Thursday, September 12, 2013

Deleted scenes: South Korea

I spent ages in South Korea. It's the country where I've felt the most comfortable in Asia, striking the best balance between value, comfort and intriguing weirdness, and there's always more to see - though considering the immigration hurdles we keep tripping over to get my girlfriend a 30-day tourist visa, it probably won't be for a while yet.

I took a lot of photos and wrote a lot of blogs in Korea, but when looking through my folders for unused odds and sods I was surprised at how many there were. Join me on a trip down memory lane as I revisit Korea in my mind, forget immigration hassle and try to ignore how depressing that sounds. Remember when I could just show up at airports and they'd let me in?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thieving Bastards V: Thieving BBC Bastards

I'd always planned to continue this spiteful blog series, as it was oddly fun - in an obsessive, vengeful way - the first time I wasted an entire weekend chronicling every unlicensed theft from my first two years' worth of travel photos, supplemented by the occasional futile email or Facebook comment when it was companies rather than individuals doing it. But the idea of putting myself through all that again was just depressing.

So I was delighted to have the work done for me today as I whiled away the afternoon catching up on comedy shows from the past year and saw my pervy anatomical photo of a baboon's puffed-up arse from Singapore Zoo being used as a non sequitur punchline in the middle of the second episode of Kevin Eldon's madcap sketch show It's Kevin.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The boy who was older than his parents

I don't bother celebrating my birthday. So you didn't die again and have survived to the impressive age of twenty-eight, well done! But there are two reasons today is a shade more significant than the average pointless birthday:

  1. Because I'm now qualified to use the classic '28 years old, I was' pull-back-and-reveal gag after describing an act of childish or delinquent behaviour, and more importantly
  2. Because I'm now older than my father was, to the tune of one day (we're equal on leap years), when the first fruit of his loins [some verb pertaining to fruit]ed into the world.

Not to overlook my mother's contribution to the incident, which was arguably greater, but that landmark passed a few years ago and I've had my crisis about that already. Now I'm older than both my parents were at the time I was born, have I got as much to show for my life without having produced a clone of myself polluted by someone else's rubbish genes?

Those pompous eighties idiots thought they'd accomplished something by bringing life into the world, but had they travelled to 25 countries? NO! That's one reliable achievement I've got in the bank.

Had they... let's think about this now... there must be... yes! - had they completed all 96 routes on Super Mario World, including that second Super Star Road stage that's dead hard? HAD THEY BALLS! Admittedly the Super Nintendo hadn't been invented yet. But I've still made something of my life.

If I'd been born a day later, I'd share the same birthday as my dad. He allegedly asked if my mum could just hang on a bit, but for some reason she preferred not to extend the searing agony of labour by another 16 hours for the sake of a fun family factoid. Some people are just selfish.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Deleted scenes: Year two

Another year's worth of photos, videos and blog self-flagellations that weren't good enough to be uploaded at the time, or just didn't fit in with whatever agenda I was trying to push.

Does not include South Korea, which has enough leftovers for a dedicated post.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Deleted scenes: Year one

It won't have escaped your attention that I'm not a professional photographer. Professionals don't stubbornly and stingily persevere with the same cheap camera long after its LCD display has broken, meaning they're unable to play around with the settings or even see the poorly framed pictures they've taken until they get back to their hotels. I don't owe you fancy pictures.

But sometimes I'm pleased with photos I've taken, as are thieving bastards apparently. Whether it's down to the serendipity of animals striking austere poses, the sunset picking out details in satisfying ways or me managing to pull a face that doesn't look smug, I'll try to find ways to include as many photos as I can that fit whatever agenda I'm going for in the relevant blog post, giving the nicest ones top billing.

For every photo transferred from my camera to my hard drive there are 10 deleted, and not all of these survivors make it to the internet, especially in the early days. When I've dragged old folders down from the proverbial loft to dredge out any unused pictures of Dave in a cave or Dave from a slightly different angle, I kept coming across photos that I forgot I had, which I never shared with the world because I was worried about storage space or irrelevant pictures distracting from the narrative arc of the post. I can take this much too seriously sometimes.

So here's a selection of previously unseen photos, videos and writings from my first year of travelling, after those first few countries I rebelliously tackled without a camera and excluding Thailand and Malaysia too, which were too big and get their own summer specials. It's guaranteed to be entirely free from coherent plotting beyond 'Dave saw some things and aimed his camera at them.' This post could just as well be titled 'Misc 1.'

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Things that don't even look like other things

During my career as a Ghostbuster (Ghostdebunker doesn't have the same nostalgic ring to it), I was regularly disappointed by how easily people would latch onto the flimsiest photographic 'evidence' that seemed to substantiate their belief that our dead ancestors forge dents in metal fireplaces in the background of photos designed to reflect a camera flash from a certain vantage point to vaguely resemble a stretched, out of proportion face, usually missing a couple of key features, but it's the best they could do. Come on, they're dead! Cut them some slack.

