The world we live in – the world I live in

What an amazing world we live in, instantly connected around the globe through our little screens or devices. However, more than this, I am reminded of the amazing world which I am lucky enough to be part of. This weekend many people in Myanmar have been in festive mode with the Thadingyut Festival of Lights  which is celebrated on the full moon of October.  I have written about  Thadingyut before – it is a very spiritual and beautiful festival.

Thadingyut 1I decided to head out in the early evening on Saturday, the full moon day and first day of Thadingyut, just as the light was fading.  I wanted to wander around my neighbourhood with my new toy – a Nikon SLR which I hardly know how to work.  This would be a bit of practice, but also a lovely way to start the evening and the opportunity to see the way the different houses and buildings were festooned in lights and candles to mark the festival.

Thadingyut 2All around, candles were being lit and lights strung.

Thadingyut 3

Thadingyut 4

And crowds gathering at the temples.

Thadingyut 5As  I was walking down the road, watching my step carefully as this was where I fell badly earlier this year, I spotted something moving on the pavement.  I could not see it clearly, but it looked like a very hair caterpillar and that called for some further investigation.

As I looked more closely and trained my lens on the critter, I realised that there was a highly interesting specimen in front of me.  This was no ordinary caterpillar – this was a very shiny being, wearing a luminous green outfit and set in a body which seemed to impersonate pine foliage.  It was the weirdest shape and did not look as if it belonged to the world we know.

Scary yangon beastieI must have looked extremely odd, crouching over this beastie, taking photo after photo.  People slowed down and I learned the Myanmar word for caterpillar and more importantly, that this little fellow bites!  He was also camera shy and continued his trek across the pavement, ignoring the fact that his pic would later be shared on Facebook and generate a fair bit of interest.

Yangon beastie on the moveIt seems that he is some kind of banana tree resident and has quite a vicious sting with poison-tipped spikes.  I have consulted Professor Google but not yet been able to conclusively give him an accurate label.  I showed his picture to friends and colleagues here and it seems he is a fairly elusive chap too as no one had seen anything quite like him.

Despite his alien appearance he is very much of the world that I live in. What a reminder that we live in a fascinating and surprising world indeed.  And this is yet another reminder that my own surroundings have a particularly exotic flavour.

Thadingyut lights in leaves

Welcome to my world!

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Seeking balance

As we move into September, we look for signs that the rainy season is starting to subside.  Longer pauses between downpours, larger fragments of blue sky and a slight fatigue of the mould spores and cloying humidity which cling to the monsoon days.  I think I will never tire of the stirring I feel when the rains pound down outside, clean and dry inside.  Still, the thought of days uninterrupted by rains which can paralyse city life is appealing after these months of rain.

There seems to be a fine balance between days which are too wet, and those which are unbearably hot.

alms collecting in the rain

Finding a balance between wellbeing and the pressures of everything-that-needs-to-be-done is equally not easy.  A much milder bug has visited me this week, causing worry in my heart that I would again be floored.  Happily, it has turned out so far to be a manageable, if tiring, visitation.

More interestingly, however, there have been a couple of unexpected developments this week.  A major piece of work needs to be completed and I started the week with my mind buzzing, trying to catch and organise the priorities flying around. Lists were forming and reforming in my head, like a Harry Potter spell, changing places and merging before I could grasp any order.  From somewhere came a compulsion.  I closed my eyes and attempted to still my mind, focusing on my breathing, the sounds of the morning outside melting as I slipped into a short meditation.  Something I have not practised for quite a while.

Rising from the meditation, I moved into my usual morning routine. But when I sat down with my tea after breakfast, I had a pen and notebook in my hand.  A growing compulsion was pushing me to pick up another practice which I had not done for some time.  I started writing furiously, three “Morning Pages”.

So even before heading to work, I had drawn in two different approaches to set the tone for the day.  And you know what – the was indeed highly productive!

This has continued throughout the week, a 15 minute meditation followed by the Morning Pages routine.  and similarly focused and productive days.  Now arriving at Saturday evening, the day has been less so, but I reckon that is important.  It is part of that balance.

