Latimer: Ridley and I are working hard to get the second book of our Keeping Secrets series read for publication! But, in the meantime, we are daydreaming about the exotic and the far-away, reliving some holidays and thinking about some new ones.
Last I left off on my trip down the South-East Asian holiday memory-lane, I was in Laos, heading towards Vang Vieng and the capital city of Laos Vientiane!
In Vang Vieng, we were lucky enough to stay with a local family in a small village (just a few minutes from Vang Vieng central). It was a real eye-opener because we just don’t live like this anymore in Ireland. Everyone was really nice and the homemade food was yummy.
While in Vang Vieng, I checked out the beauty of the Blue Lagoon; petted a butterfly – no really, it felt like I was Snow White or something, it was crazy, I was surrounded for the briefest moment by a flock (?) of colourful butterflies! I trekked up a mountain and had a poke around an amazing cave, which really inspired me for writing! And then, I had some fresh coconut juice. I also had a bit of relaxation getting a brilliant Laotian massage – I definitely recommend them!
We had a few relaxing days in Vang Vieng, ending the trip there with a beautiful sunset and some nice juices…
Then it was off to Vientiane, the most laid-back capital city in the world. It’s really small, but has this relaxing feel to the place, that just doesn’t exist in… well, basically any capital city I’ve ever been in. It’s such a cool, fun place. We managed to get lost walking around the whole city, but all roads lead to where you want to go eventually in Vientiane! On the detour we managed to check out some nice temples.
We didn’t have long in Vientiane before we were saying goodbye to Laos and GOOD MORNING to VIETNAM 🙂
Latimer: Lately I’ve been doing some globetrotting. Every time I hitch up my trusty wheelie bag and head off into the far blue yonder, I come back with lots of stories and lots of ideas. I think the most recent trip to South East Asia has me all inspired for writing!
Ridley and I are really excited to be working our way through our Keeping Secrets series, plotting and outlining all the books to come. We are back firmly on track now – and we’ll be releasing Book 2 by the end of August! So stay with us for updates!
In my recent travels I visited Thailand. It was a quick run through the north of the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to a fly-by visit at Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong (to cross into Laos). I didn’t see that much of Thailand really, but what I saw was stunning, beautiful, strange, inspiring and… stranger still!
Bangkok is a pretty cool place. There are lots of things to see there – when I was there I took a trip around the canals in the city and went to Wat Pho to see the huge golden reclining Buddha, which was amazing. Buddhism (and monks) feature strongly in my Asian travels; I sometimes think I’m starting to understand it, then I always get stuck and realise actually I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s really interesting.
From Bangkok, I got an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Lots of people on the tour were worried about the overnight train, but having experienced the Chinese ones, I was no longer afraid. The ones in Thailand are actually brilliant; and compared to the Chinese ones, they are very spacious and comfortable – this coming from someone with extreme ‘creature comfort’ problems!
Chiang Mai was a fun place; we had a walk around in the blistering heat, went to see beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple ate some lovely Thai food and went for a cool bike-ride around the city. While on our bike ride we stopped at an orphanage for Hill tribe children, for dinner. I bought some lovely artwork by the children – it was Naruto inspired 🙂
During my time in Chiang Mai, I was coming to terms with the heat, I won’t say I ever ‘got used to it’, just learned to accept I would always be dripping sweat and needing to drink water and isotonic drinks.
From Chiang Mai, we stopped off briefly in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, which is a bit like Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, in that it’s unfinished at the moment and being built by the artist that designed it. It’s full of demons and cultural references – though I never got to go inside, as we were late getting there and it was closed! It’s supposed to have like cartoony stuff inside and be really strange and interesting. This temple was badly damaged after we had seen in, in the earthquake that hit Thailand – so I feel lucky to have seen it before that happened!
Then from Thailand, I took a bus into Laos! But that’s a post for another day!
Latimer: I’m back! For reals, not from a place of scheduled posts! Yup, my epic trip around China has ended and I’m now suffering from a major case of ‘holiday hangover’. You know the feeling; ‘It hurts so bad! It’s over!’
I think the only cure is to go on holiday again… *cue sneaky smile* well, maybe you never know!
