Friday, 30 September 2005

The Terminal

29 September - Got back to London from Paris yesterday - had trouble working out where I needed to get the bus from Waterloo to Camberwell - wandered around for a bit and one thing led to another and I ended up walking all the way (not very far though, London really isn't that big) - had an early start the next day so me and Kimberley went out to the local cinema in Peckham and saw 'Pride and Prejudice' - I have to admit that I did like the Bridget Jones prequel BBC version that from a few years back but costume dramas are always a bit hit and miss. I think I just find the characters so damn repulsive - they don't do anything! Romancing and dancing and playing stupid mind games on each other ... and living off the labours of the working poor - i'm really surprised that the English didn't have a bloody revolution to send all those fops to a premature end. Still, it was kind of fun.
This morning I woke up at 4:45 and made my way to Stansted Airport, had no trouble getting there and was early for my flight. However, once we got on the plane we were informed that there was something happening at Prague and we'd be slightly delayed - no problem I thought. However, as we neared our destination I realised that my flight was due to depart whilst I was still in the air - we touched down and I ran out to my gate, I saw that my connecting flight had been delayed a bit anyway and was still boarding, however, by the time I arrived at the gate the girl told me, 'You are late!', I replied, 'No, you were late!' but there's not much you can do when the plane is already in the air.
Went to the transit desk and told them my predicament - they were pretty good about it (i think it must happen pretty often around here) and they gave me a refreshment voucher, a new plane ticket and they let me make two phone calls - unfortunately Irina's number (dad's ex wife) was answered by someone who spoke no ENglish (i think the number I had was off by a digit), I then got through to Stano (first cousin by marriage) i'm not sure if I properly conveyed the facts of the situation but passed on a message to Kosice airport and hoped for the best. Managed to squirm my way into the business lounge and had to buy credit to use the wifi there (very upset about having to pay for it, it goes against my whole philosphy of wifi) but sent off some emails and Skyped M&D who promised to make some calls to let everyone know the score. Have now got a couple of hours to kill in the transit section of the airport but had some dodgy Czech airport food to keep me going for a while (as well as a bottle of Jamesons which was going to be used at the other end but I feel i'm entitled to have a crack at it) ... I have to conclude though that airports ar actually very dull places when you;ve got to hang around them for any real length of time ...

Thursday, 29 September 2005

Back To Paris

26 September - Had a very nice time in Lesches but needed to get back into Paris to tick some more things off the list. Papi Mueller had kindly offered to give me a lift into the station (he also kindly suggested that it would be proper if I shaved beforehand) - but i am a traveller and no blade shall touch my face until I am standing in front of my own mirror in my own residence somewhere in Canadia. I couldn't quite pass this philosophy onto him but I hope he was not too disappointed.
First thing upon arrival was to visit Notre Dame, which was packed full of people and despite being very grande was not terribly interesting. Perhaps i'm just still suffering from temple fatigue from Asia and Angkor Wat is still as good as it gets when it comes to temples (and you can climb on them and actuallydo stuff rather than be shuffled around by standoffish french tour guides). After that I went of to the Natural History Museum and looked at the recommended paleontology department which was outstanding - I think there are about a million skeletons on display there (admittedly some of them are exoskeletons and don't require as much work to set them up) but it was very impressive. Every animal you could conceive including dinosaurs on the second level - it's amazing how similar we are to all the other creatures when you take off the outer shell. If I had a complaint it was that there was absolutely no English translations there but still most of the tanimals were easily identifiable. One interestingaspect were the sculptures of all of the animals organs - obviously the various apes and mice and dogs had been vivisected and there were expressions of agony and terror on that of the apes - very disturbing and very noble of the artist to recreat tthat aspect of their feelings. also slightly dodgy pricing practices - you have to apy for every section of the museum - that's one thing I love about UK - they ar so proud of the fact that they have free museums and they're open to everybody.
After that I went sync up my avantgo on the wifi at the local mcdonalds - one thing i've noticed about the differences between australia and france are the little things - you see, in mcdonalds in oz they have wifi but you need an account from Optus to use it but in france it's free, also, they don't have a quarter pounder with cheese, they've got the metric system so they call it a royale with cheese ...
Also went to see Tour Montparne - one of the tallest buildings in Paris and one of the absolutely most touristy thing to do - great view of the city and has the advantage of actually having the ability to see the Eiffel Tower (unlike when you’re on the Eiffel Tower you get to see Tour Montparne (which is pretty ugly). Also finally managed to get to Pare Lachaise cemetery - final resting place of lots of famous people - Jim Morison's grave still loaded down with flowers and looking muc like it did at the end of the movie "The Doors" (apparently their is talk of moving his body to the US because of the riff-raff it attracts to the cemetery) - also a highlight was seeing Oscar Wilde's grave - I recommend anyone going to see it to remember to bring a stick of bright lipstick so you can leave your mark on the gravestone, thousands of lipstick marks payingtheir respects (although I don't think the people who run the graveyard ar too keen on tourists doing that) - I also recommend anyone going to purchase a map outside because you can't get one inside as I realised when I got lost in the middle of it. i'm out now anyway.
My big heart also got the better of me - I was making a few phone calls at a payphone when an older couple net to me asked for some help with their phonecard - theirs wasn't working - I told them to use mine - they said it was international and that they couldn't do it - I presumed they were italian so I insisted and telling them that I was leaving paris very soon they finally relented - while the woman was talking on the phone I spoke to her husband and found out that they were actually from Argentina - and later when I tried to call alice for a pickup I found that I didn';t have enough credit and there was nowhere to buy a phone card (Disneyland station had closed and the woman running the information desk was beinga right bitch about it) - managed to convince some locals to let me use their phone and all was well. Had a final farwell from Alice and Marcel that night (they left tfor work before I got up) - will definitely miss staying here but it's time to move on - tomorrow night I’ll be in Paris for my final night before back to the land where I can understand the language ...

Back to E London

28 September - After waking up with the worst hangover i've had for quite a while I abused the included breakfast from the hostel (with what they charged for the room i 've no guilt for what I ate in the morning) and then headed off to Musee Rodin for a bit more culture before I had to shuffle back to the uK - an absolutely stunning museum that used to be a grand old house (built by a financier in the early 1700s I believe) - it starts with a tour of the garden and then goes into the house - very good way to end the visit to Paris (althouh it almost extended my visit because I lost track of the time and had to sprint back to my hostel to get my bag and only just caught my train in time) - tried to get rid of my euros at the duty free but was just short of the amount to get anything nice (hopingi'll be able to get somethingat the other end but it's doubtful ...)

Le Goodbye Lesches

27 September - Papi drove me into the station again and I said my goodbye - he's a very lovable old guy, everyone in the town seems to know him and show lots of respect, probably has a good posse to roll with him when he wants to go on a rampage (but, like CJ, don't want to get on his bad side). When in Paris I checked into MIJE, a hostel near St Paul, and I dumped by bag before going for a bit of an exploration. I headed out to one of the best museums i've ever been to, Cite de Sciences and de L'Industrie, a bit like the Powerhouse Museum or the Questacon in Canberra - it had loads of permanent exhibits, light, mathematics, world population, geograhy, astronomy, cars, sound and technology, and most of them were all completely interactive including a very cool flight simulator where I had to take off a plane and then land it, my instructor spoke English but with an outrageous French accent so I was really flying by wire - a lot of the exhibits had English translations but not all so it was a bit difficult to work out what some of them but there was so much that it didn’t really matter (interestingly enough there were sometimes just English and sometimes English and Spanish translations and occasionally other languages but there was nearly always a translation in Braile - rather nice of the Frenh to be so consideratet to the blind but it's interesting that they prefer to cater to that small group rather than their neighbours across the channel) - lots of school excursions were out there and I could have spent a few days there - as it was I spent the entire day.
After the museum I wandered the streets a little before finding myself near Café de la Paix, a café of note near the Opera which my mum was quite enamoured with many year ago, so enamoured in fact that she went to it by herself and not so politely told me not to joinher when we were visiting last. I wanted to know what the fuss was about so I plopped myself down and hoped that my ragged appearance wouldn't result in getting chased off the premises - I ordered a coffee which was alright and then the waiter came back with the bill and I realised what the fuss was all about - 7 euros for a coffee!!! That's like ... I don't even know what it is in Australian dollars because i'm too scared to look up the exchange rate - I just hope that the Australian economy has been booming in the last couple of weeks. Headed back to St Paul to get to my room - MIJE is supposedly a youth hostel (and there were a lot of utes there) but quite a few of the people were really pushing it - my roommate was an old Frenchman (must have been about 50) and judging by his reading material that he'd left on his table he was a communist (maybe he was on the run from something) - the hostel was actually very nice, very clean and the room was quite large - I was on the mezzanine where there were two beds (i was the only one) and a shower and my red friend was on the ground floor with his own shower - far cry from the hostels I stayed in when travellingEurope 8 years ago. Headed out for a drink and found myself in a bar talking to a very Italian Italian - we decided to get something to eat and went to an Italian restaurant he knew (bit disappointed in myself for eatingItalian in France), which was delicious and he knew the owner so we got a prtty heavy discount (which helped because it was super expensive) and we ended up drinking grappo for a few hours with the owner and a couple of locals - he and a Frenchman also had a very heated discussion about the ethics of dropping nuclear bombs.
I got back to the hostel just on my curfew (i felt like a child havinga curfew) and woke up my neighbour as I stumbled into the room (i also woke him up later that night when I tried to find the exit to go to the bathroom and I woke him up again when my alarm went off at half seven) - I hope I haven't ruined his opinion of Australians ...


