Bangkok reloaded

Here we find ourselves again in Bangkok, the place we first landed when arriving from Romania, at the beginning of our Asian trip. And on this second visit, we discovered a Bangkok much more inviting and welcoming than the one we got to know three months ago. The weather seemed less hot and humid, its chaotic traffic and relentless noise was somewhat appeased by the protests which had blocked the main crossroads of the city, its strange ways, its crowds, noise, pollution, skyscrapers and little shabby house had now a familiarity which made them closer to my heart. Part of this new view on Bangkok was brought by the discovery of what would come to be our favorite means of transportation in the city: the boats – these buses on water that cross the city flying on the waves, mastered and geared by true acrobats.

We also had the time to visit some of the more touristic sites of Bangkok: the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew, flooded by rivers of tourists, and the teak house of Jim Thompson, an oasis of green created in the ’50s by this American in love with Thailand.

And I was very happy to be able to take a cooking class, something I had set my mind to do before leaving Thailand. All the dishes we’ll see in the pictures were cooked by me – enjoy them, I really enjoyed cooking them! And I never thought it would be so easy (well, when you have the right ingredients). When I’ll get back to Romania, I’ll look for some guinea pigs to try my Thai cooking skills. Any volunteers? :)

As some of you may know, Bangkok is now under a kind of siege: its own people blocked seven main traffic points of the city, moved in with tents and sleeping bags and request that the government steps down before the new elections take place. As long as we stayed there, everything was rather peaceful and calm – nevertheless, we were happy that our flight out of Bangkok was scheduled before the elections.

Bits and pieces of a big city, lights, and tuk-tuks, and street food, and long rows of cars, and houses cramped one on top of the other…

Now, the South-East Asian part of our trip has come to an end. I said goodbye to Bangkok and everything in it and, slightly nervous, I packed my things and… here we are, heading for the airport to catch our flight to India.

Indeed, India! Everybody has an opinion about this country, there are no mild words to describe it: extraordinary, amazing, appalling, incredibly beautiful, incredibly dirty, stories of rivers of rats walking the streets at night and bodies burned in open air, and stories of people in love with the colors, the people, the spirituality, coming back time after time. Some love it passionately, some go through it bearing it, enduring it like a bitter pill you swallow while closing your eyes.

I truly don’t know how I will react. And this is one of the reasons why, with feelings of anxiety and not sure that in one week I won’t be on a flight out of the country, I head to the airport. Well, see you in India, then!

About happiness

Thailand-7859Back in Bangkok for a few days. One of the evenings, I go for a walk by myself, in the park close to our guesthouse. I sit somewhere near the river. I can see in the water, glittering and moving lazily, the lights of the buildings next to me. Boats pass from time to time – boats from the five-star hotels down the river, small, decorated with little strings of lights, big touristic boats, sliding across the waters surrounded by a halo of colored light and music, long cargo ships, dark, anonymous, noticeable only by the dark enormous shades with which they cover the reflection in the water of the buildings across the river. Closeby, a Thai young man is playing the guitar. A girl is sitting beside him, holding out a notebook from which they both read. Sometimes I can hear her voice, timid, slightly off key, singing. The sound of the guitar reaches me faintly, like in a dream. I cannot recognize the song, but the warm and gentle notes of the guitar make my heart soften and smile, opening up and filling as if to the memory of a long forgotten love. And to all the beauty that is now around it.

And I suddenly have a feeling, a familiar feeling that it’s been creeping into my life, the last year or two: that THIS, this moment right here, could be a scene of a movie. One of those movies that we love to let ourselves drawn in, enraptured, intoxicated by. The kind of movies that we want to be a part of. And my mind instantly creates the whole story around it: it could be about this girl that left everything and when on a trip around the world. To look deeper into the world, to look deeper into herself. She is now in Bangkok, exotic, chaotic Bangkok, looking at the lights of the boats passing by. And a soft soundtrack music kicks in, the distant sound of a guitar blues.

Yes, it could be a movie! One of those romantic, I-want-to-be-in-it, happy-ending kind of movies. But – and I start laughing by myself – all of it is just such an illusion! I’ve been in Bangkok for several days, visiting, going around, trying the street food. And I did not have that “this is a perfect moment – I am perfectly happy“ kind of feeling. And I realize (a realization to which I come back, again and again) that the scenery of our lives does not contribute but little to our feeling of happiness. That you can be in the most extraordinary and exotic place on earth, on a beach in Thailand, sitting in the sun, but if you don’t open up to feel its beauty, to fill up with the wonder and gratefulness of you living all the sun and the sea and the sand, it is as if you were not really there. And then, you can be in your own house, in a little apartment in Bucharest (let’s say :) ), having a glass of wine with a friend, on your balcony, or a cup of hot tea inside, with some music and small candle lights, and you could feel, as I felt many times, truly blessed and perfectly happy.

