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Preview: Travelling around

Travelling around

My thoughts as I travel from the UK to New Zealand going around the asian side. And now, my thoughts living in New Zealand.

Updated: 2018-03-06T00:13:24.557-08:00


Extreme makeover


I haven't had one, I was just watching it and it pissed me off and I had no one to tell that it pissed me off, so I decided to vent my anger through the medium of blog.This mother and daughter who were both pretty ugly got given the works - brow lift, nose job, lipo, rhino, teeth straightening, breast augmentation and in the case of the daughter lessons on how not to walk like a hippo. At the end of it there were loads of tears and both were clearly far happier than they had been and I couldn't help but think what a couple of lazy wasters. I, irrationally perhaps, hated them for being so happy for each other, which seemed to imply they didn't really like to look at each other before. The daughter's husband (a big heffer) was there for the reveal crying his eyes out like he'd finally got the wife he always wanted and I enjoyed the moment because it was obvious that they would be divorced within six months and she'd be sharing the new beautiful body with someone far more attractive and more manly at which point he'll have a reason to cry. Fucking americans.So apart from wasting my time in front of the TV I've been down to Wellington for a few days last week. The event is known as Webstock, but you can call it geek-fest. It's two long days of seminars on all sorts of web related fun. There was certainly some big names and good talks - the standout being a tech guy from Google talking about how, if you do something on a big enough scale, you can get away with a massive lack of accuracy as the two cancel each other out. But no one seemed to want to talk about anything practical, some people even ventured into philosophy while others just made no sense at all and at 4pm on the thursday afternoon I had to walk out when a woman from Goto Media decided she could help everyone in the room get unstuck by showing two slides - one of a squiggly line (stuck) and one of a straight line (unstuck). But in amongst the more abstract modal jazz and newton's apple references there were some gems of information being tossed about and for those it was almost worth it.I also got to experience Wellington weather and am no longer so keen to move there. It rained a lot, the wind blew a lot and it is a lot colder that Auckland. Or Auckland is blowing a tropical storm past my fifth story apartment and I'm worried the building hasn't been designed for these conditions.I'm not sure if it's standard practice to use pseudonyms on blogs when talking about people who might get upset. I haven't up to now, but I'm a blog novice - I could be doing it all wrong. So I was sharing a room with a work colleague of mine - let's call him Marshall - and being a younger guy he maximised his time by partying until the early hours of the morning every night. It depressed me. I am not so young and value my sleep too much to be able to keep up and will have to come to terms with the fact that in six months I will officially be middle aged... like a castle. Marshall is a fag and as such requires a ready supply of TRESemmé maximum hold hair spray and cock. And I think it was the latter that led to him rocking in at 4.30am the night before we had to get a plane at 10am. For some as yet unexplained reason he spent the night giggling to himself before we eventually got out of our hotel at 9.35. But this being NZ, where security is something other people have to worry about, we still made the plane on time.So back to reality and I've spent the weekend working away on nothing too exciting. The shift process is glaringly innefficient and frustrating at the coal-face. I need to get it changed. But I probably won't succeed.I saw a clasic NZ movie the other day called Sleeping Dogs. It's a hard hitting docu-fiction on fascism in New Zealand in the early seventies. If you haven't seen it I recommend leaving it that way unless you are a big fan of Sam Neill - I think it's his first acting role. I suppose, looking at it in context this was how New Zealanders saw things kicking off over the oil crisis and just after the cuba missile thing. So it's understandable that there[...]

Life goes on


I feel like life is moving too fast at the moment. Not in my usual depressing way; it doesn't overly concern me i don't think. I am just starting to realise that I probably won't have time to do all the things I want to do. I don't mean here. I don't mean in 2008. Just generally. I have lots of ideas - Wellington, South America, Easter Island, living on a farm and riding horses on the east cape, Antarctica, retirement in luxury, Kamchatka, Japan, writing a bestseller. Those are just the ones of the top of my head. Until I started really looking at the years I have left and the realistic time these things take I just imagined there would be plenty of time to fit it all in. But now I am hitting the realism that I probably won't. Should I prioritise and plan? I don't like plans as a rule. I don't like rules as a rule either. I like to rock up in Tibet and bumble my way across a mountain range. I'd like to end up in Easter island and hitch a ride to Santiago. I'd like to know it's all going to happen but not how it's going to happen.Work has been hard work and has kept me far too busy. This summer has been the best on record as far as the weather and number of murders go. The two may be related - I vaguely remember a panorama that showed violence increases with temperature. But sat in the office I'm protected from both. I did eventually manage to get to a beach on Waitangi day (the day that celebrates or recognises, depending on your point of view, British sovereignty over the Maoris). And I got down to Napier to see Luke, Becs and Becs's Mum for a bit of Hawkes bay wine tasting yesterday. The five hour drive down on thursday evening was fun. They put massive long stretches in place to help you drift off and then throw in a switchback corner in front of a ravine at the end to wake you up. Fortunately my little Hyundai was aware of the danger I posed and gave me very little in the way of acceleration but plenty in the way of braking. Great weather, great wines and a great day which just reminded me that I meant to move to Hawkes Bay at some point. I wonder why i haven't.I feel settled when I come back to Auckland. I'm meeting Dad's friends Roy and Gaynor tonight for dinner. They have been here for three months and it's pleasant to hear that they would like to live here, or at least could live here. It's reassuring that it isn't just me, that there is something better than what I had, that I haven't just been telling myself I made the right choices. I have some good friends here now and I'm making new ones even just last week. And all these things help make a place a home which is what New Zealand if not Auckland is starting to become. But on the flip side my regular chats with people in the motherland remind me that it isn't. More intriguing is Lauren. You may remember her from a previous post. She hated me when she first met me apparently. I persuaded her with unnatural amounts of charm that I was in fact a nice guy and that was that, but for no real reason we started chatting again recently and I find myself missing someone who I really only knew for a week, a couple of weeks? something like that. I don't know what that means...perhaps she has interesting stories, perhaps she is my soul mate or perhaps I'm just lonely. Whatever, I'm just enjoying it for whatever it is.But I'm trying very hard not to really think about things too much. The breathing specialist I see tells me my irregular breathing is due to anxiety. I wasn't anxious until she told me that. But now I see anxiety on the horizon frequently and I have found a few simple ways to deal with it, like slowing my breathing and not thinking about anything important. The gym, contrary to what I initially thought, helps and I always feel better after a session. I don't think it is the training so much as the focusing my mind on what I have to do in that hour which means forgetting about all the other stuff. I still have to stop thinking about things more, but I'm getting there. The next step may be yoga. I just think the anxiety of being the o[...]



Well over a month and there is plenty to talk about. As always apologies are offered for not updating this more promplty. But in my defence my mother has been here since new years day and she requires a lot of babysitting. And in answer to the prosecution, yes I could have updated it in the nine solid days of alone time before she arrived, but i didn't - it's my blog, I'll do what i want.Christmas turned out to be not quite so depressing as it could have been. In the end I went to my CD's house for chirstmas lunch and met his family. I was immediately introduced to Mia, his two year old daughter, and had to play a farm animal domino game with her. I'd only managed to match two lions before she wet herself, took her pants off and handed them to me telling me they were wet. Not a great deal you can say to that. I spent the evening with Chris and Andrew from work (only slightly more grown up!) drinking and eating. And then it really was some Robin time as I watched the sun come up to the right of my balcony and go down to the left. In between things happened but I can't remember what they were.I looked after Chris's kitten for new year and it was definitely easier than a two year old. Same sort of mess though. And then my Mum turned up. 5am New years day and I'm pretty much the only person at Auckland International. I was back at work by the 3rd and Mum left for a North island tour. Then I flew down to Welly to meet her and travel the south island. I have some fond memories of the rugged west coast and all the nature that is down there from my first trip now 11 years ago. And indeed the west coast is still rugged and there is a lot of nature, but what a load of racist hicks. I don't think I had a single conversation down there without someone bringing up "the asians" - and it wasn't even always me. Down in Haast where we managed to find a kind of chalet based motel a helicopter was hovering outside my chalet at about 6am and I was quite impressed that they had that sort of technology down there (as it turns out they have lots of them to fly tourists around as they wouldn't want to be on the ground and to drop poison to kill possums) so I got up to have a look at it because I've been in New Zealand so long that seeing a helicopter actually is a valid reason to get excited and this particular one has a couple of deer carcasses hanging off the undercarriage. A particularly nice illustration of Southern Man doing what he does. Saw plenty of other stuf - glaciers (but tiddly ones really), rocks layers like pancakes (in any other country this wouldn't even be on the map, but here there's a visitors centre), dolphins (but god forbid we disturb them so lets just enjoy the spurt from their blowholes from 200m), seals, albatross, penguins and plenty of ther birds and beasts. All in all a plethora of unusual creatures that almost make the 2500km I drove worthwhile. What did top it off was a trip to Doubtful Sound. They built a power station here 2km underground and it supplies 15% of New Zealands electricity. Yet it's in a UN World heritage area and you actually wouldn't even know it's there. Quite an engineering feat.But some of the places down there are actually scary. Take Gore for example. It looked like we would be staying there one night as we left Manapouri late and wouldn't get to Dunedin till quite late. I'm normally easy going and will lay my head anywhere, but I draw the line at Gore. I know nothing of the residents and I may be doing them a disservice but as we cruised through what they describe as the town center at 9pm I had no problems driving all night if it meant I didn't have to stay there.Christchurch is another interesting place. Originally you had to get a letter from your church in the UK if you wanted to settle there as it was supposed to be the elite. Now it's a bunch of inbred southerners who just think they are elite.I'm back in Auckland at it feels remarkably like home. But I can't see myself staying. I can't see myself doing anything much at the moment.[...]