A husband and his wife advertised for a live-in maid to cook and do the housework. They hired a lovely young lady for the job.She worked out fine, was a good cook, was polite, and kept the house immaculate. One day, after about six months, she came in and said she would have to quit."But why?" asked the disappointed wife.She stammered around, finally saying she didn't want to say why. The wife was quite persistent, however, so the young lady finally said, "Well, on my day off a couple of months ago, I met this good-looking guy and ... well, I'm pregnant."The wife said, "Look, we don't want to lose you. My husband and I don't have children, and we'll adopt your baby if you will stay."This plan was agreeable to everyone involved, so the maid stayed. The baby came, a boy, the couple adopted it, and all went well.After several months, though, the maid came in again and said that she would have to quit. The wife questioned her, and found out that she was pregnant again. The three adults decided that since the arrangement was working out so well, they would simply expand it to include the new baby. The baby girl was born and life went on as usual.The young mother went back to work, and all was well for nearly two years, until the day she approached the wife and said, "I am definitely leaving this time."The wife was aghast. "Don't tell me you're pregnant again?""No," she said, "I just can't stand your fuckin' brats!"

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Australian Fever Pitch??

Synced up and was reading the Sydney Morning Herald today and was very pleasantly surprised to see that the Sydney Swans have snagged the grand final ... Cup or whatever it is that they get when ty win the AFL. Feel partly responsible for their victory because my last Sunday in Oz was sppent at my first game (which the swans won) - the ending of a 72 year losing streak is pretty significant - it would have to comparible to the Boston Red Sox ending of the Curse of the Bambino - Also, I think it's high time that Australia produced a decent movie about sport - there hasn't been any for years and none about AFL since The Club decades ago (there was a dodgy one a few years back about race relations but I didn';t see it so it doesn't count) - there's already a story out there which has been run out twice to make a decent sports rom com - Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch - the first time was his semi-autobiographical account of the story leading up to the breaking of Arsenal's 20ish year drought and then the American version which put it against the backdrop of the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series Baseball - if it's been done twice, what harm can it do to make it three times?

Evil Cheeses

25 September - Another easyish day - slept in again - it was raining so I didn’t go for a run in the morning. Went in to a town near Paris to have lunch with Alice's family (her father, half sister and grandmother) - everyone was very nice although had to struggle a bit to understand the conversation. Lunch was a very extended affair including a Moroccan style cous cous stew which was very filling followed by a simple salad and some cheeses which must have been from Satan's unholy fromagerie ... Lionel (alice's dad) explained to me that pasteurised cheeses were not real cheeses but just chewing gum - the cheeses we had were a camembert, a brie, a goats cheese and another hard cheese - all similar to the fromages i've eaten in god's country - but these ones were eye watering - I didn't want to seem weak so I finished what I took but it was powerful stuff. Later on in the afternoon after we came back to Lesches I went for a run and found everything repeating back on me (the stew, wine, cake, and especially the cheese) - I managed to keep everything down with difficulty but it was not easy. On the run I had a bunny rabbit cross my path and I also spooked a pheasant that I passed (another first) - interesting to see the random wildlife of foreign countries. the one conclusion I can come to about the european countryside is that it's just very, very tame. The hills and bushes ar controlled and pruned and all of the dangerous animals have been run out of town - the scariest thing i've come across thus far is a squirrel that jumped out a garbage bin and gave me a bit of a shock ... I know that the cryptozoologist's probably maintain that there ar panthers and lions and plesiosaurs still roaming the countryside but i've yet to see them yet ...
that night I also met marcel's daughters, Amandine and Manon - both of them extremely cute although a little shy ... Unfortunately they don't speak english so conversation was limited - however the way I always see it the sooner children can talk to you the sooner they can talk back. It's also quite funny being with people with children - thus far when i've been with marcel and alice its felt like we are contemporaries - because we are mostly the same age - but when the children are there and they're doing parental things they seem a lot more adult like and I feel more like a teenager than an adult. Tresting anyway - maybe if I ever have a child i 'll act like a proper grownup - until then we'll see.

Les Sches

24 July - Slept in today, which was very pleasant before heading off for a run. Alice kindly drew me a map of the local area and gave me vague directions to get to a local resort with a lake I could run around. The area is quite sparesely populated so running through the town means just going past a couple of dozen buildings - a few places it was a bit delicate because there was nowhere to run on the side of the road and the cars were going a bit fast. The resort was quite interesting - lots of hills and a few lakes - apparntly it was originaklly a quarry, it was then was turned into a dump and the quarry was filled - then, the locals decided it wasn't very nice having the area used as dump so they dug it all up and turned it into a resort. Natural progression really. Think I might be coming to the end of my training, I think - i've only got a bit more than a week to go so I may have one or two runs in Paris just to say i've done it before packing it in - i'm certainly not going to get any fitter and the onlything that can happen is that I hurt something i'm going to need.
When I got back I saw a red squirrel in the garden stealing walnuts (never seen a squirrel before in my life until Hyde Park [there are grey ones there] and now i'm seeing them everywhere) - ALice says that there are also pheasants, deer and wild boar in the area (am really hoping to see some of them but it's doubtful i've been told). There are also two very cute but very naughty french bulldogs living at the house, Petula and Gizmo. They get alongvery well excpt when they're trying to kill each other (they often draw blood). I went out in the garden and found a pine cone - I threw it to Petu who took it and then wouldn't drop it. With the long pine cone in her mouth it looked like a she was smoking a fat Cuban cigar and she was the spitting image of Winston Churchill. If I still had a camera I would have taken a photo with it bui don't so I had to use my camera - am not sure how well it turned out but will see when I workout how to get the pictures of my camera.
Also met Papi Mueller in the afternoon (the patriarch of the French connections) - the quintessential French gentleman, very gallic in every way, fought in the resistance, made loads of cash afterwards, doesn't speak a word of English. I introduced myself with 'Bonjour Papi, je suis Sax, Diana's filles, qui est ce' - I am aware that something may have been lost in translation. I stayed out in the garden helping a bit with a wheelbarrow but the conversation was limited - he did try 'Sprecken de Deutsch?'(there are probably spelling mistakes here) and I had to reply, 'Nine!' However, he still gave me a tour of the well appointed house and Alice eventually rescued us by acting as translator (she has been a bit o a godsend, I really wouldn't like to be the only one who speaks both languages with thwo foreigners - it can get a bit tiresome I would expect).
That night Alice, Marcel and I headed out to Meaux to see an all-female music festival - unfortunately the town was rather dead and most of the acts had already finished (Marcel had predicted this) so we started to head into Paris then decided that Disneyland would be a better option (much closer). Not exactly what I expected from my first night out in Paris - we were just in the village which is pretty much exactly like Fox Studios (noiw I know what it's modelled on) but had a great time with the company. Very nice day.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Straight Dope on Ethanol Fuel

Is alcohol in gasoline good or bad? Is there a difference between ethanol and methanol?


Dear Cecil:Stopping at a local gas station and seeing a large banner announcing "Alcohol Free!" reminded me that there was some controversy surrounding the use of ethanol versus methanol in gasoline. What are the differences between these two octane boosters? --Danglin' Dave, Garland, Texas

Cecil replies:It may be OK to dangle out there in Garland, Dave, but here in the big city we'd prefer that you buttoned up. As for alcohol, there are some differences between ethanol (made from grain) and methanol (made from methane). But the real question is whether you want to use gasoline laced with alcohol at all, since it tends to screw up your engine.Many refiners began putting up to 10 percent alcohol (usually ethanol) in their gasoline in the 70s, producing what's known as gasohol. It's most commonly available in the Midwest, particularly in Farm Belt states where it's subsidized in the form of lower taxes, but you can also find it in the West and South and occasionally elsewhere. Alcohol has two advantages: it's a renewable resource, unlike petroleum, and it boosts octane, meaning you'll get less pinging and knock. Methanol has the added advantage of being quite cheap.In fact, alcohol would be just about perfect were it not for the fact that it can soften hoses and gaskets, dissolve your carburetor float and other plastic parts, and corrode metal. It can also cause vapor lock and hot-weather restarting problems, and it tends to lower your gas mileage. Methanol is the more serious offender, but ethanol will give you trouble too.Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell whether gas contains alcohol. Amoco used to put decals on some of its pumps saying "Pure Lead-Free, No Alcohol Added," but now the no-alcohol line is being dropped, in part due to protests from gasohol advocates. Amoco pumps that do have gasohol are prominently labeled, but this is not necessarily the case with all retailers.Most major refiners that sell gasohol use ethanol rather than methanol. ARCO (Atlantic Richfield) for a long time was the exception, but the company eventually discontinued the sale of its methanol blend. You may still wind up with some of the stuff, however, because unscrupulous service station operators have been known to cut their gas with methanol in order to chisel a few extra bucks. If you've been having inexplicable problems with your ride lately, try filling your tank at a different joint.

