed. She wandered the streets looking for other cages that were yet to be emptied… no luck so she clanked her way back home feeling frustrated and very hot.

Much later I went for a walk and found many cages with “bottle and can” rubbish neatly stacked in them. I then assumed that these cages were still “open for the business of collecting rubbish” so, helpfully — in the searing heat and humidity — I too clank down to the collection point with their rubbish and disposed of it.

 Screen Shot 2013-07-15 at 8.07.32 PMThe collapsible rubbish collection points.

The next day we go past the collection point and our rubbish has not been collected. Jane decides to take it back to the house rather than “break the rules”. We take it out and take it back home, Jane is concerned about the “rubbish police” and rightly so!

Some of their expat friends had trouble learning the system. Every time they took the rubbish to the collection point the locals would yell at them for doing it wrong. In the end the woman of the house simply refused to take the rubbish out, so her partner was the one who had to suffer the abuse. Eventually, they had a visit from the “rubbish police” and we are waiting for the next exciting episode on that recalcitrant household.

Easy peasy it is all carefully explained for you on the top!

Today Jane has frantically and neatly packed their “cardboard” rubbish. Cardboard rubbish is totally different rubbish to the “bottles and cans” variety and it has a different day. At the final minute Tony has taken it down to the rubbish place.

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Jane’s cardboard origami rubbish

Neat as, the cartons washed, dried, cut up neatly, stacked and then tied together as the diagrams in the rubbish manual show you how to prepare your rubbish.

They have to get there before 8 am when it is picked up. They have missed the “cardboard rubbish” for about two months.

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More origami

They arrived back elated with the news that “bottle day” has changed and it is now today! They have also missed “bottle and can” day for a while so this is a very happy event.

 Let’s hope they make it back with their bottles before the cages collapse and they have to wait another fortnight!

So, again they rush outside with all the bottles and cans they have used for the last month.

How lucky! They get there in time and even luckier because at the collection point a Japanese neighbour gave Tony a huge Golfing book.

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You can give and receive rubbish – all in a day of rubbish news.

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Some of these books were collectable

Apparently on cardboard day you also bring out old books and magazines.

One day recently Tony staggered home with a pile of Japanese motorcycle magazines about half a meter high from the “cardboard” day. Much to Jane’s chagrin!

The Actual System explained

Japan has recycling at its’ best it is exciting stuff and the source of much conversation and stress here for a new arrival.

They take recycling very seriously and this is a great thing, however, it is extremely difficult to learn because it is a detailed and exacting science, with very little room for error.

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The cages are meant to stop the crows from getting at the burnable rubbish.

There are eleven different rubbish types and each has a different day to dispose and a different method for handling it before it is disposed.

In order to learn the system you are given a fifteen page A4 booklet in both Japanese and English. Plus you can look up a website called MIctionary.

Here are the different grades of rubbish.

  1. Burnable garbage – this is kitchen scraps, cooking oil, nappies, garden waste (neatly tied and bundles no longer than 50 cm) – plastic items that don’t have a special logo on it. Yes, they burn kitchen scraps and some plastic.
  2. Plastic containers and packaging – this is all plastics that have a special logo on it. This is not “cans, bottles and PET bottles” these are at point 6 of this list.
  3. Dry Cell Batteries
  4. Spray cans
  5. Non-burnable garbage. This must be wrapped and labeled for example fluorescent lights or glass
  6. Cans, bottles and PET bottles
  7. Small metal items such as bottle tops, aluminium foil and perhaps saucepans?

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    Small metal items?
  8. Paper
  9. Used cloth and clothing
  10. Oversized garbage
  11. Dead pets – yep! You read it — dead pets.

You must dispose of the correct type of garbage on the correct collection day before 8 am. I am yet to discover what you do with your dead pet before the collection day — the freezer perhaps?

No leaving it overnight! Get up early and put it in the mesh container before eight.

That means lots of mornings a week taking a different type of garbage to the collection point on the correct day.

If you ever live in Japan you will need this blog!

Sri Lanka 1990 – A war? How could I miss that fact?

On an elephant on the beach in Hurgada

I felt discombobulated by the strangeness I sometimes initially experience when I get to a third world country.

