Working From Cafe – 10th October 2021

Plug it in and power up
Working here with coffee cup
–Day and night slaving here
Waiting for beer o’clock

Wifi Password 9999
We got the power but not the time
–Living in a deadline fear
That must remain forever online

Twenty four seven three six five
Blown through another portable drive
–PDFs sent peer to peer
Waking up dead just to stay alive

Words were writ, emails sent
Both for and against the government
–What the fuck are you doing here?
With all the wasted time you spent

Earned a dollar, put in bank
Spent on all the coffees drank
–Your boss is making profit clear
Whilst you are just a mindless blank

Then it’s not if I win but how I play that matters, right? – 8th February 2021

We all have to start somewhere. I was always interested in art at school because it appealed to the part of my brain that could utilise imagination rather than drier subjects that required adherence to some sort of order. Weirdly I did well enough in those subjects though. Anyway, art just felt like the easy pass.

Of course, painting wine bottles and flowers didn’t really appeal and I wasn’t mature enough or my imagination broad enough to conjure anything worthwhile. I think I actually ended up doing more artistic things at home more than in class. Two pieces particularly stick in my mind and I don’t recall doing either at school. My most prominent memory of my three years of art class was finishing off a bottle of vodka and leaving the bottle in the classroom for other people to draw in the future. That was first year of high school – we were 13 years old. 1980 or 1981.

Like the other times I’ve had to draw on my education, such as Maths and English tests when applying to University, I’ve been able to dig deep into my memory and apply myself somehow. So, now I’m sketching when I have the chance and I’m digging into those art lessons I honestly don’t remember anything. What I learned about perspective I got when studying photography back about 12 years ago and watching YouTube videos about pavement artists and force perspectives.

Now, what I really learned, and learned from punk rock and my mother, is about just doing it. Getting on and doing it. When I look at these sketches again I can see the imperfections, the incorrect spacing etc. But when I look with kindness I think, wow, that’s pretty good (for me!).

Rather than set my expectation too high and demand perfection or failure, I choose the middle ground. Do it, finish, move on.

These sketches are from my morning coffee spot, House. My enjoyment with these was due to the very strong perspective of all the straight lines in the room.

First sketch

After making each drawing I gave them to Guey, the owner, and, if working from a photo I took, deleted the photo so all I end up with is a digital file of my sketch. I will do the sketch within 30 minutes, not as a rule but more that I have found the feel and if I went any further I would be getting down into detail that would take it beyond a sketch. Through these 3 sketches (over 3 or 4 days) I could feel improvement each time and they made me really happy and gave me a small sense of achievement.

Second sketch

When I find some more free time and inspiration I will do more but I think I’m done with House now, though they have a cute dog and a challenging garden that would be fun to draw. Hmm….ok – tomorrow!

It gets deeper, let me say and it gets higher day by day – 16th June 2020

Trip undertaken on 31st May 2020

Sleeping alone out in my office man cave meant being able to listen to music quietly through the night and I sometimes approached consciousness and felt deep involvement in the sounds in the room. I have no idea of those sounds or songs once awake again and I also had to turn off the stereo when I long noise piece came up on the shuffle as the sun was rising outside.

The sofa in my room is plenty comfortable for a one hour nap but not so great for a whole night and as the brightening day chased away the night I threw down a couple of glasses of water and headed out on the motorbike with the intention of heading into the mountains to see if I could get to the stupa that is visible from the fourth floor of our school.

I had a rough idea of where to go and figured it wouldn’t take too long and could get back home before the day got too hot. It was a little cloudy and the big rain the day before had cooled everything down by a couple of degrees too.

But first, to Utopia to throw down a couple of coffees to get fully charged. They perfectly hit the spot and I hit the road in earnest.

I had a rough idea of the direction to head towards, which involved going over a road I travelled down with Amy a few weeks previously. I took the highway down to the other university in the area, this being the first time I have actually gone that far on this road. It’s usually a little hectic on this road with lots of crazy aunties just pulling out from side-roads and houses on their dilapidated old motorcycles, so I was glad to get down there and off towards the university as soon as possible.

Around to the side is a huge pond of water lilies with flowers yet open looking like massive cabbages on stalks.

A little further and a fishing lake with views towards the mountains at the back of my house.

Onwards towards the hot spring and then across to the Big Buddha, which isn’t a Buddha at all, but the Chinese goddess, Kwanyin.