Gay Paree

24 September - Eurostar was not the most enjoyable journey i've had thus far - slightly reminescent of Vietnamese buses in terms of leg room but there was the rather unusual headrest which curved right around one's head - this means one actually gets some limited neck support and I almost dozed off once or twice. Still, an amazing journey - get on the train smack bang in the mddle of one city and get off in the middle of the other - and the customs is ridiculously easy as well. Had left my Parisian guidebook back in London so purchased the TimeOut magazine which seemed to have all the same things in it (and had the bonus of not looking like a guidebook so it was only my rucksack, complete lack of ability to speak French, Fat Pizza t-shirt (which everyone in London and Paris seems to love) and vacant expression of the perpetually lost that gives me away as a tourist.
First thing first was get rid of my bag in the left luggage and then I got out of that station and went to the first boulangerie I could find and had a very tasty croissant ... I wandered around for a bit and then I had another one. And then I had a brioche ... I had a coffee and then I had another croissant. Then I sat down because I didn't feel so well.
According to my magazine Paris is a walking city so I decided to walk. I went to The Louvre and got one of the audio guides (very good system, all the commentary is digitally recorded and is played back by punching in a code on the exhibit (although a lot of the paintings that you want commentary on tend not to have a code and a lot of jars seemed to have codes)) and went right through it. The statues were probably my favorite - there was a very impressive slightly obese Hercules and a wonderful Eros and Psyche statue (a few of them actually). There were also lots of paintings and some very edumacatinal displays about the history of the museum/gallery. And, of course, there was the Monna Lisa with her enigmatic(TM) smile - which was not disappointing (because i've been warned so many times how unimpressive it actually is). Was very glad to have seen it and ticked it off my list (as were the other thousands of people who also saw it today must have been). For some reason I avoided the museum last time I was here but i'm very happy to have closed off that particular mission.
Wandered down through the city, randomly eating things as I went, made my way towards Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately the crowd was a bit offputting at the tower so I didn't head up (i'll be back in paris to do a few more things later on) and just kept to general sightseeing (and eating) for the day. Because I was in the main part of the city (and the toursist trail at that) I found myself surrounded by the most beautiful buildings - paris seems to be far more interested in maintaining its old grandeur compared to london, which is embracing some very different styles to prove itself a modern city. I have to say that constructions like the london eye and the gherkin are certainly not what you'd ever expect to see in paris - it was hard enough for the parisian people to muster up enough support to keep the eiffel tower.
Afterwards headed back to the train station to pick up my bag and then make by way towards Marne Le Valley (near Euro Disney land) - a bit of an effort working out where I had to buy a ticket and what train I had to get on (there was a transfer required), finlly got to the platform to get on the train and tried to call Alice (my step-cousin??? I think that would be our technical relationship) but found that there were no payphones available - asked some cops who sent me upstairs, asked some more cops but realised they were roughing up some young kid so I gave them a wide berth - finally asked a very nice parisian woman if I could use her phone and she was very helpful. Was met at the other side by Alice who took me back to Lesches - I met her partner, Marcel (not her husband though!!!! Scandalous!) and we had a very nice but earlyish night - will do some exploration of the countryside tomorrow I expect.

Friday, 23 September 2005


How come every time every time Sheikh Muqtada al-Sadr is mentioned in the news he is always 'the radical shiite cleric shiekh muqtada al-sadr'? To me that sounds like he's a Californian surfer dungeons and dragons character ...

It's A Small World

23 September - woke up earlyish and got my run out of the way - defeattd a few pf my nemeses on the way (you wouldn't believe what they'd been saying about my mother) and then made a few phone calls to my reasonably recently acquired relatives in France (thank you Uncle Dave for being such a francophile) trying to organise a manger to sleep in whilst on my first intercontinental jaunt. It looks like everything is sorted out now. Headed into town to use the balance of my Oriignal Tour ticket (it expired at midday) and had a Pret A Manger sandwich. Pret was here last time I was and it specialises in producing gourmet pre-packaged sandwiches - there ar lots of places where you can get pre-made sandwiches - in fact it is so much the norm that places that make them on the spot often market their sandwiches on this one selling point. It is not as if the Pret ones are bad sandwiches - they ar very nice (James T swears by them and I had a very tasty one) but it baffles me that the pre-packaged, processed meals ar so popular when there is a viable alternative, even McDonalds makes its food only a few minutes in advance. Also, eatinga nice sandwich saddens me because iit reminds me of the sandwiches I left behind in Sydney - I still have not found the equal of the Big Ass Sandwich Shop of Bridge St - but i'm going to Paris, the spiritual home of bread and the actual home of thousands of snooty elitist French sandwich makers so I may be lucky.
After the sandwich and the bus ride I headed towards South Kensington to the Museum of Natural History - i 'd just passed Harrods when I heard someone yell out my name - it was my old Optus boss, Gabi Cseh - I knew he had been travelling in Europe but had no idea that he was in London - he was just wandering the streets as I was and had seen me from his bus. whilst travellng the tourist trail in Asia I was constantly bumping into people i'd met earlier on in my travels - we're all doing similar routes and staying in similar places but Europe is a lot bigger than South East Asia and there are a lot more white people so we don't stick out so much which makes it so surprising that we managed to cross paths. Had a very nice reunion (i always preferred him outside of the work environment) and he came to the museum with me (great dinosaur exhibition although the museum does start to get kind of dull after four hour hours when I was in the physical earth section) before visiting a local overpriced pub with a surly Irishman propping up the bar.
Earlyish night as I had to get up at 4:00(ish) for my Eurostar train into Paris (to leave an hour later costs almost double on a Friday) ... had an okay coffee and croissant at Waterloo station but am hoping to have a very good one in a couple of hours ...

Magical Mystery Tour

22 September - Had a not too early start - me, James and Kate (the wonderful giver of musical tickets) decided to jump on one of the big tour buses of the city, it was a tossup between The Original Tour and The Big Bus Tour. The original tour had a boat trip so it was clinched. We split up at various points where someone wanted to see something special and then reconvened at other places - the tour guides on the boat and the buses veered between being very enthusiastic and others who were just going through the motions (... And over there is St Pauls Cathedral where you can get off ... If you like that kind of thing ...) - i'd done a similar tour eight years ago so it was nice to retrace my steps and avoided the crappy sights (see London Dungeon). Highlight was running up the Fire of London Monument - although I have to inform everyone that despite their claims of 311 steps I onlycounted 309 (when confronted with this information the operator told me to climb it again and count properly, I told him where to go).
Afterwards went for a drink in SoHo at The Yard (another thing that hasn't changed in 8 years) and then had a game of Scrabble which only lasted two rounds ...

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Saturday Night Fever On A Monday

20 september - I think i'm well and truly recovered from the jetlag/sleep deprivation problems that plagued the beginning of the london trip. Felt that i'd not received a proper dosage of culture since I arrived so made my way out to the British Museum in Tottenham Court Road. I'm pretty sure that I never went there last time as I was in london (don't know why I would have missed it though) because it seemed a bit unfamiliar (the area was certainly not though). Very impressive collections of egyptian, greek, roman and other aniquities including many, many, many jars - which i've been informed have been used my many historical cultures. The museum is so well organised and so well stocked. There were a few notices acknowledging the unethical acquisition of some of the museum's possessions but most of the parthenon is still at the british museum so it's obviously not something they're too worried about.
After that I wandered through SoHo and reacquinted myself with all the bars and shops that I used to frequent (my old workplace, Burlington Berties, a seedy cocktail bar, has morphed into Sirocco, an equally seedy lounge bar) not much else had changed except for all the people (no familiar faces). A few creepy people aside it was very enjoyable.
Most importantly, finally, after several false starts (mostly my fault for not being able to function in the evenings) I finally caught up with Mr James Templeman, bar manager of London's most exclusive watering hole, the Penthouse. Ajoyful reunion was followed by a showing of the musical version of 'Saturday Night Fever' (the well connected James had a contact in the business - the lovely Kate who I think hands out flyers for discount tickets). Extremely cheesy, the high drama of toughness of life in Brooklyn doesn't really translate to the screen but the players were all incredibly gorgeous and completely overtalented. The dancingwould have to be some of the most impressive footwork i've ever seen (although there was some very fancy stepping at the trancy Half Moon Party on Ko Phagnan) and the songs were all kind of nice ... I guess.

