Farang

It has been raining all day, but as I am not made of sugar I went through the adorable city of Luang Prabang today. I spent most of my time over the last two day sitting in buses, trains and airplanes.

Well, I did manage to get myself into another hotel pool in Bangkok – for free – but for my defense I had no other choice. It simply is too hot in there to be doing anything else than swimming.

After burning my lips and tongue on some delicious spicy shrimps in the canteen of a dark street, I went back to my hostel to spend the night. I woke up to a grey sky, promising some rain. Before flying to Laos, I went back to the park, did some walking, swinging and singing – which probably brought the rain I flew away from a few hours later.

The time spent in airports is not necessarily at loss. I love observing the people, the way the move, wait, stress, communicate. I find it fascinating the share a moment of time with so many strangers, who all experience the same minutes in thousands different ways. We all are machines, which function in ways that keep us apart from each other.

Arrived in Laos, I got ripped off by the taxi and I got really upset. Why is it that I always have to look twice for the money I am getting back? Why do I have to pay twice as much as a local for the same service or the same fruits? Why do they assume that because I happen to be white, I am legitimately richer than them? I do not want to sound rude; but I find it exhausting to negotiate everything; it is not a game anymore. It is just too easy to assume that I can pay more just because I am blond with blue eyes. I feel silly complaining about this; but it is to me a real call for awareness. Why do we keep judging each other based on appearances?

If there is a fruit, a service, a job to be offered; it should be made equally available to all people. Chances must be given. I cannot get used to the idea that anything conditioning our instincts can separate us into groups and therefore keep us apart, I find it revolting. Yet, it has become the most natural thing to do among our societies. I found it out here while paying twice as much as a local for museum, yoga classes or any social activities. And I wonder how we manage it back home, to keep groups and communities apart. Because I am sure we do the same, just in a different sneaky way.

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Why do we feel the need to allocate people to a group, and why do we need to feel like we are part of a community? How and when did being human become insufficient? Why do we need to march and fight for our ideas and feelings to be respected? Why do we need to protest just to gain the right to be as we wish? What happened? Is there really no common culture to all human beings, despite our origins and beliefs? Can we only blame it on greed and power? What was the plan… and more importantly what is the plan?

Among all feelings and thoughts crossing my heart and mind over the miles I travelled, I will retain one blessing: the immersion in cultures so different from one another taught me a lot more about my own. I am efficiency oriented; I love structure and genuine smiles. I could use a little extra flexibility sometimes … I joined a yoga class here tonight. Stretching my hips on a smelly mat, I extended both my muscles and my mind. Relaxing on a non-sanitized mat probably was on the top 10 of the most challenging thing I have done in the last 4 months.

The main character of my current read said today ‘’I was dead before I started this mission. I was dead and I did not even know it; this is why I accepted to be sent here. Now, I have to survive. I brought myself back to life’’.

I never want to stop learning; this is what makes me feel alive.

Cigale

Les journées de transit sont toujours des moments de pause, d’observation plus que de reflexion.

Je prends toujours conscience de ma taille lorsque je voyage : le trafic dans la ville, pour accéder à un aéroport ; bondé de gens que je n’ai jamais vu et que je ne reverrai sans doute jamais. Tous anonymes, mais avec au moins une chose en commun. Nous avons été au même endroit au même moment ; pourtant nous n’avons surement pas vécu cet instant de la même façon. Au milieu d’un ballet d’avions qui se croisent et joignent des bouts de monde, moi, minus, je me ballade ; comme une fourmi – ou plutôt une cigale.

Je suis assise entre deux portes d’aéroport. Certains courent en essayer de rattraper la trotteuse d’une montre probablement fausse. Il y a ceux qui posent des cartes pour faire passer les minutes, ceux qui préparent déjà l’atterrissage en épluchant leurs guides touristiques ; d’autres tournent en rond au rythme de la musique qui bourdonne dans leurs oreilles… Il y a ce moine, pieds-nus, assis en paix et qui contemple la scène. Je ne saurai dire s’il est présent ou s’il plane déjà.

Je suis heureuse de m’envoler pour le Laos. Bien que j’essaye de toujours me laisser surprendre par un pays plutôt que d’en attendre quelque chose, je dois avouer que la dimension spirituelle du Laos a une signification particulière. J’espère apprendre du bouddhisme et des Laos en général; atteindre un nouveau niveau de pensée et élargir mes horizons. Fouler des terres que la globalisation où la globalisation ne s’est pas encore tout à fait abîmée …

J’ai pris un mini van hier, pour rentrer de Kanchanaburi. Je me suis retrouvée dans un espace confiné et à peu près climatisé entourée de soldats et d’un moine. Chacun regardait droit devant – ce que je jugeais vide semblait remplir leur esprit ; et je me suis demandé ce à quoi ils pouvaient penser. J’imagine que la tête d’un moine a des fonctionnements et des raisonnements différents de ceux d’un soldat ; mais au fond peut être pas. Peut-être que comme moi ils ne pensaient qu’à ce simili cuir qui colle aux fesses, à cette clim qui sent l’humidité et aux compétences de conduite limitée de notre chauffeur – chauffard.   Pourquoi faudrait-il que nous pensions différemment ? Nos expériences et conclusions sont différentes, mais au fond nous sommes les mêmes machines. Nos cultures et éducations pourtant formatent et conditionnent nos machines, et en font des robots qui s’éloignent parfois tant les unes des autres que nous arrivons à un point où nous ne pouvons même plus nous comprendre, ni même vivre ensemble. C’est étonnant, cet automatisme à nous retranche, cette incapacité à connecter avec l’autre, cette méfiance qui nous empêche d’avancer.

Comment notre culture et notre pensée peuvent-elles manipuler nos sens et besoins les plus primitifs au point de nous tourner les uns contre les autres ? N’y a-t-il aucune chance pour une culture humaine, un point commun qui nous réunirait tous et pourrait éventuellement nous unir ?