Big Buddha is easier to say and absolutely everyone knows where you mean. This monument is a good landmark as you head into the mountains too.

To get there you have to pass a landfill which is tucked between a couple of hills and only announces itself as you turn a corner and the stench hits the back of your throat. Here the road crumbles down to a dirt track but having been here fairly recently I remembered the way through. The old wooden houses here are dirty and rotten and mangy old dogs stare at you if they can even be bothered to lift their heads from their slumber.

Then it’s onto the bypass – another scary proposition but at least there are not many side roads here for motorcycles to sudden pull out from, it’s just the speeding trucks to be aware of. Fortunately this newish road is still not used that much and it’s an enjoyable ride along. At the bridge I can see the stupa in the distance that is my planned destination (the little white dot on the mid-left in the picture above). The hill in the foreground grabs my attention though as there is a house up there as well as another Buddhist monument. How the hell do you get up there – the view must be amazing. One day in the future I will find out.

The opposite view takes in the river, which flows towards the city. It looks fairly sedate but from my one experience of falling in I can confirm it flows quite fast! The ground is dry yet the jungle manages to maintain well enough. We’re approaching the rainy season and there was a big rain a few days prior but not enough to waterlog anything yet.

Here’s the side on view of the same hill, it looks like the monks accommodation is in the white building but there’s no obvious temple here. Apparently there are caves in here somewhere too. Investigate later.

The red trees are flowering everywhere though the photos don’t really show up how bright they are. I love these rigid lines of plants growing, they counter the randomness of everything else here in Thailand.

I don’t know what the plants are. Anyone know?

Further on, I’m struck by this modern looking building on the hill – what a great place to live. A couple of hundred metres down the road and there is a sign indicating that there is a coffee shop up there, so what the hell, let’s go have another coffee and see what the view is like. The toilet is a tiny cute shack but I couldn’t find a light so had to guess with the small amount of light penetrating the gaps and cracks in the wooden frame. I think I got some in the bowl.

And the view was indeed fabulous. Yet another Instagram cafe here in Chiang Rai. Everyone seems to have one. The owners house, back and above the cafe looked magnificent, with two big dogs lazily guarding the gate. And the coffee was great, along with the refreshing tea that comes with it.

Just around the corner I noticed a big dragon staircase being built and a road up the hill next to it, so I nosily went to have a look. The top opened out into this area with this beautiful tree which I wanted to take home and use for shade in our garden. Behind the tree is a small stupa and I’m wondering now if this was the one I could see before. I thought it was a bit further along than here but I actually didn’t end up going to where I had planned to see what was there. Again, plenty of time to go back and investigate again.

I’m a sucker for these red flowering trees.

And in the distance here, again, not accurately significant in this picture, a huge pink flowering tree that I hoped to see more of so I could get a picture close up.

I was due to turn away from the river so stopped a few times to take more pictures. Here, two locals were walking along the banks, possibly looking for fishing spots. They saw me and shouted ‘Hello’ as I replied ‘Sawatdee khap’ in return. People are generally happy and friendly everywhere I go. They are curious about what you are doing and give them something to gossip about when the community gathers in the evenings.

This picture was taken at a covered area with a few plastic chairs scattered around – probably the community gathering spot. Like everything, it’s dirty and dusty and looks unused and anywhere can a meeting place anyway. Who knows what happens here at night?

This monument presumably brings luck and abundance to the surrounding land. I haven’t seem any other places similar to this.

I started deviating from the plan I had in my mind (actually I forgot to turn off at the right point) and ended up in this strange village with just a few buildings and didn’t look like many people were around. Maybe it’s just one big extended family living here. Their mango tree is doing better than ours.

And so I started heading up…

…and the views got more spectacular.

Finally a waterfall. However, the road ahead was begging me to keep going, so I did. I don’t know how to measure inclines but this picture doesn’t really show just how steep it was. And beyond here an Akha village where everyone was gathering for the Sunday church service. Beautiful hymnal singing came out of the building, in what sounded like the local language, making it all the more intriguing to me. There were many locals standing around, staring at the dumb lost foreigner and I felt like I was invading their space somewhat, so chose to head on. That was a mistake, as the hill got ever steeper and thinner until the road ran out at a house at the very top. As I tried to manoveur around on the slope, with out rolling backwards and over the edge, the owner came out to see what the noise was and told me, in English, I had to go back and turn at the bottom of the hill. I didn’t realise yet but I’d totally missed the turn off I should have taken and ended up here.