It was my mothers birthday yesterday (happy birthday mum) and I suppose it's those events that make you miss home more than usual.I'm not the introspective type. I prefer to not ask the tricky questions, bypass the issues and if you want to cry my advice has always been to swallow it, file it away and hope that all that repressed emotion will gradually dissapate rather than boil over one day in a postal moment. But work is finished for the year and the prospect of my last nine days of 2007 is a healthy chunk of alone time in which questions must be asked. Like just how late can I stay in bed with nothing to get up for? Do we really need to eat to survive? That sort of thing. Work has kept me so busy the last month that I haven't had time to do anything but work. On top of that I seem to be having anxiety attacks and hyperventilating, which seems odd to me since I am not in the least bit anxious. But the doctor seems to think I have forgotten how to breathe and need to learn again, so rather than going to yoga I am hitting myself in the stomach with anything heavy - that's a man's remedy. No improvement yet but I'm not ready to chuck the spandex on and salute the big gay sun just yet.So perhaps the next nine days of alone time is just what I need to relearn certain things people take for granted and to also figure out what I'm doing here. I'm not too concerned about christmas day - it's not a real christmas day in this heat anyway. I just need to make sure I've got enough food in to last me through the bank holidays. To be fair, a large number of work colleagues have invited me to theirs for christmas, but I decided that a couple of days marooned in a strangers house would not be good for my anxiety and the prospect of passing out at a colleagues house and ruining their families christmas is also a fairly good reason to shut myself away for a while.Mum is arriving in the new year and the prospect of getting out of Auckland for a week or so has seen me packing already. It's a lovely town in the summer, but somewhat claustrophobic. And after months waking up to a different view in a different room, the three months I've been here actually feel a lot longer. I think Wellington is calling me. Shift has an office there and moving down shouldn't be too hard, so I'll check it out later next month and see if it's the next stop on my journey. But there are rumours that Shift may be swallowed up by the global advertising machine Omnicom. My path crossed with theirs at Tequila and I don't have any fond memories of them from that so I'm not sure I'll be hanging around to see them stifle another company.I can't decide what I'm looking for in life, or whether I've found it. It would weigh on my mind more if I didn't have the internet to distract me. Every time I stop moving I feel I'm treading water which I don't think is how life is supposed to feel. Day to day I enjoy the things you are supposed to, hanging out with that it? The magic thirty has crept up on me simply because I didn't care that it was coming, but now I feel like I've lost a decade. When I left university someone pressed the fast forward button on my remote and that was my twenties gone. If I hadn't left London I may have carried on like that until retirement and by then the regret would probably be overwhelming. As it is I think I'm making time count a little more, but I'll still be growing old at the same time, losing my mind at approximately the same time and ending my days at the same time regardless. So if the destination is the same, and it takes the same amount of time, does the journey matter? I still can't decide. I like having the memories and I like getting out of my comfort zone and seeing what the world can do to you...but you can't do it forever, life catches up with you and around comes another cycle of 'how long can I take it?' I'm rambling, and you have probably given up reading this nonsense long ago, so perhaps I should get back to the internet[...]



I's been ages. How have you been? It's actually been over a month since my last post and I notice my internet audience share has dropped considerably. But with reader loyalty I know this post will bring you all crawling back.Except that even with a month since my last post I have very little to say. I have instructions from Amanda-Sue to set the record straight and write an errata note: Amanda-Sue wasn't a nightmare to go travelling with, in fact she was awesome...that sort of thing. Except that sounds insincere so I can't say that. I read back through my blog and I'm pretty sure you all get me, or you would have given up reading it a long time ago. So you all already know that my cutting wit is really my self defence mechanism and fear of rejection kicking in and therefore much of what I say is to be ignored or written off as fiction. Ultimately AS was brilliant to travel with and looked after me in those dark few hours when neither of us new if I would live or die in Hanoi and for that I am eternally thankful.Getting back to the here and now; Work has been keeping me busy. I'm enjoying it. I have the right to work here indefinitely now and come and go as I please. I already qualify for residency (where I get a sticker in my passport that gives me certain rights) and if I stay for 3 years I can get a New Zealand passport (I assume it comes in black) and I get taken to the shire elders and we have a big party with fireworks provided by the white wizard.I took a little trip out to Piha a couple of weekends gone. It's only about 40 minutes from the centre of Auckland but a world away. Auckland spans this isthmus but the town is sprawled around a naturally protected harbour, so on this side of town there are no waves at all, but the beaches are still nice. Piha is on the other side of the isthmus and there is no protection apart from Tasmania and that's quite a way away. So the waves are huge and the rips a lot more dangerous. But it's much more like what you'd expect a beach to be like. It's also volcanic black sand and I burnt the sole of my foot walking on it.I went to the sky city casino in town one friday night and lost a hundred bucks very quickly. I started at the $5 black jack table and spent an hour winning and losing until I stopped with $95. Assuming I would never make any real money on that table I went over to the $25 dollar table and promptly lost all my money in less than a minute. Not exactly James Bond, but I smiled and tried to give the impression I throw a hundred bucks away every minute before I went home and cried myself to sleep.What else? I went round to my friends Tali and Ben's house to help sand down a table that they made themselves. Harder work than I had imagined and not as much fun, but probably better than spending another weekend arranging my clothes into fake people that I can talk to.Then last night was the main event: Christmas in the park. 200,000 Aucklanders head to the domain (just over the road from my apartment) to listen to various festive / death metal anthems belted out by such celebrities as the 2004 New Zealand Idol runner up and Dave - the guy from Shortland Street. OpShop were the main act (you won't have heard of them, but they aren't as bad as everyone else) followed up by some pretty impressive fireworks. It's surreal listening to Silent Night in 22 degree (that's 72 for you Mum) heat with the sun still up at 9pm, but if you forget it's christmas a good time can be had. A testament to just how good a time is the number of lost kid notices flashing up on the big screen. I'm not naturally prejudiced (what? I'm not) but every single one was described as Samoan or Polynesian which led me to the conclusion that the islander parents come to the park, get coma'd safe in the knowledge that their kids will be rounded up by some responsible event worker and they can pick him up hours later when they have sobered up. It wouldn't be allowed back in the UK, but that's b[...]