Au cours des dernières semaines, mon expérience de différentes cultures m’a permis d’approfondir au moins la connaissance de ma propre culture. Je suis impatiente, j’aime la structure et l’efficacité. J’aime la nature et ce qu’elle me fait ressentir ; mais j’aime aussi doucher ma peau poisseuse – un mélange de sueur et d’anti moustiques – à la fin de la journée. J’aime être en constante découverte de saveurs, d’odeurs et couleurs ; mais un de mes moments culinaires préférés reste le pain au chocolat parfait que j’ai mangé à Tokyo. C’est terrible à dire ; mais c’est de retrouver cette saveur d’enfance à l’autre bout de la planète qui m’a ému, plus que de manger le meilleur sushi au thon de ma vie. Je suis sensiblement attachée à ma culture. Pour autant, je ne pense pas que cela m’empêche de profiter ni de m’ouvrir à d’autres modèles. Je marche pieds nus partout – même sur un cafard l’autre jour – je me plie avec bonheur aux rythmes et habitudes des locaux que j’ai la chance de côtoyer ; je fais la queue pour prendre le métro et je mange des nouilles sautées dans la rue sur les marchés, je me douche dans des pièces sans fenêtre en compagnie de mille pattes, et je dors dans des draps qui ne sentent pas bon comme la lessive de Maman. Je vis tout cela comme une expérimentation, et c’est sans doute pour cela que j’arrive à mettre mes habitudes de côté pour arriver à profiter de toutes ces différences.

Pour autant, dans les zones de transit que sont les aéroports ; l’un de mes premiers reflexes demeure toujours d’aller me parfumer au Duty Free avec l’une des fragrances qui me ramènent à la maison. Je choisis souvent Kenzo. Ça sent la maison, ça sent bon.

J’aime tout ce que ce voyage me fait ressentir, mais je reste avec un doute : si cela devait durer plus longtemps, est-ce que je le  vivrai de la même façon ? Est-ce que ce n’est pas de savoir que je vais rentrer qui m’ouvre à découvrir, à repousser mes limites et à vivre autrement ? Est-ce que ce n’est pas parce que je sais que j’ai une maison qui sent bon que j’arrive à vivre dans d’autres conditions pour un temps donné ? Je ne pense pas que je pourrai vivre partout. Je peux voyager partout, mettre de côté ma culture et mes habitudes ; mais je ne pense pas que je puisse les oublier ni même en changer de façon durable. Pas toute seule en tous cas.

S’il est une chose que je suis heureuse d’avoir découverte à mon propos au cours de mes ballades, c’est que je n’ai plus besoin de faire les choses seule. De tous mes chapitres en solitaire, ce voyage est surement le plus constructif ; il est celui qui me permet de passer sereinement à une nouvelle dimension. Je suis complète, car je ne suis plus solitaire.

Somewhere over the river Kwai

 »It is too far away, you cannot go there by bike ».

Fine, I will rent a bike somewhere else. Few meters away from the shop of Mr. Negative Energy, I found a tiny bike rental where a tiny charming lady was more than pleased to rent me wheels for a few hours and to show me the best way to go see the Giant Tree.

Right after the curve, where concrete returns to dust; I took a right. Following the river, I slalomed between cars and songtheaw for about 15 minutes before I arrived at the pier. There was the  »ferry » : a platform that fits 3 bikes and 6 people, with a motor at the back and a colorful wannabe flag in the bow. The cruise over the river Kwai.

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Being the only Farang (this is how the Thai call the foreigners) on the boat, I am being observed until one of the guys dares asking for a picture. As many shots as possible were taken during the 2 minutes crossing; giving a good laugh to the Captain, who is a woman. On the other side, things are wilder. I can tell from the first minute of pedaling that I left town. Cycling through fields and rain trees, I am on the quest for the Giant one.

Along the dusty road, tiny cabins are houses to families with as many kids as dogs; improvised temples decorated with cardboards animals are set on dangerous corners; cows happily wander in gigantic fields and only the far far away mountains seem to set limits to this peaceful scenery. Before the bridge, I stop and ask for directions to an soldier who seems to be in duty. No english was spoken, but he eventually manage to send me to one of his brother in arm, expecting me at the next intersection to show me the way. Having the road for myself, I feel in harmony with the space and its inhabitants – hairy or not.

A few blocks away from my army friend, I see him: the Giant Rain Tree. Standing proud, he is all about settlement and time. He did not try to grow fast and reach the sky; he grew solid in a ground he believed would nourrish him and grow old with him. The balance between his roots and his branches, ondulating and creating a peaceful sphere is hypnotizing. I cycle around him and I set foot next to a tiny market. Out of 3 stands, I walk to the old woman who waved at me when she saw me arriving by bike. Most people visiting this ground are part of a day tour and hop on and off buses or taxis. Sitting behind a rocky table, all she has to sell are about 40 bananas; probably from her garden. I asked for 2 small ones. She hands them to me and says  »no money, no money. good bike ». Surprised and flattered, I join my hands and bow down to her.

I stayed for a while in the shadow of the Giant; touching his roots and admiring his shapes. He has not moved. He is right here, more than anyone or anything else, and this is being here that makes him shine. He found his strengh and build his glow by being, staying, growing in one place. He is actually even more alive than I am; me, on the run, crossing borders and looking for happier places. It made me a bit homesick to realize how simple it was for him to grow in the place he was born. To trust his own roots. And to endlessly grow, majestic and strong.

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I quit a life where everything was organized. I had a routine. I now have all the freedom in the world; but I miss having habits. I miss knowing what will happen tonight just as much as I enjoy making decisions exclusively based on my instincts and desires. This is the weirdest I have ever felt in my life. The freedom is thrilling, and killing. I have no idea about tomorrow, for I do not know what I will feel like doing by then. On the bright side, I always please my instincts. But it is killing the control freak in me, who would like to plan already the week I will return to the homeland. I have been adapting so much, to the countries and cultures I visited over the last weeks; that I did not have time to create any habit, any safe place. I know I have a home, and I know I am not lost. I am wandering, and sometimes my steps make me walk in circle and I go from wander to wonder, forgetting to enjoy the wonders around me. I do not want to sound ungrateful, but for one day, I just wanted to be at home and as happy as this tree was. Just sitting, right in my roots, and growing from there.

So today I went swimming. It has always been a therapy to me. Started the first time I lived in another house than mine. I was studying in Paris, and sleeping in a shithole next to Paris. Was not exactly the dream I thought it would be, but I could not find the courage to leave so everyday I would go for a swim to the public pool. I would swim every evening, as fast and as long as I could, until the sky would turn so dark that I could walk  »home » without seeing what I was walking into. Weightless, in a world of silence. That was both my favorite habit and my safe place. So I went swimming today, renewing a tradition we had with my best friend from college. I walked into the fanciest hotel I could find around, acted like I belonged there and used their pool. They even brought me a bottle of water. It was a good swim. I did some good thinking, and I felt weightless and safe again.

