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 love me some funny podcasts and Smodcast by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier is one of my favourites. I just love listening to these two old friends talking about random stuff and joking around.
Smodcast is full of bizarre stories and funny nerdy references, and life lessons.
I just love these two, they make me laugh but they also have all this funny random advice about taking risks on doing the things that you love, and being creative and surrounding yourself with ‘why not?’ people. All this inter-spaced with Kevin’s obsession with Batman and Canada, and fascination with Jaws (or just sharks and being eaten by one).
“But… what would Batman do Scott?” and “Can you give me that in Jaws measurement*? How many Jaws’ would that be Scott?” (*Jaws measurement being one of Kevin’s ways of measuring things in the standard unit of a Jaw’s shark!)
I’m so happy to say that Ridley and I will be heading off to see Kevin Smith doing a live podcast in Dublin in June! I can’t wait 🙂
If you don’t mind swearing and you like to laugh you should check out Smodcast!
Latimer: Well, all things must come to an end and Hong Kong is a pretty nice place to end things.
I was only really there for one day, but I got to go to the cool Sino Centre, which was like being back in Tokyo, with all the Asian drama and anime stuff.
Then I headed across on the ferry to Victoria Peak to check out the views of the city.
And then it was more or less homeward bound!
Having been out and about travelling a bit again, reminds me that there is so much to see. As the Discworld’s first tourist, Twoflower, once said:
“Sometimes I think a man could wander across the disc all his life and not see everything there is to see. And now it seems there are lots of other worlds as well. When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel… well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course.”
Latimer: There are lots of things to be excited about when you’re going on holidays; you don’t have to worry about work, you’re going somewhere new and you can relax and do what you want – it’s a great feeling. Aside from the food, which is one of my most favourite things about being on holidays, one of the best things is getting to see famous places you’ve only seen on the TV!
In Beijing there were lots of famous places to stamp my foot on.
You can’t go to China and not go to the Great Wall.
To me it was one of those places that I’ve known about my whole life; it’s a place of massive human achievement, but had it been overhyped in my mind – could it really be that good?
Yes, as it turns out! It was as amazing as people say.
Getting to stand on the Great Wall and stare around the valley (like a boss), as it criss-crossed the landscape, weaving up and down like a great stone snake slithering over hills through smog into the far north of China – spectacular!!
The Great Wall started its existence as a series of small walls that were unified into one Great wall by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (namesake of the Qin Dynasty). This is the Emperor who also built the Terracotta Army – a busy man right? Up to a million people died building the ‘Great Wall’ and are actually buried within the wall itself. So there’s an eerie feeling walking along the wall and thinking about that!
The part of the wall that I was on is called the Jiangshanling Great Wall; it’s a bit of a less touristy spot. It was great because there was hardly anyone else on the wall. It was basically empty, so it was even more incredible to be able to stand on one arching swell and look into the distance and see nothing but the wall and its watchtowers 🙂
As I walked I noticed that there was a lot of graffiti – people had carved their names into the wall. This started a conversation about how if the graffiti’s been there long enough it becomes historic (is a 400 year old piece of graffiti terrible… or historic?).
When people used to visit Shakespeare’s home (a long time after his death), they used to write their names on the windows to say that they were there. Lots of famous writers (Dickens etc) signed the windows, and now they are a museum piece within the house.
It’s an odd one and it happens everywhere; I’ve seen names carved into the stone at our own Newgrange (which is 5,000 years old, which makes this really bad).
It is sad, and you do shudder at seeing it; ‘I’d never do that! That’s terrible’… but then if enough time passes… does it become alright? Do you start to think; ‘someone in the 1800s was standing where I am now, in awe of this thing I am seeing that they once saw too… (of course they were busy carving their name into it, so we aren’t really experiencing it the same way, but still!)’
People like to write their names on things because it says; ‘I was here, I existed once and I was here’. And I get that, but…
Argh, it’s a tough one; but people shouldn’t be doing it anymore – that’s what the visitor’s guestbook is for!
While on the wall I ate the bag of Hula Hoops I’d gotten in Dublin airport (and failed to eat on the plane – I told you we’d be seeing those food items again!)… That was bizarre!
Then it was on to the Forbidden City (give or take a day, ha). That place is amazing.
It was built according to the rules and laws of Taoism – the cultural religion of China. For example, Taoism is crazy about numbers. The number 9 (and 5) is very important and lucky in the religion. The doors of the city’s gates have gold circle embossing – there are nine rows with nine circles across.
The Forbidden City is also said to contain 9999 rooms; the Emperor is the only one on earth who can have 9999 rooms. This is one less than the Jade Emperor (the King of Heaven in Taoism); only he can have 10,000 rooms. The Jade Emperor sounds cool doesn’t he?
There’s a lot to see in the Forbidden City, I found myself just wandering on my own at one point, enjoying my own novelty as a white foreigner (I’m hardly ever exotic, so that was fun!).