How To: Install Solitaire on Vista on a MacBookPro


Yet more apologies for my slackness at updating this. I got round to installing tracker software last month so I can see if anyone visits and surprisingly someone did a couple of weeks ago, so hello to you. I'm updating now not because I have any massive new revelations to report but because I feel like the blog might die if I don't. I'm changing the tone of it though. So now there may be more reflection and less day-to-day, 'whatI did' diary type stuff. This means changing from the present tense, all-action style to a past tense, more thoughtful style. I hope you enjoy it. What am I talking about? It's not like anyone ever gets beyond the first paragraph.It's been a busy month at work. I've been working pretty much non-stop on a website with crazy deadlines dictated by the Rugby World Cup final as the site is all about 2011 in NZ. If you are remotely interested in Rugger go here: got older and actually went to a pub quiz and drank ale. There are anti-smoking laws here so I couldn't sit at the back smoking a pipe in a tweed jacket, with a whippet lying by my feet and I think the moment was poorer for it. The first week we came second I think, although that may have been because we got the weakest team-member to do the adding up. The second week and we'd cut away the dead-wood and the three remaining brains won. It wasn't all celebrations though as the quiz master was Welsh and I took it upon myself to insult his heritage to his face leading to a swift exit by me as he warned my other team mates he was seriously thinking about smacking me in the face. So, no more pub quizzes for me, but that's probably a good thing.Most weekends have been imposed quiet time, with the occasional brunch on a saturday morning. I have been getting more and more comfortable with the lifestyle here as summer draws in and the days get longer. I can't imagine living in London again now, which is a worry as at some point I think I will have to. But of the things that I miss, the big one is saturday/sunday afternoon sport on tv. No one follows football here so it's difficult to get excited about the game. And even if I had Sky TV it would be on in the middle of the night with no repeat. F1 is also on Sky. The only sport I've watched has been rugby and that has been at 8am which takes the edge off it.I was invited to see Auckland take on Wellington at Eden Park in the final of the Air New Zealand Cup. It's surprisingly similar to what I imagine watching a rugby league match in Bradford must be like in that the rain was coming down a treat, a freezing gale was blowing in and there were some poor cheerleaders standing out in it trying to show enthusiasm for some of the worst rugby I've seen played since I was at school.Of the time I've spent in NZ so far the highlight has to be a Hangi down in a place called Mango (that's a colloquialism - I can't remember it's proper name). A Hangi is a traditional Maori meal where the men dig a hole, cut a tree down, burn the tree to heat some rocks, put the rocks in the hole and add some meat, then cover in soil and drink beer for five hours. When suitably drunk you dig the food up and eat so much that all the alcohol in your system gets soaked up and you are ready to drive home. In amongst the food preparation are various things like kicking a rugby ball about (good), watching the mound of soil for signs of steam escaping (bad) and shooting potatoes over a kilometer with an acetylene powered spud gun (very very good).The guys at Shift would like me to work permanently, which is something I need to think about over the next couple of days, That means getting a proper work visa which kind of leads the way down the path of a certain amount of permanence to my residency. It slightly concerns me since I had never planned to stay here forever and i worry about my ability to move on if comfortably settled. Think of me as London (that'll m[...]

Around Northland


Apologies that I haven't posted in absolutely ages. Convention would probably lead you to believe I've been too busy enjoying life to post but sadly, I've just been too lazy. With the new job sat in front of the laptop for eight hours a day the last thing I feel like doing in the evening is sitting in front of the laptop. I actually do sit in front of the laptop, but watching dvds.

Everyone from work is currently off galavanting around the tongariro national park. I am not invited due to the pretense that I am a contractor, but more probably because I bit the hand that feeds me in my last post (I'm sorry NZ Web Design - you aren't that out of date).

I settle into work pretty easily I think. It's good to be around code again after 6 months on the road. After losing touch with them Intellisense and Auto Event wireup are my two best friends again. I have some other friends too. They are work colleagues, but they still count. We go to pub quizzes together, play golf and meet for brunch occasionally.

I break the routine up by going to Paihia on saturday. It's in the Bay of Islands, about four hours north of Auckland. It's a beautiful part of the world and the weather finally is kind. I'm in a rugby obsessed nation and England win, the All Blacks lose and I suddenly want to go home so I can celebrate properly.

And I persuade work to let me take a morning off on Thursday for Expression, Around the Clock; a Microsoft event showcasing their latest bit of software. It's quite a promising bit of kit, but the presentations sadly don't do it justice. For a company with a lot invested in a piece of software targeted primarily at designers (there's even a Mac version) they consider it appropriate to show how it can add rounded corners and a reflection to video. Cue the stunned silence from the audience... or is that them just waiting for something good? I won't be giving up on it though, I spent half an hour working on it and made something much more exciting than a video player.

So with no work colleagues and, thus, no friends around for the next few days I am back in solitary. I have plenty of work to keep me busy so I can keep insanity from the door.

I may buy a cat.

A new life


It seems anyone with any skills leaves the land of the long white cloud as soon as they are old enough to get a passport. When I tell people I'm moving here they struggle with the concept and after I tell them I have some skills so getting a job should not be hard they assume I am insane. I am starting to wonder why I am here when everyone else is leaving. It feels like I missed a boat and now I'm a drowning rat on a sinking ship. I'm mixing analogies and seem to be on a boat having missed one - but Auckland is all about boats.

After just one week of looking around and going to quite a few interviews I get myself some employment at - the premier web design company of NZ. It's a perfect set up for me and I start on monday. They are an interesting bunch of people. An international crowd with people from Israel, the UK, the US, France, Spain,China, Korea and of course NZ. It seems like they cherry pick the biggest geeks from around the world and then put them in an open plan ofice just to see how awkward it is. There are a lot of headphones and Burger king wrappers lying around and I don't mind it at all. I can walk to work in about ten minutes and my walk takes me through Albert park - a particularly beautiful public space that makes me feel a whole heap better about being here and knowing no one.

I get thrown in at the deepend at work since they are so busy. But the work is pretty easy given that it's all about two years out of date. That's the thing about New Zealand web design - since no one can get decent broadband there is no need to produce super-flash websites.

On wednesday evening I go to the Auckland web meetup with some of my new colleagues. It's basically a meeting for all of Aucklands web designers where they can talk about emerging technologies and showcase work. Auckland is a small town and their web industry, I assume, is small too, but about 150 people turn up and a bigger concentration of nerds you will not find. I actually forget for a few hours how super cool I am and laugh along at the jokes about the cool things flash 4 could do.

Friday night is drinks at work. Something I need to stay away from in future. And then the weekend turns up again for another 48 hours of alone time.

Plan for next week: Join gym, make friends. Or make friends first then join gym - don't want gym buddies.

Plan for following week: Cancel gym membership. Write book.

Solitary confinement


It's been a week of solitary and rather than just sitting here bouncing my tennis ball against the floor and wall Steve McQueen style I have been settling in nicely.

I drop Amanda-Sue off at Auckland International on the wednesday, the same day I move into my new apartment in downtown Auckland. It's a weird feeling saying goodbye after two months in each others pockets. But that is the deal and you deal with the deal as best you can. So I head back into Auckland to drop the car off at Jucy - the bright green rental people with a stupid name - and walk to my new home. I have no broadband, so that's number one on the list of priorities. It gets installed the following day, but their idea of broadband is my idea of broadly crap. I don't really need super fast speeds until I get a job, but I feel I should have it out of principle being a digimon. But they tell me NZ isn't really set up for high speeds and that's definitely true. People will return your call after a couple of days with nothing more than a "Sorry, I've been a bit stacked" and the maximum speed in a built up area is 20kph - you can walk faster. I'm getting used to the pace though. I think I'll get a job in a couple of weeks.

Since I've stopped travelling and doing interesting things I have very little to write about. I have a drawer style dishwasher in my kitchenette. That's different. Not exactly interesting but I haven't spoken to anyone in seven days and it makes a noise when it's on so I consider it company. Television here is an interesting mix of all the worst tv from all over the world. They have Coronation St, but it's a year behind, and I haven't got that low yet. They have McLeod's Daughters from Oz and I know it's awful but that hasn't stopped me getting into it. They have a channel called Maori TV for the indigenous people that can actually afford a TV, but it's not in English and even if it were it would be a waste of airspace. Thursdays at 7.30 is "brand new Family Guy" according to the ads, but I definitely saw the one last week about a year ago. To sum up I am reading a lot.

In desperation I buy a couple of DVDs, but don't think about region coding at all. When I bought the mac it was region 1 which I changed to region 3 to watch a singaporean dvd. I then changed to region 2 to watch my own dvd and I have one change left. I'm not going to waste it just yet. So the dvds provide me just enough entertainment of reading their back covers.

