Saturday, April 19, 2014

Absolutely pointless nostalgia: The history of my email addresses

Do you remember the internet? What was all that about?

I don't mean the useful communication service integrally entangled with myriad aspects of our professional and private lives, that indispensable utility you take for granted until you live in a country that enforces a mandatory blackout hour daily because the monopoly electricity provider is typically inept.

I mean the internet, that fun commodity that you persuaded your parents to hook up to your clucking Windows 95 desktop after being awed by its clueless promotion in such Hollywood blockbusters as The Net and Children's BBC's The Web (I remember something about Zoe Ball running from a big spider, probably some kind of metaphor for sex predators).

The internet you were so impatient to use as your mum's boyfriend slowly connected the modem and explained in tedious detail how to use Internet Explorer 1 or whatever, but when you finally got your freedom to surf the information superhighway with the world's knowledge at your fingertips you didn't really know what to do, so just downloaded some blurry League of Gentlemen wallpapers and joined the first small forum or Yahoo! Group you came across dedicated to your favourite TV show or band which you doggedly stuck with for a year. You know, that internet.

Like other impulsive decisions you made and attitudes you embraced in your teenage years, those early email addresses could go on to spoil your whole life.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Is my girlfriend in a cult?

Well, this is going to be a sensitive one, isn't it? Especially when she remembers I have this website a couple of months down the line, checks it out of boredom and sees this on the front page. Better schedule some more unadventurous travels together so I can fill the screen with beaches and funny shop signs instead. And so I can get out of this increasingly frustrating country, but that would be like giving in to terrorism. Nah, I'll just artificially backdate it to last December in a while and hope that means she doesn't see it, that's the manly thing to do. I'm becoming more like Alfred every day.

This is something I'm concerned about, and even though no one really reads this blog because I don't make any effort to publicise it, to make it appealing to people, or even to tell the people who already know about it that I'm writing again, I would be grateful for any feedback. Whenever I've raised these issues with my girlfriend (the issues are down near the bottom, I ramble for a long time), it's only led to unhelpful defensiveness and uncomfortable silence. Mixed-race relationships are swell, but these mixed-ideology ones can be a minefield. Fortunately, the issue only ever comes up when discussing little things like life, the universe and everything, so no big deal.

I'm happy for my girlfriend to believe anything that makes her happy. Don't look at me like that, I genuinely am! She doesn't try to foist her beliefs on me, but I've let the side down on occasion when my patience for silliness has been pushed and I've had to point out how unlikely and arrogant it is to believe you've sorted out the complexity of it all and that it's your specific brand of religion that's got it right, rather than the other billions of people who are equally committed to the versions they happened to have been born into and are equally convinced are correct.

Don't talk to me about the arrogance of non-believers finding it hard to believe a God exists, as we're humble enough to say there are many things that will probably always be unknowable, even if an old book says so. Not all of us are humble, I grant you. Some of us like to argue for the sake of it, or because we're in a mood. Trolls come in all flavours, you know that. You wouldn't base your ideas about Islam on the vocal extremists alone, would you? Oh, okay.

I'm happy for my girlfriend to believe anything that makes her happy, as long as it doesn't do any harm. But I'm worried it might, especially when it comes to recruiting the younger generation, money changing hands and a charismatic church leader insisting he has supernatural abilities. I've barely scratched the surface.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Third world first world problems

I'm really trying to stay positive about this hellish country in which I've condemned myself to exile, but they aren't half trying their best to up the infernal ante.

Necessary isolation generally helps me hold on to most of my sanity while losing other aspects of my humanity, but even that solace has been denied to me now with the bursting of my colonial bubble by the encroachment (and cockroachment) of the Third World outside. Close the window, it's hot out there and it stinks.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Unhelpful freelance writing tips

I can't recommend freelance writing enough as a career choice that offers extraordinary flexibility for your finances and lifestyle. That's why I still persevere in recommending that people check out freelance opportunities when they ask me how I can afford to travel indefinitely, or when they voice an interest in making money on the move.

I persevere even as every one of them loses interest immediately when I explain some of the details and they realise it does actually involve doing some work - imagine that! - and is 'a bit like school.' If you don't enjoy writing, why did you think you'd be interested in the first place? Others try it for a while, but are eventually disillusioned by having to learn a new trade themselves without fellow employees to discuss or bitch about issues with, then crawl back to more relaxing unemployment or the comfortably low ceiling of an annual salary and desk manacles.

Unfortunately, for anyone who is genuinely interested in taking control of their lives and earning a ludicrous amount of money for writing a few pages a day on subjects you previously knew nothing about but are now more familiar with than the back of your hand (I never noticed before how far those hairs go up at the side), I don't have the patience any more to help people get started. You're on your own, good luck. But having made a living exclusively from online writing for the past few years and not having died, I am in a position to share the wisdom of experience about what works for me when it comes to self-motivation, avoiding distractions and other aspects of this job for people who are already earning their fortune from home/hotel/aeroplane. You won't necessarily agree with it all. It'd be weird if you did.

This was all written in a fairly stream-of-consciousness way. I tried to organise it under relevant headings but didn't always succeed. It doesn't really matter, no one's paying me for this.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

At least it's Davao

We made it back to the Philippines without incident, despite me making a cock-up when faking my mandatory onward flight ticket the previous night and forgetting to update one of the 2013s to 2014. None of the airline or immigration staff who scrutinised it noticed the error. I'm not proud of being a sneaky borderline-criminal (I am a bit), but until they just let me tick a box to say I'll be legitimately extending my visa through the proper channels before the month is out, I'm not going to waste money booking a flight for show.

