My final two weeks in Chaing Mai this April were horrible…one of the worst experiences of my life. This may come as a shock to you from a returning visitor for the past ten years who has never hesitated to put this beautiful historic city at the top of her list as the most desirable city in SE Asia to visit and possibly live year round. I can only blame this change of mind on climate change. This year Chiang Mai broke all their previous records for high pollution indices and even gained the dubious title of being the most polluted city in the world beating New Delhi and Shanghai, the usual winners. The PM2.5 ( fixed particulate matter) was hovering between 140 to 200+ the whole time I was there. I can’t imagine what effect that had on my all ready compromised lungs where some bronchitis had set in while in Bali.
How can I best sum up my one month stay in Ubud? On one hand, the month seems to have passed by much too quickly failing to give me enough time to really explore as much as I would have liked. On the other hand, it seems likes eons ago that I first stepped onto Bali soil again after a nine-year hiatus. It’s been a month of changes in many ways for me as in the weather, friends who have come and gone, my personal travel plans, but the most difficult has been getting to know the new Ubud which hardly resembles anything like the small village it was. It has, unfortunately, morphed into a far too busy and noisy town adjusting to the over development brought about by the influx of tourists, many coming from China.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks you: it breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you.” Anthony Bourdain.
When I heard that Anthony Bourdain had taken his life, for one brief moment my heart stopped. Envied by both travellers and would be travellers alike, he had an amazing ability to gain an understanding of the many countries he visited. His love of all kinds of food and his talent for cooking it in five-star restaurants before he gained his fame as a ‘tell it as it is’ travel reporter led to an impressive lifestyle envied by those who wanted the kind of freedom that such a profession can give. The intensity of my shock at the news of his suicide took me by surprise. How could he of all people commit such a sad and selfish act when at the top of a flourishing career?
Although I envied his job and the finesse with which he handled it, I was never one of his avid fans. There was no question that he was a powerful interviewer and showed an honesty and humbleness which is rare in celebrities and that impressed me. However, call me judgemental or plain old-fashioned, but his many tattoos bothered me. What was he trying to say I wondered? I wonder this about all the young travellers I see with bodies covered in them? I know that tattoos are meant to portray something personal about those wearing them, such as a love affair gone sour, a particular beef against the world, or to draw attention to a personal philosophy or cause, but aren’t they also an indication or sign that the person sporting them doesn’t really respect or like his body or what’s inside it? To me it speaks of some kind of self mutilation.Was this his way of unknowingly portraying an inner disconnect of something vital missing in his seemingly exciting life of freedom?
I also admired Bourdain’s wonderful way with words, hence, the above quotation which appeared in our Chronicle Herald the day after his death. It so vividly sums up the good and bad aspects of travelling alone. The amount of travel I have done is a drop in the bucket compared to what he put in. Nevertheless, I totally agree with what it can be and apparently was for him. It can be a blessing as well as a curse. The freedom which it allows has to be the top draw for any traveller who endeavours to do it, but there is invariably a price tag attached to such freedom.
Bourdain had an eleven year daughter and a wife… for awhile…apparently they had separated. He was totally responsible for pulling together his team of writers, photographers, and all the other bodies needed to carry out his travels to exotic places around the world. This effort was from all reports on a modest budget. It’s not surprising that this would eventually take a toll on his family. Those closest to him noticed that although he appeared to be happy right up until a few days before his death, he did look very tired. At the age of 61 perhaps he saw what was ahead and decided to end it before it got the best of him. We will never know, but the one thing I do know is that if you have a family or a spouse, travelling on your own doesn’t provide a firm foundation for a close relationship…..unless you can take the family with you. This is happening in some rare cases with young, mostly European couples. I think we will see more of this in the future as our world becomes more dependent on technology and young people are forced to find more rewarding work in a foreign country, or to escape from the rat race in their own countries. They could also be forced to move because of climate change and the cost of living in their native countries. There are a myriad of reasons and the opportunities for doing this are certainly there. The nomadic lifestyle is appealing to a growing group of those who want that kind of freedom.