But for now let me rewind my memories – do you want to come with me on a trip to the Middle Kingdom? Sure you do! Let’s head back in the way-way-back machine! This will either be cathartic or depressing for me. If you look to your side at any point and see a smiling Latimer, good times, if she’s weeping, please take a moment to comfort her J
So, this trip was a reward for me finally finishing college. Yes, I was still in college; institutionalised possibly (definitely). Thankfully, the ending was a good one (i.e. piece of paper, awarded – just need to dot the i’s etc) and so, I was off I went to CHYY-NA (or ‘wild CHYY-NA’ as I kept calling it) with a travel group.
First the long-haul flight… okay so, I don’t sweat them much anymore, but they are still annoying. I’ve been on a lot of them, so I know my pattern pretty well at this stage; a) I can’t sleep very well and b) I can’t eat the plane food (can’t even stomach the smell of it). I literately recoil when the steward/ess trusts it under my nose – “no! No I don’t want it! Please don’t make me…”
So, knowing this at the airport I’ll stock up on essentials (food and water), like someone planning for the zombie apocalypse (where we’ll only be able to get crap, ‘it’s bad for you but who cares there are zombies’, food). This time, in the wonderful Terminal 2 of Dublin Airport (this is our really fancy new (ish) terminal), I found a nice shop to buy sandwiches in, which may not sound like much, but when you are contemplating your fear of airplane food it does mean a lot!
Oh and by a nice sandwich, I mean, one that doesn’t contain mayonnaise (for some reason this type of sandwich is hard to find). In this shop I found a plain cheese sandwich (I almost wept for joy). Then I nipped around for some water, Hula Hoops crisps and a chocolate bar (these bad boys will pop up again in China).
On the flight I stayed away from the plane food and scoffed down my sandwich and water. Then when I got to my layover in Dubai (that’s a new, semi-novel stop for me; what a nice airport it is), I got some food (a stir-fry, easing myself into the Chinese food) while I watched my gate for my Beijing connecting flight.
I gulped down my food getting a bit nervous about when my flight would start to board. Then I had to fight the rush of Chinese people trying to board the plane. It was a bit of a free-for-all; even though the airline was calling out the rows that would board first, it seemed like people were having none of that. I had to push my way up through the crowd to board (as my row had been called, not because I’d turned into the Hulk and just decided it was ‘my time’ to board, people be damned).
After a bit of a wait, we were off to Beijing!
When we were close to landing, I started thinking about transportation from the airport (like I always do). I start to… not worry, but overthink it? This is the part of my holiday I research and research and print out very piece of information before I leave my house (unless Ridley is travelling with me, then I use her like a GPS and guidance system; she is basically a map that you can interact with and befriend, haha. Seriously though she knows she’s part map)!
So touching down in Beijing, without Ridley, I was armed with all the information and warnings internet could provide me on – a) fake Chinese money (and how to detect it; it’s all in your Mao’s ladies and gentlemen; run your nail over Mao’s hair, if it’s ridged your note be real, if not your note be fake and no Chinese person will take that bad boy off you – tip, always check your Mao’s!); and b) getting a taxi from the airport.
Ah, one thing about getting a taxi in China; don’t get the black taxis. These are fake and they’ll over charge you.
Okay, fair enough I thought, I’ll not fall into their trap, oh no, I am an informed Westerner!
“Stay in the queue for the taxi” – the internet warns you, “don’t let someone lead you out of the queue! Look at the locals!”.
So, what happens when I get to the top of the queue and the people directing Chinese people to their taxis carefully ignore me?
Oh yeah, some man comes up and takes my little piece of paper with the hotel’s name on it and reads it; “I can take you there!” he says in English with a smile, trying to lead me to his black car.
Oh hells no!
I smile, laugh, take back my paper; “No thanks, I’ll wait here” (inside growling Wolverine style: back off bub!)
The thing is, the people directing people to the taxis, they backed off and let him try and lead me off; after he didn’t manage it they were still half-ignoring me. It was very strange. Basically they know what’s going on, but it’s like, “oh well let him have a go”. Not cool ladies.