The weekend in the center of Auckland is a quiet time. I walk around, but it's cold. I take a ferry across the bay to Devonport - a nice little village type place. I have a coffee on my own and climb a volcano on my own. It is grey and cold. Up at the summit of the volcano, through the drizzle I spot my ferry coming and try and race down to beat it. I lose. Half an hour later and soaked I do get a ferry and hole up in my apartment for the rest of the day. I'm working on my CV which is less appealing than working on my novel, but just as much fiction.

To get me out of the apartment I head up to Ponsonby for sunday breakfast to see my only existing kiwi friends - two fat cats. There are loads of kids there playing with the cats and they don't even see me come in or leave. Nothing else happens of note.

Monday turns up as you would expect and I head out to visit my old friend Wayne. It's great to see him, if only because it allows me to speak to someone other than the dishwasher. The rest of the week is job seeking and killing time waiting for people to return calls. Since no one else is unemployed they don't have the same urgency as I do so it's a frustrating week, but hey it's thursday and an episode of Family Guy that I saw last year will be on soon, so that's already twenty minutes of my evening taken care of.

Final bunch of photos


So that's it. Journey's end. I've got an apartment in Auckland which looks very empty at the moment. I spend my days on the phone to my broadband provider because their service is so bad (and because I have no one else to talk to) and I've got myself an all blacks top for to wear for the next month.

Here are some photos of the last legs of my journey:

Koh Tao:



Auckland (the first time):

The rest of North Island:

Home Sweet North Island Home


Well it's taken a little while to get here and the journey has taken it's toll on occasion, but I've finally reached Auckland to start my new life as a Maori. So it's Kia ora from me, etc.As it turns out the weather in Koh Tao is unseasonably bad. The rains move in and the sea on most of the dive sites is terrible so I fail to get my night dive and deep dive done. I'm disappointed not to be able to call myself advanced simply because no-one else ever will but there's no time to dwell as it's back to Samui and perpetually southwards now. Samui has great weather and we probably should have spent the last week here instead of persevering in Tao. With just the one day I embrace the opportunity to get a McDonald's. I assume a double cheeseburger, fries and diet coke would ease me back into civilization, but there is too much cheese on the burger, too much salt on the fries and the diet coke is a can, not a cup. It's a minor issue, but I've already up-sized for 15 baht and all I get for that is ten extra fries and a smaler than normal drink size. I can't enjoy the meal with this budgetary excess hanging over me but I return for a McFlurry to try and forget it (that's shit too but I am expecting it this time). Amanda sensibly opts for local food instead, but the restaurant is a lonely planet recommendation and of course is shit.Our next morning is pure indulgence at a spa. I go for a two hour massage and Amanda gets facials, massages, steam things and god knows what else. A lovely old lady washes my feet in scented water and gives me some elastic underwear to protect my modesty, then proceeds to work every joint and pull me in every conceivable way until I'm all straightened out. The old lady is far less concerned about my modesty than I and exposes my pasty white ass to the entire beach on a number of occasions (the one-size its all elastic underwear fit no-one and do very little to shield me from prying local eyes. In reality the only eyes are hers and I'm sure she's seen enough white mans ass to last a lifetime).The flight to Singapore is your normal crap service. But on the other side of immigration suddenly everything is different. Prices are high, the buildings are higher and litter doesn't exist. The hotel is everything we have been dreaming about since booking it. White sheets, fluffy towels, proper, hot hot-water, pay-tv, internet access in the room and room service 24 hours. We are in in time for dinner, but I choose a place again and now, true-to-form, I find the worst restaurant in the vicinity within twenty minutes. It's $5 for a pepsi, but I'm too excited about buying a laptop tomorrow and the potential hours of haggling to worry. It's Funan digital life mall we head to. There is a mall for everything in Singapore. There is very little else apart from shopping to be done and on every street corner there is another mall. The digital life one, according to our receptionist, is the one to get a computer. It's a Sunday so the whole of Singapore and their dogs (those not on the menu) are here. It means bargaining is good and sales assistants are frazzled. Apple fix Mac prices (something that is supposed to be illegal) so the haggling is done on what they can throw in for free on top of the Mac. I start with a nano, but I have one so change to the Airport Express, before realising I don't need one. I settle on a memory upgrade and a neoprene case. All for about $1500 less that the UK price. And then I get slightly mac obsessed and spend the next couple of days glued to my new toy. I take it to coffee houses on the pretense that we can look stuff up while we are out and about but we both know it's just so I can see how great it's wifi features are. I carry it everywhere until the novelty wears off and my back starts complaining about how heavy it is. I[...]

Scooby doo, Scuba done


Just a week left in South East Asia now. It feels like I'm winding down as we step up the comfort level by leaving Cambodia, heading south to the tourist destinations of Southern Thailand and then following that up with the luxury of Singapore. So the hard bits done and now I can really enjoy myself - except I won't - you know me.We leave Phnom Penh after just a couple of days. It's a nice place, but limited for things to actually see. We bump into Gianna from Halong bay just outside some school / extermination centre (it would seem in Pol Pots time getting shot was an education). I'm still feeling colonial urges so we heads to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) for some G&T's and home comforts served by a local pauper. And the next morning we head to Siem Reap by luxury bus. Six hours later (remember - it's always six hours) and we pull into SR to be met by a bunch of tuk-tuks and local "guides" who would love to take us to a hostel for just a dollar. It's a real scrap. Their business model revolves around the dollar loss leader. They know you are here to see Angkor Wat and they know that you will need a tuk-tuk and guide to see it, so if they take you to a hostel they have a twenty minute journey in which to persuade you to employ them for the next three days. We randomly pick a young guy called Te. And sure enough on the way to our elected hostel he asks if we need a guide. I normally don't like this secondary sell, but in his case his English is so good and he is such a nice guy we both figure we got lucky and should take him up on the offer.I'm the one picking the hostel and in the end opt for a non-air con room without cold water for $7 a night. I'm too delicate for the lack of cold water and Amanda-Sue is too delicate for the lack of air-con so we aren't in an especially good mood when we have to return to this sauna every evening.The Angkor Wat admission ticket is not actually controlled by the government but some local petrol company. There is no reason for this other than the petrol company giving a fat backhander to a government official and now making $20 off a day pass, $40 off a three day pass and $60 off a week pass from every tourist. That's a lot of money for doing nothing. The temples aren't even maintained by them (and I wouldn't trust a petrol company to maintain a 1000 year old relic anyway). The Angkor archaeological group which does try and stop these things falling down gets just 10% of the admission fee. The government finance body (a notorious Cambodian black hole when it comes to Riels) gets 40% and the petrol company gets 50%. In a country where corruption and scams are the norm this still seems like a disgusting abuse of a national treasure. But what do I care; if it falls down now at least I got to see it first.The three day ticket is what we go for. If you buy it after 5pm it starts from the next day and you get the evening to see a sunset for free. You can see a sunset every evening for free, but not overlooking Angkor. So we head to Phnom Bakheng along with every other white man for views over Angkor Wat and the Western Baray. Apart from the large crowds it's a great introduction to the temples of Angkor. Built on a natural hill and supposedly the first temple here, it's great to get an overview of everything else in the area. Of course when you stay to watch the sunset you have to descend in complete darkness and because these temples are representations of the mythical Hindu Mount Meru the sides are steep and the steps are huge (and often broken) so getting down without breaking a leg takes an hour or so.The town itself exists purely for Angkor. There is little in the way of local authenticity. We eat at a Khmer kitchen and I leave my camera in our tuk-tuk who is meeting us tomorrow morni[...]