I was sitting on the mini bus on the way from the airport into Colombo. It was as though I was in a glass bubble looking out at the world, the ramshacked suburbs seems to never end, my tiredness from the flight and the sultry heat was having a surreal effect upon my senses.

 My small backpack was at my feet it contained the most essential items for travel survival. A set of warm clothes in the form of a black track-suit. This costume doubled as pyjamas.

OK, please understand that this was just post 80’s where my whole wardrobe consisted of upmarket expensive lycra and track suit exercise gear masquerading as street clothing!

I had a sarong that was also my towel, sheet, dressing gown as well as a skirt or even a dress at a push. A change of underclothes, bathers, toothbrush, comb and this time I had two brightly coloured silk dresses that dried in a few hours and took little room in my pack and weighed practically nothing.

All was ready for my experiment in my consciousness. I was going to Sri Lanka, when I got there I found out that there was a war going on in most of the country. I have not always been very good at researching local politics! I have always figured that if people live somewhere then… I could survive there.

I was going to spend the time “not doing”.  I had made up my own loose translation from Carlos Castaneda’s works, I interpreted , “not doing” as a state where we do anything that we would not normally do.

I had decided that for me, “not doing” was to stop speaking. OK it is practically impossible to travel without speaking, so I would only speak when I wanted food and accommodation etc. The rest of the time I would just see what my mind “did”.

The air was humid, and the vista typically Asian, tropical yet some how a mix of middle class European morals and Asian relaxation. On the drive from the airport I noticed many Montessori school signs. It appears that the Montessori method is popular in Sri Lanka, the structured “play” that “educates” method that has to be studied at great length with special tools and procedures. Interestingly enough I have observed that children will naturally play and learn if left alone. In Australia Montessori is on the fringe but in Sri Lanka it appeared to be the mainstream approach. This juxtaposition of educated choices along with poverty was my impression of Sri Lanka for the whole of my stay. There were carefully repaired buildings but the wear and tear of tropical weather on the painted concrete and timber reminded me of many countries where spirit is willing but the physical money is lacking.

The mini bus took me in to downtown Colombo and along the beachfront road. I quickly looked up the trusty “Lonely Planet on Sri Lanka” guide and found that to the south was the area where there where cheap travellers stays and I got off at what I imagined was the correct stop.

The streets were quiet, dusty and deserted, I guess wars do that sort of thing to the streets. My map in the book told me that there were many home stays in the area. I wandered down the streets towards the beach looking for home stay signs and therefore a place for the night.

I had travelled from Perth to Singapore, after a lengthy stopover I had taken another plane to Colombo. I had been travelling for about a day without rest so was tired and the humidity was still new. I welcomed the heightened sense of smell that the humidity allowed and the feeling that the atmosphere that weighed my body down just a tad… The air felt heavier to breathe with its entry to my airways a little resisted by the moisture. This made me feel as though each breathe that I took required that much more energy than I was used too…

I could feel the Asian lethargy taking over, it was like coming home to the real world where time was fluid and the very air that I was breathing allowed it to be so.

I walked the streets with my book and found that the first three home stays were closed, maybe due to the war. After wandering up and down the streets for about two hours and finding many more closed, I began to imagine that my Lonely Planet guide was going to make me really, really lonely. I was getting worried that I wouldn’t find anywhere to stay for the night. Walking down deserted streets, with a pack and looking for a place for the night after not sleeping for a day was not just wearing me down, it was making me imagine all sorts of things, my monkey mind was engaged and ramping up for a great old whinge. I came to a home-stay that still had a sign up and went inside.

Who knows what the Asian people think about single women travelling? I was 35 years old at the time. By choice I was unmarried, with no children. It appeared to me that the Asians saw women in my state and position as sad characters. After all, I was “on the shelf” with little chance of making a real life for myself, by their values.

After the normal signing in and having to explain my sad circumstances regarding marriage and babies I was left alone in a large room in a silent house and I laid back on the bed and reminded myself to not “make friends” with the people of the home-stay I was to be polite yet allow myself the pleasure of “not doing”.

This proved to be effortless. The people of the home-stay left me alone and only spoke to me when I spoke to them. I found it most amusing that they considered that I required company when I ate. When I was eating they would station the cook at the table with me and she would just watch me eat.