Sometimes we might think we see a face in tree bark, an angel in a cloud or Jesus Christ on a dog's arse (that photo sums up the pareidolia phenomenon better than any dissertation could), but what's really happening is the part of our brains that learns to recognise our mothers' faces soon after birth as a self-preservation measure is over-compensating and interpreting random stimuli as familiar objects - faces in particular, or your preferred brand of supernatural icon. It doesn't even have to be very accurate to be perceived as a face, as the seemingly universal recognition of a colon paired with a bracket or other grammatically irrelevant punctuation to express generic emotions attests. N.B. For those who haven't read a couple of Robert Winston books and now think they're bloody psychologists, he means this: :)

This glitch happens more often when the brain is tired or in poor lighting conditions, making late-night paranormal investigation vigils the perfect pareidolia breeding ground. I won't even get into the 'investigators' who deliberately use faulty sound recording equipment because it produces 'better results' than more accurate recorders that don't make a slight breeze passing the microphone sound like Linda Blair violently vomiting green slime in The Exorcist. And don't get me started on 'orb' photos (HOW ARE YOU NOT AWARE OF DUST?)

I'm not on a mission to destroy fun. Pareidolia is at the enjoyable and light-hearted end of the mental illness spectrum and I appreciate it for what it is. I found stories of ghostly apparitions and faces in the floor fascinating when I was a kid, but we're not kids any more - so when you're tired and think a tree looks sort of like a monk, by all means take a photograph, post it to your blog and consider sending it to Richard Wiseman, but don't make more of it than it is and don't insist it looks like a thing when it doesn't even look like a thing.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The inevitable Dave in a cave compilation

It was always going to be a useful bit of blog filler during a less active month, but now I've drawn the line this sadly means I can't go in any more caves ever.

Why not make your own compilation of you doing something that rhymes with your name? Because you have a life or something?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Singapore tale

The final leg of our skewed quadropedal journey across continental South-East Asia before heading back to the Philippines (which is the closest place I have to a home now, though the type of unwelcoming home that only lets you stay 21 days before kicking you out again) was five days in $ingapore. Oh hang on, I accidentally pressed shift and 4 then instead of S, I meant $؋GsaoR. I'm implying they like money.

Another former Asian 'home,' I came to-and-fro a few times and got to know this slightly insane island city-state in the summer of 2011 (it's always summer when you're 85 miles from the equator) and had mostly fond memories. Indeed, after Vietnam traffic, Singapore's tyrannical laws made walking along the pavement a much less death-defying experience, and because the solarphobic population tends to lurk beneath the streets in the air conditioned sewer of shopping malls, I don't even have to share these pavements with anyone else.

Thinking about these subterranean consumer vampires put me in the mood to write another story. I ended up writing a different one based around Singapore's best and worst attractions, which you might recognise if you've been following my 'adventures' for a long time. Drags on a bit, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Dark Museum Off

When I started travelling, I considered museums essential destinations. I'd always had a passing interest in ancient history, so the art museums of Florence, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and the charmingly run-down Egyptian Museum in Cairo took me on a fascinating journey backwards through time.

I didn't visit many museums after that, at least not many mainstream ones, as curiosity led me to develop a taste for something more niche. Over the past 18 months, I've made a hobby of tracking down museums that are sometimes sinister, mostly morbid and definitely dark.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning Vietnamese

It feels like a long time since I've slammed face-first into the language barrier, being spoiled by the ESL Philippines and hanging around exclusively touristy areas of Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand after a couple of months in Australia where they spoke something that sounded kind of like English. I just nodded and didn't take the beer tinnie out of my mouth.

So on arrival in Vietnam, I really wasn't prepared for people not being able to speak my language fluently. Even though I've been to this country before and experienced this firsthand through several confusing, open-ended conversations with the staff on night buses, I just forgot language was an issue. I guess I've got really lazy since getting an English-speaking girlfriend and only learning a few choice Bisaya phrases so we can converse discreetly around foreigners. Those conversations are none of your business.

I brushed up on a couple of essential Vietnamese phrases I found scrawled in my notebook from my previous visit, which I'm doubtless pronouncing wrong as no one understands even when I attempt to say the names of major cities, and I always keep a sweaty page of food vocabulary to hand so we don't accidentally eat non-kosher animals like pigs and prawns or non-sane animals like doggies.