Later I found out that one of our travel group did get one of the black taxis and ended up paying 100 USD for the trip that cost me 12 euro in my registered taxi (12 euro = approx. 16 USD – a BIG rip off!).
My first taste of a taxi ride in China was strange – my taxi driver hacked and spat out the window three times (as we were driving, amazing dexterity). I was staring, then cringing in amazement – where was I?!
Then I started to notice other odd things. He had an empty glass jar of coffee resting next to his gear stick (phrasing!). There was liquid the colour of pond water in the jar, and what looked like twigs and leaves gently tapping against the glass; like something you’d find in a science museum from the 1800s. Me staring stupefied at the jar as he gulped down the contents and zig-zagged through traffic (there are no rules of the road), kept me occupied for the whole trip. I’d come to see this empty glass jar and strange contents again and again and again over my trip (it’s tea, or something, but it looked really weird straight off the bat!).
Another top tip from the internet was to always have your hotel address written in Chinese and also to have the phone number of the hotel. Thank you great and noble inter-web, you saved me there too!
My taxi driver had to call the hotel to find out where it was. And even though I don’t speak Chinese, I could tell he was saying; “Where the hell are you? I’m out here on the street and you’re not here – haha, what the hell? Where? Oh… hmm”
He ended up dropping me off on the side of the street, gesticulating and shouting in Chinese at some building hidden behind a row of other buildings. I stared at it.
“Yeah, I got yah.” I said nodding and pointing at the hidden building (my hotel’s name emblazoned on the very top of the building). The taxi driver watched me as I walked across the street; then started shouting at me in Chinese and pointing at the building again.
“I know!” I called back, nodding again and struggling to find a way through the row of buildings that blocked my hotel. Why was it hidden behind a fortress of other buildings? How did one get inside? Did I have to walk through the small convenience shop in front of it, was there a way through it or what the hell was going on? I felt like Pacman caught in a corner!
The taxi driver was driving away by now, slowly passing me as I walked up and down the street trying to figure out a way through the buildings to my hotel. Would I have to tunnel through, like Andy Dufresne from Shawshank?
The taxi driver starts shouting at me again and I just know by the tone and his actions what he’s saying – “Hey! Idiot, your hotel’s there! It’s right there you foolish girl!”
And I reply laughing (but frustrated); “I know! I know! Thanks!” Then I watch him shake his head and drive off. I stare at the guys outside the convenience shop (who are staring at me too). I make for the door, dragging my wheelie bag with me. They talk to me in Chinese and point down the street and make the universal ‘around the corner’ sign.
I nod. “Thanks lads!” and walk off towards a car park barrier. I stare down the lane; it looks like an office car park or something. Shrugging I walk down and turn the corner, finding my hotel nestled in an odd little courtyard, hidden from the rest of Beijing (and mankind).
The combination of jetlag and culture shock has me buzzing by this point. I meet up with my group and our Chinese tour guide (and I am only semi-conscious) and we go out for Peking duck. My mind is racing from lack of sleep at this point; “god it’s colder here than I thought; why is it called Peking duck… I really want to go to bed but I have to have a shower when I get back… plane rides make my hair greasy… I really want to go to bed!”
Yup, and so ended my first day in China! The adventure continues 🙂
Latimer: Somehow I’ve found myself on an indie odyssey through the internet recently, stumbling over people making really amazing art, from conception to end-product. As Ridley and I are indie writers ourselves, it’s always great to see what other indie people are up to around the web!
There are some amazing artists out there, doing really cool innovative things. The invention of Kickstarter also means that more and more people are finding ways of getting their ideas out to bigger audiences. It’s really inspiring and I’ve stumbled across some great finds as I’ve wandered and bounced around the wide-open spaces of web-land!
Here are a few of my new, sparkly treasures!
Podcast: Welcome To Night Vale (created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and voiced by Cecil Baldwin), this really cool podcast about a fictional town somewhere in America, where strange things are happening, almost always… they have hooded figures, mysterious dog parks, vanishing interns… it’s all very random, but brilliantly random!
Webcomic: Ava’s Demon – oh wow, this webcomic by Michelle Czajkowski, is just fantastic! It is semi-mixed media, in that for each chapter, there are a number of beautiful single panels, and then the very last part of the chapter is a short animation. The story is set in outer-space and on different planets, but it also has this cool fantasy feel to it. It focus’ on a girl called Ava who is possessed by a demon with a mysterious/bloody past.