I totally agree that the best education you could ever get is to travel by yourself. There is no doubt in my mind about that. As Bourdain said: “The journey changes you.” That is certainly true for me. Let me name the ways:
- It has increased my self-confidence.
- It has helped me to find the value in reaching out to others.
- It has helped me to be more resilient.
- It has helped me understand the world through the culture and the customs of the countries I have visited.
- It has helped me open my eyes and heart to see that although we may be different on the outside, we are not so on the inside. We are all very much connected.
Anthony Bourdain found his passion in the work he was doing which garnered him fame and recognition and all the other benefits that came with that. The missing link was his inability to overcome his demons and realise that the only way he could have conquered them would have been to face them. He needed to slow up and take time to do that. Unfortunately, he did not, resulting in leaving behind a young daughter who will have to deal with his decision. He will definitely be missed by all those who knew him, but we all know who will miss him the most… and this is the greatest tragedy of all.
If you would like to find out more about my thoughts on travelling on my own as a senior woman you can take a look at the following posts:
My tribute to Anthony Bourdain’s perpective on travel with food as the key for unlocking his road to fame, is the gallery of pictures I have taken over the years in my travels to Viet Nam (his favourite country), Thailand, Cambodia, and Myranmar (Burma), Morocco and Italy. Click on the picture for the caption.
“The greatest adventure you could ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” These are the words of Oprah Winfrey and she could not have said it better. As an old year passes and a new one begins, I can’t help but be captured by her words of wisdom. Like many of us, I find myself reflecting upon what dreams or goals I have realized this past year. I usually do set out some kind of plan or rough road map of where I want to go in any given year. This has become especially important since I have begun travelling again. So when Hubby and I decided to visit Morocco in April, I knew I just had to take a camel trek into the desert.
This dream goes back to 1970 when I saw my first camel in the Negev Desert while backpacking around Israel. I never got to actually ride one then but always thought it would be a neat thing to do. Unfortunately, the dream was not what I had envisioned and what the guide books had said it would be. My overnight camel trek to the edge of the Saharan Desert turned out to be one of the most gruelling undertakings I have ever experienced. None the less, it was well worth it, and I would do it again if I had the opportunity. You can read more about my adventure in my April post, A Saharan Adventure.
This adventure and the story I had written about it inspired me to reflect upon all the places I have visited and written about in 2015. For the past two years, Word Press has sent me a summary of all my posts to inform me of which ones garnered the most attention. To my surprise my camel story didn’t get as much attention as I thought it would which may have been because I was unable to publish any pictures with it. Who knows? The stories that got the most views and comments were those I wrote while in Cambodia. Phnom Penh Revisited, Escape to Kampot and Battambang – the Heart and Soul of Cambodia were at the top of my reader’s lists.
Even though it has been Thailand I have headed to for the past eight years, it has always been Cambodia, which I have visited three times, that somehow has impacted me the most and definitely helped me to grow in so many ways. I have nothing but complete admiration for the endurance, openness, and basic sweetness of the Cambodian people. Theirs is a story that is worth the telling and is probably why I am so motivated to write about them and the complex history that has shaped them.
After I return home from my winter travels, my focus changes from travel to adjusting to life in the tiny fishing village of Victoria Beach. My posts over the summer and fall have meandered from short trips taken to places nearby or further afield and to learnings in my own life. Two recent posts entitled A Recipe for Ageing and A Moment of Happiness received more response than I thought they ever would since they were about rather weighty topics. However, I should not be surprised as both of them speak to certain aspects of our human condition, a subject that has always interested me and apparently many of my readers.
I have asked myself if I accomplished most of the things I had set out to do last year this time? I certainly did when it came to travelling but not nearly enough in my writing. Somehow life simply gets in the way of doing more of it, and I must confess that my lack of discipline is also to blame. I shall promise myself to not get too worked up about not accomplishing all I intended by simply putting them on the agenda for 2016. There is still time to get really serious about the writing if I could just learn to let some other things go. Ah, but it’s the ‘letting go’ which is the difficult part.
