Note: Back in 2011, I embarked 2-month solo backpacking in Eastern Europe, countries visited including Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine and Berlin. I couchsurfed all the way, met great hosts and heard fascinating stories.
Farewell to Chaunog
The sun burns your path, Chaunog.
Incites sparks of fire, language conducts the heat.
Your journey is an intimate conversation with the world, it’s whisper,
and every single step is squeezing the answer from the ground
just like the black, sweet ichor.
What else are you carrying a backpack on, among Mexican pendants
and colorful key chains, that you smuggled through time zones, the borders?
What in the eyes, under your skin? What besides the sugar crystals
in the corners of your mouth?
Your journey does not end here, not in me,
because there are another bus stations, airports,
the places where we begin the story, the other hot spots and sources.
The sun hangs so low today, warm clouds, melting roofs.
The wind sprinkles our faces the warm drops of tar.
Let’s burn – you say, and I can only guess
how many farewells are included
in this one word.
He wrote me a poem, my couch host in Katowice, Poland.
It was quite an encounter.
* * *
I booked my flight ticket from Poland to Ukraine at the very last minute, coz the stupid online booking system was frigging user-unfriendly. But I made it anyway.
I was in Wroclaw, 4-hour train journey away from the airport city, Katowice. Despite my last minute request, Dawid accepted my couch request.
His profile is plain, with only one profile picture, in which he kept Bob Marley’s signature dreadlocks hairstyle, looked rather risky, especially for a solo female traveller. Nevertheless, after trading few messages with him, I decided to crash in his place despite having an alternative (A pair of young lovers). Dawid thoughtfully researched the train schedule for me, bluntly asked in the message, “what the hell are you coming to this boring city? Katowice is the shit hole of Poland.”
He picked me up in the train station. He carried my backpack. We ran to catch a bus.
“Your backpack is heavy, how can you carry it to travel around? Tell me about you. I don’t know you.” He asked as we got into the bus.
I recited the message that I used to tell new friends met along the road, something like, I just finished my undergraduate studies, attending a global conference in Poland. After the conference, I decided to take a break from all the hustles and bustles from Hong Kong.
“And who are you? what do you do?” I asked.
“Well, I am a writer.” He replied, still gasping. “I am a bar tender.”
He told me that he had been working as a bar tender for the past 3 years. ”It is (being a bar tender) the best way to hear stories and inspirations, but I am quitting it. I have drunk too much and my liver is giving up.”
“Does a bar tender need to drink? I thought they only needed to mix drinks.” I inquired.
“Not required, but as I want to hear stories from the customers, I have to drink with them.” He said, adding, “I drank 12 bottles of beers last night and few volka. I am still a bit hungover.”
Artistic guys have an inexplicable charm on me, so I am glad about my decision to surf with him. He has shed all his dreads, now as a skinhead, wearing glasses, he has a cute smile.
He lives in a communist-era style complex. His flat is on 10 floor. Looking out from the balcony, the city view is stunning, especially in the sunset.
Knowing that I was exhausted and hungry, he fed me with typical Polish sour cucumber and bread, pouring me a cup of wine, then we sat on the balcony, seeing the sunset and chitchatted on life.
He has published a book which is a compilation of his poems over the past few years. The name of the book is “Death and Corpse”. He told me he was obsessed with the topics of darkness and death as they were unknown, mysterious and avoided by the general public. He was intrigued and would like to explore more on them. They also gave him freedom and room for creativity.
According to Dawid, the book’s name is adopted from a famous Indian book, which has shaken his world perspectives.
He selected few poems and translated them to me, such as terrorist attacks, Wars, hunger. Well, I forgot most of them. But one caught my attention.
It is about his ex-girl friend.
They met each other in a concert few years ago. The girl couchsurfed with him. They shared the same music taste. She is hot, brave, capricious, dangerous. He was enchanted. He even decided to move to her city and live together for 6 months. (Back at that time, he was still a collage student.)
“It started great, rock n roll, drugs, sex. lived like there is no tomorrow. It was crazy, but I liked it.” He said.
As days went by, her drug abuse intensified, so did their quarrels and fights. In the end, he decided to return to his own city with a broken heart.
He wrote her a poem as a gesture to farewell the past, something like,
you are gone, yet your smells remain
the drug, the cigarette,
the music we used to listen together lingers
the room is full of you even though you are gone…
* * *
Later, he brought me to a bar, we had a beer.
He explained why he was attracted to the theme of “darkness.”
He grew up in a conservative religious background. His family are devoted catholic. The news event about how Chechen rebels fought against Russian Army has shattered his life profoundly as he grew up. ( Note: Due to culture differences, people in Chechen region rebelled against the Russia rule, demanded independence.) As the event unfolded, different versions of reportages unveiled the conflicts of interests played out in the arena of international politics. He realized that the world was not a black-white dichotomy. As he saw the sacrifice and loss of Chechen rebels from the TV, he was shattered: there are people fighting for freedom, independence, yet what have I done? The absurdity of life and universe was simply killing him. He resorted to writing as self-salvation. His texts are scripted with black humor and sarcasm.
As a writer myself, I told him, he has my understanding. I once dwelt on darkness due to my broken family upbringing. I wrote stories and articles, exploring themes like death, violence and abuses. Such writings have saved me from being swollen by depression coz they allow me to channel out all my negative emotions into a creative process.
I am over that stage of life, I want to write more human stories, anything, not necessary darkness, but rather a mix between the good, the bad and the ugly. we can find despair, we must also search for hope; where we witness sadness; there must also be moments of joy.
I quoted the following words to him:
I am in general a very pessimistic person with an optimistic, day-to-day take on things. The bare facts of life are utterly terrifying. And yet, one can laugh. Indeed, one has to laugh precisely because of the darkness: the nervous laughter of the trenches.
— Alain de Botton
Even though life at times sucks, still you have to carry on, darkness is not necessarily bad coz without it, light can’t exist. He smiled.
It was a long chat.
* * *
Two days later, I received his message in Ukraine, included the first English poem he has ever written. What a gift.