It was almost by accident that I found myself in the UNESCO Heritage city of George Town, Malaysia, I wasn't even remotely aware of its existence until I arrived in Thailand and I heard it mentioned in whispers as a visa run destination. So when the time came for me to do my own visa run so that I could stay in the paradise of Krabi, for another month, it seemed like the obvious choice.
But in the days preceding the trip, the life that I'd grown accustomed to in Thailand started to feel heavy and dark. The heat was intense, it was 37 degrees every single day, which meant that it was tiresome even going outside. I'd walk five minutes down the road from my apartment to a Buddhist restaurant to have lunch and by the time I got there I was exhausted, agitated, and covered in sweat - I even had to start taking a towel with me everywhere I went to mop my brow. The kind waitresses whom I got to know well would laugh as I entered and then bring me a glass of iced water and plug in a much-needed fan next to my chair. I'd gone to Asia for the heat but the monsoon season was fast approaching and it had become too much.
Oh to be a writer
I was also starting to feel a bit lonely, which was unusual as a normally comfortable and seasoned loner. I'd been working relentlessly, writing, writing and more writing, which of course I love, it's both my passion and my profession. But writing can be a lonely pursuit at the best of times, and in Krabi, I struggled to make the connections and friends that I'd made in Vietnam and had little to do socially in the evenings. There didn't seem to be many other writers or digital nomads around - mainly just very young backpackers, there to sample the wildly beautiful sunsets, the paradisical beaches, and the abundant wildlife and jungle, who could blame them?
So I was mainly just in my apartment, writing alone, eating alone, and then not being able to go outside because of the heat, and I knew that I couldn't do it for much longer, it was just too isolating.
Home sweet home
This one was of the fleeting times that I considered coming home. I was exhausted, I was unsettled, I was missing my daughter and the smell of the fresh sweet Yorkshire air. Could I be bothered to go to yet another country that I know nothing about? Would it be fun? Would it be worth it? I spoke to my sister, and she said: "Don't come home now - it's freezing!" That was enough to give me just a small boost of energy that I needed to carry on. No way was I subjecting myself to the depressing damp and bitter cold of Spring in the UK before I had to.
The peasant shuttle
After much typical Libran deliberation about how to get there, I decided to take the bus. It seemed to be a straightforward, reliable and cheap alternative to flying and the ecological cost of my flights to Asia, and within Asia had been weighing on my mind and also, I hate airports so any chance to avoid them is appealing.
Of course, like most things in Asia, it wasn't as simple as it sounded. The bus, which was actually a minivan and not a bus, obviously, came to pick me up for the gruelling ten-hour journey at 5.30 am. The van was old, tiny, cramped, overfilled with luggage and hot. It was luxury compared to Vietnamese bus standards, but as I surveyed my surroundings, my stomach filled with dread and foreboding, this was not going to be pretty.
Always the last in line
Unfortunately, and also obviously, I was the last person to be picked up, which meant that I had the worst seat on the whole bus. The bus was packed, mainly full of Thai people and just a few ex-pats. There was only one place left.
I was at the very back and sandwiched between a young German couple. They both wanted window seats like anyone who's sane and who's about to get on a ten-hour bus journey, and they were even prepared to sit apart for the sake of it.
Let me explain how this played out:
The young man, who was under 25 - I've lost my skill at trying to gauge the age of anyone tall and gangly, with pasty skin, acne, and dressed in a snapback cap anymore - was sat to my left on a seat and his partner, a young woman sat directly next to me on the right. "Hello" I tentatively said, and they both ignored me and looked straight ahead.
This was not a great start to a journey in which there was no doubt whatsoever that we would all be physically touching for many hours, due to the close proximity of the seats and the multiple North Face backpacks also fighting for room in the space surrounding us. We were sat so close to each other that if I'd have opened a fizzy drink, it would have sprayed in all of our faces.
Disappointingly, they were sharing a water bottle which they kept passing to each other, through me, without speaking to me, while I was trying to sleep. I tried to stay calm.
Far more annoyingly, the young man was continuously shouting to her, in German, and she kept shouting back to him in reply. Basically, they were both shouting in my ears, to each other, as though their words could pass through my brain and out of the other side, and they did this without ever once acknowledging me, that I was there, or that I even existed.
This went on and on and on, for hours. I could feel my temperature rising, and my blood boiling, but I continued taking deep breaths and tried to stay calm.
I couldn't decide if they were doing anything wrong or not, was I just overreacting because I was so cramped and hot and tired? I racked my brains wondering if my daughter and I would sit in such a way and decided that we definitely wouldn't; we would give up one of the window seats and let anyone who was on their own have their own space.
I gave it to em
After I couldn't take it any more, I snapped. We all have that point and we're not exactly sure what it is in any given situation. After three hours of this nonsense and as he shouted another unimportant question to her in my ear, I turned to the guy and bellowed - "YOU CAN SIT HERE IF YOU LIKE!" At which point, he turned to me, looking shocked and somewhat ashamed and said: "It's OK thank you." and didn't move.
They were mildly quieter after that, although it remained a hostile environment with me not daring to move or breathe in case it interfered with them in any way.
And then after a few hours, something happened which always happens on a bus in Asia. The driver stopped the van, and nobody knew why. It's generally for a range of reasons; a smoke, the toilet, to pick up or drop off a parcel, to wait for a takeaway. As a mere passenger, we're never given any info of what's going on, one can only sit and wait and hope you're not getting ejected for any specific reason, which is also a regular occurrence.
Well, low and behold, he was kicking someone off the bus, and it was me. I had no idea where we were or why he was doing it, but you just have to have faith that things will turn out OK.
"You, you, off off." The driver said.
I sighed. The German couple looked at each other ecstatically.
And then a beautiful thing happened. The driver opened the back door to let me out, and at the same time some luggage fell out on to the road with a loud bang. Both the German guy and I were so shocked by the sound that we both turned around at the same time and clanged our heads together. It hurt, but I was pleased.
Normally I would apologise profusely in a far lesser situation than this, even when it wasn't my fault, because you know, that's what us British do. But I remained silent and watched as my new found arch enemy rubbed his head and felt a sweet sort of satisfaction.
I watched the van drive off into the distance. I gathered my three bags from the road, dragged them onto the pavement and into what looked like a cafe, apart from there didn't seem to be any food or drinks being served. It was full of Muslim women all wearing burkas who eyed me suspiciously and I wondered how this was going to pan out? Where the hell was I? What was going to happen next...
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Hello friends. I am Hannah Anstee, a specialist wellbeing journalist and coach. I warmly welcome you to The Future of 40, a space for independent, open-minded women who are looking for more. Namaste