It's the country I spent most time in so far, but finally I'm out of Vietnam and into Kampuchia (Cambodia for those unfamiliar with Khmer transliteration). Up to Hoi An I was loving Vietnam. It's got a bit of french va-va-voom thrown into the already exciting SE Asian hotpot. But the further south you head the more the gloss fades and the less tolerant I become. By the time we fast-boated over the mekong border I had a bitter taste in my mouth. Not from the huge amounts of coriander the Vietnam chefs put in every dish, but more, the apathy and occasional hostility from the locals and the open desire to fleece you as much as possible.Overall though I fell in love with Vietnam. The food is some of the best in Asia, the climate varies from UK temperate stuff in the north to desert hot in the south and the things to see, on the whole, are the most interesting and varied in this region. When you combine the usual pagoda/wat stuff with a war museum and shooting range I say you are onto a tourism winner.It is from Mui Ne that I pick up the recap then. We reach Saigon in a not unreasonable 6 hours. Every bus journey is six hours, whatever they advertise it as. It's late and Saigon is big an scary after the weeks in coastal villages. We have agreed not to make our usual mistake and settle for the first hotel we find so we walk all over looking at rooms to find almost all hotels are full. So we return to the first hotel we found and take their (now rate inflated) room. The first signs of tension are beginning to show between Amanda-Sue and me. We are equally annoyed with each other for no good reason. I think my non-stop juvenile joking is wearing thin and Amanda has assumed my Mum's responsibilities in telling me off for not cleaning my teeth twice a day. A good meal and everything would be forgotten but I pick the restaurant and according to my new Mum I was wreckless in my choice and the food is awful (the food hasn't arrived at this point, but that is just me being pedantic).It's time for some emergency action on my part to salvage the situation and the next morning I get up early to find an improved luxury hotel room for the lowest price possible. With my finely honed haggling skills I get a room half the size for about twice as much but it doesn't smell of mould and the sheets aren't made of highly flammable synthetics so all of a sudden everyone is happy.A bowl of Pho for breakfast and we are happier still - 50 pence for a bowl of noodles with beef brisket in a soup and you are set for the day. But it's late by now and half the day is gone. I go for a haircut and shave (the first in a few years) and then we are off to the five star majestic for some cocktails to celebrate that we haven't gone our separate ways. Ever since we reached Vietnam my debit card hasn't worked and I finally decide to do something about it along with sorting my insurance claim out now that I'm through the worst of it and won't need to readmit myself to a hospital. So we trek to the Saigon branch of HSBC (the world's local bank) where I enquire about my card. The manager doesn't know and says I need to contact HSBC UK. I ask if I can use his phone and apparently no, while HSBC in the UK is the worlds local bank, HSBC Vietnam is the worlds worst bank. He tells me to try the Post Office for international calls. So I do and I buy an international calling card with 15 minutes of talk time. 9 minutes later and I've put in my sort code, account number, date of birth, second digit of my security number and fifth digit of my security number. They have retrieved my balance of all four of my accounts and now I am holding for a customer service representative. The clock is ticking and at 10 minutes I finally get through to the recorded mess[...]

Here today, Saigon tomorrow


I should have written this post yesterday for the headline to be true, but I only came up with it this morning and, in a George Dubbya war report type way, decided it was too brilliant not to use because of a thing like accuracy. I'm in Mui Ne on the south coast about 3 hours from Saigon, but I'm jumping on a bus in a few hours and will be there by 5pm. So I pick up the story leaving Hanoi a week ago.It's a one hour flight down to Hue; about half way down the east coast. We catch the local bus number 17 from Hanoi to Noi Bai (the airport). Every hotelier and tour person we speak to says this will be very busy and take too long and ordinarily I'd listen, follow their advice and blow $10 on a taxi. But having had no problems with the number 17 last week when I met Amanda-Sue I adopt my traditional, arrogant position and do what I do best - ignore local advice and go with my own opinion. As it turns out they are all wrong and the bus journey is easier than any taxi journey(and you know I'll be using that little victory for weeks). The flight is an Airbus A321. Without me even asking the check-in girl puts me next to the emergency exit in an extended leg-room seat. She can only be about 5' so I must look freakishly tall. But the emergency exits in an A321 don't have windows and I'm forced to fly blind for the hour journey. I realise I'm not the one doing the flying and therefore, strictly speaking, don't require a window, but without one the plane seems even more like a coffin than normal. To add to my woes the captain is obviously a junior and a bit nervy. As the stewards and stewardesses start sorting drinks he shouts over the intercom for them to sit back down and buckle up as we are in the middle of a typhoon and everyone might die. I'm paraphrasing. But I could hear the sentiment in his voice.Against Allah's will we land without incident. Hue is an old town that once was the capital of Vietnam. It has limited sights. The big draw is a citadel with the countries biggest flagpole. We can't get down to Hoi An until the morning so we have to go see this. It's much hotter than the North and we walk (and sweat) all the way. The inside of the citadel is very much like the outside. Roads, houses and shops continue as if an historic, ancient wall is just a hindrance to progress. There is, though, a museum with some rusty tanks and APVs in the courtyard. In front of every one is a sign telling of it's capture from the puppet soldiers in 1975. If they really were operated by puppets I think I could have captured them too.The flagpole is reinforced concrete. I'd say it's not the most authentic or interesting thing to see in Hue, but it probably is.A quick bus to Hoi An in the morning and it's like another world. This place is old french colonial and they have managed to preserve it's atmosphere. There isn't a great deal more to do, but just ambling around is nice enough. We organise a tour to My Son, an ancient temple complex a couple of hours away, but in my apathy at 8am I let Amanda-Sue experience that on her own. Apparently it's a lovely place, frequently referred to as the little brother of Angkor, Sukhothai and Bagan. But I've been to Bagan and Sukhothai and will be in Angkor next week so I can happily ignore their little brother.It's then an overnight bus journey down to Nha Trang and on to Mui Ne. I've become soft with my many flights for long distances and as soon as I get on the bus I swear not to do another overnight. It's packed so we get two seats at the back. My chair is broken so doesn't recline, but the seat in front definitely isn't and reclines right into my lap (if I manage to get my legs out of the way in time - otherwise I just get brusied knees). It's a 6pm depa[...]

Hanoi and North 'Nam


I am still in Hanoi, but contrary to what I assumed would happen I haven't actually been here for the last nine days. I managed to get out and about thanks to a combination of antibiotics and my incredibly high tolerance for pain. Amanda-Sue is still here and hasn't yet started complaining about me too much but I will start complaining about her soon - her idea of looking after me so far has involved palming me off on a hospital and buying me a banana. It's Day 2 in Hanoi. I'm out of hospital and pumped full of antibiotics. The doctor says at this point I need a very strict diet. No meat, no dairy, no uncooked anything, no vegetables or fruit except bananas; basically I can't eat much. I assume, since my cellular make up is now 80% antibiotic I should be able to throw caution to the wind and eat anything from anywhere. Amanda-Sue doesn't let me. We book tickets to Sapa for the Saturday giving me a full two days in Hanoi to get better.We meet Amanda's friend Zoe who is travelling the north of Vietnam and go out to a very exclusive Hanoi restaurant. The food has received rave reviews. I'm only allowed a canned drink. I sit there with a Sprite like the designated driver only in Vietnam the idea of a designated driver doesn't exist so I just get strange sympathetic looks from the waiting staff. The following day we get up early to go and say hello to Ho Chi Minh in his little mausoleum. But it closes at 9.15am a full hour before the Lonely Planet says. The more I travel the more I realise I could write a Lonely Planet. You don't actually need to visit anywhere and you don't need to get any of the actual facts right.Our afternoon is spent in the Literary Museum which has a turtle pool (a big draw here). Turtles here, along with dragons, unicorns and pheonix, are spiritual animals and seeing one is considered lucky. That said, they also eat turtle - so it's not THAT lucky. And I've seen a few now; still ill and still miserable so I dispute their good fortune bringing abilities.The train to Sapa is an overnight - usually 4 berth soft sleeper, but since we are both signed up members of the flashpacking club we upgrade to the only VIP cabin with just two beds. It doesn't matter though, sleep is impossible as the train tracks are so old the train struggles to stay on them most of the night. We arrive at 5am and have to wait until 10 for a bus to our "Eco-Lodge". I'm always skeptical of places with names like that. I assume Eco means cheap and we will be staying in a bamboo bivouwak. But this place is Danish and they have built proper bungalows on the top of a remote hill. The fittings are luxurious and the view up the Sapa valley is probably as good as it gets. We are only here one night - it's a chance for me to recharge and for Amanda-Sue to work on her bedside manner. The food up here is very traditional so naturally I'm not a fan, but I struggle on without complaint. It's supposed to be cold in the mountains, but it's not and we sleep with the doors and windows open letting every bug in without care as we have a mossie net. An hour later and somehow a cockroach has perched himself on the inside of the net very near my head. Cockroaches here are like the Great White in jaws. They carry vendettas and pursue their victims for miles. I recognise this one from Burma. He woke me up by crawling on my face there.After the nightmares that ensue we trek down to the local village in the morning. It's a long way down and difficult to stay upright. Sights are the usual fayre - buffalos, rice paddies, locals in embroidered costumes. We are walking with a Danish 18 year old who is the cousin of the lodge manager and is spending five months here. He tells me how he h[...]

