Seasoned traveller Faye Clarke, explains why she quit the London 9-5 in favour of a more relaxed and inspirational way of life in Thailand.
You know when you wake up and you have the voodoos? You wake up and for no reason you are out to get yourself, beat yourself up, point out the bad, pick at the good and generally feel like you are covered in a thick oozing malaise?
I woke up with the voodoos. In fact I woke every morning for a month with them. I am, on paper, a smug git who has the flat, the car, the friends, the men, the family…blah blah. But the voodoo’s are here and they aren’t going. And when the going gets tough…the tough book a ticket to the other side of the world.
Australia was actually the original aim with a potter about in Thailand to start. A lady alone and all that I was not sure if I would like going solo with me and my backpack, despite having travelled a fair bit with buddies. Fear. It is a funny old thing. Fear of the new and fear of change and fear of failure are buggers. Over the course of 5 years in Thailand I have learnt to not let them rule my life. And the result..? Well less fear of course! Silly!
SO now obviously you know I was not to reach Australia. Thailand I started, Thailand I stopped. Although all through a series of fateful meetings, opportunities and no good reason to say no.
A hippy said to me when I first landed “you gotta just read the signs, dude”. He’s had a pop at the old wacky baccy I thought. But in actual fact this man was wise indeed (although wisdom does not afford you the foresight to wash or eat apparently). His words have stayed with me all this time and it is in fact something I reflect back on a daily basis. See….! I DID read the signs and followed the sign to read the sign…
I have dived, bathed, sun worshipped, trekked, got drunk, met some fabulous people, laughed and felt free-er and floatier than I had in years! Voodoo….schmoodoo.
Reluctantly as it happens as I was out of time on the ol’ month visa but I travelled north with the gang that I was with. Through a series if random meetings, we found a bar on our last night that was tucked away, dead as a dodo. The Yorkshire owner and his Thai lady had just opened it, run out of cash and were struggling to rouse business. The story comes out after a disgusting amount of gin. As I remember it, he says they have to go to Australia for a couple of months because they’re broke. I said, I mean I slurred “I’ll look after the bar for you if you like.”
Having worked in the NHS since Uni and never having shaken a cocktail in, my life I was of course completely delirious. Anyway, he must have been too. He said yes. I caught my bus the next day after leaving a note saying:
‘There’s my name and number if you want me.’
And they did.
Two months of bar running later I finally realised that actually, I didn’t need to go to Oz. The opportunity and freedom and alternative way of living was here in a remote sleepy town on the Burmese border. So I stayed. And stayed. And bought a bit of land because it was there and there was no good reason to say no.
The idea of building a house came to me via two good friends. Entrepreneurs they both are and they seemed to have the faith in me that I lacked to build a whole house on a piece of land six kilometres from town, which had no electricity, no water, and no road. To manage a building site as a single girl with very marginal (well none) Thai with a team of male builders who were not accustomed to Farrang let alone a six-foot blonde girl with no husband was in fact preposterous. But there was no good reason to say no.
Where do you begin with building a house? I had sketched up plans in a graph book for children (I did use a metal ruler so it does make it FAR more grown up). I had an idea of what I wanted, took photos of what I had seen that I had liked, priced up materials in the nearest big town (4 hours away) and locally, identified an old teak house that I wanted to dismantle and use to re-build my house.
And so there I stood. On a VERY cold dawn on January 1st with a man who could not speak English at all, a tractor and some red string. I can say in all certainty that this was petrifying. I was starting out on a project that I had drifted into and used as a goal and now I actually had to DO it? Hold on here – this is a gamble. This feels like responsibility! Can I do it? Is this not all a little ridiculous. Perhaps I should just wake up now?
So the tractor made a path, we pegged put plan for my 3 bedroom house and job done. It was sealed. I was doing it and I wasn’t going to turn back. I’m a stubborn mare and I just hate leaving things half done.