I also learned numbers one to ten using a handy memory aid. That's right, long-time followers - that shiver running down your spine and death rattle escaping your throat can only mean one thing. It's the long-dreaded return of my mental mental images. The system bloody works! Almost certainly for me alone.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Island tale

We had a partly lovely time on Pulau Perhentian Kecil. I went snorkelling and swam in the sea for the first time in ages and magnificently failed to learn from my past experience of this exact island at the same time of the year as the parts of me that are still vampire-white and normally covered by clothes got painfully sunburned.

Thanks to our tiny, reclusive resort, we also got to enjoy/endure trekking across half the island or braving a bumpy water taxi any time we wanted to go anywhere and Jackie got to experience the on/off Wi-Fi annoyance that's plagued me for two years and might have led to a deeper mutual understanding. Now I just have to take her to Cambodia or Vietnam to experience the hassle of taxi drivers and street sellers and she'll never complain about my stress outbursts again.

I could present scattered photos of fond memories tarnished by sarcastic commentary, but instead I'll take the risk of posting a short story vaguely inspired by our tranquil island week, written in pain as I avoided sun, sea and surfaces while waves lapped outside our window, flying foxes tried to scavenge our biscuits and fluorescent fish flitted beneath the brilliant blue. It's a bit bleak.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Highlander IV: Not a Flower

After spending time in Baguio and Sagada recently, I was happy for another chance to enjoy cool air and pine fragrances when our route east from Kuala Lumpur to the Perhentian Islands was rudely interrupted by the Cameron Highlands.

This was one of my favourite stops in Malaysia the first time, and judging by the disproportionate number of Europeans hanging around here, I can only presume my blogs were successful in boosting its tourism profile. Coming back meant I was able to tick off the final outstanding item on the region's conveyor belt package tour itineraries by trekking deep into the forest to find the world's biggest flower that isn't even a flower and isn't the biggest of these even if it was, which it isn't.

Still, nice walk.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pre-lance Planne(u)r

In Fife, in another life

I started this blog in September 2010 as a self-indulgent travel journal, a means to let anyone who cared know what I was getting up to, so I didn't feel obligated to join a social network or something, and as a way to keep myself sane during the more emotionally confusing and stressful times. It's succeeded admirably.

Before this blog, my only means of expressing these feelings, whims and frustrations was in the form of Word documents written for my own benefit and saved to my hard drive. There's also the angst-ridden emails to the few people I feel comfortable talking about deeper feelings with, whether they want to hear it or not. This practice is still alive and well, but as a ruthless minimalist I occasionally go through my old emails and annihilate any that I feel don't serve a practical function, so all that girl trouble is hopefully lost forever (unless Oliver still has a load of incriminating stuff from me).

So, for the sake of historical context, here are extracts from some of those documents written in the months leading up to September 2010, offering an insight into my changing mindset, the reasons I left Scotland and my original travel 'plans,' back when I clearly had no idea what travelling involved. I just read it through and it's probably the most pointless and boring post I've ever done, but as an origin story it's at least better than those Star Wars prequels.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Faking it

One of the numerous annoyances of checking in for international flights, even if you've mastered the efficient organisation of your belongings to ensure your bag hovers just below the maximum weight limit for carry-on luggage so you don't have to pay extra, is having to show evidence of an onward or return flight from your destination.

It's an understandable precaution against visitors overstaying in a country or sneaking in to find work and staying permanently, but for innocent travellers like me who prefer to make things up as they go along, it can really stamp down on your freedom to set a return date and next destination so far in advance. How am I supposed to know where I'll feel like going in three weeks' time? Who am I, Nostradamus?

Alright, so this goes beyond first world problems into whatever ridiculous, responsibility-free realm I currently inhabit, but it's a problem many people share, as I've seen plenty of forum discussions where people are asking for advice. Most people suggest buying the cheapest onward flight you can find and cancelling it later, or just letting it go to waste if that isn't an option and you don't choose to go through with it. Sometimes I've tried to guess when booking these flights in advance and ended up regretting it, as neither the destination nor the airport itself seemed appealing any more when the time came.

That's why I usually follow these simple, stress-free and borderline illegal steps to fabricating a foolproof fake flight.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Great National Park Off

I'm not much of a city person. As much as I loved the steep cobbled hills of Edinburgh, I don't have any interest in shopping, fine dining, nightlife or any of the other criteria cities are usually judged by, and if I had some kind of horrific accident or illness that meant I couldn't travel any more (or had kids or something), I'd favour a quiet rural village or mountain town close to pleasant natural sights. So even if I couldn't use my legs any more, I could at least stare wistfully out of the window and curse my frail body. I know, I'm a dreamer.

I've sought out nature in most countries I've visited, after shaky and uncertain beginnings that saw me miss out the Tuscan countryside completely when travelling down Italy on a self-imposed tight schedule (it looked nice out of the train window at least) and being too scared to head out into the desert plains of Egypt without a minibus.

