La Mer

I've had a strange few weeks. I've jumped time zones as though the act of leaping across continents was as simple as a game of hop scotch. I've seen wonderful things and met people who are kind and inspiring. And in recent days I've also found my way back to the sea.

We are currently in Cha-am, Thailand, a little holiday place filled with mostly young Thai families who have come here to get out of the city and old Scandinavian people, many of whom probably spend months of their year here (at least it would appear so given the orange brown tint and leathery texture of their skin). It's not as pristine as the island resorts further south with their aqua marine water but it is relaxed and the sun shines and the people are mostly friendly. I've been interspersing sleeping and reading with trips down to play in the sea shore (which is right across the street from our guest house, we have a sea view). The water here isn't quite as warm as it was in Mexico, but it's pretty close. Over the past few days it's been a bit windy and we've spent our time jumping over waves, gasping and sputtering as we climb out with salty lips and tangled hair.

We're not sure how long we're going to stay down here. Tomorrow morning we're looking at a little condo that's available - slightly over our budget but we're desperate to settle down in a place with a kitchen and some privacy. Neither of us have felt like we've really been anywhere long enough to unpack since Laos. I would love to not have to eat out for the next week and there's a Tesco Lotus in a nearby town where we can stock up on everything we want. Dan even found Branston Pickle today, albeit for more than we would pay for it in the UK.

The alternative to staying here for another week is heading North to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, which both sound like lovely, easy places but with no sea. I imagine them to be a more modern version of Laos.

I arrived in Bangkok only a few days ago after my 48 hour jaunt to California. My interview was such a good experience and everyone was so genuinely kind and clever. If the Visa gods smile down on me, I would be a fool to not seize the opportunity to do such interesting work at such a great company. Time will tell.

The above picture of me was taken by Dan when we were in Versailles, France in February 2009. I stumbled upon it in an old folder today and couldn't help but look at that girl and wonder a bit who she was. When I was in Vancouver this past summer, I read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and as I reflect back on this year of flux, reinvention, growth and change, I can't help but feel like I've been afforded this wonderful slot of time in which I've been able to re-imagine my life, my professional practice, my passions, my art. And although I didn't have to suffer the kind of horrible loss that sparked Didion's year of magical thinking, the experience of travel is also one of always leaving something behind: a shoe, a book, an elastic band ... and along with these things, the sadness inherent in the realization that nothing will ever be exactly the same again. Laos will never feel like it did those few beautiful weeks in December, just like Versailles will never be the same crisp, colorful place it was during that beautiful and delicate weekend in February 2009 - and I'll never be the same either.

I used to cry about this on birthdays when I was a kid. I would have a wonderful day and then get into bed and sob for the year that was gone and that would never be again. And my god, when they play that horrible Auld Lang Sine song at New Years it slays me; and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Judy Garland. All songs about time and loss woven into our precious celebratory moments to remind us that the time is slipping by far more quickly than we can possible realize.

But the sea feels constant and restorative and the daily act of allowing it to toss us around makes waiting for the next change much, much easier. It's like an hour glass, slowly washing everything clean.

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Music Will Save Your Life

I'm feeling a little blue today kittens.

It's our last full day in Vietnam. Tomorrow morning we fly from Hoi An to Hanoi and then Dan is off to Thailand and I am heading to California. I'm excited about the next week and happy to be leaving this country behind me, but there's also this wistful nostalgia mixed up with everything. Something that I can't quite pin down.

I love this beautiful video and song though. And the strange cover songs being played in this Hoi An cafe where we're biding our time today.

PS: Vietnam has found a way to block our work-around to access Facebook, so I'll be absent there for a few days.

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Carrie's Roses

During the month of August we stayed at a friend's house in Vancouver while she went on her honeymoon. The sweet little house was surrounded by the most beautiful roses I've ever seen outside of a florist shop. They were tended to by the old eastern European couple next door, who regarded me as something peculiar for taking photos of the flowers one morning after a rain storm.

