Feeling at home, far away from it

The weekend sun rising. Kuala Lumpur airport.

Pit-stopping on the way back to Saigon – Starbucks, Kuala Lumpur airport, no less – I’ve the usual frisson of excitement about walking back through our garden at home a few hour’s from now, picking up the girls (Issy is in Germany this week, checking out fashion trade shows) and flopping on the sofa.

After five days in Sri Lanka, to work with our Chrysalis team there (musings on which from earlier can be found over here) I don’t, in some ways, feel like I was away from ‘home’ much at all this week.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Sri Lanka about ten times since 2009. I’ve written about it quite a lot, and that, no doubt, underscores why it’s one of my favourite places to spend time.

Aside from the professional experiences gained from engaging with our team there, and the organisations and people I’ve met along the way, it’s the day-to-day flow of contact and the momentary interludes that weave through these trips, which I think bind each together in a way that feels so familiar and reaffirming.

Moreover, it’s the simple easiness curated by the people you meet which imbues such a comfortable backdrop.

Dropping down to Galle on a quick pre-wedding whistle stop reconnaissance earlier today, to check on bookings and inhale the ocean breeze, I learnt about the reality of the recent Easter Sunday attacks, in terms of their impact on the tourism industry.

Not unsurprisingly, many tourists canceled their trips in May and June as a result of the bombings, and some hotels had to close completely. July and August are typically low season months too, and so a few hoteliers I met spoke of the “double whammy” of the events happening when they did.

Bookings are picking up again now. And whilst there is heightened security evident, things seem to have settled down. The country just this week was elevated to “middle-income” status by the World Bank, and the high ranking top spot given by The Lonely Planet earlier in the year to Sri Lanka, appears to have been reallocated back to the country, even though most of Sri Lanka remains in a state of deep shock over the events of April 21st.

With such charming scenery, culture and opportunity for the visitor, let’s hope that a  positive trajectory of tourist bookings returns.

As my taxi driver, Mahinda, took a short detour this evening, on our way to the airport, to stop and offer me tea and bananas at his house, and the opportunity to meet his wife and daughter who was awaiting her ‘A’ level results, I was touched by the sentiment and the care he took to make me feel welcome.

I found the same hospitality and warmth earlier in the week when invited over to my Air BnB host’s living room, to share dinner with him and his wife.

Listening to Mahinda’s daughter talk about her plans for university, and for finding work somehow with her degree (biology) I couldn’t help hope that, in the future, not only will my daughters have the self-esteem and spark to be excited about a feeling of “doing my best” in the world, as this young woman did, but also that they – and beyond them, that I too – hold close that very core humanitarian embodiment of connection and understanding that I felt, sat with a cup of tea in my hand, listening to and being a small part of, this family’s time together.

The overwhelming feeling of being truly welcomed into their home, for a few precious moments, will stay with me forever.

Colombo at dawn.

 

 

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September

A blast of vacuumed heat before the
Metallic shuffle obediently find their seats
Among strange faces and familiar fare:
Screens, blankets, solace.

I linger inside the terminal.
Warmed by embalming recall of
A month’s journey –
Scaling Sapa’s peaks,
An utterance of life-affirming words,
The Comradery of new friends and horizons.

My feet take fresh steps towards the plane and
In a single and unexpected second,
I feel it.
The core of something changed and now fixed:
Anchoring, purging, reinforcing.

This is me and I am enough.

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A Quick Coffee Stop in Laos

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The Mekong River at sunrise. Thailand to the left, Laos to the right.

I’m sat with a delicious Saturday morning coffee, in Naked Espresso, a funky cafe in the thick of the Vientiane backpacker area, having completed my daily ritual here of a brisk walk down the Mekong River nearby, which has presented me with picture perfect views this week of Thailand, just metres away over the water.

Since my last post about holidaying in Australia with Issy, I’ve traveled for work to Colombo, Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul. Squeezing in a weekend of football in Manila along the way. I’m trying my best to be a good citizen of the world, but for sure I am going to carbon hell.

Vientiane represents my penultimate trip of 2015 and, fittingly, last night I kicked off the evening with some Kiwi friends, in a German owned bar, managed by a kind man called Kami from Tokyo, where we tucked into some Laotian pork rolls, washed down with a few drams of glorious Japanese whisky.      Continue reading

Springtime in Saigon

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Even washing lines look better in Spring

It’s 2015. It’s mid January. And spring is here in Saigon.

In what has become my annual celebration of just how pleasant a time of year it is over here, when so many other parts of the world are either sweltering in their own juices, or snow ploughing their way to the office, I can’t resist once more in proclaiming the bleeding obvious: life is so much easier when you have the weather on your side.

Biking into work these days you are struck by the golden light, the intensely perfumed scents of the orchids and bogainvilleas, and the breeze. The fact that there is a breeze is enough to be thankful for, given Saigon’s notorious humidity track record. The New Year marks the lowest temperatures Saigon will experience until next January – somewhere in the mid 20’s – perfection in my mind, although many locals are already donning their puffer jackets and scarves in protest at the chilly starts to their days.

2015 – no resolutions for me, a year instead to appreciate all that comes my way and to embrace the here and now. I am grounded in Saigon until a UK visit next month, hosting as I am a regional workshop here at the end of the month, and enjoying the novelty of “routine” after a fabulous Christmas break, involving some long weekends away, and plenty of indulgent moments of sheer fun with Florence and Martha.