I carry my roots. My dreams, my past, my fears, my strenghts. I carry them for I am not a tree and I have the freedom to chose where I want to settle. Freedom is not always easy to deal with, but it is a gift. I can chose to grow where I was born, just as much as I can chose to grow on the other side of the world; to grow in different grounds and to link my roots to other roots. I can move. I can change. I carry my roots. I just have to get used to the idea that the choices are mine, and that I am as free as one can be.It is more confronting than comforting, but I can always choose (back) for comfort if I want to. This is how free I am : I can do everything, be everywhere; but if staying here – there – is what I want, it also is a valid option.

A new woman

If there was a goal to this trip, it was to find and feed the best version of myself. I have found myself in many ways; I have lost pieces of me to better causes. I do not think that I am yest the best version of me; but it is a work in progress. And I feel better anyway. Only, I would have never bet that I would feed my (new) self bananas.

Today, I left the hostel on a motorbike. I was a bit anxious about riding a scooter, for the first time, in Thailand. Well, their roads are better than the Belgian ones and everything went fine. I even got so confident that I took over a few riders on my way back home.

I took the public bus from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, and it was surprisingly comfortable. From the bus station, I resisted to the temptation of sitting in a tuk-tuk and walked my way to the hostel. After 40 minutes in the rising sun, my backpack started to be heavy, so I stopped in a vegetarian restaurant – it looked inviting. I have been here  2 days and have already been there 3 times. It is divine. I just cannot help myself.

I was actually just a block away from Numero 25, where I will spend the coming nights. I spent most of my afternoon looking for a swimming pool: asking in hotels if I could use theirs, for a fee, I experienced more rejection than I could handle. At some point, a guy who listened to my pathetic swim negociation offered to take me to a place he knew. He took me first to the public swimming pool, which was so dirty I could not see the bottom of the pool. He laughed and took me to another place, and another, and another until finally he dropped me at one of his friends place who owns a guest house. It was around 4.30, and I had the all place for myself. Happy me. After a few circles in the water, one of the guest joined me in the pool. He openly talke Dutch to me, genuinely believing I was his patriot. We talked, in Dutch, for about an hour. Fun to see I did not lose too much of my Dutch, neither of my thick French accent. I am still me, at the end of the day.

The end of the day… at the night market; observing the flow of people and the way they work together. I find it fascinating. I could sit for hours and observ people being and doing what they do best. I did not have dinner there, I was craving a yoghurt. So I went to the supermarket, got two plain yoghurts and I was the happiest in the world. I miss kwark. And pindakaas. Oh what I would give for a glass of ice cold chocomel, with a pindakaas sandwich.

I guess I am that Dutch now. Somehow, I am proud and happy to be confused with a Dutch girl. Just like I like my incapicity to pronounce H.

Today, with my helmet and my fear of traffic, I went to the Erawan falls. It is about 70 km from where I stay, so given my speed of 40 km for the first hour, it took me a while to get there. But I enjoyed the way, the gas emissions a little less. My first hour in the park was brilliant, quiet, relaxing. A very well maintained path guides you through a jungle were 7 levels of waterfalls are to be found. The water there is so blue, it is almost mystical. Around 11.30, the place gets a bit busier and on my way out it was crowded. I am happy I came early and enjoyed the walk and the pools by myself.

Nested between slippery rocks covered with moss, beneath shady trees… 1, 2, 3…7 waterfalls! All different and majestic, they shaping water into pools, rivers and cascades of a water so blue one could wonder what it is made of. Inhabited by hundreds of fish, the waterfalls also are a playground for lizards – I spotted one with a red head, I still do not know if he was upset, stylish or just red -, birds, wild pigs and surprisingly enough a very rare collection of wild dresses.

Leaving this slice of paradise, I jumped on my scooter and try to find another route to go back home. But first thing first : I am craving a banana, so I stop on a market and feed the new me. I am on a scooter, not lost, having a banana; and I did not shampoo this morning (I did yesterday night). It may seem like nothing to you, but it is not to me!

On my way to the rail track, I found an elefant farm. I cannot tell if they are happy or not, but it breaks my heart to see the chains around their feet. They seem playful, but are they or do they simply respond to the orders given by the young boys fooling around with them? P_20160701_135548_HDR

A little bit further, I cross the railtrack; still looking for the Death Railway pass. A few minutes later, I am in a mediation center were a monk welcomes me. Not a word was spoken but his eyes and hands gave me all the information I was looking for. The kindness expressed by his behavior turned me upside down. It felt like he was moving in slow-motion, especially when he put his hands together to bow down. Short and intense moment.

I headed into the direction he was indicating and found a sort of sanctuary, where I stopped for a few minutes. Magic. It is in the time you take that you find the best of things: you meet the people who will change your life, in a few seconds; you discover the things you can do and give you the confidence to keep going; you will learn more about yourself and eventually get to a place of peace and self love; you will find the energy and ressources to help others and to be a better person into your own world. It is in the time you take that you build a better version of yourself. Not in the rush, not in the pursue of efficiency. It is in the time you allow yourself to take that you become the best version of yourself.

I rode back to Kanchanaburi in a pouring rain, and I could not stop smiling at the green skyline. Back in town, I went directly to my vegetarian restaurant and devoured a bowl of brown sticky rice with mango and … banana.

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It is not the end

Everything went a bit too well till now, so I guess it was about time for a minor incident. Long story short, I found myself at the Bangkok airport yesterday around noon, without my credit card. After a few minutes of panic – because of course my phone would not work – everything was solved.

In moments like these, I at first feel helpless and vulnerable; but soon I am overwhelmed by how much the people around me care and are reactive in helping me. Obviously not referring to the thai police or the airport agents who were perfectly useless; but to my Loves back home who did everything they could to make me feel better. I did not have time to feel lonely, and that made me even more emotional.

So my first Thai steps were a bit chaotic, big deal. I arrived in my hostel, welcomed by a solid and warm team; a cozy bed and a comforting cappuccino. I wasted quite some time and energy at the airport, so my discovery of Bangkok started later than expected. It was getting dark when I got my first bite of sticky rice. Walking up the main street, observing people’s flow, I realized I was standing in the middle of the night market in the building. Soon the doors that were closed opened  to classy dancing bars where inviting ladies were showing their dancing skills. You know what I mean. Interesting introduction to the Kingdom of Thailand.

