Saturday, December 29, 2012

Blasts from the passport


10 August 2010 - 7 December 2012

When I first set off from Scotland with my shiny new passport, I was irritated that I didn't get any stamps in Italy, and then none in Greece either. How was I supposed to show people where I'd been without them? By writing overly detailed blogs with disconcerting regularity forever?

But then I left the Eurozone and my comfort zone behind and those pages quickly started gathering ink, especially in the last six months when I finally got round to visiting the countries I'd been lazily putting off precisely because of their visa requirements, which gobbled up entire pages with relish.

When a Myanmar visa left a single blank page remaining, I knew our time together was growing short. I spent the next month lying low in Thailand and debating whether to make the final trip to Malaysia or Japan, so I'd have a comfortable 90 days to wait for a replacement passport to arrive after sending the lame, old, useless creature back to its home country to be laid to rest. Then I impulse-booked a flight to Sydney instead.

So, as a celebration of those trips we took together - and because I don't have a passport right now, so don't have much else to do - here's a typically thorough gallery of all the passport stamps and visas I accumulated since October 2010. Farewell, dear companion; I shall not look upon thy like again. I plumped for a 48-pager for next time, that ought to see me through the next six months at least.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In-between days

"I can't keep up my full tilt, full power, red hot, maximum pace all the time. I've got to take the odd breather, haven't I?"
- Holly, Red Dwarf

If you have a terrible sense of humour but you've become jaded to the innuendo potential of 'Bangkok,' you might like to head south to the seaside town of Bang Pu to rekindle this childish enthusiasm for an hour or two.

You'll probably be surprised to learn that this unremarkable location is the single place I've spent the most time this year, returning time and again between jaunts in other parts of Asia to spend a week or two each time in a well-equipped aparthotel (I think that's a portmanteaux of 'apartment' and 'hotel,' rather than implying they practice racial segregation).

This was a place I could spend time with my girlfriend, when she wasn't busy with family stuff, catch up on work, blogs and TV downloads, and generally do other things there isn't so much time for when you have to take a cross-country bus trip every three days. As much as I always looked forward to the next trip, it's nice to take some time off from travel agent hassle, Wi-Fi frustrations and other self-imposed annoyances, or I could go crazy. More so.

That's probably why this place has never featured in these blogs, as there isn't much to talk about in these in-between days apart from the odd friendly cat and less friendly dogs, but I found a few things to get up to in the local area when I felt particularly restless. Now I'm back to travelling solo, I doubt I'll stay here again. We'll see. I have a hard time staying in any place for too long, especially when I have the choice of being pretty much anywhere I want to.

Thank you, Bang Pu - your dubious food stalls and semi-reliable internet access helped preserve my sanity during downtime.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I notice you have a similar skin colour to me, let's be friends

Being the odd one out has never bothered me. Maybe my introverted brain didn't develop the circuits that drive people to be accepted as part of a tribe, or maybe those neural connections gave up when it became clear at an early age that I was never going to be the life of the party and should exert more energy watching Thunderbirds and writing stories about speaking wardrobes instead. But living in Asia for two years, I've never felt like I don't belong any more than I did during my insecure teenage years on the island I happened to be born on. So I'm British, so what?

Alright, so being born and bre(a)d in England leaves more of an impact than just genetics, and I frequently exhibit (what I imagine to be) typical British traits when I get uppity about impoliteness or bad table manners. I've also not let go of the values I absorbed while living in that society, which can be a frequent source of frustration as I spend most of my time in Thailand where values are, let's say, different. I've already confessed to being confined to British tastes too, but that's more to do with being busy and settled in my ways. How many new bands did you discover this year compared to when you were skipping lectures at 20?

But that doesn't mean that if I glimpse another British person in a crowded market in a foreign country, our shared heritage will be sufficient motivation for me to go over and strike up a conversation with him. I'm quite particular about my friends, especially when there's already a good chance he's a dick. I'm not saying I'm averse to making non-foreign friends in foreign lands (though I don't do anything to encourage it), but generally the more similar we are, the less interested I am in talking to you. I don't know why the reverse is often true for you.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A childish day out again again again again again again again again again again again

It wouldn't really be a trip to Thailand without seeing some helpless animals forced to perform for my amusement, so after getting off the boat at Sriracha I was delighted to find out they had a Tiger Zoo nearby. Let the animal rights atrocities commence!

