End of the First Leg

Currently sitting on the boat to Koh Tao having left Tonsai this morning. It was probably a good time to leave as there were numerous cases of Tonsai tummy (myself included) and, more worryingly, Dengue fever cropping up.

It was my first time doing such a long climbing trip and it was really good but I don’t think I was prepared for quite how mentally tiring it would be. Majority of the visitors to Tonsai will be there for climbing, most casual holidaymakers would choose Rai Lei which makes sense – the sand is nicer and there are more resorts. But it does mean that it is nigh on impossible to escape the climbing talk save from locking yourself in your room.

But that is the main complaint (which really isn’t much of a complaint really) I have. I very much enjoyed my two weeks staying and climbing in Tonsai. I definitely felt like I made a lot of progress on the trip having managed to redpoint Stalagasaurus (6c+) on my fourth time up on the wall. My goal of 7a is definitely achievable. The most important thing I have gained is thinking I’m capable of it.

If you’re going for a short time or have a little more money, I would certainly recommend staying at Dream Valley Resort. It’s a bit more luxurious than the non air conned cinder block rooms at the other places but still very affordable by western standards (I think we paid £32 per night, sharing between two). When you’re putting yourself through the heat and humidity of being at the crag and climbing all day, it was definitely a relief to be able to get back to a comfy hotel room that offered WiFi and air con. In Tonsai this seems far and few between.

Favourite dish was definitely the noodle soup with big noodles at Andamans. Super moreish but also really good food for when you have a dodgy tummy. I would definitely taking precautions for in case you get the infamous Tonsai tummy.

So anyway. That’s Tonsai done for now with plenty of progress and also projects for future. Onwards to diving in Koh Tao!

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2nd Rest Day Update

So at the end of rest day number 2, I haven’t quite managed to finish Stalagasaurus clean yet although I feel better today than I did when I pumped out yesterday. It’s such a big mental game. The height, the gradient, the possibility of success, the potential of falling… It’s all factors that intimidate me. But I know all it takes is just to keep pushing through until you get used to the height, the gradient and the falling. The possibility of success… Well, that’s not something to fear but I do come across it every so often. The slight hesitation of “if I finish this, then what next?”. It sounds silly, but I hope I’m not the only one who gets it.

Rationally I know I am physically capable of redpointing the climb. I’ve done all the moves separately with absolutely no trouble – three times in fact. It’s just stringing it all together and not over gripping. Sport climbing is still such a new ballgame to me but I’m as impatient as a toddler who’s just learnt to walk. I want to get better, I want to push my grade. These will be the thoughts I need to hold onto when the pump is on and I’m battling to finish my project.

My first attempt on Stalagasaurus

Off ya go! 

Just finished day 4 of the first part of this trip. Arrived late on Saturday, had three days climbing and then had a rest day today.

The first two weeks I’m out in Tonsai with my friend Ed out to sample the rock in the area famous for its climbs. The area is beautiful with red, streaky behemoths of limestone rising out of the sandy tropical landscape decorated with green foliage on top and in the large caverns.

To get here we flew to Bangkok and then changed to Krabi, flying a total time of 14 hours. Once you get to Krabi Airport, look for the shuttle bus that gets you to Ao Nang pier for 150 bahts. This should take between 45 mins to over an hour. Once there, you can get a boat to Tonsai. During the day this would be 100 bahts per person but after around 6pm, it goes up to 150 bahts pp. The boat will only go once they’ve managed to get ten people – the boat guys won’t make the trip for less than 1,500 bahts per boat so we ended up having to share the cost of the last boat (9.30pm) with another couple, making it 375 bahts per person. At the time of writing, the exchange rate we got was roughly 43 bahts to 1 GBP.

Tonsai is a funny place. It reminds me a little of Masouri on Kalymnos in Greece in that it’s heavily geared towards climbers except in a much more bohemian and hippy sort of way (every bar here seems to be equipped with slack line and barman with dreadlocks). It’s also much smaller. 

We’re here in mid Jan and even now it is hitting highs of 33 degrees during the day with 100% humidity most days. It does make friction a little less of a companion. I’m fairly well accustomed to hot temperatures (often preferring to climb in warmer climates) and even I’m struggling a little with the heat. 

The rock is good with interesting features. We’ve had three days of climbing so far and at two different crags. So far, I would say that the climbs are hard for the grade – that’s accounting for the tougher conditions from the heat and humidity. I will revise this first impression later on. Hopefully now that we’ve had a few days to acclimatise to the timezone and weather we might just strap a pair on and start actually working on some harder stuff. So far we’ve not climbed above a 6b.