I went back down the hill and tried to ride up to the waterfall. I only got about 15 metres before the path was blocked and not knowing just how far the waterfall was (I have walked to other waterfalls for several hours without ever finding them!) I just took this quick snap and turned back. Friends tell me later that it isn’t much further along, so, again, one for another time.

I head back down hill looking for this turn off I should have taken. Google Maps shows it as a major throughway so I’m looking for some solid concrete road. The local kids are bemused to see me riding up and down looking for it.

And it turns out this is the main road – actually the only road – through the mountains going south. Here it is a little wider, the actually entry from the road I was on is little more than an overgrown foot track. And once again I’m heading up but this time through some slippery, sloppy muddy parts.

First part navigated and things dry out a bit. But I’m still going up and I’m starting to hear and smell the engine working hard over this tough irregular road. It’s a struggle and at some points I ponder turning back. But the thought that there might be something special just around the corner spurs me on.

I’m also spurred on my the fact that there are relatively fresh bike tracks along here which means that it is still getting used often enough that I can be rescued if the need be! In fact I start to worry about hitting a rock and falling off and breaking bones. But not enough to stop me. Around here I could also start to hear the buzzing of chainsaws so I figured these bikes tracks may have been made today. It was only a few minutes later I realised it was the buzz and rattle of cicadas (or whatever other bugs make noise in here).

Up and up and just a small gap in the bamboo jungle. Now I have to hope that Google Maps is keeping me on track.

This one is still one the way up. About another 15 minutes later I reached a peak and took some video (which I can’t upload here). It’s a panaroma around both sides of the ridge and it is absolutely silent except the buzzing of insects. No industry, no people, no machines. Just nature. If you can zoom in to this picture you’ll find Kwanyin as a tiny white dot in the distance.

And so, to the other side. Now, getting down was a scarier prospect than going up. Just over the edge here turned into thick mud and brakes became less functional. I could hear the roar of engines in the distance and presently four teenagers rounded the corner on their trail bikes and we smiled and nodded at each other and I’m sure they had a good laugh at the silly foreigner trying to navigate these roads with his little step through motorbike. Whatever, I made it down safely.

Going down hill didn’t last for long as I finally arrived at this village which was only 4 kms away from the main road but had taken me about an hour to get here. At each village the road returns to concrete until you get to the other side. At each concrete road I had thought I had arrived back on regular routes, only to discover more mud just around the corner, or, once again, up the hill. It was also threatening to rain up here but only managed a spit.

If you’re going to live in a wooden shack, make sure it’s the best spot in the village. Up some more again.

Zooming in on this shows the ridges of the mountains repeating off into the distance. It was around here I started to feel a natural ecstasy. A oneness, a wholeness. Goddamn, I want to hold on to that feeling.

I joked with myself that I was getting sick of seeing beautiful things over and over again. It just didn’t stop. When I showed Amy these pictures later she was very blazé about them. ‘It’s my country, it’s what I’ve seen all my life.’ I was intoxicated, however.

Here, the local soccer pitch looks like it could use some loving. Just to the right is a Chinese gravesite, looking over the valley which runs long and wide. ‘Bury Me High’ indeed.

Yet, it seems I can still go further up. A couple of spots of farmers burning crops thankfully weren’t enough to smog up everywhere.

Scenes like these make we want to travel more. This one reminds me of places in Sichuan province in China and I also love the mountains in Switzerland.

I guess I’m a mountain person but I think I equally enjoy the beach. 22 years in Sydney probably took care of my beach pleasures though there are times here in Chiang Rai when I wish it was possible to just go rush into the cold waters of the ocean again.

Finally I made it to the other side, about 4 hours after leaving on what I thought would perhaps only take 2 hours in total. I still had to get back yet. This view is to the south of Chiang Rai – all the others had been looking north or west.

I didn’t take any more pictures as I was going down again as I was hanging on for dear life, most of the way, followed by trucks and other motorbikes and sometimes negotiating tractors and other farming vehicles.

And finally a rest stop, with 4g connection and I tell Amy I’m fine and not to worry. I call my friend to meet for lunch in about an hour at a cafe back near the river. I basically completed a large circle on my journey and would finally end up back on the bypass.