Colombo Beach

I want you to close your eyes and imagine what it is like to have someone watch your every mouth full as you eat dinner. Every cut, balance the peas on the fork, lift it to your mouth, with a few peas dropping by the way as you do so, place the fork in your mouth, Oh, a bit of gravy on my lip, wipe away…. etc. I instructed my mind to just observe, “not do” feel my feelings and be present I guess. Difficult and challenging at the time.

I didn’t explore this cultural difference and just assumed that it was the way they did things in Sri Lanka. I stayed two days, quietly in my room or walking along the wide, yellow, sandy beach. I sat on the bed and meditated. I didn’t know what meditation really was. I guessed that it was a state where I quietened my mind and saw what happened. I found that when I tried to have a quiet mind, that my mind was not at all quiet, it was like many radio stations of constant differing programs that seemed to intersect and take off in different directions only to come back to the beginning and run through the programs again… The programs were boring in their content; fears, worries, imagined problems, jokes, fun, stuff… nothing of real import, just psycho-babble.

I decided to just allow this to be and when I had a thought that was particularly stupid I would re-write it by allowing my mind to visualise the different way that it could be, just to calm the constant terror and bodily sensations that came with the fears. It was a start at what I thought mediation was.

I was reading a book by Sanaya Roman and I had it with me, through out the book were wise sayings in italics, when the mind was particularly annoying I would grasp the book and open a page to get some comfort. For example, I read the phrase:

 What you accept as true will become your reality.

 This would give me another perspective and allow me a few hours of respite before the fear would grip again and my internal “Pandora’s box” would give me another feeling or thought. That book was all I had; yet it was enough.

At other times I would be overwhelmed by bliss, the feeling that all that is simply “IS” and I was all of it.

Bliss can’t be written about as it simply is and that is all I can say about it.

After two days I found that I needed to move on, bliss was as frightening as “monkey mind” it was all so new and different.

I needed the distraction of travel.

I travelled south to the beach side resort of Hurgada. This was a Mecca for drugs, tourists, sun, sand and sex during the not-so-war times. It was now a deserted place where there were large empty hotels and restaurants with very few patrons. I found a four star hotel that had about 100 rooms “new Asian style” with concrete walls that were not quite as straight and true as the concrete is in the west, it had a large swimming pool and was right on the water front. It cost a trifle due to the war and I was the only guest.

Again, I remained polite yet distant, I allowed myself the pleasure and pain of seeing what my mind would do when I stopped talking. I stayed by the poolside, reading and re-reading my book and then putting it down to see that my mind would do without reading or speaking.

After about two days I found that I could see the lights around the coconut palm trees. I was looking at the fronds above me when I could see that there was a light that haloed around them and that each type of plant had a different type of light and energy around them. What? Lights around plants, this was during the height of the day! Yet, there was definitely an additional light around the plants that was their light. Coconut trees have a particularly sharp, directed energy, much as their leaves, they don’t take any nonsense and are direct and plain in their communication. They spoke to me and I was awed to be able to hear them or take what they were saying as real – whatever real was…

Speaking to trees, this was different, my 5 year university education was really having a problem with this!

However, it was better than listening to my mind so the trees won out and I spoke to them. I was then able to hear and see the turtles, fish, water, sand and others around me who wanted a chat. I was happily learning about how they saw reality, which was with a dispassionate love full of power, straight and to the point. They saw what “is” and didn’t seem to judge, They had a very clear idea of what created more love/happiness/balance and what didn’t. They were aware that human beliefs were not very useful for happiness. They let me know about my unhappy beliefs without judgment or fear of my reactions.

At the turtle farm in Hurgada
Hurgada turtle farm

On the third day there were other guests at the hotel, a family. They were an Australian couple about my age and they had two children. I wasn’t too interested in getting to know them. By now I was in my experiment and wanting to “talk to the trees”. I was polite and answered the wife who asked me where I was from. I asked her two questions to be socially correct, the names of her children and why they were in Sri Lanka. They were on their way home after working over seas. I acknowledged her husband with a nod and went back to my “not doing”.

