It has been an unforgettable week, for reasons which are painful and upsetting, as well as ones which are inspiring and affirming. And a week which has seen me all over the place. In every sense – geographically, physically and emotionally.
The Breast Cancer community around the globe is still reeling from loss which made it a particularly poignant and meaningful time for a rendez vous which I, for one, had been scheming for some time.
It was a crazy kind of idea really, to meet up with someone I knew very well but only from our online connection. Someone who I was sure was a kindred spirit – Terri of A Fresh Chapter who is volunteering around the world. It was all the more crazy because my schedule meant that I had not been able to connect with Terri when she was in Vietnam, nearer to my neck of the woods, and reachable by a direct flight. No, I would head from Yangon early in the morning, transiting Bangkok and travel to Hong Kong for our meet up. Travel which would take the best part of a day, and would take me to a city over 1000 kilometres from Yangon, to a place which was home for neither of us. And this arrangement was made totally on trust. Absolutely, completely and utterly on trust. If someone had told me 3 years ago, that I would travel to another country, at a fair distance, to meet up with someone I had in fact never met before, and who I knew only from their online profile, I would simply not have believed it. What would have happened if it was all an elaborate hoax (spot the paranoia!)? What would have happened if she had not turned up? On the face of it, this was an extremely risky undertaking. Yet, I had complete conviction that Terri would be there, and that we would have heaps to talk about.
My journey was a bit rushed. I had been very busy at work, had been all over the place emotionally with my father’s ill health, Rachel and Susan’s loss and the diagnosis of my friend. I threw a few things in my small case, gathered my travel papers and cash card, and after a cup of tea on Thursday morning I caught a taxi to the airport. I even packed an umbrella to keep the sun off me while walking.
The morning was hazy, leaving our part of town, and Inya Lake looked mysterious in the early light. When we reached the “Eight mile” junction, just over a mile from the airport, the mist thickened and by the time we reached the airport there was a thick blanket of fog. The taxi driver was highly bemused by this, and told me he had never seen anything like it. He told me that this must be like England. Little did he know that a Scot would of course find that most amusing!
Unsurprisingly, my flight was delayed by an hour as the fog slowly cleared and enabled the incoming flight to land. This cut my connection time considerably in Bangkok, but a smart sprint took me back to the same gate as I had arrived, and entirely coincidentally back on the same plane now with a different number, captain and crew in time for departure to Hong Kong.
The early evening sky was heavy as we approached Hong Kong and I could just make out the skyline and several boats in the bay as we landed. As the plane doors were opened and we disembarked I was somewhat alarmed to see the staff wearing heavy winter jackets and warm clothing. A skim of the in flight magazine and my usual study of the flight paths and route information had already informed me that Hong Kong was considerably further north in the physical world than it had been in my mind. These two facts combined to remind me of the importance of rather more pre departure research than I had actually carried out – I had been far too blase about this trip, and had assumed it would not be much cooler than Yangon. I was evidently wrong and that renown Meterology expert, Professor Google was clearly having fun at my expense.
I had taken all of my bags as carry on because of the tight connection so was able to head quickly through immigration and customs, and onto the Airport Express train and towards my hotel, sweeping up a sim card, local currency and a few maps on my way through. I had another episode of “oh dear, I should have done my research” when I put my card into the ATM machine (the poor card has been on holiday since I was last travelling out of the country) and realised I had absolutely no idea of the exchange rate and how much cash to withdraw!
My concern about the temperature continued to grow as I saw that people were generally wearing quilted jackets, fur-lined boots and thick scarves covering the lower half of their faces. They were most definitely feeling the cold. And in a light cotton blouse, open sandals and cotton trousers I was too. My only concession had been to bring a pashmina shawl in case I felt cool in air conditioned buildings! Perhaps I have learned my lesson now!
With the early delay and the time differences, the journey had taken most of the day and I had a quiet evening, emailing Terri to let her know that the first part of Operation Meet up had been successfully accomplished and that I was in the right place and very much looking forward to her arrival the next day. I received a similarly squealy excited email in response advising me that the second part of the Operation was proceeding to plan and she was similarly anticipating our meet up.
I had a quiet morning on the Saturday, getting my bearings and fretting a bit about the weather. One of the advantages though of life on the hoof, is that you tend to have friends scattered across the region and I had arranged to meet a friend who is based in Hong Kong. This was wonderful from many angles. Firstly it was just lovely to see her again and chat. Secondly, it meant that my mind was distracted during the day, as Terri was due to arrive in the later afternoon. And thirdly, and this was entirely fortuitous – my friend had generously looked out some sensible garments for me to keep me cosy.
All too soon lunchtime disappeared behind us, and the afternoon progressed. It was time to head back to the hotel in time for Terri’s arrival! I went back to my room, my stomach knotted with anticipation and immediately saw that there was a flashing light on the phone in my room. I dialled the voicemail recall and there it was – my first “real life” connection with Terri with the sound of her voice. Operation “Meet a Fellow Blogging Sister in Hong Kong” had been accomplished.
And we did have heaps to talk about. We talked all through drinks and dinner, picking up again the following morning, and chatted about all sorts of life/career/cancer details as we wove our way around the many obstacles of “Dried Seafood Street”, climbed the many steps between lanes, explored the winding streets of Hong Kong’s central district and power-shopped for essentials in the shiny new mall. It was wonderful to be able to follow through discussions, talk through ideas, share our experiences, hopes and fears. Terri has met up with a number of blogging and Twitter connections so was perhaps less bug-eyed than I was at this wild idea of meeting up. It was so interesting to hear her talking of her other meetings and hear more about the people I have become close to without having seen them in “real life”.
All too soon, it was time for Terri to pick up her bag, and keep moving forwards on her Adventure of Hope as she had a flight to catch to Delhi on the Saturday evening. I am in awe of her undertaking and believe that we are indeed kindred spirits, both of us having experienced some of the challenges for people with cancer in developing contexts. Terri’s posts from Vietnam tell of the disparity in access to information, care and treatment and my heart stopped as she talks about “over-crowded hospitals, diagnoses that happen way too late, and the unthinkable travesty of children suffering from metastatic cancer with no access to morphine “. We cannot fail to be spurred into action. There is a huge job to do, and through Terri’s work I have also connected with the Global Focus on Cancer organisation. After less than a day sharing ideas and thoughts I remain convinced we share a common mission.
So any underlying thoughts of this being a rather reckless jaunt did not materialise. The weekend affirmed my place in the breast cancer community and my beliefs in the changes that I want to work towards. And I very aim for it to be the first of many meet ups………
However, I think that the most incredible aspect to our meeting was in the timing, just days after Rachel and Susan were taken by breast cancer and we were all hurting so badly. To be able to spend time with someone who was similarly touched, and who understood the depth of emotion involved in our friendships, would have been utterly inconceivable for me, usually so geographically distant from most of the community. So although I have indeed been all over the place, physically and emotionally this week, my meet up with Terri was clearly meant to be.