I woke up early today, as I wanted to enjoy the city before it gets too hot. My camera has given up, I cannot make it work anymore. Striking against humidity, she allows me to take one picture a day. Today was a portrait of a lizard, chilling in the pond in Lumpini park. It is a blurry shot, and that is all I have. The camera of my Japanese phone will have to do until i can fix Moody (The camera has a name. I hope it will help in the reconciliation process)

Lumpini is a green oasis, breaking you free from a very busy and noisy city. I am somehow less confused than in Hanoi, for Bangkok seems to be better organized. Red traffic light is still not a sure value, but walking on streets is less of a sport in here than it was over there. It is much bigger tho, less cozy. Good news for me is I do not really have to get used to it, for I am already leaving tomorrow. Even if I grew up in a city environnement, I always have a hard time feeling at home in concrete jungles. I do not see the convenience it offers as comfort; I experience it as being a form of control.

From one of the many Lumpini benches, I enjoyed the sun rising to its zenith. Enjoying my vietnamese read, I did not mind the school kids taking a break from their gym class and playing around me. Strolling in the park, I exchanged looks and smiles with Tai Chi students, cyclists, joggers, workers… Balancing on the swing in the playground, I got lost in my thoughts.

Thailand marks the last stop of my solo trip, and I really did not see it coming. As much as I try to be mindful, I am sometimes caught up into reality. I havent managed yet to kill my guilt about this all trip, it keeps coming back each time I start up in a new land. It always vanishes when I feel at ease, but my first reaction to a new place is  »what the hell are you doing? What are you trying to prove to yourself? Just go home already ». And then I find my favorite coffee spot, my favorite local snack, I create new habits, and I remember how thrilling it is to be where I stand. In my skin. In my shoes. Wherever we are walking.

So i found the snack : it is a king of crispy crepe, and I added some peanut butter to it – just because I am that Dutch. I have been asked 4 times today only if I was German or Dutch. I guess the shorts/sandals/backpack look killed the French in me. That is oke, I still swear in French when I am upset. And I am craving camembert. I did not find the coffee place yet, but I had a perfect mango smoothie – fits better with the weather. As for the habits, I leave that for the place I am going to tomorrow. I hope to find a yoga studio, and I expect some great hiking trails.

I walked from Lumpini to Chinatown, and then to Banglamphu market – paradise for backpackers. The concentration of western faces speaks for itself. On my way back, I stopped by a kind of temple where a tuk tuk driver offered to take me on a tour for 20 bahts. Thats 50 cts. Thats nothing. He took me to Happy Buddha, Big Buddha and then back to the subway station.  He walked with me the all time, showing me they way and was very friendly. When I was about to pay him, he refused and simply wished me the best time in Thailand. This man reconciled me with the Kingdom. And all I have is a picture of his back.

 

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I do not carry a lot with me, so almost all I have in my backpack is precious to me. I do have that extra special item: a Minie Mouse plastic pouch where I keep a few letters – some I received during the trip, some I got as the best gift when I left from Schiphol. With every plane I take, I have sweet words from my best friends. With every take off, I am back in their loving arms with their letters full of support, love and laugh. In the envelop  »Hanoi to Bangkok » I found this saying : Everything will be ok in the end. If it is not ok, it is not the end.

I cannot get it out of my mind. This is just so accurate. A very simple quote, which dried my rage tears back at the airport, and which draws a smile on my face as I was swinging in Lumpini. I am never alone, and when I start feeling lonely I immediatly feel loved again. It does not always make up for everything, but 99% of the time it does. And nothing in life is meant to be perfect; it is in the progress that everything happens.

I am small, in this world I am visiting. I feel small and humble, but also strong and happy. It is all about balance. Being on the edge, without falling.

 

 

 

 

 

Pays des merveilles

4 hours away from Hanoi, just before the border with Laos, is a place called Mai Chau. Nested between high peaks, where greens grow as a shelter to thousands of butterflies and, I assume, snakes. There, the cracking bamboo never stop telling stories; buffalos and cows swim in the river to cool off after a hard working day; chicken run free with their big families; houses are on stilts as most of the land is flooded and everyone rides a scooter.

The day starts at 4.30 am, when the roosters start ‘’singing fighting’’. Each property around the rice field has his own poultry, and when the first one calls his humans to work, the others chicks on duty will tireless try to outperform the first caller. Men and women are already at work for a long time when the proud chicks finally calm down; and it is then about 6 am.

In the field of irritating noise pollution, I finally understood today the meaning of all the honking on the roads. As traffic regulations do not have much value here, drivers made up their own language. 2 horns, I am passing you; 3 I am giving you the space to go, 1 might be a simple greeting (they sure are polite in Hanoi)…  Honking is good, honking save lives. I cannot pretend I like it but at least I know the motivations behind the frenetic honking attitude.

In my bungalow made of bamboo and holes, I made some interval sleeping. As beautiful and peaceful as the place can be, I could not stop thinking of ways the spiders would find to go under my insect nest to basically eat me alive. Spiders are big over there, as small puppies basically.

Eventually, I got some rest, much needed after a day cycling through villages and rice fields. That was Saturday, after we drove from Hanoi and had the tastiest Vietnamese meal. It was so hot my camera decided to go on strike – cannot blame her (yes, it’s a she). As we were cycling up and down the rice fields, on red dirt and grey stones, I just did not know where to look anymore. In the background, gigantic mountains made of dark rock, covered in glorious green trees. At their feet, bowing to their stunning beauty, kilometers of rice fields. In there, shadows with pointy hats keep themselves busy, continuously, in a burning sun. Ducks, geese (sorry M), buffalos and chicken share the muddy playground. When the sun is at its zenith, everything slows down. The movements are the same, only time stretches. So do we, around 4.00pm, when we make it back to the main village. Nothing like stretching your elbow with a nice fresh beer…

This is when we decide to change the program of day 2: we forget the idea of trekking in the bamboo forest, in the heat, in the mud; and decide to go look for the Go Lao waterfall instead.

The morning after it does not take long before the bumpy road fully awakes our sleepy heads. After about 25 minutes drive in the most beautiful scenery, we arrive at Go Lao. It is a popular place for the local teenagers: a dozen of them already play in the water. We join them, climbing on rocks, sitting in the waterfall, and swimming in the natural pool… all around us in pure, quiet, savage.

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Vietnam abounds in wonders: I am astonished, not only by the beauty of its pure nature; but also by the spirit of its people. Acceptance and creativity: they do not complain, and they make miracles out of broken pieces. They do not waste anything either let anything die. Same goes for their food actually: when doing the market, you would buy your poultry and fish alive for most of the time. You kill what you really need to kill, at the exact moment you need it dead. Only the meat – including dog’s meat… – is sold in pieces.