A Day In London

21 September - Took a little while to get going after a run into and around Hyde Park I made my way into Leicester Square where I met up with young Mr Templeman again and was given a tour of the salubrious establishment that is the Penthouse. Had to wait around for a little bit while James attended to bar related duties but was entertained by a giant scarred Persian bouncer who told me how much he loved Australia and america despite never having been there and bemoaned the fact that he was stuck here in England. James also gave me a bit of a debriefing of the shenanigans pulled off by the various owners of the Penthouse, it seems like there are lots more stories where they came from.
Looked around the west end a little longer and saw a few small exhibits at the Photography Gallery before heading to the National Portrait Gallery for a far too brief scan. As we were running a little late (late for what though?) we only had an hour to look through which was far too brief. I will have to come back there and devote a day or at least a substantial portion of one to seeing it. The House of Commons by someone startingwith an 'H' was one of the most impressive paintings i've ever seen, 385 members of the House of Commons painted in enough detail to recognise all of their faces. It would be impossible to get a photo of everyone like that with their faces visible. To accompany the painting was an online program that identified most of the ministers by name, title and achievements (or lack thereof). Rather incredible.
Planned to go to the movies that night but some tickets to 'Fame' where made available and headed down to that instead - had to negotiate peak hour traffic but were not too late although did earn the enmity of half the dozen tourists who were in Row D at the Aldwych. It was not as enegetic as Saturday Night Fever and the songs weren't as catchy but it was still a very good way to spend an evening. Have noticed a pattern in the way musicals show the encore at the end - I was always under the impression that an encore was only appropriate when the audience won't stop clapping and was so enthused by the show that they demand the cast return for an encore. Now, the encore is as staged as any other part of the show p they just rehash the main number at the end and force everyone to stand up and clap and bounce around awkwardly in time to the music. Still, it's a lot of fun.
Afterwards tried to track down the Wendys that I was sure used to be in Piccadilly CIrcus but had no luck ... Very disappointing.

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

A Walk In The Park

19 September - Woke up at a reasonable hour and then made our way to Victoria Station then another train into the British countryside down near the Surrey Hills, a little bit different from the Surrey Hills that I remember. Last time I lived in London I rarely got away and never went into the countryside so it was a little bit of an adventure. The trail was incredibly well made and maintained and even though there were some very severe hills and it was very long (about 5 hours walking) it was never terribly difficult. We passed some pillboxes which were remnants of London's last line of defence during WW2 but now seemed to be serving as public restrooms unfortunattly. The landscape can only be described as picturesque, it is so organised and so ... managed. Despite it being very familiar from TV and British costume dramas it was completely alien tp me - i've never walked in a space like it. The walks in Australia and Asia that i've done have always been in wildish bushland - even the walks in Sydneycity - and everything that we saw in Surrey was perfectly manicured and had human hands all over it. It's certainly not a nature walk - but it was very pretty and completely new to me. There were lots of other walkers we met along the path - many of them very properly attired and all very politely friendly as well. Haven't seen so many pure bred dogs as I have on this walk - very different from the mongrels and mixes of SE Asia. Also, I think the walk did my knees some good so there was a twofold benefit. Will definitely make it out somewhere to another similar place before I leave ENgland.

Monday, 19 September 2005

Still Recovering

18 September - Despite pushing through as late as possible and trying to force myself to keep on sleeping in morning I'm still finding myself in the grip of jet lag. Considering that i've not crossed too many serious time zones in my life it's probably not surprising. Also my minor injuries from the motorcycle accident were causin a little bit of discomfort but seem to be mostly mollified now.
Have done a little bit of exploring thus far - went on a proper run through the city aninto Hyde Park where I criss-crossed it a few times before finally findingthe exit and heading back. Lots of other runners in the park some of them going very hard - also saw dozens of little squirrels crossing the path which was very cute.
I still can't get over how much better it is to do it over here than in Asia - it's sunny but very, very brisk. I have a feeling that my Asian wardrobe is going to cause a few issues - already it's been less than 5 degrees at night time - i'm not sure if my plan to get warm stuff in Canadia is going to be very viable. I also have to presume that the cold dry weather is dramatically causing a reduction in the lifespan of my collection of hair elastics that was bought somewhere in Thailand. In Thailand I had no problem - they would stretch a little bit and do their job with no issues - over here, i'll be walking or running or just sitting down and i'll hear a little snap and my hair will just boof out a bit. They're cheap plasticky things (you have no idea how hard it is to find hair elastics in Thailand) but they were fine in their home country - it is as if they've become despondent and suicidal when taken so far from home. I think i'll have to find some english ones.
Went out shopping in Carnaby St and a few other inner city places with Bob, one of the flatmatts here, very nice but rather obsessed by skating and surfing. He just presumed that i'd want to get skate shoes so they were the shops we went too. Was good to have a local guide though although a lot of the places we went to brought back memories of when I was here before. I don’t think i'll have to much trouble getting my bearings around London. Plan on doing some proper exploration tomorrow because todaythe plan is to get to the country and do a rather extended wander through the fields. Didn't get out of London too much the last time so will be glad to do it.
also got in touch with a few people I know including the one and only james templeman who is working very hard in his trendy bar in Leicester Squar. Was planning to get out to see him yesterday but the evil tendrils of fatigue prevented that - however, it will be very excitingto see him again.
Also had a very bad realisation the other day - it appears that my bag, despite being locked, was forced open (the ring that the lock went through was snapped open) and the contents violated. The only piece of equipment that seems to be missing is my rather crappy camera which ordinarily wouldn't be so bad (seeing as it wasn't of high quality) but all the photographs from the trip were in it. I'd not backed them up in Asia for several reasons, hoping to do it over here. I was hoping that i'd just hidden it really well in my bag (which I had) but now i've had to come to the conclusion that it is gone - shit.

Getting Reacquainted

17 September - After waking up early and getting some lazy reading done and going for a run I ended up going into town for some food market looking (extraordinarily expensive from what i've been used to) but trying a venison burger (a lot like beef) and also got myself acquianted with the new london transport card - the oyster card which is kind of like a travel card but with security and other services associated - the guy who I bought it from instantly saw me for a newcomer to the great city and gave me a very professional and very informative explanation of how the card woked and all the benefits it entailed - quite enjoyable. After that I went to buy a sim card for the replacement mobile i 'd bought in thailand (my other handset has virtually disintegrattd over here). The phone number is 07946947765 for any who has a spare moment or two. Still reeling a bit at prices but I went to a familiar places near london bridge which was nice and and some new ones like the modern tate so it was a pleasant day.

E London

16 September - people asking me to talk 2 family members selling daughter s?
Finally arrived in London around 9:00am - although I was still in Thai time. More significant was the fact that i'd gone over two days without any real sleep. I made my way to Camberwell where I didn't have too much trouble finding Kimberley's house. I was still exhausted so didn't do much more than head down to the shops but met the flatmates and all seem very friendly. Ended up crashing out at 7ish (all in all about 72 hours before proper sleep). It's vey different wandering the streets and hearing nothing but English after so much Thai, Khmer or Vietnamese and a smattering of German, French, Hebrew (or Hip Bu as I saw it spelled in one place) and a little English. And all the accents are really hard London accents. I've realised how dark I've got comparing myself to all the English locals - except for most of the ones around Camberwell, consideringabout 90 percent of them ar black. There were a few black people in Asia but not many - I haven't seen so many of them since ... The last time I was living here. Nobody seems as friendly as they were in Asia - nobody trying to sell me anything or even making eye contact ... It's obvious i 'm in a different world.
Got a decent sleep after crashing out early but was still up hours before anyone else in the house, hopefully I should adjust today. Also went for a run in the local area and it was so different to Asia - not as polluted (it's rare that London gets that accolade i'm sure) and so much cooler, although it was quite sunny. Very pleasant.
ALso, remembered a strange thing that happened in MBK on my last day in Thailand. I was wandering the stalls lookingfor bargains when a Thai man did a double take at me, told me I was reallytall, asked me where was from and then was thrilled when I said Australia. His daughter is going there to study and could he talk with me about givingher some advice. He asked me to sit with him and bought me a drink (asked me to pay for it but I had no change) and then said that he wanted me to come with him or an hour to meet his daughter. I told him I didn't have tme (i wanted to go to the movies) and he was a bit upset but let me go. Later on that day a youngish girl (late20s) and her brother stopped me by asking me where I got my sandles from. Then asked me where I was from, Australia, wow! My sister is goingthere to study, sit with us. Do you want a drink? No. Chatted for a while and whn they found out I couldn't come with them to meet her they let me go. I just have to assume there was some scam going on and both people were doing a similar one (probably unrelated) but i've got no idea what it was going to be .. Would I have been kidnapped if I went with them? Would they try to get me to marry their sister/daughter? Very confusing - I think i'm going to have to google that one...