As I said the travel part and where to travel to is the easy bit. I will be fulfilling another travel dream this coming year by going to South America, specifically to Ecuador. For many years I have read about the wonders of this tiny country but I am not talking about a trip to the Galapagos. What intrigues me is why it’s become a sought after haven for ex-pats, for its indigenous culture, and its social systems. It’s also noted for its crafts and markets so I will be searching out these for my small importing business. In March, I will meet up with Hubby in Buenos Aires in Argentina where we will lap up the life of this very cosmopolitan city and perhaps even learn how to tango. I don’t plan to do too much travelling as that becomes very expensive. Instead I am hoping that by staying close to our small rented studio that I will be able to carry out my goal of doing more writing this coming year. Ideas and comments for what I could write on or improve upon are always welcome.
A very Happy New Year to you all!
Picture Galley for 2015
With the advent of my 70th birthday this summer and a recent invitation to my 50th class reunion at Mount Allison University in the spring of 2016, the prospect of ageing has been much on my mind. I’ve also been told by more than one psychic that I will live well into my 90’s. Yikes! Moreover, it’s difficult to not think about ageing when looking in the mirror every day or seeing people around me coming down with strange illnesses. My friends and I make jokes about it vowing to never give in to it as our parents did. Not for us the canes, walkers, or, heaven forbid, a nursing home! No way! If we are going to live longer than any previous generation then we want to be healthy so we can enjoy it to the max. We want it all! If we should get sick and have to depend on outside help, we joke about getting a gun or pills or better still get someone to put us in a boat and send us out to sea. All joking aside, however, we know this is not the answer so we worry about how we are going to deal with our remaining years or as some are calling it – our third act in the play of life. Our parents called them “the golden years” but found out they weren’t so golden when they realized what it all entailed.
In a recent article in our daily newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, Jan Wong writes that North America needs to take a more natural approach to ageing instead of resorting to hair dyes, Botox, and tummy tucks. In her words, we need “a cultural revolution on how to grow old”. I think she might be on to something.
So here we are, we women of 60 plus in years, vowing to never check into a nursing home (assisted living might be fine if we can afford it) and wanting to remain healthy so we can maintain our independence. As far as I am concerned, to achieve this we need to be creative about it and work at it or as Wong says initiate a cultural revolution. It won’t just happen unless we are one of the lucky ones like my husband who has inherited a good set of genes. He just turned 80 and is still going strong despite adopting the kind of healthy life style I am advocating. Here is my recipe for healthy longevity.
The first thing that comes to my mind is that we need to open up our minds to what some of the alternatives could be as opposed to relying totally on the medical field which is heavy into using drugs to fix every problem our poor old bodies might develop. This can work for some if they have good medical care and a health plan but for many it doesn’t always work. With prolonged use of multiple drugs, the user’s health often deteriorates resulting in the walkers, wheelchairs, and assisted nursing care which we all want to avoid.
Personally, I prefer to meet the challenge of ageing by using a little prevention, and so over the years I have probably spent a small fortune on supplements and herbs as one way to keep me healthy. In addition to that, I try to eat a balanced diet striving to avoid fast foods and anything that comes in a can or a box. This is very difficult when travelling with Hubby who definitely likes his fast food treats and will use any excuse to get them. While at home, I try to make our meals from scratch as much as I can. My little vegetable garden in the summer helps me to do this.
I recently heard Dick Van Dyke, who is now in his 89th year, being interviewed on CBC’s “Q” morning show. He has just written yet another book on the subject of ageing, and his answer to dealing with it is to “keep moving”. He suffers from arthritis throughout his body but refuses to give in to the pain so just keeps moving. He was asked whether he includes romance and sex as one of his physical activities to which he didn’t hesitate to respond that he married his younger wife four years ago after losing his last wife – not to mention many of his friends. Losing those closest to him was one of the most difficult things he’s had to deal with so his answer was to just keep on dancing with his wife to the tune of life.