I would recommend sport climbing in a three, as I would for most climbing trips as I find it helps pace the days much better. Unless you’re an aggressively athletic it’s very easy to over climb and burn out in a pair whilst anything above three means too long of a break in between climbing. Luckily Chloé, someone I knew from a bouldering gym back home, happened to be here in Tonsai at the same time so we’ve managed to snap her up. Particularly when the days are uncomfortably hot and humid, it’s always good to have an extra person that’s enthusiastic to keep up morale. 

After a pretty relaxed beach, stretching and slack-lining rest day, we’re back to it tomorrow. There looks to be rain in the afternoon so hopefully we can be quick with getting some climbs in in the morning! 

Hell and Back

The title of this post is taken from a song by Tonight Alive. It goes some way to articulate how I feel about things.

There is no easy way to quite say this, but for a good several weeks I went as low as I’ve ever been. It hurt to live. There didn’t seem any point in continuing or carrying on to the next day. There were several times where I contemplated a plan on how to bring about my own end – I have relative confidence that I could exact something that was efficient. There was something in taking the notion seriously that was somewhat comforting. Almost like, now that there was a possibility of making it all stop it helped soothe the agitation within me. There was a solution, if trying to find a reason to live didn’t work out.
On the surface whilst this is all happening, I was still getting up every morning, seeing friends, climbing, doing things. You would never know. It’s hard to explain to a level that I’m satisfied with how it felt. It wasn’t feeling low (although that went in hand with it), it felt like there was a thick fog that seeped into every pore which was so void of anything that it drained any positivity or hope that I had unknowingly hidden away. I was convinced that if I could answer the question of what drives me, what my point is in life I could stave off this feeling. But I couldn’t answer it.

I still have no direction, it still hurts to live and I still go out and see friends and climb and do things. I don’t think anything has changed per se. But as I was on a flight last week on my way back from Slovenia (a frantic attempt to give myself some headspace), we had very heavy turbulence. I couldn’t have cared less if the plane went down, as far as I’m concerned it should do the job for me quite effortlessly. In fact, it was amusing to look round and see people clutch their seats in fear as the plane buckled like a bull in a rodeo. What really got to me was, as I imagined my demise, a voice which popped into my head and said “And that would be it. Life would have beaten you.” The word “beaten”. And my first thought which was almost as visceral as my need to breathe was how I hated the idea of that. Some part of me still lies defiant and actually since then, the fog has dissipated a little. I still feel very much empty, trying to muster any deep feelings is futile and feels a bit like pushing on a car accelerator pedal when you’ve run out of petrol. But the defiance feels solid and real. The fire is smouldering dimly but it hasn’t gone out.

I am not the person I was five months ago before this shit-show happened. I feel like a completely different person, but after some grieving I am slowly accepting that.

“I went to hell and back just to be where I am today”

Book Review: Norwegian Wood

About 30 years too late to the party but considering I wasn’t even born when the book was published, I think I have a relatively good excuse.

*This review contains spoilers*

The first emotion reading this book was mostly surprise at how much sexual content there was. I had picked up the book having heard many online recommendations but I didn’t actually know what it was about. Having grown up with a relatively skewed perception on Japan and its culture (my teens were mainly spent consuming anime and manga), I had embarked on this journey with the assumption this would sit in the more conservative vein (I couldn’t possibly tell you why). One could take a look at the one line synopsis found on Google and Wikipedia and immediately tell me I was wrong. Oh so wrong. I do not recommend reading on packed public transport. 

After my initial mild surprise though, it made for an interesting read. The two main themes of loss/grief/death and understanding sexuality are explored throughout the book, although I would argue the second one is much more thoroughly explored than the latter and yet less poignant. Each of the main characters deal with loss at some point in their narrative and each show various ways of reacting and dealing with it (apart from perhaps Nagasawa who loses Hatsumi but isn’t actually shown how he deals with the loss. Presumably he continues as unsinkable as ever). There is a lot of sex that occurs supposedly as the novel is based in the 60s with most of the characters in hitting their second decade whilst at university and we see how each character varies in their attitude towards it and the effect it has on them. 