Plans are being hatched at the moment and these will appear here in the coming weeks.  There will be updates and discussions on plans we have for raising awareness about breast cancer here.  Yes, awareness – it is part of the picture only, for sure.  But it is critical. There are plans for visiting guest posts and their news here.  And I hope to share some very exciting news about a visitor coming to Myanmar next week……….. we are trying to juggle in a chance to meet up and I cannot begin to express how greatly I hope that this will happen.

In some says it feels a bit like a tightrope walk at the moment, keeping my eyes firmly ahead, and attempting not  to lose that sense of balance and land too heavily on one side or the other.

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……..

Who would have thought?

Who would have thought? 

As I write this, it is exactly four years since we were making that journey from Safdarjung in Delhi to the domestic airport.  We were clutching our nomadic essentials from an unexpectedly long stay in Delhi, along with a bundle of paperwork which included those precious visas.  The reason for our longer stay.

We were bound initially for Calcutta on a domestic flight and would arrive late in the evening.  We would then fly onwards to Bangkok on a three hour flight  departing in the early hours of the morning of the 18th June.  We would have a ninety minute transfer in Bangkok airport before boarding the first flight of the day to Yangon, bleary eyed and with virtually no sleep.  We would arrive, those bleary eyes bug-like, in Yangon ready for the next chapter.

Who would have thought we would still be here four years later, in a very different and exciting Myanmar?

We knew that we would need to get used to certain changes, for example, that internet was difficult to access.  I had been blogging in India and Sri Lanka,  and recorded our farewell thoughts as we prepared to leave.

Who would have thought that I would not return to Delhi in at least four years?

Who would have known that life was about to take such an unexpected turn?

Who would have known that hidden away amongst our belongings and paperwork, I was concealing two tumours and conveying them safely to our new home?

Who would have known that I would find that writing my way through this would be such a critical lifeline?

Who would have known how many friends I would meet through this?

Of course we cannot know.  To paraphrase  Soren Kierkegaard- We might understand life more easily by looking back, but we have to live it looking forward, not knowing what is ahead.

So, four years later it is fascinating to look back and realise just how much the ground has shifted in so many ways.  When I read the original Feisty Blue Gecko, so many memories come back.  It is strange to read those words and feel a strange innocence, which we realise has been wrenched from us when we crossed that line in the sand.

How much has happened in these past four years.

Who would ever have thought?  And who would have known, indeed?

Moving on

Yangon’s landscape is rapidly changing.  The colours on the city’s trees are disappearing , washed away by the monsoon rains.  The rains have arrived, with a vengeance, pounding down frequently, waking me in the night.  Moody black clouds skit across the sky, dumping their weight of water on the country, turning roads into raging rivers within minutes.

The city is lush, vibrant and teeming with life.  We have two mynahs basking in the sun, on the grass between downpours.  Preening, puffing up their feathers, strutting off to find a new spot every few minutes, perfecting their song repertoire with chirruping vocal exercises. The nighttime racket of frogs, geckos and all manner of beasties is at times as loud as the rains themselves.

Our mynahs are just like this one

Our mynahs are just like this one

Monsoon has truly arrived.  And as the seasons move forward, so it is time for a new image as my background.

 

Resting raindrop

Resting raindrop

An image I never tire of is one like this, which stopped me in my tracks yesterday on the way home between showers. A monsoon gift, one perfect teardrop, resting peacefully on its leaf, unaware that it was already  shrinking and evaporating feeding the increasing humidity.

And that is the image I choose as we move on, forward with the seasons, surrounded by new life.

 

 

Re-entry. Accomplished? Kind of……….

Re-entry back into the spheres of life and work has been accomplished.  I guess. At least physically.

re-entry

Re-entry into Asia, Myanmar and Yangon took place on Sunday.  I travelled on the overnight flight from Amsterdam to Bangkok and for once the flight was smooth with minimal turbulence. Towards the end of the flight, and as we were flying over Myanmar (ironically) the pilot advised us that we would be starting our descent into Bangkok shortly.  Almost as an aside he mentioned that there were thunderstorms in the vicinity of Suvarnibhumi Airport so there could be some turbulence. Now thunderstorms and flying as a combination freak me out a little, so I decided to instantly file the information in the large “denial” folder in my mind.