But, I still had an hour before needing to be at the cafe and going directly there by road would only take about 20 minutes. So I rode around Singha Park, enjoying it’s manicured grounds, and ended up coming out the other side back near the mountains again. Another hill tribe village and a check of Google and there looked like roads to make it through, so let’s go and see.

Quickly, the farm land was taken over by rows and rows of pineapple and these dirt roads petered out into walking tracks. Still, Google showed that there was a way through so after crossing a couple of streams I finally found a way out.

Here the vista opened up to these papaya trees and a happy dog was lounging in the shade of the rubber trees on the right.

All around this hill sat various Buddha images which I lost count of as I rode on past. After meeting my friends for lunch I headed home as directly as possible as my skin was already turning crab coloured from sun burn. I made it back at 4pm. Once this sunburn was healed I hope I can go out again. I might also have to wait for the rainy season to finish too. There’s been a couple of big rains since this adventure which may have made much of this journey impossible now.

From the ground and in the air, it’s a fabulous spectacle – 2nd February 2020

Oh! I went riding around in the hills and valleys again today and I savoured every minute of it. The cool morning air countered the sun and heat, the sky white with mist and smoke, though thankfully not the thick cancerous smoke that will soon be with us every day until rainy season. Every paradise humans have found required a garbage dump.

I’m surprised I’m energised this morning after a 7 hour drunken sleep, woken somewhere in that time by Indian indigestion. I guess the two coffees kick-started me well enough so as soon as I got back from the cafe I hopped on the bike, no destination in mind.

The locals stare curiously at this white-haired monster screaming through their quiet village daily life but return the big smiles I beam at them. Spread the love. I get stuck behind what may have at one time been a truck but has been mangled into a new form so as to navigate its territory. On the back, two old uncles cling on to the stack of metal merchandise, though one is drunkenly singing and dancing to the traditional Thai folk music blasting from the rigged up PA system. The audio system far more important than the vehicle, which drops bolts and parts to the ground as it bounces around. It’s just turned 10 am.

Finally, I turn off and deeper into the hills through dirt tracks, some familiar, others new to me. Besides the divots and bumps, sleeping dogs must be navigated, their nerve holding much longer than mine.

Eventually, time to turn back, sore butt yet soaring thoughts. For brief moments in time it is wonderful to be alive. Let’s seek them out.

Suitably invigorated I set about the task of finally moving the stack of bricks that has been sitting in the middle of the garden for the past two years. They had become so familiar that they were practically invisible now. Every now and then I would be reminded by the cats sitting atop the stack, surveying the garden, waiting for birds to fly into their mouths.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the garden and half the clothing I used to wear has decomposed, my sweat probably had eaten through the fabric. Stacking 12 blocks at a time into the wheelbarrow I soon regretted not having gloves but whatever, time to toughen up these dishwashing hands again.

Nearer the bottom of the stack, I started to notice discarded snakeskins so thought to be a little bit more cautious, particularly as the blocks have 3 deep pockets through them. And finally, in the bottom of the pile, a small shy snake tasting the air with its tongue from within one of the pockets.

I carefully removed all the other blocks, keeping a good eye on the snake in its home. At one point it decided to make a break which gave me chance to capture a photo which I could get an ID for the snake later on Facebook. The snake exchanged one pocket for another as there was nowhere else safe to go, just open spaces around.

I figured I’d give it some time to chuff off on it’s own accord but then realised the nearest place of solitude was in our room where Amy teaches. Not the best option. So it was, pockets facing away I carefully picked up the whole block and chucked it over the fence into the deep scrub and long grass outside. Situation dealt with.

Godspeed….

Through the Facebook group, I discovered the snake was a highly venomous Thai spitting cobra. In our ignorance of its existence until this day our cats and I had been lucky and likewise, today this shy, delicate yet deathly dangerous beast let our relationship end without grief. I just hope our relationship has ended permanently.

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful at my ability to bounce back and be positive again. I remember a time a minor thing would play on my mood for many days.

New day rising – 29th December 2019

This morning I am filled with a quiet happiness. Determined to get up early on a Sunday and to do something, whether it be a walk, a meditation, writing or studying, I rolled out of bed, fed the cats and opted to walk to my favourite local coffee shop, Utopia.

