learning to fall
June 12, 2013, 10:56 pm
Filed under: travel


Originally uploaded by cobismith.

I’ve now been living in Asia for three months. Living here has given me an appreciation for something I’d formerly taken for granted, I think. Or perhaps, given that I’m making a concerted effort to cultivate it here, I took it for precisely what it was in Australia and realise it’s more vital here, at least for the type of lifestyle I’m leading.

Balance and dexterity are things I now appreciate my mother making efforts to imbue me with as a child. I was supported to do ballet, gymnastics, Taekwondo, sofcrosse and other athletic activities, my mother patiently shuttling me around after school, allowing me to drop out when I lost interest, to be replaced by another. Except for sofcrosse, which I remember participating in for season after season until adolescence forced its replacement with lacrosse, which I endured for only weeks before deciding getting hit in the face with a stick wasn’t worth it. That was replaced by volleyball, which I did consistently and relentlessly (to the detriment of my shoulder) throughout high school and sporadically since.

Trams in Melbourne require a certain amount of balance and dexterity, but the implications of having lapses of them mid-transport are less catastrophic than on a motorcycle. If you’d asked me when I was 21 what were the odds I would own a motorcycle when I was 30, I would have taken what I thought was a safe bet, and subsequently owed you money.

Learning to ride a motorcycle to get to work – along highways with trucks at high speeds in Asian traffic no less – has been terrifying. Probably the levels of fear and adrenaline it’s induced in me are a good thing, given I’ve managed to avoid disaster thus far. I’m thankful my dad bought me a fancy helmet for my 30th birthday before I left, because they’re few and far between here so it’s easy to slip into thinking you needn’t wear one, but because he bought it for me I feel obliged.

Now that I’m getting more comfortable with it, I concede that riding a motorcycle is fun. I particularly enjoy meandering along curving country roads. However my daily commute frequently has moments that are not fun. I had a particularly stressful ride home one day in a crosswind with a storm looming, where I was riding behind a guy carrying a gas bottle in one arm, balancing and steering with the other. I slowed down to distance myself from that potential fireball should a poorly timed car or truck decide to back out and collide with him.

So instead at the next set of lights I found myself behind a guy carrying a rooster underarm. The poor creature was completely limp, except for its head gazing around stopped at the lights. It wasn’t tied up or anything, it just limply flopped under the guys arm, as it floated along at 90 kilometres in midair along a highway, wings close to its body, feet dangling around the guy’s elbow behind, jowls flapping in front. Somehow I found the rooster comforting. I imagined the rooster accepted it was best just to let go. Surrender to the fact its life was in the hands, or arm, of this larger creature that was propelling them both on a noisy machine hurtling among other noisy machines. Struggling was unlikely to make the experience stop.

This is how I feel about the things that aren’t no great about living here. Why get upset about them? Accepting things I can’t change for the way they are, making the most of good things, and helping to make positive changes where I might have influence, like water trickling on a rock. Sometimes I’m the rooster. Sometimes I’m the motorbike rider. Every time I get on my bike to travel to and from work I say to myself “this is the time I am most likely to die today”. Recognising mortality isn’t depressing, it’s realistic.

On trams in Melbourne I would look at my phone or gaze out the window, people watch, or daydream. However here every moment I travel I’m present in that moment. This is a good thing. It’s conducive to happiness. Given all of this adrenaline though I need outlets for it. So I’m doing quite a lot of yoga. Chiang Mai’s great for yoga. Being the adrenaline junkie that I am though, I’ve also been doing acroyoga, which has given me a few moments of being caught unexpectedly in spine-threatening positions above the ground and defeats the purpose of yoga for relaxation.

Despite ample opportunities for injuries to happen, from motorcyles, acrobatics, scrambling around mountainous temples, on wet rocks or off bamboo rafts, the worst fall I’ve had came from basketball of all things. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was tired, but I’d met some friends for it and we had even numbers for teams, so I was playing halfheartedly. My mind was elsewhere and someone accidentally tripped me while I had the ball. The week earlier someone had broken a limb in the same circumstance. Thanks to my years of volleyball training, I fell into a skid rather than crunching. I slid rather spectacularly along the bitumen for what felt like several seconds, giving even distracted people at the other end of the court the chance to see. People gathered around. I stood up and pulled up my tshirt to survey the unpleasant gash and bruising along my left hip. My elbow and left hand had grazes too. It could have been much worse, I concluded, and reassured people I was all right, while I limped off to motorcycle home and dress my wounds.

I decided to stick to yoga and dance and frisbee. I don’t need contact sports on top of motorcycle riding this year. The following week as my immune system was distracted knitting my flesh back together it let in a virus, resulting in a brief visit to hospital to ensure it wasn’t Dengue or malaria, which is was not. So I’ve gotten off lightly during my first few months living in Asia. I feel this is thanks in part to learning to fall. I spent hours in volleyball training learning to slide along the court, diving to pick up the ball spectacularly a second before it would otherwise hit the ground. Safely falling.

Not just physically, but mentally too. Every time I say something stupid, or worry what someone thinks of this out-of-place tall white person, or realise I forgot to do something I’d intended to do that day, I take it lightly. This is something I’ve learnt to do during my twenties, with the help of Buddhist philosophy. I’m consciously working to keep supple, not just through backbends but also mentally. Learning Thai script is a rewarding challenge, as is learning to listen longer and speak more slowly.

I’m three months into thirty. I can see why people say it’s a good decade.


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