lightning and plane
That worked initially as we started the descent, and I even managed to stay detached when we had a few pretty bumpy encounters with soupy clouds.  Then – BANG! There was a huge ”THWOOOOMP” kind of noise at the window and the cabin lit up as we air-kissed a bolt of lightning.  Inside the cabin there a lot of squeals and exclamations (although I didn’t understand the words as they were mostly in Dutch, I clearly understood what they meant), and great gripping of the arm rests.  The stewardess did not seem as alarmed as we were, and told us that we were safer in the sky than on the ground.  To say that this seemed counter-intuitive is an understatement, as we all know that lightning seeks out the highest point.  Plane.  Sky.  High…………  (I have since consulted Prof Google about this and it seems correct, would you believe?) The following fifteen minutes as we approached the runway lasted at least three hours, but finally we landed safely to an audible and collective exhale of breath. Re-entry into Asia?  Accomplished.

lightning and planes theory

I had over three hours in the airport before my onward flight to Yangon, so collapsed into the secret comfy armchairs near the departure gates for a bit and concentrated on staying awake and not thinking about the stormy sky outside. Finally we departed, the skies had cleared and our short flight was uneventful and pleasant. In no time, I was through arrivals and heading homewards to a waiting cup of tea!  Sunday afternoon was heading into Sunday evening. Re-entry into Myanmar and Yangon?  Accomplished.

The time difference between Yangon and the UK is 5.5 hours at the moment, thanks to British Summer Time. Returning to Asia, I usually find more difficult to adjust to than the travel to Europe as you lose several hours and morning in my corner of the world is late night in the place I have just left.  Thanks to the overnight flight and the intensity of the overall visit, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, so managed to sleep fairly early on the Sunday evening.  Which was fortunate as most folks in the UK would just have gone to bed when it was time for me to get up for work on the Monday morning!  Which I did manage to do.  Although it did require a very deep breath to face my desk which had been abandoned so hurriedly when I left for Scotland a lifetime earlier. Re-entry into work?  Accomplished.  Pretty much.

Overnight on Sunday and Monday, my sleep was broken however, by a sound which I did not recognise.  It was certainly some kind of animal, emitting a noise a bit like a throaty bray of a donkey crossed with a deep quack of a duck.  It was so strange and I was so disoriented that I disturbed hubby to ask what it was!  He was naturally not so amused to be quizzed on wildlife in the small hours but was able to tell me that it was a kind of bullfrog.  This is not the usual “happy party” frog noises I hear during monsoon, and I learned the following day that this is the noise which the Big Frogs make to call for the rains because they have had enough of the oppressive heat and want their monsoon parties to begin.

bullfrog

This seemed to work.  I was not long home on Tuesday evening and had realised that the frogs were silent.  However, in the distance I could hear thunder rattling around and before long it was clear it was heading towards us.  I could feel the air cool and thicken and a wind picked up, agitating the trees as the thunder became louder and the flashes of lightning more persistent.  The rain started abruptly, pounding through the trees and beating against the windows as the storm passed overhead, thunder and lightning simultaneously crashing around.  And then, with no surprise at all, the lights all went out.  The power was gone and I was in the midst of a quadrophonic water symphony, orchestrated by a group of actors including the rain, wind, thunder and of course the lightning conductor.  (ouch!)

Now sometimes power comes back quickly, and other times it doesn’t.  It is just a case of get hold of the torches, blackout bits and pieces and wait and see.  After about an hour the lights flickered back on.  You could hear the collective sigh of relief and blowing out of candles across the neighbourhood, followed by another collective “oh no” as they flickered off again less than a minute later.  Usually that is a good sign.  It means that the power is almost fixed and should come on again soon. All the while, the mugginess and humidity seemed to intensify and the lights stayed off.  And, all the while, the power stayed stubbornly off.  In fact it stayed off all night.  Which meant very little sleep.  Hardly great when combined with jetlag.  Especially unhelpful for productivity or energy throughout a demanding working day.  The power was still off when I headed out to work and was still off late in the afternoon when I phoned home.