The artwork is beautiful and after running this really successful Kickstarted campaign, the artist now has the money to update the comic twice weekly and add lots more fun stuff! (Currently the comic is updated every Thursday! Check it out! It’s great!)
Webcartoon: Bee and PuppyCat, a really cool webcartoon. Bee has been fired and as she walks home, a puppy-cat falls out of the sky. This is so brilliant, hilarious and just… it’s so strange that it draws you in and you are hooked wondering – what on earth is going on?
The artist and creator of Bee and PuppyCat (Natasha Allegri) works on Adventure Time (she created the female/genderbender version of Finn and Jake – Fionna and Cake!). And Frederator Studios, the indie studio that makes Bee and PuppyCat (and the other shows on the channel), also made Adventure Time (so there are similarities). I’ve never watched Adventure Time, but I feel like I should now!
Currently Bee and PuppyCat is only one episode, but after a Kickstarter campaign she got enough money to make a series! Not sure when it will be out, but I’ll be subscribing to keep track!
Webcartoon: Bravest Warriors (by Pendleton Ward, creator of Adventure Time), this is also on the same channel (Cartoon Hangover) as Bee and PuppyCat and made by the same people. It’s actually really, really funny. I love the humour in these cartoons, it’s so unbelievably random and quirky!
I can’t wait for the next find! There are some amazing people, doing really cool things out there 🙂
Latimer: I’m not a sporty person in the slightest, but I think I had a weirdly profound experience at a rugby match last weekend.
Thinking back on it now, I’m feel like – ‘wow, I learned so much – about winning… about losing, and sportsmanship! Yet, I’m kind of freaking myself out about how philosophical I got about it!’ – let me take you on a journey of my weird thought process as I watched Ireland face down the mighty All Blacks!
The All Blacks are the national rugby team of New Zealand… and considered the best team in the world. I was overjoyed to get tickets to this match. And I couldn’t wait to see the All Blacks do the Haka live! (it’s an amazing Maori tribal display they do before all their matches – it’s spine-chilling – here is the one displayed at the Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand)
I’m not a person that gets invested in sports (hardly ever) – I don’t jump up on my feet screaming until I’m hoarse –
I thought I would be like this:
But I was actually like this:
I felt so swept up in the emotion of being proud of the Irish team on the pitch.
But okay, in the end, even though we ALMOST won, Ireland lost. And so it goes – in sport, it doesn’t always work out that the team that deserves to win, actually wins. Here’s where I learn about the bitter reality of losing.
And Ireland has NEVER, ever, beaten the All Blacks – nope, not once. This match we came the closest we ever had before – it was our best chance, we ALMOST had it.
The clock had ticked right down to the end… we were winning (22 to 17) when the game entered it’s final play! Then BOOM – swift and sleek, like a giant panther over the line, the All Blacks scored a TRY! Now, we were even, 22 a piece… Then they converted a kick and bang, it was all over for us – All Blacks won 24 to 22.
We came so close and we lost.
It made me sad, sure, but (this is where I learned about the nature of sports and sportsmanship, and got kind of zen about the whole experience) – the whole experience, coming that close to winning something, having tried so very hard – it’s life isn’t it?
I never thought I’d say this, but sports is like an analogy for life (come with me on this) – you play the game, you win or you don’t, but you keep trying and that’s the key. It’s not about accepting that you lost, it’s about believing that you’ll win next time.
Rob Kearney, one of the Irish players said that the game isn’t over until the very last moment. You need to keep your head in the game. You need to keep focus until the absolute end – because if you don’t you can lose in a split second (as we had).
In a way that’s a good thing – it means that nothing is done, hopeless or final, until the very, very, very last moment. Someday Ireland will be the ones that swoop in at the very last breath and win – we all have our day!
And, even though it still hurts me to think about how we almost won (it honestly, bizarrely squeezes my heart a little) – I think the way people in sports handle defeat is something to be admired!
Latimer: Lately I’ve been trying to get my ‘reading groove’ back on. Yup, it was gone for a while.