Waiting to die


I've been worse than usual updating you all. I say all - does 5 people count as an all? I've just been let out of hospital in Hanoi after 2 days which I consider a good enough excuse not to be writing a blog. So let the whining begin.From Vang Vieng in Laos you can either head north to the mountains or south to the islands and rivers. In the north there is the "gibbon experience" which isn't yet in the lonely planet and therefore gets all the travellers raving about "authentic experience", "real laos" and various other clichéd terms that will appear in the lonely planet review just as soon as it is updated. I have nothing better to do and so reserve a place there and make my way up; first by bus to Luang Prabang again. Nicole is here on her way to Thailand and since I've been here before I show her all the good places to go. Luang Prabang is probably about 4 blocks in total so I imagine she could have found these on her own, but I need the company. My day in LP is spent sorting transport up to Bokeo to see the gibbons. It's a two day boat journey with an overnight in Pak Beng. Once this is sorted I get enough Laos Kip to pay for the gibbons. It's a currency that is worthless as soon as you cross the border and I now have 1.5 million of it. I then call to confirm my booking to discover that my place has been given to a couple. I would complain but since their customer service is so incredibly bad I couldn't see any point. Instead I shall just spend the next few years of my life shadowing forums and travelling haunts telling anyone who will listen that the gibbons are all dead and in their place are leeches and french people. That should sort their business out.I take the boat anyway. It's taking me away from Hanoi but Nicole is on it on her way to Thailand and it's that or stay in LP on my own for another few days. I decide a boat trip is a nice way to spend a couple of days. But then I see the boat.As a 'farang' I'm expected to pay twice as much as a local for exactly the same journey. They make no pretentions about this. There is a big sign up giving Local and Tourist prices. The boat is an old wooden longboat with wooden benches and 10 coach style seats. Since I have just paid twice the local rate I have no problem asking an old local woman to remove herself from my comfy chair and sit on the deck. In a pang of guilt I help her by carrying her walking stick. I give the laos too much credit and turn up without food or water expecting a restaurant on board. There isn't one. There isn't much of anything. I do meet a nice couple, Trevor and Louise, and with a little conversation we get through the 10 hours to Pak Beng. It's a village built purely for the boat stop. The hostel is $2 and not worth that. No electricity, leeches, cockroaches, that lovely musty smell in bed. Nicole, Myself, Trevor and Louise meet for supper and while away the evening drinking beer Lao to try and forget that we have to do it all again the next day.Up early to try and get a comfy seat on the boat again. Except it's a different boat, with no comfy seats. the engine is pretty ropey too and an hour into our journey the propeller and shaft fall off. This would normally spell disaster, but here, while we float back downstream our engine man dives in, retrieves the propeller and pushes it back through the underside of the boat, reattaches it to the drive shaft with some banana leaves and away we go. The only repercussion is that every half an hour or so he deems it necessary to pour a cup of water over the banana leave to stop it burning through. It's hard to believe they make things like this work, but then again, it's hard to believe someone who k[...]

Vien Viang Vici


Well and truly on the backpacker rat trap is Vien Viang. If you're aged 17, extremely pasty and too young to realise that you are offending not just the locals with that rediculously small bikini but my sensibilities too then this is the place for you. It would seem obvious (by the volume of fat westerners) that at least the food here is good and for me that's a good reason to spend a few days in a place after my rapid detox diet of the last week.My last few days in Luang Prabang are spent waiting for blood test results to arrive from Bangkok. They don't so I have to call and remind the doctor that I haven't yet died and he should send the results through. He does and I am diagnosed with Aeromonas Veronii Boviar Sobria along with a secondary Salmonella infection. The Aeromonas comes from leeches, the salmonella from Bangkok. I'm back on the antibiotics (the antibiotics that I was taking should have prevented this, but you get what you pay for and at 3 rupees a tablet I think I got chalk). The Salmonella should sort itself out while the ofloxacin goes to work on the leech killer.It's the next day by the time I feel some improvement and I eat for the first time in quite a while. Physically I now resemble the locals and I seem to be accepted into their society as they stop laughing at me and start pitying me. Extra rice is bought out at most meals with a concerned mama-san forcing me to eat more.I visit the only sight I now haven't seen in Luang Prabang and fortunately Lauren is there to hold my hand - a waterfall about 25km away. There are black bears and a tiger there, rescued from poachers and kept in a compound with very jump-able looking fences. The tiger looks so well fed I think the keeper decided it was easier to keep him fat than build a better fence.And then for a truly magical holiday moment. We go swimming in a lagoon under the waterfall as the Laos heavens open. It is never wise to be in the water in a thunderstorm, but it is a special feeling. The water from the lagoon is freezing, the rain luke warm and the surroundings beautiful.Two hours later we are back in Luang Prabang and spend the rest of the day drinking. Lauren finally admits "when I first met you I thought you were a dick". I have to explain that I have heard that so often it is almost a cliché. She didn't say so but I think I managed to endear myself to her eventually.Then it's off on a VIP coach to Vien Viang. Six hours later we pull into an old airstrip (Lima 21 as the Americans called it during the war) and I tuk-tuk out to a hostel. It's more like a resort than a hostel. And if I had a budget it would be out of it, but I settle into my little air-conditioned riverside bungalow more than a little smug that I'm a flashpacker.I meet some new friends Jo, Nicole and Jennifer. Jo is ex 3-para. And when he left he went into private security in Afghanistan and Iraq. He scares me. Nicole is a kiwi girl and Jennifer a Canadian. The only thing to do in Vian Vieng is hire tractor tyre inner tubes and float down the river for 4 hours. If you stop (and there are many, many bars on the river bank encouraging you to do so) it can take the entire day. At each stop there is either a zip line or swing to entertain the drunk revellers. For 25000 kip you can purchase a bucket of local whisky, red bull and lime. It's not a particularly nice drink but I don't think the palettes of most of the drinkers are that refined. After my second bucket I decide it is the nectar of the gods themselves. It is getting dark, a thunderstorm is directly above and the more sober of our group get out an hour away from Vien Viang. Jo and I carry on enjoying[...]

I'm a pathetic westerner, get me out of here.


I've tried to see everything in the best light and embrace the new cultures that are different at every stop, but now I've come to realise that when people don't even know how to cook an egg without nearly killing the person they are serving it to their culture needs attention. According to the Lonely Planet (and this is clearly a statistic that they just made up) 50% of travellers get food poisoning in Myanmar. Being the traveller's bible and a bunch of authors who seem to think that getting ill is all part of the experience they actually kind of embrace that as adding authenticity to a place. I consider it a legitimate reason to send the Ghurkas back in, reclaim Burma as part of the British empire and add cooking to their school syllabus.I don't get sick in Burma. I fly out celebrating this fact only to order an egg in Bangkok and get salmonella (that's a self-diagnosis - it could be denge fever, I'll never know). I'm supposed to fly to Luang Prabang the day after I arrive in Bangkok, but I am so close to death I decide Laos might just push me over the edge. So I lie low in Bangkok for another couple of days. It's a difficult balancing act being ill when on your own. You constantly need to check you can still walk so that if you need attention you can still go and get it from a doctor. But at the same time if you can still walk you probably don't need a doctor just yet. If you pass out no one will know so you have to constantly work out how close you are to unconsciousness and all the time you have to feed yourself to try and prevent that happening. But if eating makes you sick you have to find a restaurant close enough to your room that will give you enough time to eat, return to your room and then throw up the food you have just eaten. To sum it up my three days in Bangkok are a new low point on the trip.I'm so fed up lying in my dark little hole of a room in Khao San that I decide Luang Prabang actually can't be any worse. So even though I feel no better I decide to go for it. My taxi driver would probably argue that this decision was a poor one after I throw up in the back of his cab, but I tip well and when you get right down to it, I just don't care.Two hours later I'm in Luang Prabang. It's the second largest town in Laos with a population of 25,000. There are only seven people on my plane; some little Lao Airways twin-prop. The other people seem to have read their guide books as they arrive with $35 and a passport photo for their visa. For once I'm completely unprepared and to the other travellers I must look like a retard as I have neither a passport photo or the $35 (or indeed any kip - the local currency). The airport has no photo booth or money changer so I'm starting to think I'll have to head back to Bangkok. Luckily the Myanmar government had stapled a picture of me into my passport and the visa guy says I can use that. I borrow the dollars from some french couple and I'm in.The airport has a baggage carousel and I think they are quite proud of it. Our bags are in the back of the plane with us and it would have been very easy for us to take them with us but protocol obviously dictates that the carousel must be used. So quarter of an hour after landing they turn it on. Seven bags come out, making use of about 4 metres of this 50 metre carousel, at which point it is turned off again. No doubt there are a few local kids missing out on an education so that I can experience that western convenience.I check into some random guesthouse and carry on where I left off in Bangkok by rolling around on the bed, clutching my stomach and crying to myself. I pull [...]