Another great life lesson I owe to Vietnam occurred to me today. For my last day in Vietnam, I took a bus to what they call ‘’the Halong Bay on land’’. My guide, whose name means ‘’good scent’’ introduced in the most perfect way to Vietnamese culture. We visited 2 temples, in what used to be the capital of Vietnam. The place is a maze of low river, high rocks, caves and flooded fields. It was the perfect place to hide from the villains (the Chinese neighbor). Two temples have been erected by the people, in the middle of the jungle, to honor the Kings and their Queen. The Queen was once in love with a soldier, but before she could marry him she found herself chosen by the King. No question, they married.

As a matter of fact, in some Vietnamese cultures, men hid in the woods waiting for the women to pass by. Once their chosen one walks by, they spring out of the bushes, wearing a traditional mask. They are entitled to kidnap the woman (or girl) of their choice, keep her locked up for 7 days to finally decide if they want to marry her. Good to know before going on a trek. If the Little Red Riding Hood would have taken place in Vietnam, things could have turned very differently!

So our Queen marries the King, who eventually dies. His body was buried somewhere in the property, by his 7 disciples. All of them committed suicide right after the ceremony, keeping the grave location secret from everyone, forever. Up to today, the body of the King has not been found… Because the Queen needed to transfer the royalty to a man, she could re-marry. Happy ending. In order to honor those Kings and Queen, the people of Vietnam built a double temple: the first one dedicated to the prior King obviously has to be more majestic than the other one. All the dragons gather around the first temple; but the Queen is in the second temple. Twice a year, her statue is moved to the temple of the first king and left there for 1 day and 1 night before it is brought back to the second temple.

Temples are not a place of religion as per definition. They are a place where all Vietnamese meet and pray, to their heroes, for prosperity and success. Buddhist will pray religiously at the Pagoda, and Catholics would go to Church. But temples are a place where everyone is welcome, where all ethnic groups gather and celebrate their national treasure and heroes. How beautiful is this? Religion is never denied, but unity is just given the priority; above beliefs. This is how I read it at least, and it pleases me.

Falling every minute a little bit more for Vietnam, I pursued my adventure in the rowing boat. Cruising through rice fields, water lilies and caves; I was once again impressed by the good heart and the ingenuity of the ship’s captains. A ballet of small barks led and controlled by local men and women; too happy to show us around – and to practice the little French they have learn over the years. It looks like huge rocks are floating around in this flooded area, where rice and lotus flowers live together. It is stunning, from this point of view; and not less pretty from the bike pad we cycled on a bit later. Vietnam is one big messy playground, where everyone and everything runs free. I feel a bit dizzy, and I do not know any more if I should blame it on the heat, the busy-ness, the excitement… I decide to not blame it on anything and to live fully this state of daze. Vietnam is apart and I am amazed. Holding on that thought, I fell peacefully asleep in the bus back to Hanoi.

Waking up a few kilometers before the end destination, I have a last chat with my sweet guide. She is wearing a full outfit, hiding from the sun, and explains how hard she tries to avoid getting her skin darker. This is just funny how we always want the opposite of what we have. We, back in Europe, want a darker skin when people here try to bleach out their natural color. Talking about life, struggles and goals; she hands me over a book she just finished reading. She insists I take it as a gift. ‘’A frog in search of a New Pond’’. She concludes this perfect day sharing her story with me: ‘’I cannot be controlled, I need to do what I believe in and all I ask from the people around me is to support my choice whether or not they understand me. Sometimes, I just wish they would listen instead of talking me into their own molds. It is so important to have your own life.’’

Strongest women I have met so far are born in Vietnam. I bow down and I preciously carry with me life lessons on freedom, humility and community.

It is always when comes the time to leave that I appreciate all the value of the places I called home for a few nights. Luckily, I have another home to discover tomorrow – first in Bangkok, then in Kanchanaburi for a week. Bring in on!

 

 

Tic tac tic tac

Je n’ai pas compté les jours, mais on m’a dit que j’avais (déjà) fait la moitié de mon voyage.

Je n’ai pas vu le temps passer ; je n’ai fait qu’admirer les paysages, les pays et les visages. Je n’ai pas eu le temps de penser au temps, et c’est tant mieux. Je n’arrive pas tellement non plus à penser à ce qui m’attend, à ce qui se passera quand le temps sera venu, qu’il sera passé. Quand il sera temps de faire les comptes, par exemple.

Cela m’a pris du temps, de pouvoir m’accorder du temps ; de pouvoir m’en donner sans m’en vouloir. Et tout ce temps passé à essayer de ne penser qu’au présent me donne aujourd’hui une nouvelle dimension de liberté ; que je convoitais tant.

J’en ai vu passer des sommets, tant que je ne pourrai les nommer ; j’en admiré des soleils se couchant en me levant, des levants en me couchant, et vice et versa ; j’ai fixé plus d’horizons que d’objectifs ; j’ai marché, foulé, nagé, médité… ; j’ai inondé mon palais de saveurs, infusé mes sens de couleurs et d’odeurs, imbibé ma peau de soleil et ma mémoire de merveilles. Je n’ai pas vu le temps passer, mais depuis que je sais que le compte à rebours à débuter, il commence déjà à me manquer. Ce temps auquel hier encore je ne pensais pas…

Partout où j’ai posé pieds j’ai élu domicile. C’est aussi facile. C’est une question d’adaptation, et de lectures de codes. Nous avons tous des codes en commun, c’est d’ailleurs assez fascinant. J’ai visité quelques pays, j’y ai rencontré des voyageurs venant de multiples ailleurs. Nous avons tous cette manie de hocher la tête pour approuver la première bouchée d’un plat quand nous le trouvons à notre gout. Sourire assez longtemps à un visage fermé le transformera quasiment infailliblement en sourire, peu importe que l’on soit en Norvège ou au Vietnam. On se demande toujours d’où l’on vient quand on se rencontre, comme si notre origine faisait partie intégrante de notre identité au point de nous identifier complètement. J’entends souvent que mon anglais est très hollandais, voir allemand ; mais on ne me prête quasiment jamais la nationalité française de premier abord. Ça ne me dérange pas, je suis pas particulièrement attachée à une nationalité. Mes racines prennent tous leurs sens dans les branches que je porte et pousse ; bien plus que dans les nœuds enfouis sous terre. Tout en reconnaissant et chérissant la valeur des racines qui ont nourri mon ascension, je préfère me présenter et me projeter dans ce que je pousse plutôt que dans ce qu’il s’est passé. Mon actif se nourrit de ce passif, et mes actions de mes passions.