For me, the serious ‘groove’ comes on a little randomly – the urge to read more and more and MORE books!
My problem is, I buy too many books, then don’t get around to reading them. I have a serious backlog of books.
Like you would not believe – and yes, I have since ordered more! I don’t learn, but I have decided that I will stop buying and clear the backlog in the lead up to Christmas.
(she says, but this turned up on her doorstep today!)
Ridley, I know, has a similar reading backlog, which I aim to make worse for her, because I have a bag of seven books for her (that she must read)! Ha 🙂
Now though, I am accountable, because I’ve put this in writing – ‘I will clear my reading backlog!’ – I will succeed! If you have a backlog, join me in my crusade of reading-before-buying-more! How is this going to end for me? Not well I don’t think.
and I’m going to finish Bill Bryson’s At Home, which I have been reading on and off again for too long! (Bill Bryson’s books are fantastic really, but take forever to read!)
I vow to finish this one before the end of October (oh, what have I done!).
When I finished The Book of the Dead a dam broke inside me and I felt inspired to get out and read all my poor abandoned books, because they’re all full of interesting things 🙂
The Book of the Dead is a book filled with brief stories about lots of different people, people you know like Thomas Edison and Casanova, to people you don’t like, Moll Cutpurse, a bear-baiting cross-dressing pickpocket and James Barry, a famous doctor in the early 1800s, who gave Florence Nightingale the worst dressing-down of her life, and … oh yea and he was actually a woman (though no one found out until she died!).
It has to be one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.
I got emotionally caught up in peoples stories; like Nikola Tesla.
He invented the radio (although Marconi was awarded the honour and won a Nobel Prize for it).
Tesla was known as the ‘Father of the 20th Century’ and the master of electricity (more so than Edison). He was inventing things that were light-years ahead of his time; he even foresaw/wanted to make the internet – the man was a genius.
And he died in debt with no money, living with crippling OCD, though he should have been a millionaire.
But I came to realise that for some people, it isn’t about what their knowledge can give them, what monetary rewards, some people are just driven to answer questions and solve problems, because that’s where they get their joy.
Tesla’s business partner George Westinghouse was in financial ruin after a stock market crash, so Tesla dissolved the contract between them that was costing Westinghouse so much. He said;
‘You have been my friend, you believed in me when others had no faith; you were brave enough to go ahead… when others lacked courage; you supported me when even your own engineers lacked vision… you have stood by me as a friend… Here is your contract, and here is my contract. I will tear both of them to pieces, and you will no longer have any troubles from my royalties. Is that sufficient?’
It’s pretty special, and wonderful, that a person, who stood to gain 12 million dollars from those royalties, which would have made him one of the richest men in the world at that time, would do something so noble as to brush it all aside to help a friend.
Imagine that. It makes me feel pretty good about the world; we can be so good to one another sometimes.
The book also taught me that real genius is a rare and beautiful thing; and if you haven’t shown a spark by the age of 10, kiss the notion goodbye! Ha. Reading the stories, I’d have to pause and stare into the distance thinking; ‘yup, that ship’s sailed!’
Dr John Dee, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s most trusted advisors, would spend 18 hours studying everyday; 4 hours sleeping and 2 hours were set aside for meals. I can’t do that!
He was the original 007 too. He used to sign his letters to the queen ‘007’; it was a symbol that meant he was the Queen’s eyes, or that the letter was for her eyes only.
Dee was known for his mysticism but actually he was a man of science too (though the word ‘science’ didn’t exist at the time and was essentially known as witchcraft). He used geometry to successfully map the globe and was the greatest book-collector of his day (with books on mathematics, earthquakes, dreams, women, Islam, games, botany, pharmacology and veterinary science, to name a few).
By the end of his life, plague had stolen almost all of his family away from him and he lived in desperate poverty (he fell out of favour with the Queen), with his daughter Katherine, having to sell his books one at a time so he could eat (he was 82 years old).
Now that really breaks my heart.
But the beautiful thing is, a girl who lived in the area described him as…
‘He was a great peacemaker; if any of the neighbours fell out, he would never let them alone till he had made them friends. A mighty good man he was.’
