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The Last Dance

Well here I am in Bangkok on the last day of my trip! Another year is over, and I've a load more memories to look back on. I fly home from Bangkok tomorrow (providing I get up in time for my taxi to the airport!).

So what have I been up to since I last wrote? Well I believe I was lounging around in Udaipur then. I did a bit more of that before dragging my lazy bones to Pushkar, for a bit of shopping and a tad more relaxing. My time in India was coming to an end, but before I left I met up with my friend John in Mumbai catching an overnight train to Delhi, and an even longer one down to Mumbai. There the weather was a little cooler and the air humid rather than dry.

I first met John on the overland trip through the Middle East, and caught up with him again in in his hometown of Cairns during my year in Australia. This time our paths were crossing for a short time as his trip to India began a week before mine ended. He introduced me to his friends Talei and Brett, two lovely people that know India very well. Talei has been living there for a number of years, studying classical Indian music, specifically tabla, an incredibly complicated Indian drum; and Brett splits his time between India and Australia. They had kindly agreed to put me up for my time in Mumbai - saving me a small fortune as hotel prices in Mumbai are out of control.

The city felt to me almost like another country; very different to the rest of India. It seemed cleaner, the streets in the city were wide - I even saw air-conditioned shopping malls - there's posh! There's an awful lot of poverty as well though, as many men from the rest of India are drawn here; it's the "streets paved with gold" syndrome, although in fact they're covered with street dwellers. We went to an enjoyable classical concert one night, and leaving there saw countless men settling down for the night on their little patch of pavement.

John and I went on a small side trip; we'd intended to go to Matheron, but Talei suggested we pop down to Goa instead. I didn't need much persuading, so I returned to Arambol a lot earlier than I'd expected, catching a train from the wonderfully gothic, British-built Victoria Terminus. The season in Goa was pretty much over and, while the sun was still shining, the wind was fierce and made lying on the beach uncomfortable. My Indian trials and tribulations hadn't quite finished either, as I came down with a nasty stomach bug which was short-lived but intense.

My cousin Nigel was in a different part of Goa, relaxing before his flight to Australia. By chance he was catching the same train back to Mumbai...and even more coincidentally, he was in the berth above me. After another couple of days in Mumbai, I was off - back to Thailand, the Land of Smiles. I arrived around seven in the morning, and made my way to my usual hotel - which didn't have any singles available, so I ended up in an expensive (10) air-conditioned twin room. I almost turned it down and went trawling for something cheaper, but a certain sense of de ja vu kicked in, and I decided to bugger the expense.

The temperature in Thailand was similar to Mumbai; around 35 degrees and humid - just right. That first night I discovered that I do quite like air-conditioning after all. I wasn't too upset in the morning when they only had air-con singles available, rather than the budget fan rooms I normally go for. I figured it'd help me acclimatise before getting back to chilly England (yes, I know it's been up in the twenties of late...that's cold for me). A bonus to the more expensive room was only one flight of stairs rather than the four flights to the cheap rooms. The lack of exercise, however, means that I've already started to put back some of the weight I'd lost in India. I know I'd shed a fair bit - when I went to the dentist, the receptionist told me "wow, you so slim - before you were really big!" I didn't think I was that much of a porker!

I swear I'm looking ten years younger since I left India, where I was starting to look decidedly haggard. Did India put ten years on my, or has Thailand taken ten years off? I don't know - maybe it's five years either way, and I'll average out when I get home. The humidity is definitely kinder to the skin than the dry heat - in northern India some of the children had the skin of a pensioner. It's nice to be able to walk around smiling, and not afraid to make eye contact with men. I have to confess to letting my shoulders out too - I normally keep them respectfully covered over here, but after the constraints of India they demanded their freedom.

One less pleasant aspect that it's taken me a while to get used to (again) is the sex trade. In India it was some (not many, but a noticeable minority) of the local men that were the sex pests, and I'd almost forgotten that white men are no angels either. I pity the girls forced to endure the attentions of unattractive sex-tourist and sex-pats, objectified and treated as playthings, as if they are less worthy than those born with a penis. Still, let's not dwell on that.

I couldn't believe how clean Thailand was, after India. Here they have glass you can see through! It smells so sweet too. That, more than anything, gives me an indication of just how stinky India was. It normally takes a little while to adjust to the smell of Thailand; for the first few days my nose is wrinkled in disgust most of he time, even when I've returned here from a neighbouring country. I've been eating at least one pad thai a day, and averaging around three massages a week, making the most of the things I'd missed, and will miss again.

The first few days here were sunny and warm, and I entertained plans of heading down to the beach. Then the weather turned. Now the days are overcast and cloudy, and every day there is a thunder storm (so if I see you when I get home, don't even ask where my tan is; it got washed away). Not a big problem, as I intended to be busy here giving my book another read through. I'm going to send it off to agents (again) when I get home - this time with some pictures too, hoping that will pique someone's interest. Whilst doing this I came to the conclusion that I really need a website of my own to sell my photographs through, one that I can direct a potential agent to in the hope of getting them hooked.

An unexpected bonus to my pricier AC room was the fact that it was situated over a tailors shop where the guys use laptops and have a wireless modem, so I've been able to get online from the comfort of my room. Thanks to this, and 14-hour days of obsessive work, I am now the proud owner of www.serenityphotography.co.uk. I finished it yesterday (although there's a few tweaks I want to do to it when I get home...and learn how to), and if you have the time have a look, and let me know what you think - I want it looking as professional as possible, so any feedback would be appreciated.

There was a bit of drama here one day. I'd been up till almost six in the morning working on the site, and when I awoke around nine I discovered a policeman in the corridor, and all the cleaners huddled around by the stairs. Nobody could or would tell me what was going on, so I went out to breakfast and then returned to my room. Sometime later there was more noise outside, and my curiosity got the better of me. A number of staff stood outside the door of the room opposite mine, and I looked inside to see broken beer bottles and a big pool of blood. The occupant had died. The body had already been removed, but the stench of death and deification hung in the air.

The official line was that it was a drunken accident, but who knows. My first thought was suicide, as I couldn't see how you could fail to get help, had you accidentally cut yourself that badly; but I guess if you pass out around the same time it's possible. My friend in the travel agents next door thought it may have been a robbery by a street prostitute, but I guess we'll never know. I felt dreadful knowing it had happened so close - and that I was probably awake at the time. I'd not heard anything, so there was nothing to alert me, nothing I could have done. I slept badly for the next few nights, haunted by the knowledge that someone had bled to death just yards from me. The door was left open for a few days, airing the room, and then a monk came and blessed the place. I sleep better now.

Well I'd best stop waffling and go pack. I hope my tales have entertained you over the last year, and you can be sure I'll be in touch next time I have something to gloat about.

Take care, one and all, and until the next time, adieu.

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