Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do first impressions count?

Day one in most countries I visit is usually pretty disappointing/frustrating as I'm forced to deal with over-zealous airport security, incompetent bus drivers and sleazy taxi drivers to get to my accommodation, hoping I don't have to share it with pests (bed bugs or English people).

Sometimes I get rained on as well (the fact that you're even reading this anthology blog means the weather here hasn't improved, or I'd have some tedious travel photos to show you instead).

These first days may be quasi-traumatic on occasion, but they're at least useful for setting the bar extremely low so that I'm easily impressed when/if things go right. And sometimes, they give an accurate indication of what I can expect during my time there.

The Philippines
(Sep 2011)

Angeles - city of angels.
And power lines

Arrival at Clark Airport in Angeles City wasn't anywhere near as harrowing as my Indonesia experience, and apart from the weather, everything went according to plan. The shameless greed of taxi drivers still really irritated me, even after all my experience in Egypt and Thailand, but at least the Filipinos have a few original tricks up their sleeve.

This particular driver asked if I had any Singapore money left over, because he'd never seen it before and was curious. I told him I'd unfortunately changed my remaining currency to pesos at the airport. He was disappointed, explaining that a five dollar bill would be a great 'souvenir for [his] wallet.' I was sorry to let him down.

A casually intrusive question about my marital status then took the logical leap of asking if I'd like to sleep with some impoverished prostitutes. I politely declined. I'd much rather read my bumper book of classic mysteries and chillers, thanks. That's why I'm Dave.

Look at what I'm missing!

(Aug 2011)

After arriving in Bali, I decided to take the local bus instead of paying for an expensive lift to my resort, but despite clearly telling the driver, conductor and a couple of other people the name of my middle-of-nowhere destination, they decided to let me out in a completely different middle-of-nowhere destination, about 30 kilometres past my stop.

The name didn't sound similar at all - they just forgot about my stop and allowed me to become someone else's problem.

Unfortunately, there was no one else to shoulder the burden of the lost tourist, as this was the last bus in either direction (which they surely knew?), no taxis ploughed this remote furrow, and the few hotels I found were fully occupied. I slept in a field until it was light enough to walk down the road without dying, and eventually the buses started again.

There are probably a few lessons to learn here, but the main one I took away was not to arrive in new countries too late at night. Not that this had presented a problem in the past.

(July 2011)

Boy, am I glad to see you

Everything about arrival in Singapore was easy and by-the-book. The bus dropped me off on one conveniently signposted, well-paved street, and I followed my hand-drawn map along similar streets to get to my hostel.

Even the Indian guy sleeping above me whose clothes and possessions took up 170% of his and my personal space didn't annoy me too much, though when he made a phone call after midnight every night, this did annoy me a little bit.

This was pretty representative of my time in Singapore - convenient, unexciting and a little sullied by dickheads.

(April 2011)

Another night time arrival by bus, and some confusion over local transport, but I got to my hostel in Penang easily enough.

The only minor crisis came when I accidentally paid the driver the equivalent of £30 for a five-minute bus ride, but he gave back the safely stowed ringgets after I made sufficient protestations of my tired idiocy and continuing failure to grasp exchange rates. You could see the disappointment on his face though.

Malaysia was pretty varied, but my idiocy was a comforting constant.

(March 2011)

Weird, I don't remember much about my time in Cambodia apart from arriving and departing, which seemed to be practically instantaneous. I can only presume my time here was either so good it literally blew my mind or so traumatic my brain won't let me remember.

Or maybe I was just doing a visa run? One of the three.

(Feb 2011)

Another sex tourism paradise I failed to take advantage of.
Damn my morals, hygiene and sexual anxiety

My very first impression of Thailand was how goddamn hot it was going to be here (and over the next eight months and counting, it turns out). I got to my depressingly cheap hostel easily enough, only to find a typically selfish English guy hogging all the fans and making everyone else endure the sweaty heat. I'm pretty sure every subsequent day in Thailand was a lot better, but the English were a recurring problem.