Perhaps a suitable 2015 resolution after two months absence from this blog (I’ve been peppering the sister site – http://www.definitelymaybe.me – with musings on development issues over the past few months instead) would be to post a bit more regularly.

Let me see…

Meantime, a lazy capture of the last quarter of 2014, which saw me travel extensively, can be found below in the form of pictures. I took to instagram last year, so check out @saigonsays on that if you are similarly hooked.

Wishing you all a very prosperous New Year to come.

September 2014

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View over Bangkok on a work trip home
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The Kowloon ferry, Hong Kong. I was speaking at a CSR Summit. Check out the post: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/09/17/the-future-of-csr/
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Happy 6th Birthday Florence!
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Martha back at school and in a new (big girls) kindergarten class!
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Back in Islamabad with work. Mountain top dinner! Check out the post: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/09/29/what-can-care-do-for-business/

October 2014

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Speaking at a conference in Singapore. Post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/10/13/true-power-lies-within/
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A weekend escape to Sapa
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Dawn during a tea plantation visit whilst on a work trip to Sri Lanka. Post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/10/31/sri-lanka-preparing-for-a-future-without-international-aid/

November 2014

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Back in Bangkok traffic for more workshops
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Saigon Raider’s football tournament in Phnom Penh (me, German Alex and German Daniel and a crate of beer Lao in a tuk-tuk)
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Tacloban project visit, the Philippines. Blog post here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/11/20/tacloban-exposing-middle-income-country-realities/
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Back in Singapore for more conferences. Clearly I hadn’t washed that morning.

December 2014

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Lemonheads gig at Cargo, Saigon, with “Sluke” and Issy
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Back in Hong Kong for Awards event (and some dim sum)
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Hanoi for long weekend with the Suarez family
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Myanmar work trip, project visit in Lashio. Check out the blog here: http://definitelymaybe.me/2014/12/13/myanmar-bringing-about-change-in-a-frontier-market/
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My final Bangkok immigration queue of 2014
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Pre-Christmas swinging at Saigon Outcasts
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A trio of poseurs at Saigon Outcasts.
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Christmas 2014 is here. Woohoo! Flo with Sarah from the UK
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Skater Girl
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Scooter Girl
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Mui Ne white dunes with Issy and Luke
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Last holiday sunset Coco Beach, Mui Ne
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Last balcony shot of the Christmas holidays

Pausing for Thought

Photo credit www.boho-lovin.blogspot.com
Photo credit http://www.boho-lovin.blogspot.com

Saigon is hotting up once more.  Now I appreciate that, for many of you who drop in on saigonsays from time to time, even when Saigon is not “hotting up” there is a good chance that it still might be considerably warmer here than what other parts of the world have put up with for the past half a year.  Simply put, Saigon is always hot, except for the months we are now descending upon, when it slips sweatily into being really hot.

Time then for me to head West, first to Delhi at the weekend, for a week of work just as the country celebrates “Holi”-  the first day of spring (Monday 17th) – during which it is tradition to get splattered with coloured powder.  All of which makes for a pretty picture to stick at the top of a blog post.  Next Monday is also St Patrick’s Day – divinely timed, should Ireland come away with the Six Nations (rugby) trophy two days beforehand.

My ambition for Monday evening in Delhi next week is therefore to avoid too much pink and yellow hair dye during the day, and to successfully find a pint of Guinness in the evening. It’s not every Monday night you get to blend Hindu and Gaelic culture together in such a colourful way. Continue reading

A Year

The airport terminal is much unchanged from last year.
A steady shuffle of outbound feet,
Perfume branding and plastic menus,
Whilst sloth-like carcasses form
Of weary traveller and uniformed worker
Draped unconventionally on armchair, table top and floor. Continue reading

Enlightenment, when you’re least expecting it

I am currently on day ten of a fairly packed trip.  Eight of the last nine nights have been spent at different hotels or houses (or on a plane) and, in addtion to work commitments, I’ve also been to one friend’s wedding and one family wedding anniversary celebration.

I have spent nearly thirty hours either in the air, or waiting at airports, hopped from the humidity of Bangkok last week to experience the final remnants of late summer sunshine the UK had to offer and then, today, been enveloped by a 40+ degree searing heat here in Dubai.

Whilst certainly not a sustainable routine I’d recommend to anyone, all has (so far) gone to plan, and generally been great fun.

I last visited Dubai in 1998.  On that occasion, I went on a very short “historial tour” which took us up to a viewpoint over the emerging city skyline, in order to visit a concrete hut that I remember our tour guide described as “dating back to the 1950’s”.

It is fair to say that since 1998, the locals have been busy with that skyline…. Continue reading

Ode to the Kids*

*in homage to my wife, and with apologies to John Keats…

My beautiful, bouncing baby girls,
How I ache with sorrow when not with you.

Your daydreaming smiles,
Innocent questions about
Every
Living thing, thought and action,
Fill me with pride.

(especially now, as my flight taxis the runway and I head 2,000 miles away)

Such envy I hold watching you find
So much life and interest in the
Humdrum of things.

A lonely, curled up leaf on the pavement.
A fridge magnet.
Your own feet.

Your energetic dancing.
Your breathless monologues.
Your spillages!
I will miss them all.

Instead, in this hushed cabin,
33,000ft above the world,
Uninterrupted iPod listening must I endure.
. Children’s tears nearby belong not to me.

With melancholic ponder I sip my drink.
Dine alone.
My dishes cleared by others.
Counting the hours until am home again.

 But, first, I close my eyes.

My beautiful, bouncing baby girls,
How I ache with sorrow when not with you.