What do I do to keep active besides gardening and keeping my house presentable? For many years, I have been doing my own brand of yoga at home which includes interesting postures and lots of stretching. In addition, I try to walk up and down the hills in our little village. However, I can do so much more when I am away travelling because then I usually find myself in the city with no car. To keep within my budget and to get my much-needed exercise, I use my feet instead of taxis or public transportation for moving around.
Good, now we have taken care of how to keep our bodies healthy, but what about our minds? So much of our behaviour stems from what is going on in our heads. We need to open up our minds and try to see things from a different perspective. Then we can change some of our old beliefs that may no longer serve us very well. One way to do this as I have discovered is through travel. I love seeing new countries that are different from Canada, learning their history and observing how they are living today. Although language is often a barrier, I try to learn as much as I can by finding those who do speak my language or just reading books about whatever country I am visiting.
For those people who haven’t the will or the way to travel, they can stimulate their minds by reading and most importantly get out and about. They can volunteer their services to the community in some area which suits their skills and interests. Some are seeking part-time jobs or setting up their own businesses. We just need to make the effort to get out and join up with others in whatever way we can. We mustn’t stay at home and do nothing feeling like our lives are over.
I am fine when I am travelling as I meet so many interesting people and see so many new sights, but when I get back to Victoria Beach for up to seven months I must find more than just my home and garden to keep my body and mind occupied. This has been a challenge. I have tried working for others such as, at a local coffee shop, an antique store, and a short stint for Efficiency Nova Scotia promoting energy-saving light bulbs. I even tried hiring myself out as a healer in Reiki and chakra balancing but none of these really worked for me. Today I have discovered that I am happiest at work that is related to my travels which has resulted in a small import business and my blog writing.
Stimulating our mental state can help develop a positive attitude towards life if we haven’t already got one. Not everyone sees the glass as “half full” because they are not genetically inclined or simply have not been wired this way. Again by changing our thought patterns, we can change our perspective and begin to see things in a more positive light. It’s all got to do with those thoughts. I am not saying it’s easy to change them, but it can be done consciously by choosing what we think and say, and if it’s negative be aware of it and let it go. We can change that negative thought into something positive. If it’s pouring rain outside and we see it as ruining our day, then it will. Why not look at something positive about it such as how it could be the perfect day to curl up with a good book and read, or whatever else we enjoy doing? Get busy instead of sitting and thinking about how miserable it is outside. For those people who suffer from lack of light, then turn on the lights to brighten up your home. For every negative thought think something positive instead. If we do this every time we are feeling negative, it will become easier over time. Guaranteed! A positive attitude goes a long way towards fending off depression.
The third and final component we need to nurture if we are going to help this process of ageing is the spiritual. We all have a soul and we need to feed it. The traditional way for us to do that was to attend church every Sunday. Today this is losing favour with most people for many reasons but there are other ways we can do this for our soul. One of them is to never stop growing. We need to keep learning not only about our external world but about ourselves. Who are we and what is it we are passionate about? These are questions I know that I will keep asking myself until that day comes when I choose to leave this world behind. So many people as they grow older after their families have moved away or for whatever other traumatic event or loss that has happened in their lives simply give up growing. They often become the recluses of this world.
This is my recipe for dealing with ageing for the present time, and I can see it lasting well into my 70’s. The question then is what about my 80’s? I am sure they will be more challenging, but I hope I will be able to deal with them in the same way with perhaps a few alterations. All I need to do is look at my husband who is now in his 80’s and showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, sometimes I think he’s becoming better as he ages, at least mentally and spiritually. His physical is beginning to show some wear, but he is still drug free except for a small dosage of blood pressure pills and doesn’t need any help in moving around. He has strong familial genes as does his sister who is just a few years behind him and still looks fabulous.
If I follow this recipe I know that there is no real guarantee that it will prolong my life and keep me disease free, but at least it will make whatever life I have left a whole lot happier and more at peace with myself and the world around me. It’s certainly something worth striving for, don’t you think? I would love to receive any comments you might have on this somewhat weighty subject.