Friday, 16 September 2005

Terror At 30,000 Feet

15 September - Okay flight to Frankfurt - because we're leaving Thailand on a German carrier we have three languages to contend with. First there is the announcement in German, then in English (where they repeat the video if necessary) and finally in Thai (i'm pretty sure it's Thai but they don't get a video repeat). Stuck in the aisle but the legroom stretches out to infinity compared to some of the buses i've been travelling on so i'm not complaining. Avery bad whiskey was delivered up followed by a very nice dinner (at 2am Thai time, I have quite the feeling that i'll be suffering from bit of jetlag not having slept properly since Ko Phagna a few days ago). I still cannot understand why airport food is so bad and airplane food is so good (maybe not British Airways airplane food at the moment but generally it's all superb).
Caught on some newses before watching the movie (at around 4am) - The 'Fever Pitch' remake about a baseball tragic who falls in love the year the Red Sox broke the curse of the bambino. I thought it was pretty good, but really, it's got very little to do with the original other than the fact that it's a sports rom com (and I am biased towards sports rom coms). If it had been given a different title it would hardly be recognisable as the same film and it wouldn't invite comparisons to the original (which was good but not amazing). In any event, the Boston Red Sox triumph over an 80 something year losing streak is a bit more signficant than a 20 year one for Arsenal. In any event, a movie worth watching unlike the other one we had, Madagascar. The only fondness for that film I have is in its name as it reminds me of the Cambodian children quizzing me on its capital but other than that it's a complete waste of time (there are a few amuzing scatological jokes from the monkeys). I'm not sure exactly what the makers of this film are trying to tell the audience but it's obviously something along the lines of 'following the natural order is wrong'. A lion gets stranded on an island and starts to think of his friends as food - the other carnivores in the film are mutes with animal instincts and all the herbivores ar intelligent talking anthropomorphised beings - the other animals never accept that the lion is designed to eat them and the eventual solution is that the lion can eat fish (don't fish have feelings, too? Maybe not but then again, neither does a zebra). Other animated films have done this too, The land that time Forgot and Dinosaur (both by Disney, I think) were dinosaur films with intelligent talking herbivores and evil animal minded carnivores prowling them. Finding Nemo at least had intelligent sharks but these sharks had reformed and learned that eatingfish was bad; In babe, the dogs that attacked the sheep (following natural instincts mind you) evil - farm animals good and very talkative. And even in the films where the carnivores are intelligent they're always evil (Jungle Book, Shark Tale, even the seminal Animal Farm) I think that these films and stories send a very warped message to children - are they funded by a vegan lobby group or are the makers just trying to deny the reality that we're an evolved ecosystem that happens to have a food chain in?
In any event - i'm glad i'm at the top of it ...
The connecting London plane had some kind of problem so we had to wait for a replacement - lots of grey men in grey suits milling around the lounge - certainly makes business travel a lot less glamarous when you're waiitng for the plane and you're not business class - also, some woman wanted to sit with her daughter so I swapped seats with her and lo and behold she happened to be sitting in the very last row of the plane (with a spare seat to me so I think they're tryingsomething on) - the back of the plane feels the turbulence the most (not the first time i've taken pole position) and felt myself stomach roiling and I had no bag - luckily I kept it down ... So, London, here we come, aye???

Don't Panic

14 September - Went to the Sawasdee Khao Sann Inn to collect my bag and be collected. I bought my ticket for the airport bus and then as I went into the luggage storage room something brushed my right eye and suddenly everything went blurry. Sometimes it's just a minor displacement and a few blinks set everything right but not this time of course. It took me about 30s to realise what had fully happened as I was having a wrestling match with my expanding rooksack. By then, it was panic time. There was about a four squar metre space where the lens could be and people were traipsing through it without a care in the world, lost in their own little existences and not giving a damn for my blindness. I managed to put my glasses on but they seemed to make everythingworse, especiallyas the rain and humidity made them as translucent as a banana milkshake. I had some of the hotel guys lookingwith me but they had no idea what they were lookingfor. Eventually I found the lens through feeling for it, draggingmy hands across the dirty wet floor until I came up with the gold. The hotel guys couldn't believe I could find somethingthat small (well, I have had some practice). In this little fracas the bus had already left and I had to wait for another one. It was then that I realised that I'd misplaced my itinerary and I had a vague notion of beingtold i'd need it due to the fact that my flight to Frankfurt-London had been brought forward. Once again, panic time - I tried to see if I could use the hotels printer to run off another one, no printer. Then ran up thr road to the nearest internet café, full. Next one, no printer. Next one, no printer. Gave up and thought i'd try at the airport. The bus was late and stuck in traffic and I was in a very worried state for the first half of the journey. Then I thought to myself of the sage words printed on the universe's greattst travel guide, 'Don't Panic'. What was the worst that could happen? No way am I going to miss the plane - at worst, aabsolute worst, I might not get on this flight, and then I can just call Flight Centre or the insurance and get put n the next one. That's what you can do when you're insured and you've paid a full f**king fare - so I didn't panic . Got to the airport and couldn't find a printer but then it turned out I didn’t need one. The only bad news was that I couldn't get an emergency exit - again! Can't these people see how tall I am? I need special treatment.
Anyway, I obviously haven't missed my plane because i've been sitting in the Bangkok airport KFC nursing an overpriced pepsi for the past half hour and my plane hasn't even had a boarding call yet.
Footnote - I missed the boardingcall and was one of the last to get on the plane (well, at least I didn't have as long waiting around for it to take off ...)

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Dark and Stormy Morning

14 September - Have arrived in Bangkok after a particularly unpleasant bus trip. No leg room whatsoever and the air con on full blast (i was warned about how cold it can get on these buses and this was the worst thus far) - eventually got into town only to find the drop off is in the middle of nowhere and the bus actually arrived on time (5am) and it was raining buckets. Got a taxi into Khao San where I hoped to find somewhere to leave my bag and to sort out a ticket to the airport tonight. KS road was like a ghost street so the tuk tuk driver took me a bit further down the road to the only place that was open, the Sawasdee Khaosan Inn, the very same hotel where I spent my first two nights in Bangkok. They organise a bus and have bag storage but I still needed to kill a few hours before the rest of the town wakes up and it hopefull stops raining so I reluctantly chose to wait here and partake of their awful buffet breakfast - even at 5 in the morning everything is cold - when do they make it, 3? The most likely answer is, of course, yesterday.
Eventually broke away from the hotel and went for some proper pancakes from the lady on the corner who i've gone to every morning i've spent in bangkok and had a very nice thai massage (am going to miss them very much) before heading to MBK by omnibus. Did some shopping, stressed out about not finding shoes in my size, saw a movie, stood up for the king and eventually returned back to KS road. Not a very productive day in terms of sight seeing but it never stopped raining and i'm quite glad I finally got a little bit of shopping done.
Am just finishing off this missive in a dingy little restaurant and am enjoying what could well be my last Singha beer before leaving this wonderful country behind.
When i've done this i'll go and sync up so I have news to read on the plane then i'll probably have a last thai meal (the airport doesn't have thai food it has airport food) and a banana pancake before hitting the road and then the tarmac and then the air ... And so the Asian odyssey will end.

Road To Civilisation

13 september - Woke up to a torrential downpour - not terribly unwelcome as it is my last day and these downpours don't have a habit of sticking around very long.
Went out for a final night on the town in KPG to Haat Rin - the party side of the island. Like many of the tourist epicentres it's a smaller version of Khao San Road - that seems to be the model of a traveller's retreat within Asia although none of the imitations come close to emulating the crapulence of the original. After the delicacy of the day's motorcycle ride and the fact that I now knew how precarious the ride to Haat Rin was I decided to take a taxi. I had to wait a go go bar for a while before a german man offered to give me a lift on the bike. I was a bit uncertain as I was specifically avoiding two wheels, if i'd wantned to go on a bike I would have ridden myself. He convinced me ohis prowess and I relented then on the way he started telling me how drunk he was and I noticed whiskey on his breath. Getting him to stop was a bit arduous but I got off and wandered through pitch black streets until I was finally picked up by a saemlaw (think that's what it was called). The road was worse than I thought in the daytime so very glad I got away from the german. Felt a bit silly getting on - never in a million years in Sydney would I do that but in Asia it just seems a bit more normal.
Drank with some irish (including one that just returned from Australia with the face of an angel and the voice of a chainsmoking whore) for a while - not as hard nor as fast as they did obviously before getting overcharged to get back into Baan Thai.
The next day I checked out with some and took the motorcycle back to the shop. There was a little bit of damage from the falls that i'd experienced and they charged me for them - I was a bit affronted - i'd suspected that they would do that but the quote they gave me was actually pretty reasonable and much less than what an Australian place would probably charge (although i'm not sure that a Australian rental company would be giving an unlicensed rider the keys to a moto). Still, it did feel like they were adding insult to injury. My wounds are not that bad but they're more inconvient - one palm is slashed up and the other elbow which means I can't lean on my palms or my elbows (very bad for travelling on the top deck of a boat) and my great toe is a bit cut and also a scrape on my foot which makes my sandles very uncomfortable to wear (well, at least i'll be leaving the world of sandles soon enough).
At the pier in Ko Phagnan there's a woman who sells sandwiches who has a very distinctive selling call, 'Sandwich Sandwich' in high falsetto followed by 'Cheap Cheap!' before she giggles to herself about how silly she must sound before doing it again and giggling. The self deprecation would be a little bit more convincing if she didn't do it every day i've seen her (and that's a few days). It certainly seems to work because she outsells all the other women combned.

Monday, 12 September 2005

Born To Be Wild

12 Sptember - woke up before most of the resort today - mainly due to my early exit from last night's festivities. Went for a little run up the beach and back - the sand kept on getting blocked by rocks or boats so it wasn;t a very long stint - not many more opportunities until europe though.
wandered up towards the main road and hired a motorbike for the day - the island s pretty small but it's not really small enough to wander on foot. Headed up to one of the waterfalls and after a while found myself on some very treacherous dirt paths and I had a lot of trouble keeping upright. Eventually on a particularly steep and potholed bit of dirt the bike slipped out from under me and slid four or five metres down the slope with me under it. Only scratches and a bruise or two but I'd tired of the adventure and headed back. Another steep slope saw it going over again and then it wouldnm't start. I pushed it along until I came to a pitstop where I was overcharged for petrol and water but iat least I was moving again. The guy at the stop seemed to think of me a plague carrier though - he told me sto stand away from the shop and near the bike. He didn't want to touch anything i'd touched including the keys and the money I paid him with (he took it via a plastic bag). I guess that's how lepers must feel ll the time. I stopped for some luncheon at a streetbar and the barkeep kindly cleansed and disinfected my wounds which was very nice. Kept a very easy pace on the way back to the guesthouse - will probably do a bit more exploring later in the afternoon before heading back to Bangkok tomorrow.

