Living in the present, Uncategorized

Smelling The Flowers – A lesson learned on the streets of Bangkok

Up until this point I have posted blogs mainly about the cool things I have done while backpacking Asia (it is my hope you have enjoyed them).  The thing is, the trip has not been merely a journey from place to place; it has also been a journey of the soul, and I would like to share in a few of my upcoming blogs some of the thoughts and personal experiences I have had during my travels.

I arrived in Bangkok and had a list of places I wanted to see.  I was only there for 2 days so I was adamant about seeing as much as possible.  I couldn’t wait to check all of these places off of my list; however, as luck would have it, I came down with a severe stomach virus.  I was bed ridden and had no energy.  My day and night slipped away and I looked at my list with despair knowing I would not see all I originally set out to see.

Thankfully the next day I felt a bit better, and decided to try to see some of the sights.  I met 2 friends who had been in Bangkok before, so we grouped up to do some sight-seeing.  We took an extremely sketchy water taxi, and ended up at the Golden Mount (Wat Saket).  After climbing up what seemed like an endless amount of stairs we finally made it to the top.  There was a breeze that cut through the humidity, and a calm in the air.  Though I was still sick, the feeling of being in my first temple in Thailand was great.  I spent some time praying and reflecting (maybe a solid 30 seconds) before the urge to get to my next destination set in.  I already missed a day, so it was time to catch up!  I completely escaped the present, and jumped straight into the future.

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Water Taxi

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Next was the Giant Swing.  We walked a solid 30 minutes in extreme humidity, I was sweating profusely, and felt like I was going to faint at any minute.  When we finally arrived I gazed at the large structure for around 5 seconds before I was ready to go see the Grand Palace.

 

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Giant Swing?

After the swing my friends and I went separate ways as they had already seen the Grand Palace.  While walking to the Palace I told myself “Ok, after the palace at least you have seen a decent amount of sights in Bangkok”.  I was not concerned with the culture around me, was not concerned with the food the streets had to offer, nor the history surrounding me. I was solely concerned with checking off the next item on my list.  As I arrived to the palace I was confronted by someone saying it had already closed, and to come back tomorrow.  I let him know it was my final day, and he was nice enough to show me some other sights to see.  Little did I know it was part of a common scam in Bangkok, bringing tourists to pointless sights, and eventually a clothing factory where you get all but forced to buy suits.  After sitting in the Tuk Tuk a while and having more than 1 conversation about this amazing “factory” my spidey senses kicked in and I googled Bangkok factory scam.  Article upon article popped up,, so I kindly asked the driver to pull the hell over and let me out.  By the time I got out of the Tuk Tuk it was rather late, and I knew my day of sight seeing was done.

I went back to the hostel, feeling as if I’ve waisted my day, and my entire time in Bangkok.  Thankfully my cousin hooked me up with an Italian friend who lives in Bangkok, and he invited me over for dinner.  I began walking to his apartment reflecting on the shitty day I had, and all of a sudden it then it happened…

I thought back to my trip to Macedonia with my father, and how similar my feelings at that moment  were to the feelings I had one day walking around Lake Ohrid.  In Ohrid there are dozens of beautiful old monasteries, and gorgeous landscapes to see. We decided to set aside a couple of days to experience the history and beauty of Ohrid.  My father was sick, and I knew this would be the only time visiting these sights (with him).  For that reason I was consumed with the notion that we had to see all that could be seen, because this is it, there is no “next time”.

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Church of Saint John at Kaneo

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Helping my dad up the steep stairs to an old Monastery

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Walking to our next stop (My uncle to the left)

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My cousin Durim to the left

 

The first day of sight-seeing my cousin, uncle, father and I saw so much breathtaking beauty.  It was incredible that my uncle who is almost 80, and my father who was 71, were keeping walking at a faster pace than me.  They told me so many stories, stories about the places we were seeing, as well as hilarious stories from childhood.

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My father – the storyteller

 

I was even able to climb into an old monastery from the 15th century.  Unfortunately my father and uncle were unable to make the climb, so my cousin and I went up.  It was absolutely breathtaking inside, and I was in awe at the paintings and artifacts that surrounded the rooms.  To think that priests lived in those very rooms hundreds of years ago was almost unfathomable.

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After this we decided to call it a day, and headed back to our village.  I remember the feeling I had going home that day, so complete, so fulfilled.

Our next day of exploration was during Ramadan.  We started the day visiting family, and paying our respects to loved ones lost.