Later that day I was in my room, and there was a knock at the door. As I had been the only guest in this hotel so far, the only knocks I had were the staff giving me a fresh towel or to ask me what I wanted for my breakfast.  Naively, I opened the door. The “Australian Husband” barged in to my room, he was over 6 foot and very broad, he made to grab me and missed, he then made it clear that he was going to have sex with me. I countered with my prodigious verbal skills, terror overwhelmed me and I became focused at getting to the door that was behind him… he lunged towards me I jumped backwards and sideways slowly making my way to the door. My body was in hyper-drive, immediately oily and smelling that particular smell that comes with fear, I could feel the sweat ooze out of me and the pungent smell that came with it.

The door was open and I was yelling and screaming at him. Luckily a hotel staff member appeared at the door, wide-eyed and completely open-faced. I demanded that he make the “Australian Husband” leave. This diminutive Asian man was caught up in the reality of the situation and quietly agreed with me that the Australian man should leave. We both watched as he left, yet, he didn’t look defeated and I felt really unsafe.

I marched down to the reception; the two men at the reception kept asking me why I had allowed him in to my room. What had I done to invite him in? They told me that he would not have come to my room without my invitation.  I demanded to see the manager and again had the same questions. When I said that I would call the police if he didn’t sort the Australian out, he settled down and told me that he would take care of the matter.

I didn’t see the Australian Family again; they disappeared from whence they came…

Back to the mind and what it creates!

What you accept as true will become your reality.

Deep down I had this dichotomy going on, I knew that most men were wonderful kind beings yet occasionally I came across a man who wasn’t. I would allow them to put me in danger. Luckily for me I always won the joust that occurred as I had with this “Australian Husband”  but this just cemented my silly belief that “you can’t trust (all) men”.

Women on the other hand if they were out of line I would just stop the stupidity immediately. Men somehow got more leeway – less direct honesty from me.

It took me many years to learn this yet; here I was at the start of this learning, all those wonderful men in my life that I didn’t really know if I could trust them or not, poor guys having to put up with me. I have always really enjoyed male company the directness and the lack of airy-fairy emotional stuff. Great company, at the same time I hadn’t yet learnt to work out the difference between men who I could trust and the ones I couldn’t!

I stayed for a couple of weeks, the ocean was rough, with a very strong rip so although I was a powerful swimmer I knew that it wasn’t safe for me to swim out into the deep, so I stayed at the poolside talking to the palm trees and doing laps in the pool.

My mind kept me wanting to escape –  so I browsed a second-hand shop and found a book by a man who had swam the San Francisco bridge race and won, (somebody) Scott. He stated that whatever our minds decide to do our bodies could do, so I decided to experiment and see how long I could swim for. I put my bathers on grabbed my goggles and went to the pool and did laps. I swam and swam. After all, I had nothing else to do but listen to my mind so I decided that listening to my mind while swimming was easier than listening when I was still. I swam for hours, two maybe three, perhaps four… I started in the mid afternoon and when I stopped it was very dark. I lost time and time lost me. I stopped because a very worried looking hotel staff member touched me. The physical contact abruptly halting my rhythm I was shocked that it was now dark, I felt at ease, relaxed and as though I had only swum for a couple of laps, Mr Scott was right.

 Sri Lanka is a heavily populated land, yet the people have been very wise in their management of the wild life. Turtles bob up and down in the strong surf at the beach. Snakes slink along in the trees around the water and tame Elephants walk along the streets, with their owners, I even saw a herd of wild elephants when I was visiting a place where there was an enormous volcanic plug.

Sigiriya the Volcanic plug city above the elephant filled planes

In the distant past a thousand or so years ago a whole city had perched safely on top of it. It even had a large “swimming pool” carved out of the rock although more logically I thought that it was probably the water reservoir however, I was wrong it was a swimming pool and the slaves just had to cart all of that water!

Steps up to the city on top of the volcanic plug

In those days there would have been no pumps so all of the water would have been carried on someone’s back up this mountain, up really steep steps. The climb was simply too vertical for animal transport.

I found it easy to tune in to the wealth as well as the toil of the slave class in creating this city way above the Elephant filled planes all around.

It was time for me to travel on and after a trip down south where I saw remnants of the war, I decided to go to Kandy the Lake city where there the Kandy dancers fire-eaters and firewalkers give shows of their skills. Kandy is the fabulous lake nestling in the folds of the surrounding mountains. Beauty is the reason for this city. The mountains and the lake created the city, no one could pass by this lake without wanting to stay for a while, soaking up the natural loveliness.