The local team of carpenters were cautious at first and a lot of time was spent with my nose in translation dictionaries and sitting on my own. As time moved on and they realise I was a hands on girl I became part of the team. Well, the lackey really! You want a bucket of sand, I’m your girl. A sewer dug; there I am, although to be fair I did rather impose my wish to be used on them. They would have been more than happy to not have my meddling! Lunch times were their time so I would make my self scarce and leave them to banter about second wives and how big the cobra was in their shower the night before. I would share food with them first though. I would bake flapjacks and bread (which they hated) and they would provide harvest rat and honey comb they had pulled out of hives they found in the fields around them. Truly living off the land! Rat is actually rather like duck and I wholeheartedly recommend you try it! Rat-a touille, Rat Wellington, Rodent au vin, Vermin-celli….
Phase 1 was over spent and over time but having lived and worked on Thai time for a few years and knowing my penchant for not sticking to the budget it was hardly surprising. The toil and stress has been worth it to see a house with walls I had laid bricks for, foundations I had literally bled into as I twisted thousands of pieces of metal rebar into forms to poor thousands more buckets of concrete over to make each individual pole. Everything had been hand done, mixing the cement, carrying the wooden beams up to the peak of my 30 foot roof on ramshackle bamboo scaffolding. Even the doors and windows had been handcrafted by village men using sweat and hard graft.
There were a lot of tears in those walls. And standing back to see the final layout with my beautiful roof perching on top was flabbergasting. That I, this single twenty something, had randomly found herself standing on a mountain side, admiring a house that I had sketched only 3 months before in a book and would now stop the rain falling on me, give me warmth and shade, and give me a sense of coming home.
I remember one 5.30 am start as I cycled the 10 kilometres form my house to the building site, seeing a girl I had spotted in town a few times. She was on a motorbike, wrapped up in a huge coat and gloves as the mornings are freezing in the valley, until the relaxed sun makes a break for freedom from the mountains at 11am. To my surprise the twisting dirt road to my house was the option she took and so she was either lost or something was up!
The lads had already got there and so the fire had been built, The balaclava-d team were waiting for the blackened kettle to boil whilst Pi-Pete was at the stream gutting the rat ready for a slow barbeque in time for lunch. As I caught up with the girl on the motorbike, my nose was stinging from the hour long ride in the frosty air.
Sara had wanted to talk about what it was like being a young single girl, on her own, with no responsibility, plenty of energy and a penchant for the risky. She wanted to know what the reality of building a house in your haven was like. It was only when I was quizzed that it dawned on me the journey I had travelled.
How amazing the twists of fate and turns of opportunity had led me to this beautiful view, fantastic friends, new learning and a re-finding of the confidence and worth I had lost and buried in the UK. It isn’t easy, it isn’t romantic, and it isn’t just a challenge. It had been stressful. Sacrifices had been made, tears and time had moved on and with it so had I. And through it I became a person I thought I could like again.
Hours of non-communication day after day in the meditative paddy fields of a Thai valley surrounded by jungle gives affords you a state of meditation and reflection. I learnt a lot about why I ran; what from and with what hope. Finding something meaningful to me, having a purpose and a way to communicate my own self worth through my choices and actions was what saved me from that residual feeling in the UK. One of dissatisfaction. Of myself and my choices.
Sara’s questions made me realise that, no, I was not sure I was making the right decisions. But I was sure that it didn’t matter if they were wrong or right. I was learning and gaining something every day. I was expanding my mind, exploring my psyche, philosophising about why and realising that no decision is bad, no direction preferable.
Life is a journey. It never stays constant or predictable (although we try so hard to make it so). So flow with the tides, drift with the breeze, and keep in mind the greater picture. It is what it is. I had learnt to let go of expectation, but to just smell the flowers along the path of the journey I was taking. After all the journey is what takes the longest time so why waste it constantly focusing on the ultimate goal?! My house was a journey in itself but it was also just a snippet of the bigger, grander journey I was and we all are taking.