As I prepared food for the cats a light rain appeared. Unusual for this time of year but accurately predicted by our weather apps for once. Undeterred, I set out. The temperature still cool but the minimal exertion keeping me warmed I chose to listen to a reading of a Chekhov short story. The relative quiet around made for clear listening to the beautiful words of the story as I walked through small fields of wet grass and aspiring mud. Was I still in Thailand or transported to that Armenian village?

Before I knew it I had arrived at the shop but it was too early and as I waited on the porch I listened to a primer on Nietzsche and then an imagined conversation between Fred and Jane Austen where, despite their differences they arrived at a philosophical agreement and appreciation for each others works. Inspired by this I contemplated how everyone is different but we must be able to find some common ground.

The Nietzsche primer mentioned his text’s difficult reading but also highlighted his humour. Something which I had not been previously aware of. Friends have told me they preferred to read works about Nietzsche rather than his own. I will try this approach sometime. Sometime when I can add those books to my ever growing library.

The shop opened and I lazily drank through 3 coffees which produced a wonderful buzzing awareness of all the subtleties around me. Soon an acquaintance of Amy’s arrived, a Thai lady who runs her own English school. As this was our first meeting we talked about our shared experiences with teaching here in Chiang Rai.

Coffee and conversation

I lead the conversation for a while before realising it was time to let her speak and so I asked questions about her school and so the conversation flowed. I set myself a small challenge to try to talk to a stranger every day and thought to myself that I can cross this off today’s challenge list and it’s not even 10am.

Later though, as I was walking home, the rain a little heavier than before, I realised that I had failed in another of my personal challenges. Inspired by a Tim Ferriss article I read this week I have challenged myself to not complain about anything for 21 days. To remind myself about this challenge I have started wearing a bracelet, the purpose being that every time you complain you have to swap the bracelet to the other wrist. I have made this doubly difficult for myself by choosing a bracelet that is awkward to attach to oneself with one hand.

As the bracelet effect kicked in I thought back to the conversation in the coffee shop and asked myself if I had been complaining. Despite my mind’s protestations and justifications I sadly realised I had, indeed, been complaining. Perhaps only mildly but there is a fine line between stating the facts as they are and infusing a negative into the narrative.

In fact, the hardest part of this challenge is actually recognising that you are complaining. So long as it pushes to the forefront of my mind more and more it will help me become more aware of my own words and to try to understand how someone might feel whilst listening to me.

The walk home was still wonderous as I contemplated all this and listened to the description of beautiful Masha and the joy and sadness the narrator felt. This description was thought provoking as I also was feeling so happy with life, despite the fact I was getting cold and wet in the rain. The walk crowned by the view of the feathery grass that spikes alongside our driveway, suddenly weighed down by the heavy drops of water, pointing towards the path home.

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful to be inquisitive. To want to constantly learn and understand myself. This morning I listened to a primer on Nietzsche which was interesting as an introduction because I don’t know enough about his philosophy. I then listened to an imagined conversation between Nietzsche and Jane Austen where there two apparent so different writers end up agreeing on many things. I walked to Utopia this morning too. A nice gentle walk and have me chance to listen to these articles.

We got that attitude! – 23rd December 2019

Gratitude Journal

I am so happy and grateful to Mim, Fong and Cake. They make me my coffee everyday when I’m at school.

5th May 2021 – The coffee shop (Wynn) didn’t even have great coffee. Teachers were not allowed to leave school during work hours but this shop is just the other side of the road outside school. It would take 5 minutes to walk there, buy a coffee and walk back which I would do two or three times a day. At the end of the contract they sited this as the main reason that I wouldn’t be rehired. Needless to say, they had a high turnover of foreign teachers. There’s a real tug of war between Thai administrations and foreign teachers. To me, the Thai request for foreign teachers to assimilate to the Thai way seems to indicate that theirs is the best way, but even I, as a non professional teacher, could see that it wasn’t the best way, and having come from another country (to use as a comparison) and wanting to do the best job possible for the students – it seems inevitable that not many foreign teachers are happy under this system – unless they just take the easy way out. Why don’t I take the easy way out? It’s just not in me. I take the path of most resistance. It seems like the system of education here is purposely designed to keep people stupid. Achievements from Thai institutions are meaningless overseas because they know the situation here. Anyway, talking to the three girls in the coffee shop – even just inane chatter – became my 5 minutes of daily bliss whilst working at this particular government school.