Kandy Fire eating display
Fire walking
Fire walking

Kandy was a magical place with magical powers people would eat fire, lovers gathered at the edge of the lake and there were animals in the traffic, by the lake and above in the sky.

Lovers at the edge of Kandy Lake

I had been travelling the hard way for many years now and knew that it was a time for change. I no longer felt challenged by arriving in a town and not knowing where I would stay next, I no longer found it unusual that a house had a hole in the ground as a toilet or even that the toilet was above the pig pen with the pigs fighting for my excrement. It was not a surprise when people asked me the inevitable questions about my marital status or the fact I didn’t have children (at my advanced age!!!), or even when men asked me to marry them when they only knew me for a few moments. All of this had become usual. It is that way it is for people in much of the world. Westerners take flushing toilets, the freedoms of expression, cleanliness, personal safety and physical comfort as a right, yet, for much of the world these things are for a select few.

It was now time in my particular existence to travel in another way; yet, my old self resisted the change. It felt “why stay in a fabulous hotel that costs half of the cost of an average hotel in Australia when I could stay in a home stay for less than the cost of a coffee?” The old self won and I found myself in a home stay in the out skirts of Kandy. I unpacked my bag and waited to hear what my mind would say next. I laid on the bed and then felt a severe pang of pain in my solar plexus; suddenly I felt nauseas. I jumped up and ran to the “concrete hole in the side of the bathroom”. I didn’t know what to do next; my body jack knifed and I vomited and at the same time felt that I would be stricken with diarrhoea. I was right and spent the next hour emptying one end or the other. I now understand the expression wracked by pain as my internal spasms made my body contract as they gripped and relaxed.  Sweating the cold sweat of severe pain I looked in the tiny mirror above the basin as I rinsed my mouth, I was grey and the sweat gave my skin a death like pallor. Staggering to the bed I laid down. I was alone again, I had placed myself in the situation where there was no one I knew well enough to trust, no-one who mattered to me knew where I was, or what I was doing. I just told my friends and family Sri Lanka – see you in six weeks. Bye…..

I was again in my counter reality of aloneness, pain and fear. I immediately recognised my life pattern that had been following me or I had been seeking since childhood. Either I was alone and in pain or I was in bliss with lots of kind loving people. I rarely created an in between world where I had love and independence in balance, or if I did I pushed it away subconsciously seeking the extremes.

I use to stay at cheap dives that were not that safe at times.

I rested feeling the pain racking through my digestive system, wondering if I should go back to the bathroom or not. Without warning my body spasmed severely and I saw a ghost like self rise from my body, strangely it had a suitcase in its hand, it floated to the ceiling. It looked at me and said, “It is time for you to change, if you don’t change I won’t return” It then disappeared thorough the ceiling and my body relaxed.

I lay there not judging what had just happened, I just instinctively knew that this apparition-what-ever it was-was right. I shakily got up packed and took one last visit to the hole in the floor.

There was no phone at the home-stay therefore I couldn’t call a taxi. I put my pack on my back and walked into Kandy.  I was worried that I would vomit or even worse soil my clothes on the way, plus I was weak and shaky following the fluid loss, yet I knew that to stay in a cheap home stay was not an option.

I took this photo as I walked around the Kandy Lake to Hotel Suisse.

I made my way down the hill and watched a baby Elephant with a chain around it’s ankle walk with it’s mother down the road, a normal part of the traffic, I kept going until I found myself at the lake and stopped at the base of a tree to rest and drink some water. At the tree was a tree snake curled among the roots, it was very still and it started to tell me that resistance to change was what caused pain for humans. Understanding flooded through me so shakily I rose to my feet and walked around the lake to Hotel Suisse, booked in and went to the swimming pool to rest.

Elephants in the streets and by the sides of the roads.
Elephants in the streets and by the sides of the roads.

Late in the afternoon I was lying by the pool, my stomach was still knotted from the illness. I saw a light high in the clear blue sky, it was way above the pale green leaves of the trees, and I focused on this ball of light that was shooting towards me. As it came closer I saw that it was “myself with the suitcase” it was coming back. It hit my solar plexus with a pleasant sensation, and from that time on I was well.