It wasn’t long before my time in Beijing was at an end, but I did manage to check out the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Cube before I was off on an overnight train (13 hours!) to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, but that’s another post 🙂
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!
My stupidity started when I neglected to pack sunscreen. Oh yes, I brought sunscreen to England and Scotland… but to Spain? No. Why? I don’t know! “Latimer you fool! You complete fool!”
It was so hot over there. I touched down, stepped off the plane and my insides began to melt! I didn’t actually burn like I thought I would – nope. I boiled, from the inside out!
My second lot of stupidity was my continued disregard for one Antoni Gaudí. Yup; I was more or less content to let my exploration of the man’s work end at a fly-by visit to Sagrada Família and a hellish, blistering walk around Parc Güell .
I flew by Sagrada Família for two reasons; 1) I thought I didn’t like it (but actually I was in awe like everyone else when I saw it) and, 2) the queue to get inside stretched around the entire building, in the harsh glare of the sun.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t queue (not after a summer of queuing in London, and the heat of the Barcelona supernova sky @_@).
Parc Güell was a-trip-and-a-half.
It was the height of the midday heat, a harsh, steep upward climb to the top of the park, and 30 minutes spent traipsing around looking for the damn Gaudí lizard fountain! I didn’t come into the park through the entrance, but rather the end; so I really faded fast walking around in the heat.
I don’t know what feeling Gaudí was looking to create, but to me, it was like I was in hell; walking through the dried out skeletal carcasses of vast beasts that had perished in the desert sands of Güell/Hell.
I nearly gave up looking for the entrance, but I steeled myself and plodded on, thinking of Bear Grylls and how I must have learned something that could save me, should the moment arise (which on a few occasions I thought, yup, it’s time to go Grylls!).
All I could think was; “Drink my own wee? Güell no…”
I found it in the end, and the lizard was being held hostage by the mob. I couldn’t get to see him much.
I was feeling nauseous at this point, so I fled almost straightaway for a lie down in the hotel.
After that I thought, no more Gaudí.
BUT! An accidental walk over to Palau Güell changed that.
It was the mansion of the Güell family, the patrons of Gaudí, who commissioned Parc Güell . This family was super-rich, by today’s standards they’d be on the Forbes list and worth 70 billion euro. Their mansion was, actually very small, but the Gaudí -ness of it was astounding. I came to appreciate that he was in fact a genius architect and his mind was a wave of pure inspiration.
No one built like Gaudí before or afterward. The buildings are wacky and over the top; but its more how he built, his attention to ventilation or the way natural light could be brought into buildings. He put so much thought into the building itself, how it should and would function.
Palau Güell doesn’t have doors as such. It has two massive ornate wrought-iron gates, with curling metal.
When you stand in the entrance hall you can see right out onto the street, but the metal is deceptively thinner and thicker in parts that means the people on the outside can’t see in. That’s all Gaudí.
The halls curve and arch like waves; it’s like stepping onto a movie set, something from the imagination of a fantasy, or sci-fi writer.
When Gaudí was awarded his degree one of his teachers remarked that; “We have given this degree to a madman or a genius, only time will tell.”
The most famous of the Gaudí buildings is probably Casa Batlló.
The interior is inspired by the sea, the ceilings are like ripples of water and there are whorls and eddies all over the house.
People have lots of thoughts of what the façade looks like. Some say it looks like bones (the spine of a fish); so they call it the House of Bones. They also say that Gaudí was inspired by Monet’s lilies painting and that the façade looks like that; or the balconies look like the masks worn in the parades that used to walk down the street outside the house. And the roof is supposed to look like a dragon resting.
Many people in Gaudí’s life died in the first decade of the 1900s – including his close collaborator and his patron Eusebi Güell. He took refuge in his work on Sagrada Família. By this point Gaudí didn’t have much money and confessed:
“My good friends are dead; I have no family and no clients, no fortune nor anything. Now I can dedicate myself entirely to the Church.”
He had to take alms to continue his work on the church.
One day, aged 73, Gaudí walked away from Sagrada Família and was knocked over by a tram. He was dressed in tatty clothes so people thought he was a beggar. He did not receive immediate aid and by the time he got to hospital, and was recognised, his condition was critical.
He died of his injuries and was buried in his Sagrada Família.
His story ended on a sad note. But we can look at it like this; his work survives to inspire people in big ways and little ways, and even though he passed away in poverty, the inspirational wealth he left behind will always be far greater than the money he might have had 🙂
Ridley also went to Barcelona a year ago! Check out her thoughts here!
Also, just a quick note: if you want to see any more of our photos we’re up and running oninstagram, pretty regularly now 🙂
If you are on it too, drop us a line! Or if you haven’t joined yet, do!, it’s a great fun way to share your photos!
