Dragonfruit for breakfast

There is a very special point in the year, when the first mangoes of the season are finally ready to eat.  We have been watching them for weeks, from the time when they appear as little walnut-sized promises.  At this time, just for a few days there are still a few of the last strawberries of the year available before they disappear until spring. This morning my breakfast included some of that very first mango of the season from the tree in our garden, along with a few of those late strawberries.  It is a rare and precious time, one which I anticipate for weeks, and treasure as it is hardly here and so soon gone.

This morning my breakfast bowl also contained a few pieces of dragonfruit. Coincidental, as this is special in a rather different way.  Today is the day that the cover image of the Anthology is released, and I am delighted to share this here.

Dragonfruit Full Cover-1

 

Isn’t it fabulous?

Dragonfruit Full Cover both sides

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit will be published by Signal8 Press which is part of Hong Kong-based Typhoon Media, on 10 June. Details and updates are on the Facebook page and there is more information, including the initial reviews and links to all contributing writers on the Signal 8 Press site.

How I love dragonfruit for breakfast!

 

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Hiding from watery mayhem on the banks of the River Kwai

Much as I enjoy the lead up to the Water Festivals, and the sense of building enthusiasm and unbridled delight which surrounds us, I have to confess that I tend to retreat from the festivities themselves. In this part of the world there are a number of Water Festivals.  Our Thingyan in Myanmar and Songkran in Thailand are two which I am familiar with.

It is a wonderful release in so many ways, and the water throwing all around brings such relief from the rising temperatures and humidity. And for a day it is great fun. However, my challenge is that the Festivals last for several days. In Yangon, we celebrate four full days of Thingyan and the Myanmar New Year is the following day. So there are five days when everything stops and closes. If you do need to venture out, you absolutely must be prepared to be soaked. Every stitching of clothing and possession utterly drenched. I find that after a couple of days, we inevitably start to run out of fresh food and everything is shut. You have to be completely prepared as nipping out for supplies is just not possible. Firstly because of the drenchings, and secondly because the shops are shut anyway. Everyone is having FUN!

It is a wonderful time of exuberance, and I am glad I have experienced this. But I recognise that for the best part of a week (more if we count the weekend days) that I get a bit antsy if I am not able to venture out, especially for a long cooling swim. In a pool and not at the roadside!

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So my strategy is to find a quiet spot and hide from the watery mayhem. This is not always as easy as it sounds because the other part of the strategy is not to have to venture to far afield. Only one flight if possible, and somewhere where I can find a sheltered haven from the excitement where the essentials are on hand. Essentials being a restful space, food and water and ideally a swimming space. Now, living in a part of the world where we are surrounded by water festivals, this is less easy than it sounds.

Eventually I settled on the notion of visiting Kanchanaburi. It is the town immortalised by the Bridge of the River Kwai film for its place in the notorious “Death Railway”. Coincidentally, I have read a few books recently which are either set in the period of the Railway or actually about it, such as The Railway Man by Eric Lomax. I also realise that I really should have visited the area having lived on the doorstep for so many years. My other reasoning, however, is that I could find a restful space amidst a setting of historical significance and natural beauty and hide from the water mayhem going on all around.

kanchanaburi sceneAnd that is what I did. Kanchanaburi is only a couple of hours out of Bangkok so very easy to get to. I found a pleasant little guesthouse on the banks of the river, where I could relax, read, write, swim and generally decompress in the peaceful, natural setting surrounding me. I was keenly aware of the mayhem outside, with the staff of the guesthouse returning drenched and high-spirited from their forays and the distant thumping of music from further afield. I think they probably found me a little strange in my reluctance to join in, but it was just perfect for my needs. I would have a long swim first thing in the morning before a leisurely breakfast which would stretch into reading and writing time beside the river. I would be distracted by the mynah birds which would play in pairs on the river bank, sneaking over to the tables if they had a chance and dancing around in the frangipani trees.

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As the temperatures rose in the afternoon, I found I had the occasional nap back in my room before an evening swim and dinner again at the riverside. I had absolutely no need nor desire to leave. It is a little strange not to head out and explore but I was not even slightly tempted to head out into the surrounding lanes.

Riverside retreat

Riverside retreat

An advantage of being on the riverside was that I was, however, easily able to venture onto the river and spent an afternoon exploring “safe” dry spaces along the river. How ironic!