Monday, December 17, 2012

I don't want Si Chang the world

I'm a sucker for an unnecessarily time-consuming challenge (examples here, here, here... actually just this blog in general), and when Thailand's wet season started to trickle away and I headed out to visit more islands, setting foot on all of them seemed like a satisfying and doable task. Then I found out there are 1,430 of them and it didn't.

I have all the time in the world, which in practical terms means as much time as a 30-day visa waiver gives me each time I come in and out of this country for the remainder of my mortal lifespan. Forever doesn't seem so long any more, especially when you take into account that I like to broaden my horizons and do different things now and again with this finite span.

All things considered, I've probably only got eleven or twelve Thaislands left in me. I'd better make them good ones. Koh Si Chang was a pretty good one.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Here's what you could have lived...

The Many Worlds Theory has been the basis for some really good and not so great science fiction, and the speculative notion that every possible choice and decision we make in our lives creates a valid alternative reality branching off to different destinations provides comfort to some scientifically minded people in lieu of conventional beliefs in an afterlife. Personally, I don't find anything comforting in the thought that there's an infinite number of dimensions where I'm a pinworm laying eggs inside the anus of a sick child, differentiated only by an infinite number of slightly differently coloured waistcoats I'm wearing, but some people will clutch at anything.

When I had that realistic and depressing dream where I was a slave on a Somalian pirate ship, was I offered an insight into an alternate plane of existence? Where does that leave the dream where I had a detachable ribcage that I stored in the freezer?

I don't dwell too much on what might have been if I'd stayed in the UK and hadn't set off travelling, which is either a sign that my life's going pretty well or just reveals a disappointing lack of imagination. What happened happened and I enjoyed most of it. I always react defensively when someone tells me I'm 'lucky' to be earning a living while travelling all the time, which sounds to me like they think I'm not paying my own way and making the sacrifices involved, but I do realise I'm privileged. I've spent most of the last two years in countries where low salaries, oppressive ideologies or lack of choice mean not everyone can have the same freedom to choose their lifestyle that I've had. I do look up from the laptop now and again to see what's happening around me.

As someone who mostly gets his own way in life, the path I'm on seems to be the one that's right for me, so I don't know if there's much freedom of movement for my inter-dimensional brothers (and sisters, sexist). That's excepting dystopian realities where fascist governments restrict my choices and control my every move. Yes, there may be a universe where that didn't happen. Brilliant satire, Dave.

But there have been a few notable junctions along the way where I could have gone left instead of right, and which could have led to things being very different. For a bit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Fine-tuning the Davebot™

When you're travelling long term, there comes a time when you have to accept that leaving your country behind doesn't also mean you're off the hook from dealing with the basic maintenance requirements of your fragile bone sack, just because you can't get medical care for free out here. For me, that time was two and a bit years, when I took a break from restless night buses and immigration stress and finally got round to dealing with basic health obligations I'd been putting off months or years after their recommended deadlines.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A childish day out again again again again again again again again again again

That's right, I spent my final, precious afternoon in Myanmar laughing at wheezing gibbons in rusty old cages in a dingy zoo that hasn't been noticeably renovated since before the First World War.

I pretend I'm interested in comparing how animals are treated in different parts of the world, but really I just like to discover obscure mammals I've never heard of before and see monkeys having amusing intercourse, so Yangon Zoo satisfied my fairly low requirements.

For anyone who's sick to death of golden stupas by now, this post comes with a stupa-free guarantee. I'm pagodad out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where it all Bagan

Enough of these pristine pagodas with inflated ticket prices, give me a one-week pass and the freedom to wander around a load of dilapidated old ruins to my heart's content, before an impending return flight and the need for something approaching a reliable electricity supply and internet access drives me back to what could be called 'the city' by a loose definition of the term.

Welcome to Bagan! It's very nice, for a day.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mandalay me down to sleep

Look, it's a place you've actually heard of for a change! Though that's probably just because of that unrealistic song about the emancipated elephant. Trust me, Nellie wouldn't make it more than 10 metres down the dirt road before a 1980 Toyota Corona with no headlights smashed into her. That'd give her something to trumpety-trump about. At least wait until daylight to give yourself a fighting chance, you stupid pachyderm.

There were more pristine payas and crumbling colonial constructions to see in the old capital of Mandalay, but its most striking feature is the four-square-kilometre Royal Palace, which I was already debating over buying a ticket for before a soldier told me it was off limits anyway, making the decision a lot easier. Sod it, I went up a big hill instead.