Sri Lankan hotel room

I moved on to Nuwara Golf club in the hills and was served by waiters who were elderly and had not lost their jobs since colonial times, their uniforms were starchy and very white with the collars and cuffs frayed as the uniforms too have survived since colonial days. I played golf in green fluorescent shorts and dressed for dinner drank sherry before dinner and played billiards in the billiards room after dinner.

Playing golf with my caddy
Playing golf with my personal caddy

I no longer travel on a shoestring staying at cheap dives and seeing the seedy side of life, of course if the circumstances require that I do – so be it, The difference is, is that I don’t seek dirt, cheapness and squalor when I travel. I have found that this has changed my danger levels to almost negligent. I am no longer verging on suicidal tendencies when I travel, I now allow myself the good things in life and enjoy the safety and security.

Temple monkey

Sri Lanka is the land of religion and temples, gems, Sapphires, Rubies, Spinels, Amethyst, Quartz, Alexandrite, Chrysoberyl, Rhodonite, and Tourmaline etc. OK you get the picture this place is saturated in precious stones. Garnets, Zircon, Citrine, Beryl, Topaz, Moonstone, so many types and qualities. It seemed to me that creator in her munificence has given this tiny island more precious stones than any other place on the planet.

Sri Lankan Gems

When I was having a bit of difficulty with the “not doing” part of the trip I would wander in to the deserted Gem shops and browse. I had some knowledge of stones or at least the difference between genuine stones and glass, and at times would purchase a particularly special stone for a few dollars, for really I was not interested it buying them, I was just distracting myself from myself and buying stones was the distraction.

I knew a jeweller in Nedlands in Western Australia called Geoffrey Allen. He was a quaint character, very small, almost tiny and about 75 years old. He looked like a wizened dwarf. His hands were deformed by Rheumatoid arthritis, and his fingers angled off to the sides due to his chalky joints. When I was a young child at boarding school I would stay weekends with my Nanna in Nedlands. Down the road from her house was his shop and in the window would be one or two of his commissioned pieces waiting to be picked up by the wealthy people who lived in this suburb. I would walk by to the supermarket and wonder at the quality of his work and think “Will I ever be wealthy enough to have such beauty in my life?”.

Later in my life I wanted to give a special friend of mine a ring and went back to his shop. This was over 20 years later and the jeweller was very old then. I commissioned a ring that was so incredible it became a heart felt symbol of how I loved and lost and yet still loved. As a customer I asked him to train me in the buying of stones as opposed to glass and he was most willing to show me how this is done.

I used this knowledge in Sri Lanka and the Gem people were appreciative that I had knowledge and would bring out their best stones and sell them to me at very reasonable prices. I didn’t know this at the time for I only had the bare rudiments of gem selection!

When I came home from Sri Lanka I took a half teaspoon of huge stones to the Geoffrey only to find that I had purchased a bunch of very expensive stones for a pittance.

At the time I wasn’t into jewellery in a big way but decided to get him to set some of them. I gave him my bits and pieces of gold that I had collected over time and because they were hallmarked he was able to melt them down and use the gold. Somehow me accepting that I deserved to have more in my travels, to have more comfort, beauty, convenience and safety also meant that I could have more in other ways. I ended up with not only more jewellery but also the most exquisite jewellery artwork.

Many years later I was to visit the art centre in Melbourne and found my jewellers work on display — and he wasn’t even dead yet!

What you accept as true will become your reality.

Sometimes I look like a Christmas tree when ever I set foot from my home with broaches filled with precious stones plus heavily jewelled ear rings and rings to match.

I figure that things in life are transient and they need to be loved and used when you have them, so I do.

The blue silk dress and me at a temple
The blue silk dress and me at a temple

At Hotel Suisse I spent hours just in my room, quietly listening and watching what happened when I was “not doing”. Of course some of the time I “did” such a bad habit, and then for hours I would enter the world of “not doing” and find that I could travel back to Australia in the twinkle of an eye. I went to visit my loved one, Digger the dog. I played in the garden with him and saw that he was well.

Digger the Dog

On another occasion I decided to visit a friend of mine. I was suddenly in his flat and it was dark, I admonished myself for not remembering the time difference! Without thinking I went directly to his room only to find him sleeping soundly next to his girl friend! Shit! This was not what I wanted to do. To be a voyeur; I left and from then on only visited Digger and my work during both work hours and at night.