Back in the wilderness

11 September - have come back to ko phagnan where for the half moon party (the famous full moon party happens next week after i've left but there's no need to worry because they have a half moon party, black moon party, blue moon party, waxing moon party, waning moon party and discovery-of-a-new-moon-of-jupiter party etc etc). Got in contact with josh (the american hippy) and he told me that him and some others were staying at a nice bungalow on the beach, not too far from where the party was to be (not that anything can be that far from the party because the island is only 190km2 (that's square kilometres not 190 kilometres by 190 kilometres, because that would be expressed as (190km)2). This place whilst very beautiful and pretty good value is also somewhat isolated from anything - 15m walk to the local mini-mart. Not too worry I don't expect to be too busy over the next few days ... After all, it is a resort and you're not really supposed to do anything at this resort other than lie on the sand and get pleasantly wasted.
At the bungalow there are a motley mix of people staying, american, south african, thai (surprisingly), two japanese wastrels and the inevitable israelis. The party tonight is supposed to very good but it's also supposed to be trance and i;m not sure if my lower brain stem can handle too many flashing lights.
The half moon party was okay - it would probably have been amazing if I was into trance. As it is, i'm not, so it was okay. Lots of people covered in fluorescecent paint and choking down mushrooms and ecstasy - some of them passing out near the sides. I didn't stay terribly long but at least I can tick that one off.

Saturday, 10 September 2005

Under The Sea Again

10 september - yesterday I believed I overate quite a bit. I knocked back a roti, 1.5k of fruit, some chicken and rice, some more chicken and rice, a western breakfast, a packet of oreos and then a another rather large chicken and cashew nut for dinner. I was sitting for a while after i'd consumed this last part before realising that my stomach was feeling rather stretched and I felt that lying down would be the best option. I went back to my room and fell asleep until for a few hours before realising that it was already a bit late and perhaps I should go to bed. this excessive sleep led me to waking up very early so I went for another run. Quite hilly but it's a very small island so I went tip to tip in about 30m before being screwed on a bottle of water before heading back. Quite tough but all in a good cause.
I wandered back into town for some bruncheon then went off to tallow bay for a scuba dive. my buddy was a chain smoking dutchman - nice enough but underwater he kept on floating to the surface so I spent a lot of time waiting for him to get down before we moved on. Saw a giant puffer fish and some trigger fish - no megafauna unfortunatetly although it is said that there ar a couple of whale sharks patrolling the island at the moment. The dive master who took us out was a bit of an arsehole though - he wasn't very helpful and he ended p losing half of the group before telling them all off at the surface. I don't think they're as nice as they are back in Vietnam - these ones ar mostly run by foreigners it seems unlike the Vietnamese ones that were locally run. Still, it was nice getting underwater again. I've only got a few left so i'll head back to ko phagnan tomorrow before I have to leave.
Also, finally the mosquitoes seem to be getting a taste for me i've not had the slightest hint of interest for the entire trip but now i'm like a cheesymite roti to them. in the time it's taken to write this missive i've killed about six of them.

Isle of the Turtles

9 September - Spent some very very quiet time in Ko Phagnan yesterday. The guest house I was at, whilst quite nice, was a little bit like a cemetery in atmosphere. I want to relax but also want a little bit of human interaction. One traveler, an American commune hippie, whom i'd met on the boat was there so we went for dinner together. A few more people on one of the beaches but way too quiet so I booked the boat to Ko Toa the next day. This involved cancelling a daytrip i'd already paid for and it was a very long winded process getting the lady who ran the place to do. She was quite nice but a little sinister and she took forever to do anything. Always "no problem, no problem" I do later, I have to ask my sister ... before she'd turn back to her cigarette and thai soaps. She was a little bit emotional when we left the next day ... making me promise that i'd stay with her and she was going to miss me so much before giving me a hug and a kiss.
Ko Tao seems to have a few more people where I am which is nice and although it was very overcast today i've been told it will be sunny for tomorrow;s diving.
also went for a run this morning for about ninety minutes, the longest in ages, it was a lot flatter than yesterday and a bit cooler and I was very proud of nyself upon my return.
Also, anyone who's reading this should spare a thought for the region of Pai in North Thailand. Josh, the American i'd met on the boat had been living up in Pai for the last eighteen months and just before he left about three weeks ago there was an enormous flood, partly naturally caused but also due to illegal logging operations in the mountains. The town has been virtually wiped out and it was relatively as destructive as the New Orleans flood (obviously on a smaller scale though). there have been few deaths but many of the buildings and property has been completely swept away. It is a much smaller task to bring this town back than in New Orleans but they also have much less resources and help than the city of new orleans has.

Thursday, 8 September 2005

Tom Yong Goong

8 September - had a nice day in bangkok - booked a ticket to Ko Phag Nang and had some pancakes and a banana shake and replaced the lonely planet that i'd left on the bus from Cambodia (grrr....). Me and Oliver, an Englishman who's emigrating to Australia who I met on the bus previously, wandered the Khao San for a bit before heading to a differrent tourist part of the city where he'd booked a guest house. He needed to do some shopping and I wanted to find a movie cinema so we took the sky train (very pleasant way of travelling) to a few upmarket malls where I felt very out of place in my dirty travelling pants and sandles before finding ourselves in MBK, a highly recommended shopping and complex in Siam Square. Found the movie I wanted to see, Tom Yong Goong and had Tom Yong Goong for luncheon beforehand - it was so hot as to be inedible so I ended up having a big mac instead (it tasted like a big mac at home). The movie was all i'd hoped it would be - absolutely incomprehnsible story about a boy and his elephant, mostly set in Sydney. In Thai Town (not sure where that is but perahps near the cross) - the worst acting you'd ever see but it was all just a stage so that Tony Jaa could perform the most electrifying martial arts you;ve ever seen. Two stand out scenes are a 10m Russian Ark stlye unbroken shot where TJ crashes a building and singlehandedly fights off about a hundred baddies - and another scene where he breaks the arms, legs and vertebrae of dozens of black suited nemeses. Also starred the colossal Nathan Jones, the friendly chap I met at bangkok airport on my first day.
Movie ended at 10 to six and I had to be at Khao San at 6 so hopped on a moto and sped through peak hour traffic to get there. was in the middle of a three moto pile-up at one stage which wasn't very pleasant but eventually made it, and had to run after the group to get to the bus. Once on the bus we waited for half an hour before leavng. Reasonably pleasant journey to get to Ko Phag Nang and got a very cheap bungalow on a beach (far away from town though) when I got here. Went for a run and almost died - very hot and the whole island is nothingbut hills. Very pleasant outlook tho.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

FW: Wat Fatigue (Templed Out)

5 September - Had a pleasant night last, I saw an ad on the back of a tuk-tuk for Blue Pumpkin, a Siem Reap café that apparntly had free wi-fi. It took a bit of wandering through town before I finally found it and it was one of the most amazing places i've seen in my travels. Straight out of Sex and the City or American Psycho - just way too trendy for a dusty little town like Siem Reap. All the decore was pure white and very severe - a long couchy kind of sitting bench a metre off the ground with little breakfast-in-bed trays and very over-priced café lattes. And, free wi-fi. I synced up and got the news and my mail and then skyped a few people back at home - this little toy of mine has proven to be an absolutely invaluable travelling companion - the only thing it wants is a lonely planet style guidebook program and it would be perfect. Once I settle i'm going to have to search for some venture capital to work it all out.
Afterwards I had a craving for a pizza and went to one of the local establishments that had a good deal on. After I ordered they asked me if I wanted it 'happy' - whatever do you mean, I asked? Ganja, she replied. Oh, well, that should be interesting. Certainly added to the flavour - and it quite a nice pizza too.
Later I wandered over to the drinkin street and had a beer - I fended off some of the local prostitutes for a while before being rescued by Rebecca (Irish girl from Nha Trang) and I joined them and we were presently joined by Steve (Welshman from last night) - pretty much a replica of the night before. My bottom was still so sore from riding out to Banteay Srei that I had to appropriate two cushions from other seats in the bar - the blind massage helped with recovery somewhat but i'll be off bicycles for the rest of this trip I think.
Today's Wat tour was the grand tour - about four or five on a slightly larger circuit from the main big ones. None of them were as grand as Angkor Wat or Bayon but there was some very impressive ruins. I had to get a moto out there due to my bike injuries (well, they're kind of injuries) but it was a very relaxing day. Also stayed out to see the sunset at Phnom Bakheng which was quite nice but there were about a thousand people who had the same idea so I didn't stay all that long. But, am completely templed out now and will be quite happy not to step into a house dedicated to a mythical figure(s) for the rest of my holiday.

