House-keeping note:
I’m just trying out a different blog template. This one lets me show larger images. What do you think?

So in the last post I finally faced the itching bug and started drawing the journey in my head.

Once Burma was pretty much out of scope, and Europe is a little expensive for a trip with short notice (contact friends, arrange couch surfing, etc.), and not quite keen on spending weeks on the neighboring states like nature-filled Tasmania or return to my old favourite Western Australia right now, naturally my focus is set in the region – SouthEast Asia.

I could continue on from the end of the last Asia journey, which means starting from Luang Prabang and travel north or see more of Laos. There is a sense of ‘unfinished business’ with my encoutner with the young monk I met there last time. It was so unresolved I did not even complete the blog story from that journey. I know I need to go back there.

But somehow I did not feel I was ready for it yet. It may be one of those things that if you thought too much about it, if you tried to justify yourself too much, it won’t get you anywhere. It may be better if I just went for it and saw what happened – or nothing… maybe he’s no longer with Buddhism and working in a shop somewhere in a larger city.

Well, there’s a thought. Maybe I do need to book the next trip, I mean, the trip after this.

In a couple of weeks since I started writing about this trip, I’d booked my time off work, booked flights in and out, and put the gear in the 1st. I don’t have enough time to buy a guidebook from a cheaper online shops (books in Australia are ridiculously expensive!) so let’s just buy it at transit airport. I’m leaving my plans so open that I could just decide my plan as I go along, really.

I counted backwards, from the desire to complete the journey before the craze of holiday tourism kicks in. And yet I wanted to be away for 4-5 weeks. So I just needed to decide and book. I’m going to be spending the 2nd week of December in Shanghai. I am not a big fan of big cities, with its people and traffic and pollution and lack of genuine people contact. But there are friends there, and when you have local friends it is always a little different.

After dropping Burma and Laos, I kept looking at the Lonely Planet Thailand that’s been sitting in my bookshelf since my last train pass there, but somehow I could not visualise the connection from Chiang Mai across ‘the triangle’ into south China. I needed to also consider the journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai as well.

So I picked Vietnam. I’m flying into Saigon, or HCMC, like a fashion brand, as it is officially known. I don’t know much about it except for the American view of the world in the war, and crazy traffic that people somehow negotiate. Everyone says it is one of the things you just have to do if you are a traveller – walk across the multi-lane traffic on the street of Saigon.

Last time I went to that country, it was just a short visit to Hanoi, the city in the north. I had left my work contract in Singapore and was living there on a tourist visa. I needed to get away to renew my tourist stay period and Hanoi just popped up. My friend had a brother living there, a westerner who is involved in the art community there called Hanoi Grapevine. It was an interesting quick trip but I was not prepared to make the best of what the city has to offer, beyond the centre of town I could cover on foot.




Hanoi, Vietnam – Feb/Mar 2009

Everybody told me what a shame it was that I did not cover the ‘middle’. So that’s where I am going, I guess… I’ll find out soon enough, once I’d found a decent guidebook in Singapore airport (what happened to my old guidebook – did I give it away?)

Hopefully I come up with a relatively efficient rail journey up from Saigon to Hanoi, crossing the border before the end of 2-week visa. Then there are culture-rich, spicy food of southern China, foggy water-filled limestone landscape of the old paintings. Maybe another stop somewhere inland, before heading into the big city, the Paris of the Orient.

Last time I went to Shanghai was on a short trip to attend a meeting there. I wonder how much it has changed. It was already a crazy big city with lots of quality commercial products available everywhere. Has the old French Quarter been destroyed, like those beautiful town of maze I saw in Guangzhou – fenced off to be demolished… We’ll see.

Shanghai Feb 2008
Shanghai – February 2008

People talk a lot about what’s on the news. People in the country I come from talk a lot about the military conflict, pollution and risk to the visitors from my country. I don’t subscribe to media talks. I don’t even watch TV. I see it with my own eyes. The only thing I can speak of with genuine authenticity is my own experience. Even that, of course, is such a localised incident of the whole thing. But what is life, or the world, beyond your personal experience? Everything else is hear-say. That is not YOUR life. So pack your bag, and walk. Lower your head as you enter people’s neighbourhood. Walk among housewives and shop owners to see what kind of ingredients they cook with. Talk to workers in public space and share a drink with them in the worker’s cafeteria (that’s how I picked up Bali Belly all these years ago 😉 But really, if you want to see what’s on the guidebook, you got your computer in the comfort of your home. It is always the people that makes your journey exciting. It is the meeting with those people that make those people’s lives real to you, and yourself and whatever you represent – Japan, Australia, photographer, traveller, whatever it may be – real to them, as a real example of what they encountered.

I’m off on Friday night. By Saturday lunch time I’ll be in the crazy chaos of Saigon traffic. I wonder how it sounds like. I wonder how it smells like. How many of stree vendors make pho without MSG like some decent lunch shops here in Melbourne? Or, just like many countries in Asia, would I struggle with allergic reaction down my stomach every day? I’ll soon find out!