On the morning we left Shanghai for Bali, I was sitting on my bed sometime around 8am, huddled under a few layers of duvets, toes numb, feeling quite out of sorts.
I was barely recovered from a four day tummy bug in which I failed entirely to eat for two of those days, feeling rather shell shocked by the sudden appearance of three weeks of down time after months and months of endless work, stress, and way too many metaphorical bombs dropped without warning. The sudden lack of all of the above was disconcerting.
I realized at some point that I was still wearing my metaphorical suit of armour, the one I don in order to deal with daily life here. It was starting to chafe. It was time to remove it, oil it, hang it back up in the closet for when I’d be needing it again, three weeks hence.
I decided that what I really needed to do was start my day with a really good beer.
Being beaten up by back to back Chinese plagues of various viral and bacterial strains, weeks of hazardous-level pollution so heavy our flat was opaquely wrapped in cotton balls most mornings, and a job that was revealing itself, layer by layer, rather onion-like, to be increasingly the wrong fit for me had all left me rather battered and bruised. It had gotten to the point where I had spent a few sleepless weeks around the new year trying to figure out if those were panic attacks that I was experiencing every night at 3am or if I was actually about to spontaneously implode.
So at 8am on Saturday, I cracked open a bottle of Rogue Juniper Pale Ale, declared it to be my breakfast, and felt much better. I don’t know why there’s a social prejudice against beer for breakfast- goodness, after the past few months, it was freaking awesome. I should do it more often.
After finishing my breakfast of gin-beer and the last square of dark chocolate from my Christmas haul, I packed my bag for the next three weeks of no work, no pollution, and (hopefully) no plague in Bali. Every time I go away, I try to pack less and less. As I have gotten older, I’ve found that having stuff around just stresses me out. One carry on. No more.
My packing mantra is, 2 pairs of undies and ballpoint pen. Of course, I’m never quite able to pare it down to that but I’m getting there. Nowadays, it’s more like 2 pairs of undies, my Kindle, my camera, my laptop, my smart phone. Oh, and a shirt or skirt or two. Maybe a spare bra. A toothbrush. A ballpoint pen. Because I realized I hadn’t written a damn thing that wasn’t work related since December. Not even a mop.
Flying rather counter-intuitively via Seoul, we left Shanghai at 2pm on Saturday and didn’t get in to Bali until 12 hours later, flying way up into sub-zero weather territory before zooming back down into the heat. When we landed in Seoul, the cabin of the plane was bathed in a strangely rich, bright and lovely light that I later realized was sunshine. It had been quite a while since I’d seen it.
At Incheon Airport, sipping overpriced airport coffee whilst waiting for our evening flight out, I had a panicked Paris moment where I casually looked at the time on my phone and automatically added an hour because I hadn’t bothered to change it since we left Shanghai. According to it, our flight was to have finished boarding ten minutes earlier. It was only after I dragged us to our gate, heart thudding, failing to see our flight listed anywhere, that I remembered that smart phones are probably called smart phones for a reason and they adjusted their time zones themselves.
They inexplicably served Turkish beer on the second leg of the journey, so I ordered one for old time’s sake and blearily watched 5 hours of back to back episodes of the new BBC version of Sherlock Holmes, the one with the man who looks like a bird, and felt weirdly sentimental, concurrently, for both London and Istanbul.
Arriving at Incheon, it had been chilly and sharp exiting the plane; at Denpasar, the heat and humidity were enveloping and soothing. Our guesthouse screwed up and forgot to come get us, so we stood around outside the arrivals area at 3am, trying to sort it all out, eyes humming with exhaustion. The thickness of the warm air slows you down here. Resistance is futile, as they say. Thick, humid, warm air that doesn’t ring warning bells on the air quality index. I started to breathe again, tentatively at first.
We made it to our temporary transit guesthouse by 4am, failed to sleep, ate a sad breakfast of instant noodle mie goreng, adorned with neither fried egg nor veggies nor flavour. They had piped in gamelan music playing, so we picked at the curly lengths of underwhelming noodle to the haunting strains of a ghostly xylophone and gong chorus. I tried to remind myself that I was here to unwind and revisit sanity and that gamelan and crappy noodles each played a vital role in that process.