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Graveyard in Kalishta

After all our visits were done, we set off to see more sights.  I had a list in mind of places I really wanted to see, just as I had a list of places to see in Bangkok.  However, barely any sights would be seen that day, rather an invaluable lesson…

As we started walking around the boarder of Lake Ohrid I caught my father on several occasions gazing at the water.  Mid walk he suddenly stopped and began to stare at the lake.  He expressed how badly he wanted to chop through the waves of Lake Ohrid one last time, as he did so many times in his life.  Unfortunately he was not able to swim due to neuropathy caused by the chemotherapy.  He then turned to me, smiled, and said “I am going for a swim”.  I began to get extremely worried, and that worry was followed by a combination of happiness and deep sadness when I saw what he did next.

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My father prior to a race in 1965

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Final swim in Lake Ohrid

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My father staring at the lake – his lake.  In an article (Swimming legend Xhevit Hoxha passed away) written the day after his passing by Lebit Murtishi, translated by Premtime Zylali, he said  “But the memories of Xhevit, especially for the older generations of Struga, will remain unforgettable even for the most unique events for Albanians since: He is the first Albanian swimmer who spent about 40 km swimming through the waves of the Ohrid Lake in 1965, and unfortunately will be remembered as the last one as well… No one after him had the courage to take part in the marathon of swimming competitions that used to be help in that period once a year in Lake Ohrid.. May the swimming legend rest in peace!”

He stared at that lake for what seemed to be hours.  I never asked what he was thinking that day, and even if I did I am certain he could not articulate into words the emotions and thoughts that must have been coursing through him.  Or, maybe his mind went quiet, just the sound of the waves, wind on his back, and peace in his mind…

After a while of standing at the edge of the lake he turned to me with a smile and said “Ok, we can go now”.  As we began walking to our next sight everyone was eerily quiet, and not much was said.  I was worried that the water may have too much for him; that is until we walked by the fields of flowers… He and my uncle began picking flowers, smelling and examining each one, often debating over what they were looking at.

I stood there for a good while, yet as time went on I began to get impatient.  I wanted my father to enjoy his day, however I had this damn list of places I needed all of us to go see!   I began to escape the moment that I was in, and run towards what the next thing was that we were supposed to see.  The feeling was very similar to the feeling I had at the Golden Mount, just on a larger scale.

My dad walked over with a handful of flowers, and a smile on his face.  He told me to close my eyes, and when I did he put the flowers to my nose and said his famous “ohh ho hooooo”.   After enjoying the fresh smell of the flowers I turned to him and reminded him that there were still places left to see.  It was at that moment he put his hand on my shoulder and said “right now baby, we are smelling the flowers”.  The rest of the day we walked around, stopping every few minutes to smell flowers or examine fruits on trees.  Though it was something so basic, and could be found anywhere, he made it seem like the most precious moment in time.

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2 brothers arguing over what fruit was on the tree, though it looks like they are dancing

Walking home that day my dad looked at me and said, “that was a great day baby”.  He was right, it was.  We didn’t do much in terms of sight seeing, we simply just walked, talked, and smelt the flowers; and it was absolutely perfect.

If someone were to ask me about the trip that was now close to 2 years ago, there is no way I could explain the monasteries in detail without pulling out pictures on my phone.  However, I can still smell every one of those flowers as if they were in front of my nose at this very minute.  I can tell you the placement of every wrinkle on my fathers face when he smiled holding the bouquet, and I can tell you every thought in detail that crossed through my mind.

 I remember shortly before my dad passed helping him into the house for the last time.  While walking he looked over at his beautiful garden of flowers.  I stopped and asked if he’d like some time alone, and he nodded yes.  He was out there for close to an hour, and for a long time I wondered what must have been going through his mind.  But now, from the deepest part of my soul, I am certain that at some point when he was sitting looking at his flowers, he remembered that day simple yet perfect day smelling the flowers around Lake Ohrid.

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While walking over a random bridge in Bangkok is when that memory hit me.  I closed my eyes and could hear my dad saying “smell the flowers baby”.  I took a deep breath through my nose, and was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and contentment.  It wasn’t a temple, it wasn’t a piece of history, it was just a bridge and some traffic, but I enjoyed every second of it.  I enjoyed the fact that I had made it so far around the world, I enjoyed the fact that physically and mentally I could appreciate that exact moment with all 5 of my senses, and I was thankful that I felt my father by my side.

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On that bridge I learned, or was maybe reminded, that it does not always have to be about the next thing on the list.  I was reminded that the streets of a city can be just as beautiful as the inside of a palace. I was reminded to be thankful for the ability to fully experience the present.  I was reminded to stop and smell the flowers.

 

“In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.”                -Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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