Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Travelling through fear

A woman came up to me after my gig on the weekend and said that she wished she could be fearless like me. She said she was too afraid to travel. That she was scared about too many things. I think it's interesting that people assume that because I've lived a colourful life and had my fair share of adventure - that I've done it all without fear. I explained to her that I am scared all the time. Scared of big things - like the unknown, like loneliness on the road, like shit going wrong when I'm far from home. And scared of the little things - like not getting enough sleep when I'm staying in noisy places, like missing my daily intake of broccoli, like hurting my back when I'm lugging all my crap from train to plane to bus. But for some reason I do it anyway. The fear never leaves. It's a daily thing. But the brightness of the 'new' - new landscapes, new human connections, new scents and tastes - has a way of outweighing the scary stuff and leaving me feeling grateful to be alive and grateful to be travelling the road I am travelling. With love from Esslingen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Laughing in Luang Prabang

My friend Heather made me laugh so hard the other night that I thought I might crack a rib. You know that kind of laughter when you're both gasping for air with tears streaming down your cheeks and after ten minutes you're still in hysterics even though you're not sure why. There are only a couple of people in this world who can make me laugh like that and I can now add Heather's name to that short list.

Today I say goodbye to Luang Prabang - to the golden sunsets, the quaint-coloured doorways, the temples and orange-robbed monks - and to a small group of people who have become my family here in this sleepy town.

When you move to a foreign land on your own - where nobody knows you, nobody owes you, nobody needs to have anything to do with you - and you somehow manage to find a tribe. When you are able to gain the acceptance of complete strangers - who invite you into their homes to share meals and ideas and life. When they love you and your often-neurotic ways not because they're blood-related and feel obliged to do so, but because they choose to. When you find yourself falling off a couch from laughing so hard with a girl who you didn't know at all six months ago, but who has become a friend you'll now treasure for years to come. Well, it makes you feel like you're an okay human being, you know? That you're doing something right with your life. That the world, no matter which corner you land in, is a wonderous place.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Poetry and pain

He served 14 years in prison in the USA. The only thing that kept him sane, kept him from giving up on life - was the thought of being back in the loving arms of his family in California. But Cambodian poet Kosal Khiev never got that chance. Just as he came to the end of his sentence he was deported by the US government without warning back to his birthplace - a land completely foreign to him - a land that he was forced to flee at the age of one with his mother and six siblings due to the horrors of genocide and war.

Over the weekend, I watched this passionate and tormented man pour his pain into poetry. I was moved by his story. He's one of more than 2 million refugees who have been deported back to their homelands since 2009...stripped of all rights to ever return to their families and lives in America.

Kosal was a teenager when he was arrested in the US after a gang-led shooting. He was found guilty by association for attempted murder and tried as an adult. He was sentence to 16 years in jail at the age of 16.

It was inside the infamous Folsom prison where he discovered his gift for the spoken word. He wrote about his struggle. He wrote about regret. His words were the tears that he wasn't able to cry.

He wrote about his longing to be reunited with his family - and, when he was finally a free man, he wrote about the prison of his deportation to Cambodia. Without his friends or family or the life he had known since the age of one - Phnom Penh was a different kind of solitary confinement.

If you get the chance to watch 'Cambodian Son' - a documentary about his struggle and achievements, I can highly recommend it.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A matter of comfort

When it comes to comfortable seating, Laos ranks 185 in the world. Given that it's one of the poorest nations in Asia, I can understand that bum-comfort is not a priority. The Lao people have better things to worry about than the loss of feeling in their lower limbs after sitting too long on a plank of wood.

The chairs in this place feel like they were designed to do permanent damage to one's tailbone. I have never come across such physically challenging furniture in any other part of the world. To address this important issue, I have taken to carrying a butt cushion around town. It's a terribly sexy look.

I stumbled across this couch, placed outside a blue-themed home in a village not far from Luang Prabang a little while ago. It's one of the most padded seats in the region. I'd recommend a trip to Ban Donkeo just to sit on it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Singing like nobody's listening?

A performer once gave me a wise piece of advice. He said, "Even if you feel like it's the worst gig of your life and that nobody is listening, sing to the one person who is listening and sing as if they are the most important person in the world".

A few weeks ago I was asked to represent Australia at the ASEAN Plus Music and Culinary Festival in the capital of Laos, Vientiane. The event had been set up in a shopping mall carpark next to an amusement park.