Again the survival of a few kind words about a good person, from a good person, it makes you feel pretty good again.
There’s something really up-lifting about this book. It does make you feel like you haven’t had much of an adventure yet, or you’re not very smart and never will be, but it also makes you feel like isn’t it great how many weird and wonderful people there have been in the world?
We’re silly and vain, stupid and clever, wacky and weird, and we always have been, and that’s pretty great 🙂
Latimer: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to go to Hampton Court.
But, I kept forgetting/never knew, what it was called, so I’d get really frustrated trying to explain to people where it was I wanted to go.
“I’d love to go to Henry VIII’s Palace… you know with the,” cue my distant expression, “with the red-brick gatehouse.”
I would stare expectantly at the person and they would stare back rightly confused. I would get frustrated, thinking everyone should know what I meant and give me the name of said building (so I could forever remember it and not look like a fool every time I said I wanted to visit it!).
This has been the way it’s been for me for years. But finally I realised it was Hampton Court I wanted to visit.
It’s in London, so when Ridley and I went there, I just had to go!
Hampton Court is epic and after being stuck in a queue for every which-way-thing in London, it was surprisingly low on visitors, which probably made the experience all the better. We had an ice-cream on the lawn, enjoyed the sun and stared in wonderment at the gorgeousness that is the Court.
While there, Ridley got real bohemian. She headed over to a tree, sat down, pulled out a notebook and pen, and with a big smile said –
“Let’s do book-work!”
I shuffled over to the tree, thinking this was a very quaint idea; we’d be like Jane Austen or something. A minute later I leaped up. “There’re ants crawling all over the tree! I hate nature -!”
Ridley jumped up, screaming, her dream of book-work in the park destroyed by nature. Deflated we gave up and headed into the Palace, letting the magic of Hampton Court wash over us.
If anyone watches/reads Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon reminds me of Henry VIII. I think that might be intentional – George R. R. Martin draws from history right? Well, the banquet hall has Baratheon stamped all over it – it’s so cool!
In my head I was saying, ‘ours is the fury’! over and over again, until I annoyed myself!
Apparently the tapestries that hang in the hall are made of gold and silver thread.
Rich people back then got tapestries as a show of wealth, because of the cost involved in making them and the materials used. Henry VIII amassed tapestries like celebrities today buy diamond encrusted iPhones and fancy cars. Tapestries were the flash accessory of the day, and Henry VIII had the largest collection. The tapestries aren’t as bright now as they were in his day, but they are still impressive!
Throughout our holiday we were asking each other the question of – ‘what would you do if you fell back in time?’ Our hypothesis started out with the notion that we’d be gods! We’d know everything.
But, Dara O’Briain sums up the truth of what would happen…
Ridley struggled to read the tiny script writing on a massive charter in Hampton Court. Waving her hand she moaned; “And I wouldn’t even be able to read!”
Even if we could read it wouldn’t be written in the same English as it is today – we would probably not even understand what people were saying to us. That old adage by Wittgenstein that; “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him,” because his frame of reference would be so different to ours.
So, the portal that opens sucking me and Ridley into the past becomes more and more dangerous! I think our science backgrounds would also lead to us being burnt as witches!
We did conclude, on our travels, that it would not be good to get sucked back in time and end up in Edinburgh. It was hit by ‘plague’ (we never learned which plague) 11 times. We also would not have survived the closes, with people tossing buckets of waste down the narrow streets… or having to drink beer because the water was so dangerously full of bacteria (from the waste flowing down into the lake and therefore the drinking water).
Walking around the Court is almost like walking through time (the safer version of it). You half expect to turn a corner and see a man in tights, a grey curly wig, heels and a fancy velvet jacket…
Funnily enough, that did actually happen at one point. He was sitting talking to a 1700’s era woman.
We (the tourists) all walked past them, listening in on the conversation, confused as to whether they were in-character or not and nobody talking to them to find out.
We all kept a safe distance; blinking and straining inward to listen to them, but glancing to each other and giving a nervous laugh, like we were all thinking, ‘is this a mass hallucination?! Can you see them too?!’
We left the palace, happier for having been there! If you’re in need of an oasis of calm in London, head to Court!