I think I am getting past it – shopping that is – when I am travelling. Don’t get me wrong. I love shopping for things I can use – like clothes or shoes – especially in exotic places like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the Silk Markets of Hanoi. But cut me out with knick knacks. I am really done. I think I am moving into that part of my life where I yearn for simplicity and order. Really – I have to look at some of the things I have from my travels and say to myself “What the hell were you thinking of when you bought this?”.
Take this alabaster cat. It’s horrible. It’s heavy. It’s not particularly well made. It was at the end of our tour in Egypt and we were taken to the alabaster shop, shown ancient tools still used today – to make badly carved cats and vases. I felt bad. The shop owner followed me around the store while I desperately looked for something that wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg. I felt I should really buy something – and I like cats. Mmmmm – this was one of my mistakes.
Let’s not even talk about the bangles that made my wrist go green or the pure cotton woven shirts that disintegrated in the washing machine.
My colleagues are just as bad … look at their desks…..
Mind you – I do have a few little bits and pieces that I am quite fond of. The peat Celtic cross I bought in Ireland, the medieval soldier from Germany and the Buddha from Vietnam.
And then there are those cute hats I bought in Vietnam which I have hanging on the wall. And they are special because I saw the lady making them.
How can I throw any of these away? They are all memories – some good some bad but on a snowy day in Calgary they remind me and take me back again and again.
Next Christmas I am definitely heading out of town – somewhere hot would be nice. A beach, a margarita and Feliz Navidad would suit me just fine. I know it is a crazy time to travel – that’s what I tell my clients. Everything is overpriced and overcrowded. Airline staff are grumpy, baggage handlers unreliable and there is not a spare seat on the plane. At the beach you can forget about getting a beach chair without at least bribing ten people first and if you are at one of those all inclusive resorts where the speciality dining requires reservations that morning – good luck with the queue.
So why would I put myself through that hell rather than stay at home in this “lesser hell” of crowded shopping centres, crying children and excesses of spending, eating and drinking? You see, Christmas just doesn’t seem the same any more. I know, I know – I am not 6 years old any more and if I had to line up and sit on Santa’s knee at the shopping centre – well let’s not go there.
I honestly don’t think I am going to find anywhere in the world that hasn’t fallen victim to the Christmas Commerce Bug. Even in Hanoi and Siem Reap Christmas trees popped up on every corner and shops were lavishly decorated in Saigon with wintry scenes of sleighs and frosty trees. I guess if I really want to escape it altogether I might find a corner maybe in Papua New Guinea or in Nepal? Any ideas or recommendations would be welcomed.
In the meantime I will busy myself with taking down the Christmas tree. Funny how everyone wants to help with putting the damn thing up – no-one ever wants to pack it away. That’s OK – I am in the right job to spend a whole year dreaming and planning for a Christmas where Santa won’t be….. I know! The North Pole. Not exactly a beach but hey – maybe I get to see some polar bears – now that would be cool!
….. as in crossing that is. Our guide was very specific about instructions for negotiating the streets of Hanoi. “Always cross at the zebra crossing. Once you start crossing the street keep going but slowly. Do not run. Walk slowly so motorbikes will have a good chance to avoid hitting you.”
And they're off!
Now that’s pretty good advice if you ask me. Forget about traffic lights. They work for the most part but don’t be surprised to find scooters, motor bikes or even cars driving around you, in front of you and behind you while crossing at a pedestrian crossing. Oh and don’t get too relaxed walking down the sidewalk. Many bikers use this as a handy way to avoid the traffic. Go figure.
I use the term “bikers” loosely. For us in North America it conjures up Hell’s Angels or mid-life crisis executives clad in black leather from head to foot sitting confidently astride beautiful Harleys or BMW’s. In Hanoi a biker could be literally anyone wanting to get from point A to point B. Lots of girls. Pretty office workers in stockings, suits and heels. Moms and Dads with one or even two babies wedged between them. It’s amazing what these bikes can do and how the riders can balance huge bags of rice, baskets piled sky-high and very long unwieldy aluminium ladders with no sight of that familiar red cloth tied to the end. It’s pedestrian beware and the sight is enough to make any North American traffic cop want to hang up his radar.
I was astonished to see a group of tourists on a bicycle tour through the city. Truly they deserve a medal – maybe this is going to become an Olympic sport one day. It would certainly call on athletes with nerves of steel and great balance – qualities unfortunately that I do not possess. So you won’t be seeing me on the bike in Vietnam – at least not in Hanoi that is.
There lies my suitcase – on the living room floor – and it’s packed. The remarkable thing about this is that it was packed a good 36 hours before I am due to leave the house and head for the airport. This must constitute a record. It is such an amazing occurrence it has been giving me a headache and caused me to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I have finally gone off my rocker! People, this is an unheard of phenomenon. I have been known to finish my packing with the taxi waiting at the front door. This has caused huge distraction and lack of concentration – like the time we drove all the way to Calgary airport and left my bag sitting on the floor of the garage. Or the time I completely forgot to pack my underwear. Yes, you try wearing a pair of your husband’s tighty whities under your skirt and see how it feels.
Tighty Whities - or what I would call Y-Fronts
So I am feeling rather smug at the moment – which is not a good thing as I know from experience. I am heading into untrodden territory – at least for me. First stop is Hanoi, followed by Ha Long Bay, Siem Reap and the Mekong. Wow – I feel dizzy at the thought. Have I really packed the right stuff – maybe I should go through it all just one more time…. just to be sure.
Stop it Lesley – it will be fine. The bag is packed – let it be….. but just double check you packed your knickers.