I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of coming back to this country, especially after transiting a couple of days in Kota Kinabalu first and getting my last chance to enjoy diverse food, law-abiding traffic and being able to walk around without getting shouted at or mobbed by begging children. Being able to walk around at all is still a novelty.

To put my mind at ease when Borneo slipped away and I headed towards a fresh exile of uncertain duration in a country whose name serves as a punchline to jokes about sleazy sex tourism, I tried to dwell on the positives. My girlfriend's family and cult church are there, so that's nice for her. It's relatively cheap, though not as good value as many other, nicer countries in the neighbourhood. They generally speak English good, so I don't got to bother talking foreign. And at least I'd be staying in Davao City, which is completely uninteresting but generally agreed to be one of the less terrible parts for living in. Sort of like getting dengue fever but being spared the skin rash.

Since I've been staying here, the city has only suffered several minor mall bombings, child kidnappings and trifling corruption scandals, and ongoing controversy over restricted press freedom, an insane, warmongering mayor and his approved vigilante death squads. Yet I still hardly see any other foreigners sharing this taste of smoggy, urban paradise except the old men with loose morals. I sometimes see other young white men in (presumably nice and genuine) relationships with their same-age local girlfriends, doing their bit to redress the imbalance and salvage our international reputation. But I've never seen a white woman come to Davao. Well, why would they?

At least it's not Manila.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tolerating intolerance

It's important to be respectful of other cultures when travelling or living abroad. At least, that's the sort of obvious and patronising platitude that normally opens a rant like this to soften the blow and cast the writer in a desperately positive glow from the onset. I'm not racist but... You only have to look at the statistics... You know the sort of thing.

I've been happy enough spending a long period time far away from the bit of ground above sea level I happened to plop out on, and I like to think I'm not bogged down with too many preconceived notions making me UK- or Western-Supremacist apart from a shamefully disproportionate infatuation with British entertainment media that I'll never shake off. I'm not 'proud' to be British or anything, even if I miss some of the birds.

While I have absolutely no interest in watching your subtitled telenovelas or heading to your local cultural centre to watch colour-coded kids perform a traditional dance performance, I'm happy to coexist as we let each other go about our lives and avoid getting up in each other's grills. Until you voice your casual, culturally sanctioned prejudices that violate what my biased upbringing has informed me should be universal human rights, anyway. Then your backwards 'culture' can sod off back to the 16th century where we found you.

In this week's self-righteous opinion piece: how the obviously wrong attitudes of foreigners can put a strain on your relationships.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Another country down (three out of 18,307 islands is more-or-less complete), which means it's time for another unnecessarily thorough itinerary of samey meals.

Looking back on my photos from Indonesia the first time around, I was surprised that I didn't take a single picture or make note of anything I ate that month, with the exception of kopi luwak because when you drink coffee brewed from an expensive bean that's already passed through the digestive system of a small mammal it's worth jotting down.

Food then.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The final Kuta

I avoided Kuta the first time I came to Bali, and I made sure to tell people about that just in case they were under the impression I was the type of person who goes there.

I'm the kind of person who proudly avoids Kuta. The same way I've been to Thailand plenty of times but never sullied the experience by passing through Pattaya. The way I would have avoided Manila, Angeles, Cebu and other horrible cities in the Philippines if flight connections hadn't required it. Those places are for certain types of people that aren't me - we're all better off if I stick to fogey resorts in the more peaceful, boring areas and you can enjoy your pitchers and prostitutes in peace. Or in extremely noisy surroundings, whatever you prefer. Oh, it's the second one.

But now I've crossed that line and conformed, having promised my souvenir-hungry girlfriend a few days at the end of our trip in a place crowded with stalls selling tourist tat so we wouldn't have to think about it the rest of the month. But then the end of the month arrived and it wasn't a fair exchange. Kuta is fucking awful, and even the usual attempt to channel the stress and offence into a sarcastic blog hasn't lifted my spirits. At least I got to head back to my temporary 'home' afterwards. Bloody holidays, what's the point?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The pineapple test

"Sanitary bags. They put these in my room every day. They know I'm a man!"
- Alan Partridge

What makes a holiday resort feel truly friendly and attentive to its guests' needs?

The cheery greetings from owners and staff when you sit down to breakfast each morning?

Their ability to remember both your names, even if it's only 'Mr. David' on the reservation?

Their staff not chasing down and interrogating your girlfriend when she returns to the resort unaccompanied and has to show the room key to prove she is a legitimate guest and not a sneaky local prospector, and deserves the same treatment as all the other international (i.e. white) women they greet with smiles rather than scrutiny?

We stayed at five borderline-budget resorts during our month in Indonesia, which all gave us more than we really deserved for the price to varying degrees, but they didn't leave us with the same impression. The most effective way I learned to distinguish the false smiles from the sincere warmth was the pineapple test.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It don't matter if you're black or white, though as usual white is preferred

Bali's beaches are segregated by a natural apartheid that tends to see black sand discriminated against and left for the dark-skinned locals while stretches of white sand are celebrated, monetised and congested with equally white beach bums (equal in that neither the sand nor the people are actually white, that would just be freaky).

I'm not sure quite why this should be the case - aren't all beaches essentially dirt? I made sure to visit both ends of the monochromatic spectrum during my time here, and on closer inspection, do you know what I found? It's all just basically grey. And that's a bit like people, isn't it? Or maybe aliens.