Back to Khao San

6 September - Back in Bangkok in a craooy room on the fifth floor of an israeli infsted overpriced guesthouse with a view of ... An alley some type. But, i'm back in Khao San and it certainly is nice to be somewhere familiar even if it's Khao San.
After saying fare dee well to Angkor Wat I headed in Siem Reip for a disappointing Khmer meal and was about head home when I bumped into Greg, a Welsh expat from Ausstralia whom i'd met in Sihanoukville. We had a beer that was consistently interrupted by the street kids, who are very amusing at first but eventually become very tiring before heading to Lingar Bar - which is the sole site of Siam Reip's pumping gay SCENE. Very overpriced drinks (for Cambodia) and a smattering of overdressed young Khmers and run by an expat American who originally came here to work at one of the hotels. However, a very nice place regardless - and they had free wifi as well. According to those in the know Cambodia's king happens to be of the gentle persuasion, and is a rather tortured soul because of it, which would go a little way into explaining why he refuses to take down the pictures of his parents in all of the public buildings (bit of a mummy's boy, methinks) - but then again, most of those in the know always said that about Paul Keating and Bob Carr, so can hardly take their word for .
Early wake up and check out before an extended wait to actually get to on the bus to the Thai border. It was probably worth the wait because it was a very interesting bus ride. A very nice eclectic mix in the overcrowded bus, which had no air conditioning, no suspension and no functional fanbelt (apparently) - the bumpiest ride i've ever had p like a rollercoaster - constant potholes for about six hours - some of them throwing us out of our seats by six inches. And on the road, apart from road trains and live pigs on motorcycles, where pick-up trucks loaded down with at least twenty people in the back being thrrown around like lottery balls. Glad I did the trip - as it probably won't exist for much longer - the Poi Pet - Siem Reip road will definitely be sealed up in the next few years due to the fact that Angkor Wat is Cambodia's onlyattraction - however, am also very glad that it's over. Waited around for a few hours at the Thai border for the bus before getting a very nice air conditioned omnibus with ample leg room and very nice next door company. Unfortunately didn't arrive in Khao San until 11:00 so missed a pre-arranged rendesvous but am here and no longer on a bus (t least until tomorrow) Also bumped into a few others from my original bus who arrived in Bangkok around midnight - so I can't really complain about my late arrival.

FW: Cambodian Impressions

I 'm certainly going to miss Cambodia - i'm constantly surprised by how different all of the different countries over here are. They are all heavily influenced by each other and by the west (the parts that i'm exposed to especially) - To me, Cambodia is different from Vietnam and Thailand in that it's such a tragic country. The two most significant things about the country are the Angkor temples, which are a symbol of how great the Khmers used to be, and Killing Fields, a symbol of how terrible they can be and the country is still recovering. The poverty is much worse than Vietnam or Thailand and for most of them it seems hard to imagine how their lives could possibly improve. I constantly hear the western description, 'they're so poor but they're so happy' - as if money is the root of all unhappiness in the world, but these people are not happy BECAUSE they are poor, they are happy SOME of the time IN SPITE of being poor. I don't imagine many of them are very cheerful when they're starving (and many are over here), when they're in agony because they can't get decent dental or medical care, and it really can't be much fun seeing thousands of westerners flooding through your town spending on one night on the town what you would spend in one week. I can only imagine that very righteous jeolous anger must be building up in their hearts over their plight - maybe i'm wrong about it - maybe they're better people who don't car about such things bui find it hard to imagine that anyone could be happy with their plight - there is a big differece between being poor and being in poverty or abject poverty.
Still, i'm certainly going to miss the insane roads, the creative sales techniques, tactile waitresses and the hundreds of naked children who run through town like miniature streakers at the cricket. And the food, i'll miss that too.

Sunday, 4 September 2005

Sore Bottom

4 September - I slept in (kind of) today to recover from the lack of sleep that i've been accumlating over the past few days. One thing about this guesthouse, despite it's unhelpful staff and crummy appearance, is that it has a remarkably comfortable bed with very nice pillows. I'm not a big fan of the big fan that spins over me while I sleep like a whirling angel of death and i'm just waiting for it to detach from the ceiling and slice me to pieces in my sleep but i've been sleeping very well here. Last night I bumped into Rebecca and Victoria, two very bonny Irish girls whom I met whilst diving in Nha Trang (they were doing their la de da advanced course) and we had a few well placed but overpriced (for Cambodia) drinks in the cordoned off area. We were also joined by a very interesting South Welshman spinning through Cambodia on a similar route to mine. As it was, I kind of needed to sleep in after although there was no need for ibuprofen afterwards.
After a very nice and very good value breakfast I managed to finally find a place that rented mountain bikes today - $5o deposit but only $2 for the day - it was not a great bike but much better than the local ones. I rode out to Banteay Srei, about 37k, and my hands and bottom were very sore after getting there - at the end though I found a very welcome Pepsi (so much for my diet coke experiment - because i'm constantly sweating I feel very intense sugar cravings and pepsi and coke is the best cure for that) - there was also a temple but it was quite small and not nearly as impressive as yesterdays. I delayed heading back for as long as I could and when I finally got back on the bike my bum was screaming at me to get off - finally got to the main body of temples on the grand tour and stopped off for a brief look at Pre Rup, an enormous set of ruins with an amazing view over the ara (mainly to rest my buttocks tho) where I met a few people from my travels.
Finally got back into town where I secured a roti and now I think i'm going to go look for the blind massage centre ... Tomorrow i ;m getting a moto again.

Saturday, 3 September 2005

What a Wat, wot?

3 September - Last night was a bit of a thunderstorm and I was a bit worried that it would continue through to today but the monsoon season being as it is meant that it was actually pretty blue skyes. Not when I woke up at 4:45am however, in order to make it up for sunrise. Hotel wouldn't do a wakeup before 5 but I managed on my own somehow, was up waiting for my moto driver at 4:55. There were a few people around at this stage and one of the clerks asked me if I wanted anything. A coffee would be nice. You have to wait until 5:30 for that ... Of course (let's not forget the reason i'm up at this time). My driver was about 15m late but he sped me to our destination in the darkness. The town was a bit flooded from the deluge before and got a little bit wet; also the road was packed with other groups (motos and buses, even a few bicycles) chasing the sun, trying to get there before daybreak. Arrived at the site and had to go through the bureaucracy of getting my ticket with photo sorted out but eventually made it to Angkor Wat and had to run up the giant causeway in order to get a good view (the sky was already lightening a little). It was very majestic and very beautiful but I had to concentrate to try and tune out the massive swathes of people who filled up my peripheral vision. After light I wandered around for a while - the site was enormous, i'd certainly had wat fatigue and was completely templed out after Thailand. I saw a few in Vietnam, some very beautiful, but they all pale to Angkor Wat, if nothing else because of its sheer size. Another advantage of the size of the Angkor region is that despite the fact that there are thousands of tourists criss-crossing the area all day because its so big you often find yourself completely alone in the ruined temples and it's not a big step pretending to be Indiana Jones (or Lara croft if you're female or just drawn that way) stepping through ancient ruins (which they ar obviously) - there ar not so many booby traps, at least none that I found. Although that wasn't always the case as the khmer rouge extensively mined the region before they left as well as just blowing up some of the buildings for kicks. The Bayon with the many giant heads was one of the highlights as well as Ta phrom, one of the most crowded (almost certainly because it was the one that was used for filimg for Tomb Raider).
An unfortunate aspect of the region was that there was a new level of begging and selling that i'd not seen before (admittedly not as bad as the virtual mugging i'd received at the bus stop) - the children selling stuff (flutes, postcards, bracelets, charms and a weird bamboo drum thing) would sit themselves by you and pester you non stop until you left. It was a little bit endearing at first (they are some of the cutest kids i've ever seen - perhaps it's the good looking ones who ar sent out to sell??) but by the end of the day I was a bit worn out - one of the techniques (apparently it also happens in Peru, according to a very bitter but very nice Irishman I met today) is asking you what the capital of Madagasgar is, if you know, they leave you alone, if you don't, you buy (i've got no idea what it is, must google it later on) and other capital related trivia comes up. The one that I really didn't like was young men coming up to you inside the temple and started talking, they act like a local guide and follow you around telling you about the temple (sometimes quite informed, sometimes not) and then demand payment for services rendered. There's no point where you can tell thm to go away because they're just being friendly and they really imply that you're cheating them by not paying up. There was also a policeman (at least a man dressed as a policeman) in one of the temples just begging outright, which was a bit distressing. He tried to sell me his badge and told me how little a government job pays (apparntly it's $25 a month hence their reputation for corruption). However, when I was not sitting down (children swarming you) and I was not running away from my apparent debtors I was very much enjoying myself. I''ve got two more days here (i was told by lonely planet and alex, an englishman I met in Sihanoukville, that 3 is the absolute minimum - i'm not so sure about that tho) so i'll sleep in tomorrow and then bicycle out to one of the more distant sites if possible and revisit the highlights the next day (a sunset seems more appropriat for me than sunrise I think).
Also went for another run - pretty long compared to what i've been doing - would have been longer but I had to turn back cause it as getting dark. As it was, I was coming back in complete darkness - the only light being the motos bearing down on me as they tried to do me in.