These remind me of what an easy, lovely month we had in Canada.

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Recent Loves

The India Song Photo Series by Karen Knorr for her amazing use of color:

The film Black Swan for being equal parts creepy, disturbing and beautiful:

The Poetry of Mary Ruefle for making my imagination gurgle.

Speak, Zero
There was a morning bowl of cereal
and we sugared it
Then mother took the bowl away
Then mother took the bowl

Years of which I have no time

One by one they reached into the sea
and took the lightkeepers out of the lighthouses
Then they took the lighthouses out of the sea

Thus the world falls back on its original plan

The dolls washed up on shore not far from here
and the wild horses who come and lick their faces

There is nothing definite about you
but you happen in detail

From finches we take feathers for our hats
From us they take hair for their nests.

The one veritable transitory power
is your right to hide

And despite the early hour, the papaya was empty
neatly scraped, never slept in

Nothing clarifies the mind like a death sentence

Because reading is a kind of sleep
and sleep a kind of music

Yet I'm crazy for your incredibly purple face,
the way you keep seeds in your pocket

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Hoi An - The Tailoring Capital of the World

We're currently in Hoi An, about mid-way down the coast of Vietnam. We've been in this country for a week and a half and it was not love at first sight. After the lovely trickle of life in Louang Prabang, Hanoi felt a bit like being dropped into a furious ant hill. People piled on top of one another, endless noise, crazy traffic, people pushing, shop keepers following us down the street trying to get us to buy any number of Hanoi t-shirts and fake war memorabilia. Also, I managed to have my wallet stolen less than 24 hours in.

It wasn't for us.

So we high tailed it out of town and spent a night on a junk ship on Halong Bay. The area was stunning and I really enjoyed the experience of sleeping on a ship, anchored out in the water, but the weather was cold and there were rats in the walls. Then we were back for one more night in Hanoi before catching the sleeper train south to Hoi An.

It's been unseasonably cold in Vietnam since we arrived, which has been okay because it makes it easier to focus on work rather than on going to the beach. Hanoi was only getting up to about 8 degrees during the day and Hoi An, a bit warmer, sits in the high teens (celcius). The heat isn't such a big deal, but it's also been cloudy and rainy, which makes for wet, muddy roads and the sensation of wanting to do little other than curl up under the blankets with a book and a cup of tea.

Hoi An is beautiful. It's an ancient town and at night, the old centre is lit up with hundreds of lanterns. I'll post pictures soon, but it is really very special. The town is split in the middle by a river and is located out on a kind of peninsula on the sea. It's a strange mixture of very old Vietnamese people who don't speak English and live a very quiet life working their fields or selling their crafts, and all the tourists who've come here to get clothing made on the cheap. Because that's really what Hoi An is known for: in this town of just over 100,000 people, there are over 600 tailor shops all vying business.

Pretty much all of the tailors work out of shops where they've got a range of samples on display. You can go in and buy something off the rack or ask them to adjust any garment for you - or you can go in with a sketch or some images and get them to make something from scratch. Prices vary from store to store and I'm told that the work quality isn't consistent between them, but you can generally get a basic custom dress for just over $10. There are also dozens of shoe shops and again, you can either buy off the shelves or get them to make you a pair of shoes.

On the 22nd of this month I'm being flown to California for a job interview with a hugely exciting company (hint: rhymes with schmasebook) and given that I've spent the last nine months living out of a suitcase, I'm a little lacking in appropriate outfits in the 'business casual' category. Since I can't possibly turn up in flip flops and a floor length hippie skirt, I'm planning to have something made here within the next few days, which is exciting because I don't think I've ever owned a custom made outfit before! I want something simple, comfortable, not too serious and with a bit of personality - something I can wear again.

Last spring at Target I saw a simple little dress by Massimo (pictured on the left, below) and one of the shops here has a similar pattern. Instead of the tank top though, I'm going to get them to add 3/4 length sleeves, with a slight poof at the shoulders (I seriously love a poof!).

