- Peaks and troughs -

10th January '16

There's not really too much to say about Chiang Mai because... well I've said it all before.

There was nothing exceptional about the train journey, the hotel, or the vacation itself. Although I will add that I probably broke the record for the smallest ever contribution to the local economy by a visiting foreigner.

My £4 per night hotel was... what you'd expect when paying £4 per night. I was perfectly happy with it though.

It had a bed and an en suite bathroom. What more do I need?

And then... well everything was exactly like I said that it would be. I would wake-up, wander to one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants, get breakfast, then wander back to my hotel again and relax. I'd repeat that a couple more times throughout the day, and then it was time for bed.

I was still being somewhat money-conscious, despite being on vacation, and I know of many cheap vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai where you can get a meal for 50p. So on one day, excepting my hotel room, I didn't even break the £3 barrier. I was there to relax, and that's exactly what I did.

One great thing about having an iPhone, is it tracks how far I walk everyday. And even though I was relaxing, that's no excuse to become completely complacent.

A rule that I've loosely adopted regardless of my location, is that I should walk at least 10km everyday.

I do that most days without trying, and at least once per month I seem to break 40km travelled on foot, but 10km is my minimum.

I've got away from the gym mindset that I adopted for so much of the past. I've come to believe that one or two hours in the gym are far less beneficial than being a generally active person throughout the day. Sitting for long periods, for example in front of a computer, is probably as important to avoid as unhealthy food is. So with that in mind, I was sure to travel at least 10km throughout each day. Although like I said, just walking to and from my restaurants, I did so without trying.

I guess that I think in this way nowadays because age has caught-up with me, and I think more longer-term rather than just worrying about how good I look now.

I'm less than a decade away from 40, and many, many people suffer from ill-health in their forties. What will determine if I'm one of them is the decisions that I make and the lifestyle that I live before then. So whenever I talk about the food that I'm eating, or the exercise that I'm doing, or the lifestyle that I'm living, somewhere in the back of my mind, that's what I'm thinking.

I've come to appreciate the importance of avoiding stress, of sleeping enough, of eating well, of staying active, of drinking plenty of water, of staying relaxed. And my lifestyle is a constant endeavour to do just that.

I no longer care about how I look on the beach, so I no longer care to go to the gym when I can, in my mind, get equal or greater benefit to my long-term health for significantly less time invested, by running in the park, or swimming in my pool, or doing yoga or bodyweight exercises in my apartment.

So although it might sound like I was just being lazy; which I was, my one goal for this vacation was to relax, I wasn't complacent to the point of ill-health.

One thing that I do wonder, is how much of this present mindset is due to my environment, and how much is due to how my mind evolved to age. What I mean, is that a person that cares about beach muscles and looking good, does so in large part because their objective is to attract a mate and to ultimately reproduce. Someone who is striving to simply survive, is no longer looking to do that; they're thinking about only themselves. So I just wonder if I evolved to reproduce in my twenties, when I did care about how I look, but by my thirties, my body expects that I've done that already, so automatically turns it's attention to long-term survival.

How much of this change in attitude to my lifestyle is down to environment, and how much is inherent within me because of the way that humanity evolved to balance out survival and reproduction?

Probably best not to think about. And when I say that I would go back to my hotel and relax, what I really mean was I'd go back to my hotel and play Final Fantasy VII... at least until I completed it after only two weeks.

I remember the first time that I played that game, it took me three months to complete. And that was three months of being a teenager who could sit in front of the TV for twelve straight hours without a break. And sure, even though it's been more than a decade since I last played it, I can still remember much of the story, so I'm sure that played a part. But I think more than that, I think that completing this game in two weeks and doing so easily, just playing a couple of hours per day, it was a demonstration of how different I am as a person compared to when I did it for the first time at about age 13.

I can still remember back then getting completely bamboozled by the complexities of the game, and just wandering around the vast map aimlessly until I got lucky and wandered into the right place to advance the story.