Here are some of my favourites (so far), which I'll try to contrast with each other despite their fundamental differences, though I'll probably just end up forgetting like I did with the museums.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kep calm and carry on

When I left Australia I thought I'd strolled along my last patronisingly well-maintained mountain trail, but with Kep Mountain squatting right behind my cabin it would have been rude to ignore it. Plus, I'd just spent an evening dealing with the incompetence of HM Revenue & Customs and getting nowhere, so getting scratched to pieces by branches and being found dead on a hillside wasn't an entirely uninviting prospect.

No, seriously, I'm fine. Stop calling.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Freedom used to be my most cherished possession. I'd sooner have gone to prison than have my freedom taken away from me... oh hang on, that's the same net result.

The glimmer of freedom has tarnished since I met someone I like spending my time with, who I had to leave behind for a few weeks due to a combination of visa expiry and a cleansing religious festival that didn't exactly require boyfriends to be around.

Fortunately, I'm an expert at killing time and treading water in South East Asia, and I took the opportunity to visit a few places on my to-do list that Jackie probably wouldn't be that interested in when we started travelling together. Staving off my depression by visiting some of the bleakest tourist attractions in the world helped for a while, but then I accidentally checked in at a tranquil resort where everything was mockingly designed for two and the solitude was rubbed in my face.

As I watched the sun set over the Gulf of Thailand from my balcony with one too many chairs, I comforted myself by visualising the shackles of codependence slowly approaching over the horizon. We'd be together again soon. I'm a traitor to single travellers and the values I've stood for over the last two years, but I have to admit it's nice being able to share experiences and actually have someone to talk to rather than just typing my frustrations. Here's hoping this is my last solo excursion for a long time.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Exorcising the ghost town

Isn't progress annoying? The devastated colonial ruins of Cambodia's Bokor National Park have been a favourite stop on the tourist trail since the country opened its gates in the 1990s to let in the eager hordes of backpackers looking for something edgier than Thailand. These tourists, in typically thoughtless fashion, proceeded to benefit Cambodia's economy significantly, to the point that the country now has the resources to clean up some of the ugly and depressing eyesores from its war-ravaged past and build lucrative casinos and resorts in their place.

How DARE they? If you've ever visited Cambodia, YOU are responsible for this desecration of this arbitrarily defined heritage. I wanted to see the black and burnt ruins of a 1920s hotel jutting tombstonelike out of a serene hill, not a polished building ready for renovation and a new lease of life. When will you people realise that by aiding the economic recovery and development of these countries, you're ultimately only serving to make your travel photos look slightly less poignant and yourself look a little less adventurous as a result? You make me sick.

Before Anonymous chips in, I should point out that not everything I write here is completely sincere. Though I am glad I got the chance to see the Bokor Hill Station and some of the other surviving, grotty buildings around here before they were torn down to make way for the Chinese Las Vegas of Cambodia, even if they don't look so exciting these days.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A harrowing day out

Last time I visited Cambodia I didn't get much beyond the 15th century when retracing its history, with the exception of a small shrine I came across housing jawless skulls and other assorted bones. This time around there was no hiding from the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime, with the country's biggest Killing Fields memorial and execution centres just a short drive from Phnom Penh.

I'd been looking forward to visiting these places, partly out of a sense of obligation to spare a thought for the very unfortunate but also, admittedly, because I wanted to see what lengths they'd gone to in jazzing things up for the sake of tourism. It's impressively plain.

While Seoul's Seodaemun Prison combines wax dummies with Halloween sound effects to help visitors imagine what being water-boarded might have felt like, and Hanoi's Hoa Lo Prison distracted me with its blatant propaganda and covert anti-American sentiments, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields have been left pretty much as they were found by the Vietnamese invaders, albeit with most of the dead stuff tidied away.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Let's actually do Cambodia properly this time and I mean it this time (for a week)

I seem to have an aversion to Cambodia that I don't have for other popular South East Asian destinations, but it's one I've tried to get over by staying for incrementally longer periods each time I buy the $20 visa and head into the kingdom of tuk tuks, amateur con artists and more tuk tuks. The first time I stayed for about 20 minutes, the next time a couple of days and this time more than a week, so it must be growing on me. Actually, I'm not sure why I haven't spent much time here before now.

It might all come down to the bad first impressions I had of the country, which were being scammed a fistful of dollars on a visa run in March 2011 and a few dollars more by a money changer when I went back in November. Although Cambodia isn't quite as bad as Vietnam in that regard, it left some indignant consumer rage in my system that cancelled out any awe I might have felt wandering around the ancient temples, which are spoiled by too many tourists anyway. Those photos from the Angkor Archaeological Park took ages to crop down and are my crowning achievement in precision tourist genocide. Hmm, maybe I should have used a less sensitive term.