Regime Change


Back in Bangkok after what I thought would be one of the more difficult parts of the trip, but in fact turned out to be the most amazing and enjoyable place I have visited. There were of course, lots of negatives and I shall spend my time dwelling on those.

Mandalay is like a sauna (if you put all your trash inside a sauna). But it has a lazy attitude which I appreciate and I'm acclimatising to the heat so I can amble about comfortably enough. Every traveller goes to at least one Moustache Brothers show. The lonely planet raves about the comedy/culture show featuring Li Mar Par who is mentioned in the Hugh Grant movie; About a Boy. It is two hours of my life that I will never get back and for that reason I should struggle to find something worthwhile in it... but no, it's less entertaining than American TV.

In a change to my usual routine I take a ferry to Bagan rather than fly. Sometimes the journey is the reward and sometimes you spend 14 hours on a ferry wondering if the destination could be any worse. It leaves Mandalay at 5.30am and since I'm not an early morning person the first few hours are the most difficult. When I do wake up and have a mango for breakfast I'm slightly more chirpy than my usual self. I'm travelling with an English girl; Ornella, a Canadian girl; Lauren, a German girl; Anna and a French-Canadian guy; Mathieu. Unusually they are all nice people and I don't have to pretend to enjoy the conversation - I actually do.

Bagan is one of those places that would be over-run by tourists if air-con coaches could get there from a resort in 2 hours. As it is you can explore the entire place (and it's on the scale of Angkor Wat) completely alone. It's all pagodas but Myanmar has rekindled my interest in Buddhist culture. Theravada buddhism as it was practiced in the 11th/12th centuries has a lot of depth to it. The buddhas are slightly different, the monks don't have to dedicate themselves quite so much and the pagodas are mainly just brick. Nothing fancy until you build 3000 of them in the same place. 200 photos later and we call it a day. It's my birthday so the day needs to be finished off with some drinking. Kiwi Murray is treating me to dinner and all my new friends turn up to celebrate with me. It's a late night by Myanmar standards and I struggle back to my room close to midnight.

From Bagan it's more or less straight back to Bangkok after a rest day by the pool where I manage to lightly sautee my chest.

I'm sad to say goodbye to Myanmar in some respects. Everything is cheap, getting around is much easier than I thought it would be, the people are the nicest I've met anywhere and the weather is close to ideal. People moan about the government, but if they added a couple of wi-fi hotspots near the pagoda places you would have an ideal holiday destination. So for me we should end all the trade embargos and embrace a society where yes, the odd person gets shot, but the ones left un-shot smile a genuine "I'm happy to be alive" smile.

It's on to Laos next, for more of the same I suspect.

Photos of Myanmar:

Road to Mandalay


Been away for a month now. Feels like I've packed enough in. I know the number of blog posts are on the skinny side, but that's not for lack of material, just lack of effort. I can never shake my general apathy, even in blogging.No one has yet found a way to silence me. So I feel comfortable enough to tell you a little bit about Myanmar while I'm still in the country.On my last day in Yangon I stumble across a demonstration to free Ang Suu Kyi. Apparently it is supposed to be her last day under house arrest, but it isn't so people take to the streets. All very peaceful, but lots of guys taking photos of the crowd (including me). I assume they are tourists, but someone says they are secret police. I assume everyone else has since been rounded up and shot, but as a westerner they probably have more difficulty putting a name to the face. So this is borrowed time.Take a flight up to Heho on some dodgy old fokker 80 plane, but it makes it and I meet an 80 year old New Zealander who is also travelling on his own. I'm almost inspired but the apathy takes hold. Inle lake is a relief after the humidity, pollution and general shitness of Yangon. The accomodation seems really nice too, but my first night there and I wake up with something crawling across my face. Without power to turn any lights on I assume it's a gecko (and I quite like geckos), but I wake up to find a whole family of cockroaches have started squatting in my bed. The next few nights are more or less sleepless.The lake itself is beautiful. Most of the sights seem to be of the pagoda/stupa/wat variety. Lots of buddhas, lots of monks - a similar theme to everywhere else in this part of the world. I stop taking photos at this point. I'm conscious that, unless you have visited the religious icon in the picture, they must lose their appeal after the third flickr set.So after five relaxing days in Nuang Shwe (a mini-holiday) I jump on a plane to Mandalay. It's a 20 seater twin-prop and the rainy season well and truly kicks in. We bounce around for the 30 minute flight but the karma saves me and we touch down in Mandalay on the hottest runway ever. It's 40 degrees and 95% humidity. I haven't seen the hostel yet but I'm pretty sure this is hell on earth.Hostel has air-con, so it's actually more like heaven. But the air-con only works when the government supply power and that comes in 6 hour on, 12 hour off cycles. I feel sad. I'm sure when we moved out in the 50's we left this place in a much better state than it is now. It's like giving a kid a car you've built for their 12th birthday - you know they will crash it but they have to make their own mistakes. They are such sweet kids though, you can't stay mad for long.Mandalay has lots of things to see and I don't want to hang around so I go straight to the hill, climb it, take a photo and on to the fort and palace. Both nice (surprisingly there is a stupa there - no one tells you that until you get there). The next day is for the old towns in the vicinity - lots of pagodas around to be seen. Our guide brings his neice along who is studying English. She is supposed to be 22 and learning at university. Either a testament to how appalling their education system is or she was away the day they learnt how to count in English. She looks about 12 and for the entire day tries to persuade me that I would like her as a wife. On the whole they are a reserved, modest people, but she hasn't learnt that life lesson yet. After the fifth time I have to push her off me she accuses me of being shy. Perhaps she is right. We don't par[...]

Made it to Myanmar


Just a quick update for those of you keeping tabs and worried about my travels into a military state.

Arrived Yangon this morning and haven't got into trouble yet. Haven't seen another westerner since I stepped out of the airport. All the natives stare at me, but in an endearing unthreatening manner. So to fill you in:

I go to see the most revered buddhist temple today. It's 100m high gold thing on a hill. But I'm not allowed on my own - I might damage it or take a picture of something nearby rather than solely pictures of the temple from designated picture points. So I have to have an escort. A lovely guy, but didn't catch his name. He helpfully tells me where to get the best photos from and then proceeds to take them for me!

It's a seriously poor country and after Bangkok is a bit of a shock. Everything here is more difficult that Thailand. There's malaria everywhere, mosquitos everywhere and not much electricity anywhere. They have one internet cafe (this is it) and a big old military firewall blocking things like blog sites, web based email and some news sites. But I planned for that and being the bestest digimon this side of china I laid down a few back doors and piggy back hook ups in Thailand. If I don't post again it means there is in fact a better digimon and he works for the myanmar government!