Images from: Target, The Fashion Police, Sugarscape and Picassa.  Image of Hoi An by Viajar24h.

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Goodbye to Lovely Laos

Tomorrow morning we fly out of Luang Prabang down to Vientiane where we will catch our flight to Hanoi. Walking around today I couldn't help but feel sad that we're leaving. It's so beautiful here and we've allowed ourselves to get completely caught up in it - it's been like having an extended vacation in what must be one of the most beautiful places in the world.

I have so much gratitude for the wonderful people here and feel so lucky to have had this time.

All photos by me.

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Welcome to 2011

It's  beautiful, sunny New Years day in Luang Prabang, Laos. Yesterday we ended the year with a 34 kilometer bike ride (up mountains) that almost finished us off, a stop in a hill tribe village to take polaroids of the kids and leave them as gifts (they were amazed!), a wander through some of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen, a visit to an Asiatic bear sanctuary, a lovely meal, watching dozens of handmade paper lanterns float up into the night sky, and a count down at the stunningly beautiful local bar Utopia. It was pretty much the most perfect way to end the year and I couldn't have dreamed up anything better.

We stumbled home along the river, slightly tipsy and a little bit achey from our bike ride, but happily calling out "Sabaidee Pi Mai", which means happy new years in Laotian, to passersby and settled into our little room for a long sleep. This morning I was briefly woken up by the resident rooster and then again around 9 am by the sound of monks chanting across the street. Then a nice brunch next to the river.

Dan and I have discussed resolutions a lot this New Years and I think I've narrowed mine down to a few basic shifts in behavior that can mostly be boiled down to mindfulness:

  • I want to eat less meat and when I do eat it, I want to be more conscious of what it is I'm consuming. I love animals and in a country like Laos, where water buffalo wander out into the street, and chickens are part of the community, it's much harder to divorce what I'm eating from the idea of a living, breathing animal. I just want to be more responsible and aware of what I'm putting into my body and the impact that has on the world. 
  • No more pop for me. It's bad and filled with nasty chemicals and I don't need it in my body. 
  • I want to do a better job of letting things go and spend less of my time dwelling on people and things that make me unhappy. There are so many wonderful things in the world - I don't want to waste any more time on negativity or on trying to work out the motivations of other people. I would like to master the art of throwing up my hands and walking away (in a good way). 
  • I want to do a better job of really committing to my creative writing practice. Setting tangible goals seems like an important things to do so here's mine: 5,000 words a week creative writing. Doesn't matter what it is, doesn't matter if it's any good, what matters is that I put in the time. 
  • Be more mindful of how I'm spending my time and do a better job of setting hard daily goals so that I spend less time floating around the internet without any direction. 
  • Move my body more. The bike ride yesterday was hard and I don't know that I'll be doing 30+ km uphill on a regular basis, but it felt good to by physically active. I want to spend more time walking, swimming, biking ... I don't want exercise to be something I need to go to a gym to do, but something that is just part of how I live my life. When I see the kids running around here playing, I'm reminded that our natural state is to move through the world and to take pleasure in doing it. I want to remember what it's like to enjoy my physicality. 
  • Career wise, I want to keep moving forward, keep feeling excited and inspired by what I'm doing and continue to surround myself with passionate, creative people. We started Contentini: Content Strategists this year and it's been more successful than I could have imagined (thanks clients!). I've done a lot of thinking and writing about web content - something I'm passionate about - and have had some great responses. The idea of content strategy as a professional focus is still relatively new and I am beyond excited to see how it evolves over the next year and how my own practice will change with it. 
I hope you all had a peaceful and joyous New Years and that you're as excited for the year ahead as I am. We've got another few days in this country that I've fallen completely in love with and on January 3rd we fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. I will be sad to leave Laos and I'm always a little nervous when visiting a new country but really, I couldn't be in a better place to enter 2011. 


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