Luckily for me, Southern Cambodia was a lot less photogenic and I seemed to spend a lot of the time deliberately taking photos of things that annoyed me. But for all its faults, I'll probably come back some time to stay slightly longer again. I can't say the same about Vietnam.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Tamest dreams

This will be the final instalment in my Tedious Dreams Trilogy, I promise, but I wanted to talk about lucid dreams - something I've been intrigued by for years and actively pursued for a while, before my tragic and embarrassing lack of imagination caused me to grow disillusioned. You'll see why.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rama IX is watching you

The face of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (stage name Rama IX) will be familiar to anyone who's visited Thailand. Whether you stuck rigidly to the tourist trail or headed off the beaten track to explore the cities before realising your mistake and running back to the tourist trail, the patriarch's kind, bespectacled face keeps a constant vigil from billboards, overpasses and even inside homes. That's a bit weird... right?

When I had a Thai girlfriend, I broached the topic of the king's omnipresence and Thailand's dystopian lèse majesté laws, which punish any verbal or written trash talk of the royal family with between three and fifteen years' imprisonment, but she didn't see anything wrong with that. When she recalled incidents she'd heard about Thais and non-Thais being convicted for speaking ill of the king, she seemed to feel real hurt like someone had insulted a close member of her family. That's a bit weird... right?

Of course, this was the culture she'd been brought up in, so it was natural for her to see the king's portrait everywhere without it seeming comparable to looming statues of North Korean tyrants or something. And it might be completely harmless. But as someone who was brought up in a culture that values freedom of expression, where print and broadcast media aren't controlled by the government (sorry, conspiracy theorists) and where a comedian can freely explore the possibility of his queen's vagina being haunted with the blessing of the BBC, I was always slightly suspicious of Thailand's king. His portrait had started to feel like George Orwell's oppressive Big Brother, especially in favourite royal seaside escapes like Hua Hin that need to keep up appearances even more in case they pay a visit.

But now we're not together any more, I don't have to worry about hurting my ex's feelings and I'm finally free (in an emotional if not legal capacity) to dish the dirt on King Bhumibol...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Shit optimistic Khao San Road salesmen expect tourists to say

The Philippines' non-generous 21-day visa and the impending austerity festival of Passover taking Jackie out of action meant I was back to living the bachelor lifestyle for a couple of weeks and trying desperately to find something new to keep me occupied in this well-travelled part of the planet. As ever, that meant a flight connection in Bangkok with a few days of regeneration and hibernation in its irritatingly convenient tourist district.

Bangkok's Khao San Road area deserves all the criticism it gets, but I have to admit it's a bloody convenient place to spend a night or two before booking a bus to anywhere the hell else in Thailand. Walking around these packed streets and getting hassled by suit salesman and taxi drivers every five seconds is surprisingly non-stressful though, and my theory is that it's so annoying, it stretches annoyance beyond its elastic limit until it snaps and becomes funny instead.

Here are the scenarios I imagine these overly optimistic salesmen are imagining in their heads when they make their cold sales pitches to clearly uninterested passersby.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ohhh, THAT Philippines

The typhoons that spoiled my last visit to the Philippines in 2011 did such an efficient job, they even washed away my memories of this country's more horrible aspects, which all came flooding back in the two days I spent in Cebu. (All this weather imagery is just for effect, it was only comfortably cloudy this time).

I specifically chose Cebu as my entry point over Manila and Angeles because I'd been to those other places before and have no desire to ever go back. Unfortunately, it turns out Cebu's basically the same, just on a more compact scale. It may be on a dinky island, but it's no paradise.

Things were even more pronounced as spending nearly two months in Australia meant I'd lost my South East Asia sensory immunity, and walking around the dangerous city streets I was overpowered by the stink of the jeepneys and polluted streams, the trash strewn all over the place, the depressing young girls hanging off the arms of foreign pensioners, the even more depressing beggars rolling around with skateboards for legs and the parodoxical holy imagery decorating dens of sin.

It was also distressing to notice other people's perception of me shifting from generally failing to acknowledge that I even exist in Australia (perfect) to being openly stared at and a target for all sorts of scams and services. Before Cebu, I'd been able to comfort myself that any times I might have been approached by prostitutes in Thailand, there'd been enough ambiguity that I could pretend they were asking about something else. But now I don't have that comfort any more, unless 'fucking' means something else in Cebuano. Why did I leave Australia?

I'm in this country for three weeks, so if this doesn't all become darkly humorous soon I might lose my mind.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Second first impressions

Drawn back to South East Asia by the lower cost of private rooms and paying people to cook all my meals for me (it really is all about that), the obsessive-compulsive, collector part of my brain is annoyed that there aren't many new lands left to visit in these parts, but the realistic part of my brain that occasionally speaks up reminded me that that's not important. It's not like I'm out here collecting passport stamps, this is my actual life.