These experiences became the normal part of my days in Sri Lanka and I was so attuned to them that I found that my pull towards people, getting to know them, distracting myself with them and all of the other things that talking does was no longer so much of a need — it became a choice.

My time ended in Sri Lanka an airline ticket and the call of my business allowed me to move on to the airport, Singapore and home.

The experience of “not doing” has remained with me and I build on it when I need a break from the humdrum of ordinary life.

Sometimes I completely forget about talking to trees and rocks and other sundry things.

Yet, at times my computer, a plastic bag, my hammer or other things that I take for granted call me and speak and my mind is again recalling that all things that I touch, see, smell and hear are All That Is or what ever I want to call the universal intelligence, and I smile at the magic of life and the exacting order of this universe.

Meeting drug traffickers in Asia—Me 18 my brother 16

When I was 18 and my little brother Kim was 16 my parents sent us on a JETSET tour around Asia for about 18 days.

We had both been in boarding school since we were twelve so I guess the oldies thought we could handle the trip together without supervision.

I imagine that they thought that I would keep an eye on Kim and him on me? Who knows what was going thought their heads?

I will be forever grateful that I had this opportunity and I guess that is all that matters, it shaped me in some way.

We went to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand back to Malaysia then down the coast to Malacca then through the jungle to Singapore before we flew home to Perth.

I only have three photographs of the whole trip. In those days before social media and  digital cameras photographs were not  a high priority. Experience was where it was at and we had 18 days of intense experience.

I am on the far right at the back with all the other jetset people

In 1972 when you flew over Asia it was just miles and miles of verdant green trees with meandering brown rivers cutting arteries thorough the jungle.

A few days before we left I was at a party in Perth in Leederville and met two young American women about my age who had been picked up for drug trafficking from Thailand. They were out on bail until the court case was heard. I later heard that they ended up in jail for about 4 years as they were found to be guilty.

They actually had been staying at the Thai hotel that I was booked to stay on my trip. They asked me to speak to the manager about what had happened to them here in Australia to see if he would help them. I think he was the guy who set them up.

My parents were completely unaware that I met drug traffickers at neighbourhood parties and was stupid/young/naive enough to consider this request.

Kim and I flew off to Malaysia oblivious to any threat or problem that could happen to a person on a trip such as the one we were on.

In those days at each airport in Asia we had to walk down the steps of the aircraft onto the hot tarmac and around us were the custom people with machine guns at their hips.

At that time in Australia Police didn’t have guns, only farming people had guns and they were shot guns that shot rabbits, not semi automatic machine guns. It was scary to see smartly uniformed men with such powerful guns.

Our first stop was Malaysia. Once outside the airport Kuala Lumpur (KL) was a sleepy place, it had the Asian infrastructure problem of smelly plumbing in the 5 star hotels where huge cockroaches would crawl up and enter the room through the bathroom drains.

I am far left and Kim is in the middle of the photo

At the same time the hotels would have a marble baths, gold taps and marble up the walls to the ceiling and  impeccable crystal chandeliers. The “styling” of the rooms was flawless. At the same time the ever so slightly out of line walls contrasted with the stone and chandeliers creating a strangely surreal experience for an inexperienced spoiled Western brat such as myself.

After one night in KL where we had my first Malaysian Banquet dinner where the above two photos were taken we flew to HONKERS — Hong Kong. My parents had given us a small amount of money to spend and this I guess they thought would pay for food and other sort of inconvenient and silly things like that.

For a 16 and 18 year old who had been fed without paying for our whole lives we just expected our food to be provided.

JETSET tours included breakfast and every few days a “buffet” meal. So, with that paid for that is all Kim and I ate. We drank the free tea and ate the dry biscuits in the rooms and apart from that we starved.

The rest of the meagre money went on doing and buying the other things that the tour didn’t do.

Over 30 years later my daughter went to Europe when she was 18 and came back looking anorexic, with the information that she could live off a packet of oats for a week. Only then did I understand that for this age paying for food was not a priority. Eighteen year old people are not focused on food as a heath giving priority, they just want their stomachs filled so that they can get on with being cool.

In Hong Kong we stayed in Kowloon and went by ferry to the mainland daily with the odd (JETSET) tour in between.

I spent my money on hand tailored clothing. I actually bought an ankle length leather coat specifically made for me for a pittance. Plus silk shirts and other silly things that I valued at that time.