Throughout this year of travels I have been, many times, more often than I would usually find myself, in places and situations in which I said to myself: “wow, this is a truly perfect moment!”. About some of these moments I wrote in this travel journal. But each time it happens, I realize that it is not necessarily the place and the time that makes it perfect, but the way my heart, in that moment, melts down a little, opens up to receive and understand the beauty around it. Because the beauty is always there! Even in the most ordinary situations of your life, even at the breakfast table, pourring your coffee, or going to work in the morning, looking at all the different people around you, each with their world and life around them, or looking at the clouds in the sky, with their different shades and colors, or going to a park, or meeting a friend, or enjoying the comfort and coziness of your home. Or reading a book, or playing a computer game you love, or cooking for someone you love. All of these can be moments of happiness – only if you acknowledge them as such. Of course that when you travel, as I am now, it is easier to let your heart open in this way and feel this happiness. But I tell you, precisely because I do feel it now and because I felt it sometimes when I was back home, happiness does not depend on what is happening in your life or in the world around you! I know that many have said this before and that this is not anything new, but I just want to share this with you, my own little revelation: happiness is about opening your heart to receive the beauty that already IS there. Sometimes this is easier to do, other times it’s more difficult. That’s why we should practice it, whenever we find it easy, so that we have the experience of what happiness feels like, for those moments when everything seems dark and gloomy and hopeless.

So go out today, and choose one place, one moment in which you can just relax. Look around you as if it were the first time you see everything, with new eyes and new heart. Smile and look at the beauty, the tenderness, the sweetness in the things and in the people surrounding you. Invite all that into your heart and let it sink in, until it reaches every fiber of your being, until you can feel it in your toes! Then breathe in, smile and feel how blessed you have been today.

After a while, hearing again the tune of the song that lighted up in me all that stream of thought, I got closer to the Thai couple, made friends and listened to what they were singing. And a new smile took over me. It was an old song that I had just discovered this summer and with which I fell instantly in love. I heard it from an Irish guy, who stayed in Afroz for a few weeks and used to play the guitar in the afternoon. It brought back memories of wonderful times, full moons, and loves, and friends, and smiles.

Christmas tale

This is the story of my Asian Christmas, the first Christmas I spent at temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, in the sun and by the seaside. A Christmas on which I re-met old friends from Iasi, people with whom my brother and I have spent most of our high school and university years, spending our holidays and weekends together, going partying or just playing cards at somebody’s place (usually ours). This year we met for Christmas on the island of Ko Phangan, in Thailand: Diana and Ovidiu came from Shanghai, Tudor, from Romania, and the two of us, from Cambodia. A nice follow-up to our high school years – maybe next time there will be more of us!

Having around my oldest friends made me feel more close to home and less “on the road”. But not even their presence could give me the feeling that it was Christmas. And I promise I tried: the first day of Christmas I wore all day the Christmas hat Diana had brought for us. Once, overhearing from the reception a Christmas carol (the reggae version of a Christmas carol, to be true), my heart rose up in an “aaah, it’s Christmas!” exclamation. But the feeling vanished quickly when I rejoined my friends and heard the waves and felt the sand under my feet – it was hopeless, so I stopped trying. Not that I’m complaining, don’t get me wrong! (and the pictures will show you, I think, how exactly we felt on that day.) Just that this year I didn’t feel that Christmas has passed. Well, I guess I’ll just have to celebrate it next year twice as much!

For the Christmas dinner we found, almost by accident, a lovely little restaurant, on the beach (the Beachlounge in Thong Sala, for any future reference), with good wine, great food and (our own) very good company. We were together with Marta and Daniel, our friends from the road that you probably know already, as well as Eugen, a friend of mine from Bucharest who is on his own “trip around the world” this year. And to have the full picture, just a few days earlier I had met Lia, a friend from Bucharest who is now living on Ko Phangan and who was the first person to tell me about this island.

The rest of the days we explored the island. All was there: the sea, the sun, the sand, good Thai food, winding roads, the (sometimes) cloudy sky and, of course, my personal favorites, the ever-careless, tall and proud palm trees…

I’ll close with pictures of one of the quiet nights. Just having a drink in our bay. With the occasional lampions and fireworks. Pictures made by my brother Alexandru.

First taste of Thailand

Here I am, together with my brother, adjusting to the heat, the food and the people of Thailand. It’s only been 5 days since we arrived here, but it surely feels like we lived a lot more. I can now say that I am really happy that my brother liked the idea of us traveling together to this part of the world, when, back in Greece, I proposed him so: it makes the experience so much richer! And significantly diminishes the stress factor :)

Our first stop was Bangkok, with skyscrapers and street food, shopping malls and tuk-tuks, noisy, luxurious, dirty, surprising. Next, we headed for Ayutthaya, an ancient Thai capital, with temples and monasteries built in the 16th century. And a more chill feeling to it.

Enjoy the pictures and see you from northern Thailand!