 

On the River Kwai

On the River Kwai

 

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And this was where I came nearest to encountering the full Songkran experience. One of the stops on the river took me over the Death Railway tracks and up a hill towards a temple and caves.

Death Railway and River Kwai

Death Railway and River Kwai

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Death Railway and River Kwai

Death Railway and River Kwai

It was a hot and sticky walk and I had mixed feelings when I happened upon the clearing near the caves, and saw that there was major watery mayhem underway but there was also tantalising cold coconut for sale. Coconut water is in my view the single most healing drink in the world, the best rehydration solution ever. I have heard that people who had no access to drinking water, on the Andaman Islands following the tsunami, survived for days on coconut water. Besides it is delicious! I decided not to go into the cave as it meant broaching the boundary into watery mayhem, and instead plonked myself down on a miniature plastic stool clutching a hefty coconut while I drained it of its entire contents of the refreshing water.

Watery Mayhem!

Watery Mayhem!

 

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I returned to the little boat after this interlude, and headed then to the Bridge for a period of reflection and respect.

Under the Bridge over the River Kwai

Under the Bridge over the River Kwai

 

On the Bridge over the River Kwai

On the Bridge over the River Kwai

 

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Kanchanaburi River Kwai bridge

On my final full day in Kanchanaburi, Songkran was officially over and I ventured out and explored the surroundings before returning to Bangkok the following day and homewards to Yangon.kanchanaburi 5

I was properly able to relax and very comfortable with my decision to avoid the watery mayhem. After all, there are times when we need fun and excitement and there times when we need to just be.

Sunset over the River Kwai

Sunset over the River Kwai

Between Saturn and an iceberg – there be dragon (fruit) and dreams

Many years ago, I returned from a visit to Poland, clutching a chubby china pot which closed with its own little lid. Painted on its exterior were some stars and a cat. It was too cute to resist and it did not trouble me that I did not understand the meaning of the words beside the artwork. Later, however, I learned that the words described the little pot as “a place to keep my dreams”. How perfect. I have been thinking of this little pot recently, when reflecting about my “wish bucket”, that imaginary receptacle where I keep my dreams and wishes. Maybe in my mind I see it as less of a bucket and more like that little pot, designed especially for me to keep those dreams in. A little like a glass storage jar, but without the airtight lid. No, I don’t want my dreams to be confined. They must be able to seep out, or fly into the air. Perhaps my dreams are being nurtured in a wide-necked glass jar, amongst a pot pourri of treasured thoughts and memories. Easily accessible and ready to be drawn out or added to.

Recently I wrote about some of the dreams and wishes in this wish jar, as think I will now call it. There are a number of weird and wonderful dreams in there, jostling against each other as time and circumstance gently shake the contents:

  • Meet a blogging friend in a new place (repeat as often as possible)
  • Buy a picture/piece of artwork at a gallery opening and watch them put the red sticker on it.
  • Book into the Oriental Bangkok for a weekend.  Or maybe a night.  Or maybe just have afternoon tea there given the price!
  • See a kangaroo in the wild.
  • Visit a country with the letter ‘Z’ in it.
  • See the Aurora Borealis (northern lights)
  • Get funky, colourful nail art on my finger and toenails just for fun, just for once.
  • See the rings on Saturn through an astronomy telescope
  • See some of my writing in print.  In a book, with real paper pages!
  • See an iceberg
  • See a starfish in the sea
  • Sail through the Norwegian Fiords

There are (and always will be) many dreams to realise, but one is shifting and moving to the surface, peeping over the glass rim, ready to be taken in my hands and released into the air. If you look carefully there is one dream which for me is a Particularly Big Dream. It is nestled just after my wish to see the rings on Saturn through a telescope and just before the desire to see an iceberg. That wish is to see some of my writing in print, in a real book with paper pages. This was clear also when I took up the baton in the recent Blog Tour and I wrote (at length) about my writing process.

Last year I saw a call for submissions for an Anthology, seeking narrative non-fiction and memoir from women writers who are, or have been expats in East Asia. How perfect was that? To cut a long story short, and one which the Editor tells here, my tale was selected for inclusion in the Anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. This is a collection of stories exploring the struggles and triumphs of expat life in East Asia by 26 female writers, edited by Shannon Young.  It will be available in paperback and e-book formats on 10 June 2014.You can follow the Facebook page here and read the Editor’s introduction to the book and contributors here.

Soon, I will be able to meet the other women writers through their stories and perhaps in person when the book is launched, as well as the Editor who I have worked with through the fine tuning process. Soon I will be able to pick up that book, leaf through its pages and read my own words. I can’t quite imagine how that will feel.