The game gives you clues for everything that you need to know, my mind was just too immature to see them. This time around though, when I'm much older and wiser, I picked-up on everything. The things that I was told were actually processed by my brain, and not simply disregarded as jargon like they were in the past, and this game, which at 13 years old seemed so challenging, at 30 was rather easy.

What took me three months of many, many hours per day at 13, took me two weeks of one or two hours per day and 30. My mature mind just processes information a lot better today; that's what I learnt.

It was actually kind of disappointing how little time it took, because I was hoping that it'd keep me occupied for a while, but it was still fun to relive this game like I was 13 all over again. And despite the overall inactivity and unsociability (I noted on the train home that I didn't have a proper conversation with anyone for the entire trip), I rather enjoyed this break. It was exactly as I planned it to be when I booked it. Simply a short time to get away from Bangkok, to relax, and to look back at my life here from a distance.

And although it might not sound it, the fact that for this entire trip, in the back of my mind I was counting down until I got to go home again, was a good thing.

If I'd had a shit vacation, I'd have been disappointed. If I'd had a great vacation, it'd have made me sad to have to go home again when it was over. The reality of it was that it was fun and it was good to get away for a bit, but I was still thankful that I got to return to my Bangkok life. It made me appreciate even more what I have here. I couldn't have asked for more.

With Final Fantasy completed, I needed another activity to fill my "relax" time. And I could have taught myself Thai. I could have read a good book and educated myself about the world. Nah, fuck that shit, I've got a load of other games lined-up on my iPhone waiting to be played, so I moved onto Hitman: Sniper. Which is exactly as it sounds.

You're a hitman sniper, and you sit up on a hill and kill the criminals below.

It might not sound it, but it's a very rewarding experience. Very therapeutic.

My final day in Chiang Mai was how you'd expect it to be, having to check-out of my hotel at 11am, but my train not leaving until 6pm. And unable to shower again until I'd arrive back in Bangkok the next morning, my goal was simply to sweat as little as possible.

I'd barely brought any stuff with me to Chiang Mai; just my little rucksack that I take to work everyday, and it wasn't even full, containing a pair of underwear for each day, a t-shirt for each day, and a spare pair of shorts. That was about it, so it wasn't like I was ladened with this huge load that I had to haul around behind me. But still. I was going to be in these same clothes for the better part of 24 hours, so I didn't want to sweat, and where in the world is the best place not to sweat?

That's right, Starbucks.

I will add the stipulation that this was technically Winter. It didn't feel it getting to what must have been in excess of 30°C on some days, but it was technically winter. But don't ever listen to a Thai person that tells you that it's cold. They consider 22°C cold. And it was very funny to me on one morning, that in my t-shirt and shorts, I walked passed a labourer who was decked-out in a thick wooly hat and a huge winter coat. And even working, he still looked cold.

I took a screenshot of the weather at that moment. 19°C. He was wearing a wooly hat and winter coat in 19°C, and he wasn't alone.

It's one thing that I've learnt since living in Thailand: Don't ever, ever listen to a Thai person who tells you that it's cold.

I was planning on sitting in Starbucks for in excess of three hours but intent on only buying one drink to do so because... fuck their prices, so I headed up to the third floor of this Starbucks, away from the prying eyes of the staff. In fact, I was away from the prying eyes of everybody, and for much of the time I had this whole floor to myself.

Comfy sofa, plug, air conditioning, lovely. So for three hours I sat there sniping people from on top of this hill.

This game has a feature whereby you can upload a video of your game to a website. Why you would ever want to and why anyone would ever watch it is beyond me; wouldn't it be more fun to just play the game yourself? But that is the world that we live in now. People upload fifteen different pictures of their KFC lunch to Instagram, compared to which uploading a clip of a video game actually seems rather reasonable. So this will probably be worthless to absolutely anyone but... fuck it. It gives you the idea. This is an actual clip of me playing this game:

Note that the music in this game was that Christmas song, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-laa.

I was playing with earphones in, so couldn't hear what was happening around me, and when I turned this game off, it turned out that the same music was playing in this Starbucks.

