Future tenses

I have arrived.  I have no idea, and no good reason for this being my very first visit to Malaysia despite living so near for over a decade.  All I do know is that I am here now, and very glad to be.

I think that the impression I have always had, particularly of Kuala Lumpur, has been that it is a highly modern, futuristic city with of course the iconic Petronas Towers.  Now I am kicking myself that I have waited so long!  It is an incredible city, with a rich mix of architecture and culture.

So what could be more fitting than a sneak preview of the many photos and tales to come, with a change of background and some funky pics of the futuristic Petronas Tower high above the skyscrapers on the skyline, such as this one reflected in the table I was sitting at the first evening I arrived in KL.

Reflection of the iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur

A classic view of the Tower itself, for the current background.

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And a couple of “preview” images of the diversity that is KL with a promise of much more to follow.

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This year has taken such a toll, and although I continue to struggle with the heavy side effects of potentially life waving meds, as well as that overbearing, ever present grief, it is good to have a diversity of surroundings such as the KL setting.

A setting to inspire and remind of the past, the present and the future.

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A break?

These past few months have been tough ones,  physically, emotionally and whatever-elsely.  Any leave I have taken has been related to either medical or family matters and so I have been approaching this break with some anticipation, if not desperation!  The plan was a cunning one.  Given that Friday and Monday were both Public Holidays here, I decided to finish up on the Thursday evening and then take a few days as a buffer before the hankered after healing trip to Malaysia…..  In those six days between finishing work I would relax in Yangon, take time to prepare for my break and take care of a few tasks which I have not quite managed to work through.  You know the ones, the not-urgent-so-they-get-put-to-the-side tasks.  This included tasks which although not quite urgent are still important – setting up a scholarship in memory of my father for the Tall Ships Youth Trust, overdue and unanswered correspondence, medical reimbursement claims, a heap of boring-yet-important paperwork tasks.  It also included planning and dreaming time (the “focus” part of my three words for the year) and regrouping in terms of creative and personal priorities for the year.  It included catching up with friends and having lazy lunches and coffees in Yangon’s nicest spots. Great plans for a few days pre-holiday break.

So I was not expecting the assault which was waiting in the wings for me  As I tidied and wrapped up priorities and essentials around me on Thursday I was aware that I had the occasional sneezle.  Now my sneezles, I like to think are rather dainty, little soprano “aaa-teeeesh” sneezles.  The type that can break windows and crystal glasses.  The ones which were appearing on Thursday however, were deep Pavarotti-like “HHHAAAAAA-TRUUMPH” thunder claps, so unlike my own that I could have been convinced that I had been taken over by a dozen tenors with hay fever.  It did not happen too frequently though for me to give it much attention, and I handed over my work tasks, worries, tidied my papers into a single “welcome back in two weeks” bundle and spent a pleasant Thursday evening with a friend.  I still had the occasional sneezle, but nothing really of note and although feeling very tired, reached home later with no inkling of the impending ambush.

I had probably only been asleep around an hour when I realised that something was brewing.  My nose was becoming really stuffy and there was a familiar discomfort on breathing which heralded some kind of upper respiratory cough/cold ahead. By the time morning arrived I was in some sort of meltdown.  Some very nasty virus had clearly taken quite a hold. My body was already fighting the abscess, which had required a change in antibiotics, and I knew I was run down and tired.  The perfect welcome committee for what would normally be a tedious, run of the mill infection.  It was frightening just how quickly and how low this knocked me down. I completely lost four days, four whole days to feverish dreams, painful coughing, streaming eyes and nose and debilitating weakness.  Half of my face (or so it feels) has been taken over by an angry cold sore the size of a Pacific island.  I can’t even remember the last time I had one of these wretched cold sores.  I don’t believe I have been laid quite so low since the chemo days.  Indeed, the last time I lost so many days was during a bout of pneumonia when my white cell count lowered enough to let that across the threshold.  But even in those days, I was able to get myself dressed and out to the Doctor for twice daily intravenous antibiotic infusions.

I am not sure where these past four days disappeared to, but they did evaporate and finally today, I have felt well enough to raise my head, dress and even tiptoe gently out of the house.

One of the delights of living in Myanmar is that there are so many ways of pampering yourself which are affordable and easily accessible.  At the end of our lane there is a small spa or beauty parlour, I’m not sure how I would term it.  However, it classifies itself, it is a haven for tired and flagging souls.  I decided that my first venture back into the outside world would be for one of those luxurious hair washes which are so much part of life here.

It is not far to walk, but probably just the right kind of distance.  Near enough to cope with wobbly legs, but far enough to at least feel as if I am stretching those muscles just a little.  With the abscess and then this lurgey, it has been nearly two weeks since I have been able to swim or cycle so gentle exercise is sorely needed.