Today we have a fantastic read up for grabs, it is a signed TheFault in Our Stars, by John Green. Whether you’ve read it or not, this is a must have for any bookshelf! 😀
Book description (from amazon):
‘Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.’
In the damp wet of Ireland’s ‘rainy season’ (a.k.a. summer), Latimer thinks back on ancient Japan. She exchanges her wetsuit for some samurai swag and sets off on a journey through Japan’s shogun past…
Latimer: Modern Japan is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. It’s fun; it looks crazy, but it does leave me thinking, ‘that’s intense… sort of unreal’.
The Japanese past is sometimes hard to find in Tokyo.
But find it you must, because it’s full of fantastic stories waiting to be told!
We were on a pilgrimage of sorts that day. We wanted to find the temple of the 47 ronin- otherwise known as Sengakuji!
My Dad was the one that told me the story of the 47 ronin (master-less samurai). I’m not sure how or why he came to know the story; but he told it to me in his ‘every single detail’ manner…
The story begins in the age of the shogunate… I will attempt to set the scene… actually I may have to leave it to your imagination because my historical knowledge is firmly European. I could tell you to imagine a castle, a wild windswept hill; rough spun tunics and broad swords… but I won’t because I’d be wrong, your picture would be wrong and we’d all be looking at Braveheart and that’s not right! We are going to the orient after all….
The shogunate age was the golden age of the samurai and their masters. The samurai were a noble class and they followed a strict code called bushido. This was all about honour. Honour and respect; that was key to the samurai- you could lose your honour very easily back then it seemed. We use the term perhaps a little dismissively today- but back then, to them, it meant something…
Asano Takuminokami was the Feudal lord of Ako. He was asked by the shogunate to entertain vistors to Edo (the old name for Tokyo). Asano asked his loyal advisor Kira Kozukenosuke for directions on how best to do this. Apparently Kira didn’t like Asano and ‘with malice’ disgraced his honour as a samurai (bad mouthed him basically. This was a major no-no in bushido!). Asano decided to put Kira in his place for insulting him. He drew his katana (sword) and managed to cut Kira on the forehead- but not kill him (ah fiddlesticks!).
It was strictly forbidden to draw your sword in Edo castle. There was also a law that stated ‘equal punishment for quarrels’ so both men were expected to be punished. Now the story gets foggy here, but for some reason Kira got off the hook and only Asano was punished. He was forced to commit seppuku (samurai suicide, not to be too graphic but it involved a knife to the stomach and then your stomach on the floor- grim). Anyway, Asano was forced to commit seppuku in the garden of another lord’s house. This was bad, because seppuku outside was for felons not a lord like Asano. And as if that wasn’t bad enough- his family were stripped of their titles and forced off of their estate!
Asano died and Kira got away scot free! Oh… that’s the perfect start to a story of revenge if ever I head one! The loyal samurai of Asano, the Ako Gishi (47 of them), pleaded against this indignity and demanded the reinstatement of the Asano house.
They were denied. And so began two years of plotting…
They set their plan of revenge in motion on December 14th 1702. They attacked and killed Kira at his residence. Apparently they pleaded with Kira, treating him with respect, to die as a true samurai should (commit seppuku and die with honour). The leader of the 47 samurai, Oishi…
… offered Kira Asano’s dagger (the one he had used to killed himself). Kira trembled before them, but would not kill himself. So, they did it for him (dishonourable) then cut off his head, taking it to Asano’s grave in Sengakuji.
One of the 47, named Terasaka Kichiemon, was ordered to go to Ako to report that revenge had been taken.
Strangely now, the 46 remaining ronin didn’t run. To run would be dishonourable. They turned themselves in to the shogunate straightaway.
They were sentenced to seppuku the following February 4th and buried in Sengakuji with Asano. In a strange twist, Terasaka Kichiemon was pardoned by the shogunate when he returned from Ako. Some reported it was due to his young age. Terasaka Kichiemon lived to be an old man; he died in his 80s and was buried next to his comrades.
And after hundreds of years, myself and Ridley found ourselves at the 47 ronin’s graves in Sengakuji.
It was one of the quietest places we had been in Tokyo. Tucked away from the bustling modern world (though that world did overlook the small temple).
When we got there, it felt like we’d finally found ancient Edo, beyond the lights and noise of Tokyo, behind the modern facade.
The story of the 47 ronin is one of the most popular stories in Japan, because it reminds them of loyalty (Chu) and justice (Gi).
There were no tourists there. The place was serene. It had history. It had a story. I’m in two minds about the samurai notion of honour. It’s an extreme version that I don’t understand to be honest. Then there’s the loyalty part, which is somehow easier to connect with. These men sacrificed their lives to avenge their master. There is something very powerful about that level of conviction.
It was amazing to finally see the place; amazing how such an old story, from so far away, could have found its way through time and tide to us. We were very touched and awed! (Thanks to my Dad for telling us about it!)