It made it very hard to snap back to reality when the same non-diegetic music that you've been hearing while engrossed in a fantasy world, is also present in your reality. And here I was, all alone on the third floor of Starbucks, looking down at the criminally annoying tourists of Chiang Mai below...

Since getting back home three days ago, things have continued exactly as they were before I left. I've upheld my promise to cook something new everyday, and on my first night back, I made baked falafels with green sauce. On Friday I made a Mexican-style bean and rice casserole, then yesteday morning cooked garlic hash browns with kale. Today, on the last day of my holiday, I made fruit and nut oatmeal for breakfast. I probably learnt more about how to cook in these three weeks off, than I have in thirty years of life before now. It's been a very rewarding vacation in that regard. But alas, this is the final day, and my God three weeks flies when you're on vacation. I have to go to work again tomorrow. The fuck?

Do you remember that when I got offered this job, I was sat in this little vegetarian food court, way over the other side of the city? Well perhaps for the first time since, I ate there again on Friday. My mind is still very much set on cooking, and there's a very good and very cheap shopping mall up that way (near to where I used to live) to get cooking utensils. I needed a mixing bowl, a serving spoon, a pepper grinder, fuck-knows what else, so I'd gone up that way, and figured I may as well get lunch at this vegetarian food court at the same time.

So there I was, sat there eating, and I'm not sure what to think of the symbolism of this being where I received the email of my schedule for this upcoming term. Hopefully it's not a sign that this food court will be where my time in this job both begins and ends.

My schedule was good though, I got the times that I wanted, and two of my three weekday classes (I don't know about weekends yet) are levels that I've taught before. My other one... level 1.

Yep, I've got a term of teaching absolute beginners so... well this term will be interesting. I'm kind of looking forward to the challenge of it if I'm honest, but it could also make it quite a trying term. And although I haven't received my register, I do know which rooms I'll be teaching in. And I'll be teaching level 1 in the biggest room in this school, which indicates that from tomorrow onwards, I'm going to have a class of eighteen or more, absolute beginners.

It could be interesting, which is why I'm hoping that there is no sybolism to finding this out in the exact same location that I was offered this job in the first place.

Ah, I'm sure it'll be fun.

I can't believe that this vacation's already over. It was though, absolutely perfect. My kitchen is essentially fully-equipped now, and has the core ingredients that I need to make any vegan recipe. Before the holiday I had very little equipment and almost no ingredients. Not to mention that I had almost no knowledge. But this holiday I've made eighteen different recipes from the Forks Over Knives app (if you include the sauces as individual recipes). Which means that I'm no longer limited to frying whatever's in my fridge in soy sauce, which was essentially what I was doing before. Now I can make entire casseroles that will last me for two days and that I can take to work with me for my break.

I mean, that knowledge and that ability is invaluable. And I still have a few recipes that I have the ingredients for but I'm yet to try. So I'm hoping that from this point forth, the food in my diet has significantly more variety than it did before, which is not only good for health, but it keeps you interested.

I'm struggling to articulate exactly why, but simply having the ability to cook this wide variety of food brings a smile to my face. Even though I can't really tell you why, it just seems like something that's very valuable to have. I'd been dreaming of having the time and equipment to be able to cook like this since long before I left China. And now I do.

I can make my own burgers, I can make my own mac and "cheese", I can make my own casseroles, I can make my own hash browns, I can make my own falafels...

And when I'm starting all of these from raw ingredients, I now control exactly what I'm taking into my body. Before when I ate falafels, they were from a restaurant that deep-fried them. Now I can bake them in my toaster oven with no oil.

Ah fuck it, it might not sound like much but it's important to me. Just like everything else, hopefully this variety of healthy, vegan food benefits me in the long run in terms of health.

Appreciating that my colleagues all went to far-flung places across the globe, and that I spent most of it in my apartment, it might not sound like this was a very productive vacation, but I wouldn't change a thing about it.

And now it's all over and I have to teach English to a large class of absolute beginners.

Peaks and troughs, I guess, peaks and troughs.