‘I would tell the younger me: Enjoy your sister, she isn’t going to live past 32’
From 500+ entries, Siobhan Healy is the winner of our travel writer competition
Siobhan and her sister Lorna.
In the autumn of 1989, my sister and I were on our way back from New Zealand after visiting family, and we had a few days holiday in Bangkok. My first impression of the city was of hazy, noisy streets with tuk-tuks flying by, heat coming off the footpaths, strange smells and lots of people on the move. We had never been anywhere like it. The South Island of New Zealand had been like a mirror image of Ireland with more spectacular scenery, the names and faces oddly familiar.
In Bangkok my sister found a huge indoor market and left me in a café eating something spicy and aromatic. I started to worry after an hour or so, until she appeared, panicked with mascara tears, having lost her way down one of the many arteries off the central hub.
She was the arty, younger one with a love of shopping. At 18 she was a chaotic travelling companion; I was the responsible one who worried about flight times and passports.
I was drawn to Buddhist places. We visited the shrines from the guidebook, one with a jade Buddha on a throne, and another with a huge reclining Buddha with scaffolding around his body. I was more entranced by the small backstreet shrine near the hostel where we were staying. It was a festival day, and local men and women were making offerings of lotuses and incense. I was fascinated by the sight of the orange robed monks, and even more delighted when I saw the nuns. A spark ignited something dormant.
We had run out of money, so I couldn’t buy any of the books on Buddhism that were for sale. I kept what happened in me a secret until I was back at Manchester university, where I signed up for the meditation society. There, I met young idealistic people like me who were looking for something other. My life as a chemistry PhD student was over. I ran away to join the Buddhists.
Now I am middle aged. I would like to tell the younger me: keep travelling and don’t rely so heavily on the guidebooks. Don’t fetter yourself to such idealistic goals so young, you can do that later if you want. Make love, make art, make babies, make money, you are going to need it later. Enjoy your sister, she isn’t going to live past 32.
I see her, walking down the road on our last day in Bangkok in the early morning haze with her back to me, her red dreadlocked hair piled high on her head, wearing lime green, wrap-around trousers with a tight flowery shirt. I am some way behind, carrying a bag, burdened by my young life and how best to live it.
I want to shout, “Go run, catch her up, you are much much freer than you know.”
My Holiday Adventure The Irish Times Travel Writing Competition
Last month, The Irish Times in association with Travel Department invited aspiring writers to compose a travel story about a trip they have taken in Ireland or abroad – one that involved an adventure of one kind or another – in 500 words or less. Out of more than 520 entries, Siobhan Healy’s story was selected as the winner. She will receive a holiday for two people in Tenerife next April, courtesy of Travel Department.