This is the first work from Murakami that I’ve ever read so I can only guess that the ending was intended to be less than conclusive, poetic even. Although, I feel since the novel started with a 37 year old Watanabe consciously mentioning that he’s writing this flashback into a book, for it to also end this way seems like a major oversight and personally I found it unsatisfactory. The trouble with reading translations is that you can never be 100% sure that the words and nuance is being conveyed how the author intended. Although being bilingual, I understand that it is nigh on impossible to ever fully translate into another language, particularly from Japanese to English as they are so different. This point however does not obviously cover whatever happens as part of the plot – the influence of the translator is surely only limited to the vibe given from the choice of words. I just would hope that in Japanese it would be presented as a better fitting ending. The pacing of the book also seemed rushed towards the end. It was probably paced so that it produces a climatic feel – to me it just felt a bit rushed. And I’m not going to talk about the tragic if convenient event of Naoko’s suicide just as the protagonist is agonising whether he is able to be with Midori. There are things that can be excused as artistic licence to an extent, but it doesn’t stop me harumphing about it. 

My biggest concern with the book is that everyone who featured in Watanabe’s life excerpt didn’t seem to have any function other than to hold a particular stereotype with no actual character development. Even Naoko, who is the one other character present from the beginning doesn’t really ever have any development apart from fulfilling the inevitable at the end. I guess some would argue that Murakami perhaps is using the other characters as a larger metaphor for the protagonist’s journey through the book. Naoko holds an unseverable bond from his childhood (until at the end when it is severed in the most final of ways) which means she has an immeasurable influence on Watanabe, Midori holds the his hope for the future (more on this in a sec), Reiko represents his closure for Naoko’s death and also conveniently bringing to full circle his long process of coming to terms with Kizuki’s suicide. Nagasawa represents the personality that Watanabe could be but isn’t. Okay, we get it. Watanabe is capable for emotional attachment that Nagasawa isn’t. Woop de do. He still manages to be an arsehole in a number of different ways. One thing I do have to get off my chest is the number of times he achieves climax with either Naoko or Midori in the book, where is the one mention that he even reciprocated the favour? I mean, I know it was written in the 80s but surely someone as perverted as Midori wouldn’t be satisfied with being a simple object of male gratification.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Midori, as wonderfully quirky she is, I can’t help but feel she would just be better off elsewhere. Not with her existing boyfriend who I’m confused as to why they’re together in the first place (although looking back on my own romantic history, I suppose it does happen), but with someone who is perhaps more emotionally available than Tory “infatuated with his dead best friend’s girlfriend” Watanabe. Certain aspects of Midori’s personality has been caricaturised so much she becomes the fetish of Watanabe’s choice of women. If Naoko is the delicate black hole that sucks all happy feelings out of the room, Midori is the exact opposite complete with spreading her legs in front of her dead dad’s portrait at the altar. Caricaturisation isn’t something that is new but I just wonder what the point of it was for it to be taken to this extreme. The author makes some attempts when she’s first introduced to flesh out her character with attributes like her cooking ability (and her stubbornness in saving for the utensils) as well as her job as a map fact writer. These are sadly all lost when she strongly features towards the end of the book as she and Watanabe finally confess their feelings. By this point all she embodies as a personality is her constant talk about sex and show off how perverted she is. I’m not arguing that girls don’t have a one track mind in any case but it seems like she’s incapable of having any other noteworthy exploits after her dad’s passing. Like other characters, despite her going through some major life events herself, her base character remains relatively unchanged which I think is a shame. There is even a bit towards the end where Midori asks Watanabe hoe his appearance has changed so drastically to which he replies “By growing up”. 

So with as much as I’ve ranted about above, there were some really nice and quite profound moments in the book. These were primarily when Murakami was dealing with confronting the concept of death and grief for example like this exerpt:

“The night Kizuki died, however, I lost the ability to see death (and life) in such simple terms. Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that.” 

The section in the hospital where he strikes up a simple but genuine connection with Midori’s father was also a very well written part that came across quite delicately touching. I’d also argue with myself that when Midori meets with Watanabe for the first time after her dad’s passing seemed relatively sincere. That passes enough to make the “nice moments” category. 

As much as graphic description of physical passion, no matter how artfully written, can increase a book’s intensity, it needs to be balanced with nuanced moments like the above to give it fleshing out. Life is not complete without variety and whilst there were some good explorations into some of the more intense aspects of the human condition the novel overall still feels lacking for me personally. 

TV Has Come A Long Way

In particular Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman have hit the particular notes that I’ve been feeling (in different ways) in the past few months.

Rick and Morty strikes a chord with the sci-fi adventure nerd but still hits all the dark humour buttons. In terms of quotes, I think Bojack Horseman wins in its abundance of one-liners that packs a punch that will knock you over, but Rick and Morty definitely hits it home with its use of Rick’s character arc throughout the seasons.

In terms of quotables though, Bojack Horseman definitely shines.

gummo GIF