Friday, 2 September 2005

Tarzan Of The Apes

Scanning through my PDA for something new to read I came across the original 'Tarzan Of The Apes' by ERB. I've read numerous books by Philip Jose Farmer which explore the myth of Tarzan (often by giving him a foot long sexual organ and the sex drive to match) but have never read the original.
It's certainly very enjoyable and I can understand why it was such a popular book.
Very dated views of the savagery of the jungle, especially of the nature of giant apes (although his apes were not gorillas or chimpanzees but a giant breed of savage apes) and the inhumanity Congolese natives. I don't think i've read so much praise for the perfection of a human being as I have in this book. The reason for Tarzan's success is put down to his fine noble breeding (although I prefer PJF's further explanation that the breeding is the result of a 30,000 year eugenics programme and Tarzan is one quarter neandertal and the son of jack the ripper).
ERB certainly seems to shy away from any mention of Tarzan's sexual exploits in his book but knowing the nature of most apes (we all know what they're like) and the fact that he rose to be the alpha male of his tribe would seem to indicate to me that Tarzan would have to have gotten up to some rather interesting situations with his brethren that would not have been suitable for a PG book. PJF was certainly offered up a bit more clarity on that particlar issue.
The ending is a contrived but also very unexpected and i'm quite keen on sourcing some of the sequels to see how Tarzan's story continues (it's doubtful Johnny Weismuller's tv series had much to do with the novels if the first one is anything to go by).

Angkor Town

2 September - Woke up this morning very early (for my bus to Phnom Penh) very glad to not be feeling the effects of my latest cold and stomach cramps but unfortunately hampered by the somewhat unfamiliar illness of a hangover. Caught up with the tour group for some beers and dinner (the best meal i've had in Cambodia) along with a few tokes of a somewhat more illicit substance.
The trip to Phnom Penh was quite awful - Khmer karaoke was blaring the entire way. Met a very nice Khmer farmer who practicsed his Enlish with me for a while tho. After this I had a brief wait for my connecting bus to Siem Reap. It was horrible - air conditioning wasn't working, the woman in front of me kept on puttingher seat back as far as it would go and the woman next to me was crossing her legs and taking up half my seat. Extremely uncomfortable (especially with the hangover) but eventually made it to the destination. I got off the bus and was greeted by the worst crowd of motodrivers i've seen in my entire trip. A dozen of them were surrounding me, shouting, grabbing me, pulling my shirt, in the end I had to get back on the bus because they wouldn't let up. Had a bit of a trial finding a guesthouse, but have found a pretty awful one that should do the trick. Tomorrow up at 5 to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Should be very enlightening.
Have noticed that my skin is getting very brown right now. I'm not sure what's causing it, maybe my body is adapting, evolving chameleon-like if you will to try to blend in with my surroundings (like the man who was more gowachin than the gowachin and later more dosadi than the dosadi, I could be becoming more mongoloid than the mongoloid), most likely it is darkening as a reflection of my tortured soul, hell, maybe it's because i'm getting too much sun.

Ups and Downs

1 September - Woke up reasonably early because I had a booking for a trip out to one of the islands today. Asked the hotel guy if there was a big breakfast or a meager one provided by the tour and he said it was a big one - so I merely had a milk coffee at the bar upstairs (they're not nearly as good as their Vietnamese counterparts in Cambodia) - 8 o'clock rolled around and the hotel guy approached me and said that I couldn't go on the island trip. Apparently I was the only one booked in and they were canceling it - I told him to check with another company, at the beach the day before I'd been pestered by at least three groups trying to get me to do the same trip. He said he'd checked 20 -I thought, bullshit. I went downstairs and it turned out there was another girl also booked (whom he'd forgotten about) and he was extremely incompetent in trying to find a solution. Eventually I said stuff it and got my money back and then ran off to try to find another tour before it left (it was half 8 by this stage) - I jumped on the back of a moto and found one within 5m. The American girl, it turned out, was on my tail and she came as well. A very nice group of a few brits and an Australian (professional traveler) were on the tour also. First we stopped at an island for some great snorkeling (albeit with the worst equipment I've ever used) - we attempted to do some spear fishing with sharpened sticks but failed quite miserably. Had a fairly decent lunch before heading off for a very rocky ride to snake island where we mucked around with a volleyball and had an afternoon snack of freshly caught fish cooked on an open fire - the fish had been caught and thrown on, no gutting or preparation at all and we ate them like the savages we had become (and they were delicious). After that a small attempt at fishing with the moist basic reels I've ever used (line attached to an empty waer bottle) that netted in with no fish for anyone except one of the guides. I don't think I've caught anything on the end of a line since e some brief success I enjoyed when was seven years old, I think I'm going to give up on the fishing thing. Headed back to our start and had to ait two hours for pur ride back (eight of us squeezed into a five person sedan with three on a moto to get us back). Had another argument with my guesthouse over another small issue (everybody, never use GST Guesthouse in Sihanoukville, if you should ever be there) and then went for a run. It was already darkening by this strage so I had to run along the main road (the only lit road in town, which wasn't very pleasant) but as I'm going to spend all day in a bus tomorrow, going up to Siam reap, I really thought it was a necessary for a bit of a stretch.

R Is For Rocket

Finally got around to starting a Ray Bradbury collection I picked up in Chang Mai last month. It was recommended to me about seven years ago by someone very special and every time I go into a second hand book shop I would always look for it to no avail. Finally found it in Thailand of all places. Never been a huge fan of Ray Bradbury, despite his reputation as being one of the giants of early sci-fi (Fahrenheit 451 and Martian Chronicles) but it was there so I dutifully purchased the slim volume. Very interesting reading all the stories about interplanetary travel that are written in the 50s, the authors had no idea that the other planets were completely inhospitable for human life and often the rocketmen (his name for astronauts, and exclusively men of course) upon arriving at the moon or mars would instantly disembark and light a fire with local wood. Still, this collection contains the classic time travel piece, 'A Sound of Thunder', soon to be a mega-flop coming to a video store (maybe a cinema if we're unlucky) near you - not one of the best tme travel stories ever - I don't think you can go past '12 Monkeys' for that accolade, even The Time Traveller's Wife was very clever in that regard - but certainly one of the first to explore the butterfly effect. I can't think of anyone I know who would enjoy reading this collection but that's because most people I know ar a bunch of philistines and ignoramuses when it comes to good hard-core science fiction so it's their loss.

Can't cope without me

Can't understand what's going on in NSW at the moment - i'm gone for 5 weeks and first the premier resigns and a month later the wanker in the opposition is gone ... For being a wanker. Perhaps i'd better get back before any more disruption occurs. No, the state just has to learn how to cope on its own.

Beach Town ... again

31 August - After going to the Killing Fields and the S21 museum I was still feeling very sickly but didn't want to waste any more time so I went for an easyish walk out to the river - had a spartan luncheon and saw the National Museum, which was very pleasant. There were lots of amazing statues and friezes showing different stages of Cambodian history and there were some reasonably good translated explanations along the way. I also noticed a couple of scholarly looking westerners who really seemed to 'know their shit' and were lecturing back to their local guides - not sure ithey really knew what was going on or if they were just pretentious twits. It finished off with a large selection of very old jars - I can never understand why old jars and plates get such high esteem in museums. Yes, they're very old but it's a firmly established historical fact that old civilisatoins used crockery - I hope to hell that Tupperware is given less signficiance in the exhibitions of the 20th century in years to come.
Wandered back to the guesthouse and tried to sleep for a while before heading down to the 7pm screening of the Killing Fields at the communal TV, the british girls (back to their full contingent of six again) had got to the couch before me and I was stuck on a very grand but extraordinarily uncomfortable wooden throne. Very good movie, very long, made a lot more signficant by what we had seen earilier in the day. The scenes with the westerners and cambodians trying to take refuge at the French Embassy was very similar to the scenes of Hotel Rwanda only that there was a much worse outcome for the natives.
This morning I took a four and a half hour bus jouney down to Sihanouk Ville where I plan to stay a day or two before heading up to Siam Reap. Not teribly uncomfortable due to its shortness, not looking forward to the journey back up north though. On the bus they were playing a bizarro Cambodian television show - can't really compare it to anything i've seen over here - there were a couple of guys with fake mustachios (or facial tattoos, I was sitting near the back) with very grating voices talking to each other in some kind of Abbott and Costello routine. their interchanges were interrupted by laughter on screen and by the few Cambodians on the bus (who were absolutely entranced by it) and then they would break into traditional songs which seemed quite serious until one of them started squawking ... Very strange - I don't think I could handle 12 hour of it, which might be the case heading to SR.
My cold and cough have abated somewhat so despite still getting quite bad stomach cramps and the occasional uncertainty of the bowels I decided to go for a run again - have felt quite atrophied by the constant bus and boat trips and other inactivities - Sihanoukville is an ideal place to do it - the air is certainly cleaner than Phnom Penh and Saigon and it's much nicer going along beaches than dodging traffic. Don't know if it was a completely good idea but certainly feel better on the psychological front.