As I sat on the stage, trying to sing over the din of dodgem car rides and neighbouring stages where techno beats boomed so loudly that they made my heart rattle in my chest, I spotted a couple of blokes with Billabong t-shirts standing in front of me with two little girls on their shoulders who were smiling and waving.

I sang my soul out to those little girls. I sang Hallelujah for Leonard Cohen, whose passing filled me with too much sadness. I closed my eyes and imagined him waltzing at the side of the stage with his stylish hat on. I sang his song full of feeling, even though the majority of Lao people standing before me would have had no idea about the man or his beautiful words and melodies. I sang until tears almost fell from my eyes... and then I left the stage.

It was not the best performance of my life. It was probably one of the most challenging. But I gave it my all. And as I walked into the crowd with my guitar, those two small girls ran up to me, faces beaming, with their arms wide open. They didn't say anything, they just hugged me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The barking dog

I've never been much of a dog person. When I moved into my rental here in Luang Prabang I was unimpresed that I'd have to share my front yard with two mangy mongrels. My landlady, who lives in the same compound, assured me that her dogs were necessary for security - and for the past six months I've pretty much despised them for the way they've barked at anything that moves, often in the middle of the night for long periods of time.

Some evenings, when they've charged at me in full voice as I enter the gates, I've barked back - particularly at the smaller one - a grey and white spotted thin-faced mutt who seemed the dumber of the two. A few weeks ago I noticed he'd become a little frail. He was barking less. My landlady told me he was refusing to eat. In the days that followed he has grown thinner and weaker.

Last week I came home to find him lying on my front porch. Despite having no strength, he lifted his boney body off the ground, head down, and carried himself down the steps - knowing that I'd never liked him sitting there and that, in the past, I'd shooed him away. I felt terrible and tried to stop him from leaving. I told him that I was changing the rules. That he was now welcome to sit on my balcony. I went and got a bath mat and laid it on the porch, along with a bowl of water. Each night since, he's been sleeping on my verandah. Last night we sat together in the darkness and I hummed his emaciated body a song as I watched his rib cage rise and fall in the half-moon light.

I was afraid to open my front door this morning because I know that soon he'll be dead and that I was the girl who, only a month ago - when he was barking his brains out at 2am - had wished that fate upon him.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Shadow graffiti on temple walls

"Do you ever feel lonely?" the novice monk asked me as the sun sank around us, "because I live with many monks here at the temple but I feel lonely. I miss my parents. They live so far away. I think, if you live alone, you also must be missing your family. I think you feel lonely, same as me. Sometimes I want to leave the temple and go back to my village but my family is too poor to take care of me."

Vithone is 18 years old. His parents are rice farmers in a small rural village six hours from Luang Prabang. They have five other children. They brought him to the city when he was 12 years old so that he could get an education and left him there. Three years later his father visited him. He hasn't seen his mother for six years. His days begin at 3.30am when he wakes and heads to the temple hall to pray. He then walks the streets in his orange robes, collecting alms in his bowl.

"Mostly I get food but sometimes people give me money. I save it because I want to go to university and my parents can not afford to send me. I don't know if I will ever have enough money to be able to further my studies. Maybe one day someone will be very generous to me - then I will be able to go to university."

Before we met, I had been painting shadow-graffiti on the wall of his temple whilst listening to Bon Iver.

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Foxtrot lesson by the lavatory...my flight home

A break to stretch my legs on the flight back to Laos turned into an introductory lesson to the Foxtrot next to the lavatory with 86-year-old Tom who confessed that in the mornings, while making porridge, he likes to shimmy his hips in time to his favourite songs.
"My wife died 10 months ago. We were married 64 years and I miss her terribly - but in life, we have choices - and I decided, six months after she passed away, that I didn't want to become one of those miserably oldbuggers who sits around waiting to die. No, not me. I decided I was going to be 'the happy man'. So now I start my day by dancing around the kitchen. And I go to the RSL club where people my age are sitting around sad and lonely...and I make them smile. And if they are really down in the dumps, I'll Cha Cha for them. Life should be a dance, dear...a joyful dance," he said as he shuffled his feet rhythmically in front of me.
Tom met Vida in England when they were in their early twenties. They both had a passion for ballroom dancing. The became partners on the dance floor, and in life - waltzing through six decades of marriage together until last year when, on a cruise from Australia to Noumea, Vida got out of bed in the middle of the night and somehow tripped - slamming her head onto the side table.
"That blow to the head - it killed her - but not instantly. She held on for eight days. It was a horrible way for her to die. But I'll tell you something, on the day I met Vida I thought to myself 'Now that's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen' and that beauty remained until she took her last breath".