Le compte à rebours a commencé ; et j’essaye de ne pas m’en inquiéter. Tout comme je ne m’en veux pas de ne plus toujours savoir mettre de date, lieu ni nom sur des souvenirs olfactifs récoltés au fil de mes balades. Je suis heureuse d’avoir quelque chose à chérir, sans forcément savoir l’identifier. J’espère que j’aurai les mots pour les raconter, les partager, les revivre aussi. Je pense que jamais je n’ai possédé quelque chose comme je possède mes souvenirs. Sans étiquette ni squelette, ils ne vivent pourtant que dans ma tête. Mais jamais je n’ai eu la sensation de posséder quelque chose d’aussi précieux. Ces essences récoltées vont et viennent dans mon esprit, donnant ainsi une dynamique infini à ce voyage. Un souffle chaud marin, une jus de mangue, l’envolée d’un aigle dans une vallée immense, l’effluve de fruits au détour d’une rue vietnamienne, l’appel d’une maman mouton à ses petits, un éclat de cacao dans une bouchée d’acai, une tranche fondante de saumon, l’eau gelé d’un fjord glissant entre mes doigts, … Tout est fragile et pourtant si présent.

Je pensais que l’appartenance et la possession étaient des choses physiques, que l’on pouvait définir. Il me semble aujourd’hui que cela est faux. Ce que je suis ne cesse d’évoluer, et je ne pense pas pouvoir le réduire à ce que je porte dans mon sac à dos. Ni mon short préféré ni mon passeport ne me définissent. Si je savais vous expliquer ce que représente pour moi la saveur d’un thé au gingembre ou le parfum de la lavande, alors vous sauriez qui je suis. Un souvenir construit avec un inconnu qui se révèle âme sœur me définit davantage qu’une valeur inculquée dans ma petite enfance. Les choix que je fais, mes attitudes, mes actions et tout ce qui en découle me définissent davantage que mon identité sociale, si seulement j’arrive à me détacher de celle-ci pour aller à la rencontre de me sens et de mes intuitions. Nos valeurs et nos manières peuvent différer, et cette différence est souvent source d’incompréhension et de conflits insolvables. Mais quand je donne une chance à mes sens et intuitions de prendre le dessus, mon expérience  jusqu’ici me prouve que j’ai bien plus à partager que ce que je pensais. Je me redéfini et m’accompli davantage dans chaque rencontre que je fais, mon apprentissage est infini. Moi qui pensais savoir beaucoup, je n’ai jamais eu aussi soif d’apprendre.

 

Slides and smiles

I was looking forward to get away from the sauna that Hanoi is; but I surely was not excepting the shift, called Sa Pa.

I survived the night train. I probably owe my good night of sleep to the genuine night note left on the nightstand, signed ‘’merry Christmas and happy New Year’’. Before I knew it, the train arrived at the terminal and I found myself in the rain, on the platform, in my pajama’s, without my contact lenses.  Thanks to my Italians car-mates, I find my pick up guide and within one hour I will make it to Sa Pa.

It is raining cats and dogs. The stairs are flooded, my socks are already wet and the mountains are comfortably hidden behind thick grey clouds. Not made of sugar, I am not going to let a few drops get me down. I buy a perfectly fake jacket, which at least is waterproof; and hidden under my pink poncho I hit the road, together with 7 other companions. As we start walking down to the valley, the rain stops pouring, the sky turns blue, the sun rises and so does my optimism.

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A group of local woman will follow us for the first half of the day. Their colorful outfits highlight their dark skin and bright smile: they look totally different from the women back in Hanoi. If language might be barrier, communication remains easy. They smile, grab your hand, and lead you through the – very – muddy path, sneaking around the terraced rice fields. We are now in the only place of Vietnam which has an actual winter: the locals keep up with mountain’s rhythm, they know their way and they seem very happy to welcome us on their playground.

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We will cross a few villages: some organized as tiny cities with a few shops and bars; some just made of farms and fields. Walking on the edge of rice fields, we hump deeper in the valley, and the view keeps on becoming brighter and more spectacular. Keeping an eye on the slippery ground, we carefully proceed and keep on admiring the immense green field of terraces, flooded and flourishing. As globalization doesn’t spare anybody, we found around a corner a hut, selling ice cream and beers. The ice cream break gives us some time to get rid of all rain gears, and to share one tube of sunscreen. Looking down the valley, we can see the rest of our path and I warmly welcome the idea of crossing the bridge over the muddy river.

On the side of the roads we walk, under some fragile roofs built on the mountainside, or in the swamped rice fields; we meet multi-generational families. Half naked toddlers are building their confidence while walking in the mud, stunning young girls are begging you to buy a bracelet;  their parents are farmers, carpenters, cook or mechanic … or all of it at the same time; grandparents keep a wise and controlling eye on the all situation. It is summer holidays, so all village’s toes and hands are getting dirty on the golden and red path we walk. I would like the meet the English teacher who put into the most adorable little girl’s mouth those catchy sentences ‘’If you do not buy from me, I will follow you for ever’’, ‘’you are not human’’ or again ‘’thank you for nothing’’ when you try to politely turn down their insisting bracelets and handbags sales speech. As much as I try to keep my mind open and to not judge everything with my European eye; I cannot help myself but to pity those kids whose education seems to find it’s only purpose into getting money from hikers crossing their village. The girls are the sales force; they follow the path of their moms. The boys are in the field or at home fixing things with daddy.

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I will never insist enough on how lucky I feel about being born in Europe, in a country and a family which encouraged me to get educated so I would always have options. My freedom and my safety are, at the end of the day, the only things that really matter to me. Free to think, talk and move; and safe enough to do it without thinking twice.

I remember a chat I had with three teenagers working in a specialty coffee shop in Hanoi. At first, they did not really dare talking to me, so they asked once too many if I liked the coffee. Quickly, we were sitting the four of us around the bar, talking about travels and cultures. A question one of them asked me was as direct as confronting ‘’How did you do it? To buy your tickets? I am working very hard here but I am quite sure I will never be able to go on a trip around the world and spend a few months in Europe’’. They travel in Vietnam, where they were born; and they love it. They know their country, they travel with their friends and family; but they also dream of crossing borders and trying out food and coffee from other places. How did I do it? I was born at the right place and I made the right choices. It is as easy and unfair as that. Even with the best will in the world, it will remain nearly impossible for those teenagers to achieve their travel dreams. For the simple reason that you can have 10 coffees here, for the same price as a single espresso on the Champs Elysees. Good news is, the coffee here tastes better.