Travelling extensively in this part of the world has taught me which countries I like and which are to be avoided, and there's always more to see - especially in countries I didn't visit for so long the first time around. Indonesia is an obvious choice, as even though I had some of my worst travel experiences in that country I've only been to two of its islands, but I opted for the Philippines again, which I really didn't see much of in 2011 thanks to arriving at the height of typhoon season. Maybe plans are useful sometimes.

I was so disappointed by the Philippines last time, mostly the fault of the typhoons admittedly, that I passed some time trapped in my rain-battered hotel room recalling my first impressions of all the countries I'd visited up to that point, to see whether my initial experiences coloured my overall opinion of a place. The jury's still out, so I've brought the list up to date with more first impressions of the countries I've visited since.

I checked the weather forecast for Cebu and it looked peachy, so I was optimistic that the Philippines would do better the second time around. I was wrong. But that's probably a good thing, as it turns out people enjoy my blog most when I'm angry, stressed, uncomfortable and generally not enjoying myself for your entertainment. Always glad to be of service.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A nicemare to remember

In January I wrote about some of my most memorable nightmares, trying and probably failing to make them sound suitably creepy. Today, after waking up from a dream with some strangely pleasant parts, I drew on my unconscious memories again to describe some memorable dreams I've had at different times in my life that have left me feeling warm and peaceful, sometimes for several hours after waking before harsh reality and earthly problems intruded.

I may be too work-focused and easily distracted to ever consider meditation or other paths to peace and harmony outside of REM sleep, but it's nice to know I can at least experience these feelings unconsciously from time to time, and if my final experience in life is to have one of these pleasant dreams as I pass away in my sleep, that would be the best way to go.

Hang on... is that comforting or an extremely bleak thing to have just thought about? I'm in a good mood right now, so I won't dwell on it. Here are some of my favourite nicemares.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Well, that about wraps it up for Australia

I'll definitely come back to Australia some time, to do all the obvious tourist things. I wasn't feeling much like a tourist this time, as I was back to travelling alone and a little dismayed by the cost of everything compared to the unfair Asian prices I've been spoiled by the last two and a half years. With Air Asia's absurd fares to travel a quarter of the way around the world, getting here is the cheap part.

Instead, I treated Australia as sanity/sanitary leave between visits to poorer and more corrupt parts of the world, and as the chance to catch up with old friends from my past life in Edinburgh, when I was apparently slightly different (Andie thought so, at least).

These encounters involved a lot more board games than I would have expected, and reminded me of some ace past times I'd largely forgotten. I may have got bored in my last year in Edinburgh after most people moved away, but before that it was frequently fantastic, and I have to remember that. I'll definitely go back there some time too.

Friday, February 22, 2013

This cookie tastes funny

I didn't travel to Nimbin for the drugs. I was content to continue being an extraterrestrial observer of strange human customs in foreign countries and not break my non-interference directive, plus there's that arrogant part of me that likes to confound expectations by not following the crowd and doing the obvious things. Also, I don't know how to roll those funny cigarettes, it looks delicate.

But when I boarded the cramped, sweaty bus of day trippers heading from Byron to Nimbin on a cannabis cruise, an English guy started talking to me and it turned out we were the only ones who were actually staying overnight in Nimbin, and in the same place. His goal was to get as stoned as humanly possible, and it would have been impolite to just abandon him, right?

I didn't actually toke da reefer [this means "smoke any cannabis"], because smoking's pretty horrible, and the couple of times I might have tried it in university it did nothing for me. But when we wandered around Nimbin's single retail street and got harangued by dealers every five metres, I was intrigued by their mention of 'cookies.' Like when one of my flatmates made vodka jelly, the idea of eating myself stupid seemed quite funny.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Circle the square

When I expressed the vague desire to travel up Australia's east coast, Byron Bay was the only place that received universal praise. You've got to go to Byron Bay, Dave. Byron Bay's so laid back, you'd love it there, Dave.

Do these people know anything about my personality?

I did actually like Byron Bay - as usual, when leaving civilisation behind and trampling through subtropical rainforest - but I don't get what I was supposed to find enthralling about the people of Byron Bay, who seemed to be the same self-absorbed, vegetating wasters in perpetual search of chronic drugs that I hadn't been impressed by when I'd met them in other countries.