Of course I flogged this stuff off at Moulitatas – Robyn’s shop in Fremantle a few years later as who needs a long leather coat in Fremantle?

Kim and I didn’t miss a moment and saw the HK markets at night went to the top of the hill and did what people do in HK.

My 16 year old whisky drinking brother Kim

Being from Chinese heritage I felt really comfortable in Honkers and many people spoke English so it was an easy introduction to Asia.

The next stop was Thailand.

Bangkok was hectic it was even more different from Australia than Malaysia or Hong Kong. The streets were buzzing with motorbikes, cars and bicycles and when the traffic lights went red, the cars would stop but the motor bikes would keep moving up through the traffic until there was a huge group of bikes in front of the cars spilling into the intersection. The roads were so packed that not only was it was impossible for the traffic to cross it. I felt too terrified to cross most roads.

Years later I would learn that to cross a busy Asian road you simply stroll across at a steady pace not looking at the traffic, and allow the traffic to swirl around you.

At the very side of the road was an illegal separate lane going in the opposite direction because they were unable to cross the road to get to their correct lane.

I experienced the brown lazily flowing Kongs with the water markets and homes where people could be seen cooking, washing, playing and defecating into the water — my mind did flips as this was like a vision from another planet.

The nauseating smell of fish sauce pervaded the streets and made my empty stomach upset. The JETSET meals were authentic Thai food that were chilli hot and although I ate every mouthful because I was starving it made my stomach unbalanced. Lucky for my cast iron consitiution.

Everything was so unexpected — I was so unaware of other cultures before this trip and I just drew it all in with wide eyes and a grumbling trying to be upset stomach.

The hotel in Thailand was five star Asian standard the same as KL large rooms, marble baths, amazing views, starchy linen and enormous cockroaches.

Every day when I left the hotel and walked down the huge flight of steps men would flock to me and chant “youwantaman? youwantaman? youwantaman?” and my brother would say NO! I just thought they were speaking Thai. I had no idea.

On the third day at the hotel I arranged a meeting with the manager. I had his name carefully written on a party serviette by the American drug dealer mules I met in Fremantle.

The meeting was cordial and I was not at the least interested in being a drug runner and I expect that was obvious to him so he didn’t offer me the opportunity.

I felt my duty was done and went down stairs to the shops in the hotel. Kim, my brother was out and about. Suddenly he arrived at the shop. His hair was sticking out in all directions, and his eyes were wide and sort of staring. His whole persona was one of stress and urgency.

He said that he needed money. I gave to him and he ran off. Later he told me he had said yes to the chant on the hotel steps “youwantagirl?” “youwantagirl?” “youwantagirl?” and had been driven to a place where there was this glass room where girls were parading around with numbers on them.

He was asked to pick a number and I didn’t let him tell me more — ignorance is sometimes a sensible option to take in my opinion. That is why he needed the money.

Who knows what happened to my sweet 16 year old brother? At least AIDS was not prevalent at the time.

Then on to Malaysia, where things were more relaxed and we took a bus down the peninsula to Singapore seeing the beautiful animals, jungle and Malacca along the way.

Finally we were in Singapore where we saw large five meter long pythons being butchered on the streets of China town, the glamorous transvestites in Bugis Street, had drinks at the Raffles hotel and we were enthralled by the monkeys in the main park who would steal the washing from the balconies of the flats close by.

I found the shop that sold real mainland Chinese products, where I purchased hand embroidered 100% cotton sheets. I have not varied my bedding from that time it just is luxury to sleep in pure cotton and see the beauty of embroidery — such is my influence from that trip.

Year after year I would visit this store until China decided to open up more and you could get 100% cotton embroidered sheets at Target in Fremantle.

By this time Asia was magical – the fetid smell of the drains in Singapore no longer worried me – the rats and cockroaches were just fine. The food I found interesting and tasty and I was in love with it all.

Through all of this I got to know my little brother well, he is such a lovely kind being, easy to be with and happy to just explore life.

At the time on the flights alcohol was free and I found that my little brother had a serious liking for whisky that he had naturally picked up at boarding school.

I didn’t drink at 18, and I would order him enough whisky for him to swim in…

I am not sure I was a good influence.

Asia felt like coming home to excitement, spice and fun and has felt like that every time I have been back since.