I turned up on the doorstep of the spa, and requested a tea tree oil hair wash as the scent is reminiscent of eucalyptus and so soothes those airways beautifully.  Quite why it also smells like a giant “after eight” mint I am not sure, but it does and I tend to imagine I am wallowing in one of these mega treats! teatreeoilforgood.comThe visit was rounded off with a tentative acknowledgement of my forthcoming trip – holiday toenails.  This week I seriously doubted whether I would actually be well enough to travel and whether it would be wise.  Feeling confident enough to have my toenails done is the most significant, yet seemingly trivial, signal that I finally feel well and confident enough.

holiday toes

And if I feel well enough, confident and have holiday toes?  Then I had better start packing sometime soon……..

Jigsaw puzzling

Slowly, slowly. Piece by piece, I am putting together a puzzle. Gathering, building, shaping fragments of ideas and thoughts into something tangible. Gingerly balancing between the tasks of planning and the delight of anticipation.

This past year or so has been hard, and pushed me to the limits of resilience emotionally and physically. This has been exacerbated by events such as the embolism conspiring to sabotage any opportunity to have a restful, healing break.

So I am cautious as I carefully share some ingredients of the puzzle I am working on, and the picture which is taking shape.

jigsaw plain

I am taking some holiday in the next few weeks. I am hatching a plan, a gentle adventure and escapade. I feel fragile so this will not be any bungee-jumping, jungle-trekking, kayaking or abseiling adventure, but a healing retreat. I yearn for the natural sounds and colours of the jungle, and the music of the breeze and the rains. I long to be surrounded by the elements and for my mind and body to be bathed gently.

It was not intended to be such a process, but this is taking shape in a fascinating way. I have been looking at specific parts of the break in a rather random and incoherent way. Little fragments at a time, with a broad landscape in mind, but only focusing on a piece at a time.

The framework has been fairly simple. I want to have a break over my birthday. I want to visit a country I have not visited before. In Asia. And just to further constrain choices, I want an easy, relatively short journey. Thank goodness Asia has so many options!

Happily there are a few more direct and even low airline options from Yangon to help to lay the background for this puzzle. A direct flight to Kuala Lumpur provided a very helpful foundation piece for the puzzle. I have not been to Malaysia before. Rather sad, given I have been in this region for thirteen years, but there you go! Quite convenient, for my planning. KL is not really somewhere I have been particularly drawn to visit, the images of the iconic Petronas Towers and sophisticated shopping malls not my first thought of a peaceful getaway. Until I saw the photographs and accounts of a visit to KL by my friend, and that presented a somewhat different impression. A fascinating old town, colonial architecture, museums and galleries. And besides, KL is not so far from jungle retreat and peaceful places. Definitely a viable basis.

The next part of the puzzle which provided the necessary foundation, was a recommendation from a friend for a little known place, a couple of hours north of KL on a tiny island. Not a beach location (it’s not really so far away from that seismic fault line which we have already witnessed rumbling) but a retreat in the hills, nestled in the jungle. I know it is monsoon season, and I know there will be a good amount of grey cloud. But the thought of the rains hammering down, drenching me and washing away those tensions and releasing emotions is incredibly welcoming and comforting.

Before long, these two pieces of the puzzle were in place, a single flight to KL and a five night reservation at the retreat. Many gaps were in the puzzle, but the start of a picture was taking definite shape.

And so the process has continued, making the planning as much a part of the break as the time away itself. I have picked pieces up and played with them, examining them to see if they would fit. Would a train journey back to Bangkok be a pleasant return? Or perhaps a transfer to Penang and flight back from there? Or what about returning to KL and the cheap flight back, direct? I played with these options over and over each having its disadvantages and advantages. The low cost flight’s departure at 6 am presented a clear contradiction – 4 am check-in a most unappealing close to a restful break.

As in any puzzle, the pieces are interdependent. Travel choices determine the range of accommodation options and preferences clearly determine those travel and accommodation choices. Another key factor, is the very real limit that there is in my mobility and the need to make sensible and comfortable choices.

Slowly the pieces are being placed. I will return from Penang, via Bangkok. One night in a pleasant guest house in Georgetown will gently prepare me for return. Prior to the island retreat, I will spend a few nights in KL, gently resting and perhaps exploring. And certainly downloading some long needed musical megabytes! Then the train to Ipoh, for a night. Stopover and possibly exploring of this city, before heading to the island early the next morning for the five nights of retreat.

Slowly, slowly I am arranging the various elements. A guest house here. A hotel there. Train tickets. Guide Book. Transfers. The pieces of the puzzle enough now for me to see the picture.

starfish puzzle

And the picture is one of rest, healing, recovery, discovery and revitalisation.

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