Again, they do not look unhappy and I find myself envying their creativity more than pitying their condition. I am happy to have options, but the choices I have to make can be source of a struggle that those kids will never know. They accept their faith and make a life out of it, spending their energy into creativity; when I spend my time wondering what I could do better, stronger, faster, and in a more efficient way…

The first day of trekking ends in a big wooden house, build by the river side. Quick shower for everyone and a pile of local beers to go with the sweet and sour fries the host has prepared for us. We share a huge and delicious meal, in the heart of the very modest house. The living room, the kitchen and the bathroom are on the ground floor; and the mezzanine making the 1st floor will be the place where we will sleep tight after too many rice wine shots. I love how travelling brings people together, I just find it beautiful how easily we connect and open up. Our relations might be ephemeral, but it does not make them any less real. Just like the hundreds of butterflies and dragonflies we spotted today: if you stop running and look, they are everywhere. Memories to catch, learn from and live by; without ever possessing them.

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It was not even 11 pm (felt like 2 am) when we trudged to the first floor.  Firm mats on the floor, mosquito nests tucked in to prevent the intrusion of cockroaches; and the 8 of us slept like we were dead.

As the morning rise, we enjoy breakfast with a view I could get used to. Freshly made pancakes, with honey, lime and bananas (yes, it happened. I survived, I actually enjoyed.). The second day of trekking starts, together with my sweat production.

As I swipe the sweat running from below my cap, I laugh thinking back to a brief talk I had with a guy before leaving Sa Pa yesterday. He was telling me how travelling was not to be considered as real life, because I was not producing anything for the society while I was on the road. Primo, I produce: sweat, and memories. Secondo, I have never felt more useful and rich than I am now. Terzo, how sad is it to reduce happiness and life to productivity?

After a few more challenging muddy steps through a bamboo forest, we found ourselves facing a majestic waterfall. Following Lucas, French master of risk management, we almost all ended up sitting in the fresh running water, washing away the dry dirt we could not get off in the shower yesterday. Refreshing our sour legs, facing the valley and its infinite green terraces, I could not contain my joy and satisfaction. I was on the top of my happiness production. I made it here, so again, tell me once more what it is that I could not achieve? All doubts and guilt that I may feel sometimes along the way were being washed away by the fresh, clear, running water. I deserve this, and I am making the best out of it, going my own way.

Back to the village of Sa Pa, we managed to find a place willing to give our 10 feet a synchronized massage. Tough negotiations, delightful moment. All relaxed, I headed back to the station where my night train was waiting. Bit freaked out when I realized there was no one but me taking this train, I ate a full bag of m&m’s. I finally found a few travelers to board with me, and I eventually fell asleep and woke up in Hanoi early morning.

Keeping up the trekking spirit, we met up today with 2 of the 7 companions I share my last two days with. Making the best out of the maze that Hanoi is, we shared food, got a manicure, had good discussions and sincere laughs… and before we said goodbye, we made plans to meet again. The world is a small place and I am happy for I realized how easy it is to build from nothing. Like those amazing robinwoods we met yesterday: they did not know what a picture was, but they could build their own archery. Your best weapons in life are already in your hands, all you need is the time and the space to shape them. Trying to fit or to have people adapting to your needs is a waste of time; for you already have enough soulmates around who will respect and encourage you. It is a matter of patience, with a pinch of courage.

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Wake up call

Where did the time go? Time flew in Japan and before I knew it, it was time to go.

I tried to make the best out of it, to soak in all the inspirations the cities, temples and stunning gardens have been whispering to my ears. I am impressed by this organized chaos; in which people seem to function without ever questioning the rules and habits. As much as I appreciated and learned from the kindness, politeness and organization; I cannot help my desire to break some rules. I guess it is in my DNA, to try finding a way to sneak around established protocols, to not accept rules just because of their nature, but to be willing to understand before applying.

It is done because it is how it is done that it is how it should be done. Sometimes my tries to go around are fiasco and I gladly go back to the common root – the rule – but then my acceptance process is helped and healed by my own experience. I only want to be sure that whatever I do will work for me. I do not want to blindly accept my condition, in the name of a power or a system I either understand neither necessarily have respect for. I am not sure what it says about me, and I am not sure how I will manage to conciliate this ‘’ awakening’’ with my life once I come home; but I hope I will not give it up. I do not intend to create my own system, not even my system in the system; only to make sure that whatever system I live in, I am doing it for the right reasons. Adapting is not an issue; I actually see it as a form of flexibility and therefore a kind of intelligence; but accepting should not always be the first reaction. Analyzing should be the number one reflex, without lasting for too long. It is all a matter of balance.

I have not seen a sign of impatience, either felt any negative energy while taking the commute in Tokyo. I have been impressed by the smooth and disciplined flows of people cruising in the streets. I have been amused by the genuine excitement of people when you reply ‘’France’’ to their ‘’where are you from?’’; moved by the way kids would make contact with you. I admire the way Japanese live together, how they care for each other and how they make sure everyone as a place, a role, a mission. In shops and restaurants, you can often find an employee whose only job is to greet you welcome and goodbye.

I have loved walking in the empty streets of the business district early morning and late at night; and in the residential streets a few feet away from the busy and popular shopping streets. I spent hours in libraries and groceries stores, trying to get something out of the books covers or food packaging. I sat down in the park and observed the dynamics of people – families, friends, colleagues… I have walked until I could not feel my feet anymore, I have seen so many colors and shapes that my eyes were tired of being open, I have adapted my behavior to the surrounding energy… I have traveled and loved getting lost in those Japanese playgrounds, regardless if they were cities or parks; regardless of the weather and of the time of the day. I love Japan. I just love Japan. It has awakened things in me I was not aware of, it has taken me to a new dimension.

Satisfied, by everything I had seen and felt in Tokyo for the last two days; I slept like a baby last night. So tight I did not wake up on time for my flight to Hanoi. In a bit of a rush, I made it just on time to the airport – thanks for the precious help of my compatriot / roommate.

Hanoi is … alive. That is the least I can tell after a few hours spent in this humid, warm and interactive city. Life is everywhere, in movement, sounds and smells. Walking around the old quarter and the French quarter, I saw a mix of colors, shapes and lights so unlikely it works! After a few days spent in the kingdom of organization, the chaos of Hanoi is somehow comforting. There is no such thing as one good either right way of living; everything works as long as the participants fit in the system they are evolving in. Vietnamese children riding their bikes on busy streets, slaloming between scooters, cars and trash do not look any less happy than the Japanese kids with their perfect white socks waiting on line in front of the subway doors.

Whatever works for you.

I took a ride with a girl from the hotel: she rode; I sat at the back with her 5 years old daughter squeezed between us. The rules are simple; you shall not stop. As soon as you start the engine, you shall only pause or turn it off at destination. The traffic is busy but surprisingly fluent. Hard to figure out on which side of the road we are supposed to be. Go you own way!