The joys of an Indian summer. Baking in the morning, even more baking in the afternoon and a huge downpour in the evening.My recovery is well underway. Kat is at 300m above sea level, so the red blood cells are much more comfortable.As I had suspected Kat is actually pretty nice. Even with the weather it's pretty easy to relax here. My days are spent getting up late, drifting between the hotel garden, the hotel restaurant and my room to catch up on BBC News.After two days of this Lizzie (a doctor who I bumped into travelling across Tibet) catches up with me. She spends a long time showing me all the great photo's of Everest she has taken and regaling me with stories of how simply life changing the whole experience of getting to base camp was. If I'd bothered to get her address she'd be off my christmas card list. I assume the positive, optimistic persona that suits me so well, smile and congratulate her for making it.In an effort to avoid her vitriolic good nature I spend saturday at a temple watching hindu's sacrifice goats, chickens and buffalos to Kali. Kali is a wrathful god who happens to require a sacrifice every saturday. Coincidentally there is a nice park right by the temple perfect for a barbeque. They're pragmatic these hindus. I can't see what Kali gets out of it if they end up eating all the animals. I'm sure someone could explain it to me, but it smells bad, so I leave before anyone gets a chance.Stop off in Patin on the way back to Kat. The only thing there worth mentioning is the pizza that gives me severe food poisoning. So the next day I put on my best "I'm really pleased for you" face and search out Lizzie (or more accurately her drugs). Being lonely she looks after me and takes me to a pharmacy to buy some antibiotics. A cocktail of Metronidazole and Cipro. No prescription needed here and the pills are a fraction of the price I would have paid in the UK. Obviously they are cut with Ajax and won't help at all, but at that price I'd be stupid NOT to take them.A monkey temple and a monastery later and I'm ready for Thailand. It's a simple little 4 hour hop down to bangkok, but the weather is hotter, more humid and less rainy. There are plenty of westerners, but most of them are just out of school and don't seem to realise how dangerous the sun is - they all walk around with no protection on. I check into the only hotel with a SAGA sign.Bangkok is just a layover to get stuff sorted for Burma. Sending winter stuff home, getting enough money together and figuring out where it's legal to visit in Burma. I'm back here in a few weeks sadly, so I don't feel the need to see it all. Call in on the Grand Palace though - the one thing you do have to see. Apparently shorts are innapropriate so some lovely thai chap lends me his heavy polyester trousers. I think he may have a fetish for western perspiration since he doesn't seem to mind when I give them back soaking wet.Apart from the palace I see a few Wats. But substitute Wat for monastery / temple in my previous post and you'll get an impression of how enthusiastically I tour those. Also had a walk through Patpong. Supposedly the centre of the Bangkok go-go bar district, but I think all the ladies are tucked away inside the buildings. The only woman I saw was a 70 year old street cleaner (at least I think she was a street cleaner).Burma tomorrow and I can't wait.Photos of Kat: of Bangkok[...]

Kathmandu catch up


Apologies to all the loyal readers (you know who you are, mum) for not updating you all sooner. Left Lhasa last Sunday and since then finding an internet place has been tricky.But here's the skinny on the last week or so: Lhasa is nice enough. You can see it in 2 days, but everyone stays longer because they are so scared they haven't acclimatised to the altitude. I give it five days, but I feel no symptoms of AMS and feel no acclimatisation either. They say everyone has a trigger altitude and I guess the 3500m of Lhasa isn't mine. It gives me time to see The Potala Palace and the Joakeng though. I could go on for ages describing those, but only if I'd bothered listening to the guides. Essentially, lots of chapels, with lots of Idols and lots of pilgrims giving lots of yak butter to lots of monks. Over the course of the next five days I see this a lot. Each time the guide describes how it is different to the previous one. But it isn't... ever.So I get the hell out of Dodge on Sunday in a big Land Cruiser with Ghia trim but no spare tyre - It's not like we are going more than a mile from a starbucks at any point... oh wait...First stop is Gyantse. Have to drive through a river to get there, so glad we shed the weight of the spare tyre, it could have easily pulled us down. Elevation is 4050m. There is a fort that was once defended from a British assault (or as the Chinese now put it an unprovoked Imperialist massacre - They are probably right - I wasn't there). Climb to the top and feel the altitude at each step. There isn't even a good view.Accomodation is nice. For the first time I'm not in a dormitory as there are no dormitories out here. I even have a TV in my room and watch about five minutes of Cats in mandarin before I decide that I'd rather not have a TV in my room.So Monday we head to Shigatse. It's got a big monastery (awesome) and an internet place (even more awesome). Shoot round monastery chapels in about an hour and spend two hours in the internet cafe. Some may consider that uncultured on my part, but in my defence - it's another f**kin monastery. Onward to Sakya, where apparently there is a really nice example of a monastery.The monastery in Sakya unusually has a bit of gray paint on the outside where all the others have black. There is a reason for this, but by this stage I'm ipodded up and miss what I'm sure will come up in a pub quiz someday. These guys are big believers of karma and maybe I should pay more attention because after Sakya we decide to shoot to Shegar for the night rather than acclimatise in Shigatse (I think everyone had seen enough monasteries) and that's were it all goes wrong for me.To get to Shegar we have to cross a high pass (5200m) into a valley. It's an hour and a half to get up and at the top there is about 40% of the Oxygen that there would be at sea level. I guess somewhere between 4000m and 5200m is my trigger point for acclimatisation. My heart goes into overdrive, I get pins and needles over every inch of my body and when I try to explain this to the others I can't make sense. Fortunately (very fortunately) I am travelling with people much more sensible than me who had bought along emergency oxygen which they administer to me. We aren't at the top of the pass at this point, but the driver decides it's quicker to go over and down than turn around and down. So two hours and a near death experience later we pull into Shegar. I can breathe on my own, but the tingling is still there and now I[...]

Lhasa calling


Reached Tibet about two hours ago after 48 hours on the train from Beijing. Naturally the first thing I did was find a hostel with decent internet access so I can bang another blog entry out as I notice from all the comments on the previous post that everyone is eagerly waiting for the next update.


The last few days in Beijing are great. Meet up with a couple of ex-pat English guys, Julian and Oscar, who are the nicest (but rudest) people you could meet. Perfect company. They both have a particular English sense of humour that I don't think goes down well with everyone, but when the alternative is sitting on my own or talking to foreign types I just laugh along and put up with it. They also manage to take 200 yaun off me at a poker night. Bastards. I've posted a picture of them so you can all laugh at them like I do.

I have to leave Beijing on the train Sunday evening and get a cab from Julian's flat to the main station. It takes me about half an hour to work out my train goes from Beijing West. So I have 25 minutes to get a taxi across beijing and find it. Which I manage with about 5 seconds spare. When I get into my cabin, covered in sweat, panting and collapsing I think my cabin-mates are a little scared. I feel bad until they speak - it turns out they are American. I can't even make it up to my bunk and have to lie on the one below mine until my heart promises me it won't burst.

Recover sufficiently to sleep and then while away the next day eating yet more bad chinese food and sleeping. Then it gets interesting. Start climbing from sea-level to 5000m in the morning and they bring round nasal oxygen tubes to plug into an outlet by your bunk to counter the lack of atmosphere at 20000 feet.

So now I'm in Lhasa, the home of the dalai lhama (well actually Dharamsala/London is his home since the chinese kicked him out but spiritually it's here). Temperature is currently close to freezing and the hostel is a bit weird - no locks, open showers with no lights and swastikas all over the place. If I hadn't paid 30 yuan for the bed I'd feel like the fuhrer has something against me.

I've uploaded some photo's (apologies that most of them are shit - but I'm throwing yuan away like crazy at the moment and can't afford the editing time) -

Two days in


It's been a day since I stepped off the plane. If you ever get the chance to fly Air China don't. And if you ever fly with Virgin make sure it's a Virgin plane and not an Air China on behalf of Virgin plane. For the record, there is absolutely nothing on behalf of Virgin and almost nothing on behalf of Air China either. No pre-take off announcement, no updates from the captain, no movies and no food until 3.30 am when we get the most unenjoyable brekafast I ever have to spit back in a box. But they love a bit of spitting over here so I doubt that offended anyone.

It is at least on time and without major incident (like engines falling off - that type of thing). Get through immigration easily enough - they have a customer satisfaction survey before you actually are a customer so, taking no risks, I say I am very satisfied and I think that got me a free ride through the whole ordeal. Hostel is nice and simple. I'm in a 4 bed dorm with a swedish guy, an american girl and an australian girl. The shower is on the other side of the building and so far I've not waited less than 10 minutes - both times the same israeli was in there singing away in ignorance of my needs. This is the sacrifice I make for meeting's not worth it, they are all idiots.

I spend the day walking around Tianeman and the park behind the forbidden city. With it being the national holiday this week I am not alone. And they've shut all the factories for the holiday which means no smog, clear blue skies and 32 degree heat.

As for food...Rubbish. If I tried to feed some of this stuff to a dog the RSPCA would no doubt prosecute me. In fact a lot of it probably is dog so I'd get done twice. I haven't got ill yet, but sometimes I wish I was throwing up just to take the taste away. And they love oil - on everything. Losers!