Even if their lifestyle did appeal to me, why do I have to go somewhere to appreciate it? I understand that for surfing you need waves, but there are plenty of places where I can feel chilled out (yeah alright, not me, but people in general). Being surrounded by twats doesn't make me more inclined to be one.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Massively misleading boundary map

I consider myself a citizen of the Earth, rather than from a section of that globe distinguished by violent history and chance. Living in the UK for 25 years (22 in England, 3 in Scotland) obviously had a lasting influence, but even when travelling to the far reaches of the planet, I don't feel like an outsider who doesn't belong there. Especially in Australia, which is pretty much the same but warmer, more expensive and with more colourful birds.

But I'm happy to disregard all that if it means I can have fun with pointless statistics, and when I got to Australia's easternmost point at Cape Byron I was delighted to realise I was standing in the eastest place I'd been in the world ever, a few weeks after being the southest I'd ever been.

Wait a minute, I see slightly more land down there on the jagged rocks - liars!

I've seen a lot in the last two years of travelling, but it really is the trivial stuff that gets me the most excited. I am a moron.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On the buses

Night buses seemed like the ideal scenario when I started out travelling on a budget - by getting your cross-country journeys out of the way at night time, you could miss out on the boring parts of travel while simultaneously avoiding paying for a night's accommodation, thereby killing two birds with one bus. The perfect crime!

It wasn't until I actually took one and realised it's impossible to sleep when there's no leg room and an inconsiderate DVD player screening realistic rape scenes at inappropriate volume at 1AM that I started to realise the night bus' false economy.

Even after I took on more work and stopped living on such a tight budget, I still fell for the night bus trap occasionally, but with the benefit of experience I made sure each trip was followed by a day with no tourism obligations so I could catch up with afternoon naps. Over time I've got more used to sleeping on buses and can now manage as much as two interrupted hours most of the time. At this rate, I should be capable of falling asleep on any given surface at the drop of a hat when I'm an old man, which fits in well with my retirement plans.

Here's an unreliable breakdown of night buses by country, based on my own experience that's usually with a single firm and may not be representative of countries as a whole. But let's face it, most of them are pretty bad.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Creepy guy at the zoo

I can't say I've ever given too much thought to managing my online profile, beyond making it difficult for people to get in touch with me. So recently I was both horrified and strangely delighted to discover that searching Google Images for 'creepy guy at the zoo' brings up my face in third position, after I noticed I was getting a few search hits for that term.

What's most distressing is that I know this isn't even the creepiest photo of me innocently enjoying myself at a zoo. I think you'll agree, this one is much unintentionally creepier:

Hopefully this post will help to remedy the results, I'd hate searchers to be disappointed. And, being me, I couldn't resist the opportunity to try more dodgy/unusual search terms to find out what else Google thinks of me. These are all my own fault.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Literally the Newcastle of the south

For a different perspective on these events (usually about two metres behind and to the left or right), see Oliver's exclusive behind-the-scenes report.

I can't tell you how Newcastle, New South Wales compares to its near-antipodean namesake because I never actually visited Newcastle upon Tyne. I never lived in North East England and never had any special reason to go there, so I felt no pressing need to make the 104-mile trip from Edinburgh or 185-mile trip from Crewe.

I never visited Newcastle under Lyme either, which was actually quite close to where I grew up. Assuming it to be just another boring market town like everything else around those parts, I never made the 14-mile trip from Crewe.

Come to think of it, I don't think I ever visited Old South Wales either.

However, I can confirm that the Newcastle of Australia is quite nice for a day out - just 10,462 miles from Crewe as the immortal crow that doesn't need to eat or rest flies.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I'm blue, da ba dee, almost died

Oh good, there's only a high risk of this place catching fire. That's put my mind at ease

My final day out from Sydney was almost my final day on this planet, as I inadvisedly tackled a hiking trail rated 'Hard' that did turn out to be a step beyond the usual well-maintained jungle paths I've come to expect around here. There wasn't even a diagonal train to carry me out of the valley floor at the end, talk about roughing it.

Alright, there wasn't any actual mountain climbing involved, and there was a clear trail to follow most of the time so it wasn't as trying as my treks across islands, but the problem came on the return journey when I lost sight of the trail completely and found myself scrambling around the edge of sheer cliffs, trying to work out which boulder to head towards.

Being a bit of an idiot with little concept of his own mortality and unnatural dedication to his blog, I took the opportunity to take some quite nice pictures of the Mount Victoria area, and when I felt the twigs sliding beneath my feet and the branches supporting me started to bend, I made sure to lift my laptop bag to safety before following it. I'd done a couple of hours' work on the train that I hadn't been able to e-mail yet, and there's no way I was going to write all that again.

My compulsive photo taking finally turned out to be useful though, when I was able to compare a certain rock-'n'-tree combo to one I'd photographed near the start of the trip and found my way back to safety, so there are mixed messages here. The only thing that's certain is my enthusiasm for nature walks has been curbed for a while.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kind of Black(heath)

I didn't have much of a plan for my trip to Australia, beyond spending as long in Sydney as it took for my new passport to arrive or to see in the New Year, whichever came sooner. Both of those tasks were complete by January 1st (can you work out which came sooner?), but faced with the prospect of spending the three weeks until my flight slumming it in hostels along the east coast or spending longer in my excellent pad complete with even more excellent dog, there was no contest.