Sidewalks are observing desks where people stop, eat, and talk. You do not walk there. Streets are shared between all wheeled objects and moving people; food and cheap t-shirt are to be found at every corner; all of it in an atmosphere cadenced by the continuously buzzing horns.

I sit down and observe the scooters carry too much and move quickly in all directions: Hanoi is a human sized anthill. Tomorrow I have the full day to explore the city, before heading to Sapa with a night train. I am curious to see the morning rhythm of this place which does not seem to get a lot of sleep.

This way, my way.

I sometimes wake up in the morning and wonder for a minute in which city I am. It is the weirdest feeling.

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I woke up in Kyoto this morning: the forecast predicted rain from 10 am, so I took my bike around 8 after a quick breakfast at the hostel and head up North to the Philosopher’s path. I have been way too absorbed yesterday by the temples visits, so I decided to save the path for my morning walk.

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Oh Kyoto … getting lost in your tiny paved streets, finding my way in the maze that your old wooden houses have drawn over the centuries, crossing your bridges over quiet streams or magnificient river, cycling up your curvy hills, being dazzled by the smell of your flowers, losing track of time in your temples, finding faith in humanity in the smile and kindness of your people… I am not sure what happened to me over the last 48 hours, but one thing I know is that I have reached a all new level of peace and quiet.

2 hours after I stepped in the train in Tokyo, my sleepy face marvels at the Kyoto tower. A few blocks from the station, I find the tiniest bike rental shop: for less than a cappuccino in Paris I get 24 hours to ride my yellow bycicle. I know nothing about Kyoto, so I just cycle around; driven by my senses. I visited 3 temples that day; all three very different and very inspiring.

 

One funny thing about Japan is the scale of their maps. At the entrance of each temple or garden, they hand you a map: it looks huge, with lakes and waterfalls. It is not. It is tiny and adorable. Do not get me wrong, I do not mean it in a negative way. Japan just is adorable. It is the cutest place I have ever seen; everything is so cute it is driving me crazy. As I cycle or walk down the streets, I am constantly talking to things, animals or even people. I give them nicknames and say out loud in French  »you are too small to be real ». This is what Japan does to me, I am losing it.

Of all places I have been so far – not only on this current trip I mean – Japan is the weirdest. Weird for it is so different from everything I have known or experienced. I have loved and appreciated every places, as holiday getaway or sweet escape. But Japan is different. It is appealing, it has gotten under my skin – I also got sunburned on my nose, should have listened to the app of my japanse phone warning me about strong UV …

So there I was, strolling from a temple to another; smelling the perfumes of the perfect gardens, listening to the mantras sung by the monks, walking bare feet and meditating facing the sun, bowing down to Buddha… The peace inspired by those places is bringing so much good energy in me, it is hard to put it into words.

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Before the sun went down, I made it to a very special place: the golden temple. Away from everything, in the middle of a wild garden, standing proud and magnificient : a temple covered with gold. Unspoiled, a perfect green setting keeps safe a treasure I was not expecting. I usually am more of a nature enthusiast, and I have a hard time being moved by buildings. But this was something different. Magnanimous, magnetic, magic. All I have to say is, thank you.

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I am getting a bit dizzy from the crazy rhythm of my japanese days. I have spent quite some time away from the city life over the last weeks, and I am getting easily tired of the city sounds and energy. I did not feel the rush till now, today or any other day since I landed in Tokyo; but I somehow feel tired. As soon as I was cycling back to the city center, I found myself in busy streets where traffic lights and tailpipe replaced the magic atmosphere of the temples garden. I have always lived in the city, so it should not be too much of a chock for me; yet I have a hard time dealing with all the surroundings  »demands ». I get tired and stupid when I cannot think clearly – this is what the city does to me. And I guess this is just what I needed to take a break from – the unrealistic demand of a city; which without regards of its location will always alienate the best in me and turn myself into an impatient and arrogant monster.

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Far away from the city lights and constant whispers, I enter a place which looks more like a living room than a restaurant. Following the recommendation of Thomas – who once was a god to me – I find myself in the most local and typical restaurant once could dream of. They serve ramen, made with soy milk. Creamy, dreamy, fresh and spicy ; the perfect balance has been created under this very roof. Bare feet, sitting on the floor, loudly drinking my soup; I am feeling at home. Naturally, I order the only desert on the menu, a soy based cheesecake. I could have had the all cake, it is ridicuously tasty and I want this feeling to last forever.

Eventually, I get my happy belly and feet to bed and we slept like we were dead.

The philosopher’s path was the best way to wake up and open my mind to this new day. I haven’t spend any minute of today in a dry state, and I did not really mind. I am a happy idiot.

I cycled up to the trail, walked around, enjoyed the quiet environnement in this new day … all of it in a light and refreshing rain. I got lost looking for the station, found the zoo and loved walking down the river; in an intensfying rain. Soaking wet, I took the train to Nara where a pouring rain welcomed me. When I got my umbrella for free, I should have guessed already that there was something unique about this place.

Nara is magic. If there is one place you want to visit in your life, it is Nara. The park is the house of magnificient temples, but more importantly it is populated by deer. Deer, walking freely, crossing zebras, getting around and biting your food away. Deer, fawns and birds: Nara is basically the place that inspired Bambi. Nested in a cosy temple, the biggest Buddha is to be found in this very park. I am not familiar enough with buddhism, I have to study more. I just find fascinating how respectful people are, of the place but also of each other. Crowded, the place is not chaotic. People kindly wait to take pictures, and apologize if they happen to come too close to your picture zone, or even comfort zone. Wishes and prayers, written on wood or fabrics, are held all around the temples. Time pauses, and something new is floating in the atmosphere. Something new to me. I cannot quite yet put a finger on it, and for now I just appreciate feeling this way.

Also, I might become famous in a few local schools in the coming days. I have been interviewed by 4 different group of students; about the purpose of my visit, my country of origin and my favorite sport. We took pictures together and I felt like Beyonce for a minute. I almost cried when I got a frog in origami as a thank you gift from the youngest of all students, who was too cute to be true.

I am now back in Tokyo and I do not know where the time went. As I was walking out of the station, I found myself next to a shy japanese teenager who was introducing the city to a girl just as old as him. He clearly was a bit embarassed and just said  »so, this is Tokyo ». The girl and I looked at each other and could not help ourselves but to laugh.

Yes… This is Tokyo. I have been talking about it for so long, and now here I am, almost leaving… till next time treasure, till next time …