(Dec 2010)

Taipei Main Station, as directed by David Lynch

After feeling unwelcome in the Middle East, and being a little worried about not having a return flight ticket thanks to some scaremonger at Hong Kong airport, Taiwan made me feel ludicrously welcome. They cheerily stamped my passport without asking any questions, gave me a load of maps, and then I travelled to a room that had been painstakingly prepared for me with all the attention to detail of a serial killer. This was a nice country.

(Nov 2010)

The bumpy bus ride from Jerusalem to Cairo was long and arduous, but became amusing and exciting when the terrible quality roads on the Egyptian side of the Taba border made me leap around in my seat, like my starship was being attacked by Romulans or something. There was plenty more ramshackle fun throughout my time in Egypt.

(Oct 2010)

Not my photo. Do you think I'm nuts?

Talk about feeling unwelcome. As soon as I stepped out of the tunnel from my budget flight to Ben Gurion Airport (why do I have to fly such a short distance across the Mediterranean anyway?), I was stopped by the first of three security personnel and had my bags thoroughly searched, presumably because I look like the kind of person who'd be carrying drugs or weapons.

Sample dialogue:

'What, not even a Swiss army knife? Come on!'

'So why are you in Israel? Why are you here???'

'Hello sir, welcome to Tel Aviv.' Oh hang on, I made that one up.

(Oct 2010)

I thought the ferry ride from Italy to Greece would be a pleasant experience, and it wasn't too bad apart from the selfish Greeks hogging all the chairs with their bags and seemingly with nothing, but just not letting me use them. Luckily, I didn't notice any more unpleasant Greeks once I actually got to Corfu - there were far too many dickheads from Manchester getting in the way.

(Sep 2010)

A new start, a new li--
oh, bloody hell

I hadn't left Britain for about seven years before I took this budget flight across the Alps, and I felt very excited to be in a foreign country. I was a little disappointed that the first thing I saw in Venice was Lidl, and that it was raining, but once I got to the welcoming and unusually social hostel, I had a pretty great time.

(Aug 2004)

My first trip to Edinburgh for the 2004 Fringe was one of the defining moments of my pre-University life (which wasn't much of a life), and everything about it was great. Even the part where my money ran out and I could only afford to eat shortbread (any cheap snack would do, but why not eat like the locals don't?) and couldn't afford a room, meaning I had to spend my last night wandering around the city and waiting patiently for a train home at lunchtime the next day.

This probably perfectly symbolises the three years I'd eventually spend living in this city, somehow. But I don't have the same resentment for the Scotch that I do for the Englich, I loved it here.

(May 1998, or something like that)

I went on three school trips to Germany, two of which were bloody tedious and one of which was amazing, because there were only four of us from my school year and we weren't really supposed to be there, so we just spent most of the time eating kebabs and going up and down a nearby hill on a chairlift. These kids today with their Sega Dreamcasts and Nintendo 64s, they don't know they're born.

My first trip to Germany was one of the boring ones though. I can't remember much about Cologne except a modern art sculpture that had water running down the sides, which our immature minds inevitably christened 'the sweaty dick.'

That's right, cheapskate school, don't take us to Berlin to see the world's finest museums and broaden our understanding of German culture and history, take us to Cologne where the only thing worth remembering is a sweaty dick. I'm pretty sure that never even came up on the exams. What a waste of time!

(Sep 1997)

A rare childhood trip outside of the UK, I can accurately date this because I remember going up the Eiffel Tower on my 12th birthday, and it being rubbish.

The only other thing I remember clearly about this budget weekend break (so budget we slept in my dad's car) is doing some diarrhoea in the bushes of a car park and having to clean up using A4 paper I'd just been writing stories on. More symbolism, I suspect. Bon anniversaire!

(Sep 1986)

There are family photos of me spending my first birthday in Tenerife, but as I don't remember it, Spain still has a clean slate. You get off easy this time, Spain - next time you might not be so lucky.

(Sep 1985)

I don't remember this too clearly, but apparently my first experience in this country was having my whole body compressed through a narrow tube before being spanked and having to spend the next few years regaining my ability to walk and master basic speech. No wonder I bear a grudge, I wouldn't go back there if you paid me.

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