Wednesday evening saw writing group, so I was later home than usual that evening. And to be honest, the thought of another night in that discomfort was not pulling me home.  When I did arrive home the lights were on and I could hear music playing!  What a great welcome!  Short-lived unfortunately. Hubby gently broke the news to me that the lock mechanism in the bedroom door had broken and the bedroom (and small attached bathroom were inaccessible)!  My first thought was that my swimming stuff was in there and the morning swim now sabotaged.  Next thought was for my toothbrush!  Then for everything I needed for the next morning to be able to turn up at work.  Isn’t it just typical that the day you can’t access your everything, is the day you have an Important Meeting and need to be looking the part! There was no way that door could be opened though, at that time in the evening and the only choice was to sleep in the spare room, wearing random pieces of laundry and breaking into the spare toothbrush supply from our last visit to Bangkok.  Another sticky and uncomfortable night, though slightly more sleep than the eve. The lack of morning swim though, really did make an impact – it is always amazing just how much more energy it gives getting up an hour and a half earlier for the swim and cycle.

Happily the locksmith arrived early and had removed the whole mechanism and opened the door within minutes.  With a whoop of happiness, I was able to access my appropriate attire for the day and make a start not too much later than usual.  Re-entry into sleep patterns and acclimatisation?  In progress.

So now, thank goodness it is the weekend and the chance to regroup a little.  Saturday morning saw me draw up a very quick five sticky plan to guide the weekend, the first one in a while as this has not been relevant the past few weeks.

IMG_0645

So re-entry has at least physically been accomplished, though it is remarkable how different the landscape looks following our bereavement.  I guess it just takes time for our senses and emotions to readjust.

Up to speed

Some housekeeping is overdue!

I have been remiss in caring for the bloglet, and with updating on news from my end.  The last thing I remember, I was packing bags on January 2 and heading for Bangkok for the additional and scary review with Dr W2.  Now it is January 13 and I am not sure what has been happening in between times.

That is not entirely true, actually.  Life has been happening.

As soon as I arrived in Bangkok, I swung immediately into the “preparing for the tests” mindset with the gritted teeth and clenched knuckles that accompanies and characterises that tense time.  I moved through the checks like an automaton and was spat out the other side in one day.  Exhausted, numb and emotionally drained.    The main things to check were the clottability factor due to the embolism and of course, the dreaded tumour markers. In a nutshell, I have been released back into the wide world again and will be reviewed again in another three months.  The cloattability is pretty stable which is fine, although I do have that checked regularly in Yangon too so was not hugely concerned about that.  It was the tumour marker which was stressing me.  The important thing about the markers is the trend rather than the individual result, so it is important to see this over a period of time and a number of tests.  I knew that a further increase would be the most worrying scenario and was very glad that although the markers are still above the reference range, they have decreased slightly.  So now we just have to see how a trend plays out over the coming months, but I do have some reassurance and can breathe out for now.

That gave me a day in Bangkok to do around a week’s worth of chores and tasks and before I knew it I was back at Bangkok airport waiting to board the return flight to Yangon, along with a number of friends and colleagues also returning after the seasonal break.  I arrived home without incident, unpacked, ate, went to bed all set for the first day back after my break.  And indeed, before very long the alarm woke me, I forced myself to get up in the pitch dark, put on my swimming stuff, and some warmer clothing and shake the dust off my bike in a return to my morning routine before work.

The days have thus been full, with the early start in the cool (and now even cold) Yangon mornings and intense activity at work so my first weekend has been very welcome although it has brought quite a backlog with it.  Hence a game of catch up and a need for bloggish housekeeping.

While I was in Bangkok, I took advantage of the superfast internet and uploaded a few photos.  I decided to change the background picture here, and decided eventually on this image.

Angkor Birthday

This is a photograph from my visit to Angkor (Siem Reap) in Cambodia last year, a wonderful adventure and a truly confidence building exercise.  I loved the ruined temples, and especially the way nature and the temples have evolved with tree roots holding the structures together in some places and dividing them in others.  I was continually struck and by the resultant impression of man-made and natural elements in complete fusion.  As well as being a photograph I like, it has particular happy associations and that is how I would like to set the tone for the on my background.  There are many more photographs on the sister (photography) blog.

As we move into 2013, I remain enthused by my three word mantra (focus, treasure and design) and am embracing the coming year.  I am taking the time to focus in on what I want to achieve and draw up clear goals for my year.  And in a beautiful and unexpected gift I received from a friend and colleague, I have the perfect reminder.  A pair of stunning Feisty Blue Gecko earrings, something to keep me focused, to treasure and of an intricate and precious design.

fesitybluegeckoearrings

So with a galloping account of hospital visits, early mornings, plans and goals, Cambodian temples and opal earrings, I trust that I am now getting back up to speed.