There will be many more details to share in the coming weeks, with reviews and the cover image, and perhaps my own experience of dragonfruit surprises!

Dragonfruit surprise!

Dragonfruit surprise!

And then I need to nurture the related dream, to produce a book which is all my own work. Something else which is being kept alive in the wish jar.

wishjar

How does one dress to be a writer, I wonder?

Anticipation

You know that sense of mounting excitement as the most important Festival of the year approaches – such as Christmas when I still lived in the UK, or Dassain in Nepal?  The sense of anticipation intensifies, shops get busier, preparations are increasingly visible and conversations are more and more dominated by plans and tasks for the coming festivities.

In this part of the world, many countries are celebrating Water Festivals and New Year.  As the weather becomes more hot and oppressive, the temperatures continue to rise and the air becomes heavy with the moisture of dreamed-for rains  and the exhaustion and tetchiness which the season nurtures.  The trees start to display their spectacular colours, with the purple jacaranda and bright yellow laburnum flowers already signalling the approaching change in seasons.

Jacaranda in the morning sunlight

Jacaranda in the morning sunlight

In Myanmar we celebrate Thingyan, the Water Festival from today, with four days of watery mayhem followed by the Myanmar New Year.

I love the air of anticipation as Thingyan approaches.  Everyone is challenging the unbearable heat and making their plans for the festival time.  Friends and colleagues have a spark in their eyes, as they pack up and head to their home communities or prepare for the festivities in Yangon.  This year in particular, there has been a proliferation of plastic blossom of the Padauk tree, which is the traditional symbol of Thingyan.  Little pots have been on sale at the traffic lights, sprigs adorning walls, windows and doors, all cars have a spray or two on the dashboard and even the shopping centre and airport have impressive displays!

Padauk displays abound

Padauk displays abound

A flowering of the Padauk on Tuesday sparked great excitement and I was gifted some sprigs on the way to work by a woman who runs a little, wooden betel stall at the end of my lane. 

Tuesday's fresh padauk blossom

Tuesday’s fresh padauk blossom

 

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The streets are filled with vans and trucks, packed with speakers blaring out raucous music and and youngsters dancing happily.  The length of the main roads beside the Lakes are a scene of frantic activity as pandals or stages are being erected against the clock , workmen hammering the wooden planks together and smart young folks hand out flyers for their pandal, advertising best packages of music, entertainment, refreshments and most of all – the number of hoses and powerful water cannons (firehoses with enormous force!)

Thingyan advertising

Thingyan advertising

 

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Building the pandals

Building the pandals

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As we packed up on Friday to leave for the Thingyan break, we were all doused, albeit gently, with sprigs of leaves and sandalwood water just to make sure we received Thingyan auspicious blessings, while other colleagues either sprinkled us with water from water bottles of were waiting outside with waterguns.  No one went home dry, nor was anyone drenched.  Unlike the days of the festival itself when you cannot avoid being soaked to the skin if you set foot out in the street!

Pre-Thingyan Sunset

Pre-Thingyan Sunset

Thingyan is a wonderful time of celebration and release and a very special experience.  However, this year I decided to slip out of the country on the eve of Thingyan, to find a space of tranquility and rest, and relative dryness while the festivities are at their peak!

A very happy Thingyan Water Festival to you all!

A simple, timely reminder

A simple, timely reminder

 

Picking heavy steps

towards the gate.

A soul bereft,

eyes blinking rapidly,

dragging threadbare scraps of sorrow.

A heart ambushed

by an unbidden, unexpected memory.

 

How can life

be there

one day,

and not the next?

 

A flutter of softened taffeta

a glimpse of black and yellow

distracts,

catches

the edge of my vision.

 

Flickering,

dusky velveteen wings

tipped with sunshine yellow.

 

A gathering of butterflies

dancing

dithering

flitting leaf to leaf,

amidst rainbow crystals,

glinting droplets,

called to this

butterfly gathering hibiscus bush.

 

Brushing the layers

of crushed cotton pink petals,

their delight

penetrates the moleskin cloak,

veiled around me

designed by grief

woven by mourning.

 

A gathering of butterflies.

Capering

amidst

frayed sunshine

remnants of gladness.

 

A simple

timely

reminder

 

 

Remembering my father, who died one year ago today.

 

A gathering of butterflies

A gathering of butterflies