The sprawling city of Kathmandu outside my window, a crazy quilt of flat-roofed five-story buildings lapping up against the green hills surrounding the valley. But it doesn’t seem any more real than any number of places we have been in the last few weeks. If I stop to think about them, I can re-create every sensation of a gusty wind tossing falling elm leaves across the street where my sister lives in Winnipeg; or the last serving of summer on flat-calm English Bay as Michel drives us to the airport; or the humid smell of the stairwell of a cheap hotel in Bangkok enhanced by long-haul flight sleep deprivation. That is the nature of the moment: it slides back into the glass and becomes a memory even as you raise it to your lips to taste it.
As anyone who has prepared for a long trip and has to sub-let their place knows, the title of this blog isn’t only about the quirky sign in that damp, spit-stained stairway in Bangkok. In fact, Katheryn started the clean-up almost as soon as the sale season ended. Sometimes it seems like the best part of the trip is when we have checked our bags and are through security and are at the departure gate and everything is DONE! In the same way that there is a Law of Nature that states you will fill all available space in your pack, you will also fill all available time before you leave. I call it the Law of Just Enough; ten minutes before Michel arrives to drive us past the last bit of summer on English Bay, we are still sweeping floors and shutting drawers.
But then we are boarded, and we taxi, and we are filled with that marvelous rush of power as the jet engines thrust our nose into the sky. The landing gear retracts and the next few minutes are the “Bardo” of air travel – that in-between state described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead – where the noise of lift-off has gone and the aisles are quiet since the flight attendants are still buckled down and even the babies are too surprised to cry. We bank to the north and point out all the territory we spent the last six months covering – the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island on the left; Bowen and the Sunshine Coast on our right. Within minutes we are over Cortes and Marina Island. The pilot flies low and dips his wings; Brent, did you catch it? For the next 16 hours flying time we futilely chase the sun. There is an unbelievable amount of mountainous frozen wilderness on the flight path from Vancouver to Bangkok.
It is midnight local time when we land in Bangkok. We have traveled 15,000 kilometers. Both these facts are meaningless to my body and my brain, which have only one insistent command: find a bed. And so it is, after sharing a taxi from the airport with Heidi, a woman from Kamloops heading to Bhutan to go trekking, that in that deliciously pungent florescent-lit humidity sailing on the strength of a third, or fourth wind, I am commanded – politely – to continue cleaning.
The last time we were in Bangkok, of course, the streets were a battleground between soldiers and protesters. Many people asked us before we left how things are now, and we honestly didn’t know. It doesn’t take long on our first morning to notice one casualty – tourism. Hotels are empty and businesses are hurting. Over the next few days the feeling of a battered and bruised city is re-enforced. There is a recurring pessimism in the people we talk to, more deeply troubling coming from a culture ingrained to put on a smiling face. There is a lack of the vibrancy that we love; bullet pock marks in the buildings and even piles of sand bags are still there, as if there isn’t the energy to clean them up, or a sense that to do so is futile. In the north there had been record rainfall and here in the city people are bracing for the coming – real and metaphorical – flood.
What can you do? : don’t spit; keep cleaning.
Check out these videos of the trip:Vancouver to Bangkok via Hong Kong
And apologies for the delay in sending our the first blog: several upload attempts failed due to poor connections in Nepal.