I'd already planned to come back to Australia in a few months time when I was more in the mood for sightseeing (this kind of erratic, planet-destroying flight schedule is typical of me), and for some reason I wasn't even sick of the Sydney area yet. So I settled in for another fortnight of working on the train, walking around more of the Blue Mountains and writing more repetitive national park blogs.

Luckily for you, temperatures reached ridiculous heights during that time and I found it a chore even heading out for the thrice-weekly Pepsi run, so you only have to put up with two more of these. At least there's some mild peril.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Can't get me out of my head


From time to time, I've carelessly thrown around terms like 'autistic,' 'borderline-OCD' and 'insane' when describing this blog and my unnatural dedication to its upkeep, and I'm aware that this could devalue some of those genuine mental issues, so I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise for any offence caused. As I'm probably about to cause a whole lot more.

I've had an up-and-down life like most people. Things have mostly been good since I started travelling, as despite the occasional stress attack and mood swings precipitated by hassle in tourist areas or loneliness, I've been doing what I want, where I want and getting my own way most of the time. I won't say that travelling made me discover myself, I wouldn't do that to you.

But am I too content? When I can happily spend several days of my life hunting down filming locations for an obscure science fiction series or making a comprehensive catalogue of plagiarism, I sometimes wonder if this is healthy behaviour for a 27-year-old. It doesn't seem to be any worse than if I'd just wasted those days playing a video game, as doing anything creative is its own reward for me, but could it point to some underlying psychiatric issues that I've never had diagnosed?

The only way to find out is to take some extremely dubious psychological 'quizzes' from an outdated website and offer a candid insight into various facets of my mental health. Enjoy!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Farscape tour of Sydney

My name is John Crichton, an astronaut. A radiation wave hit and I got shot through a wormhole. Now I'm lost in some distant part of the universe on a ship, a living ship, full of strange alien...

Oh no, wait - that's not my life, that's the Jim Henson Company's prematurely cancelled cult sci-fi drama Farscape. I'm not an astronaut, I'm just an aimless wanderer with too much time on his hands, looking for ways to fill his last few days in Sydney.

Hang on, wasn't Farscape filmed in Sydney? I smell another pointless and frustrating challenge!

Friday, January 25, 2013

A nightmare to remember

People say it's boring to hear about other people's dreams. But people think things like sport and cars are interesting, so I wouldn't trust what people say.

Admittedly, I won't exactly be engrossed if someone's telling me their blandly psychedelic dream about being on holiday with friends when weird shit happens, and I dismiss the trashy dream psychology that can interpret teeth falling out in a myriad of contradictory ways depending on which pocket What Do My Dreams Mean? guide you buy at 70% discount from The Works "book shop." But sometimes dreams can be really interesting, as long as they're well written.

A lot of dreams have obvious or subtle messages to be mulled over the next day, but when it comes to nightmares I've always been more impressed when my unconscious delivers a traditional chilling experience just for the sake of the chill, rather than something to be psychoanalysed that's revealing of my hidden desires. At least I hope not, or else I'm about to tell you everything.

I've just spent an enjoyably macabre evening immersing myself in the kind of horror fiction I like - folky, arcane and subtle - and if that doesn't mean I can look forward to a cracking nightmare tonight, maybe writing about some of the greatest hits of my brain's dark side will seal the deal. Take thou heed and be thou warned, voyagers into the darkness; for herein, foul night ghasts lurk!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kind of grey

The Southern Highlands was my last port of call in the wider Sydney area before my travel card ran out. I'd planned to visit twice to see different parts of the region like I'd done in the Blue Mountains, but a lengthy and convoluted commute in and out of these remote villages meant I only made the trip once, and when I did it was raining.

That wasn't entirely a bad thing though, as at least grey skies and gloomy lighting lend some desperate variety to these outdoorsy blogs and I didn't have to worry about my skin burning again. Actually, due to the inclement weather, high elevation and being ever-so-slightly closer to Antarctica than ever before, this is one of the few places I've been in the past year where it's nostalgically a little too cold to walk around in just a T-shirt. So I decided to wear pants, shorts and shoes as well.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kind of green

I can't drive and I have no intention of learning to drive. I'm not interested in cars or the responsibility of owning and operating one. It's just another one of those quirks you'll have to accept about me, like how I'm not interested in settling down, having a relationship last longer than six months or spoiling my blog with ads to make a few pounds a year.

Still, there are times when having a car would be bloody convenient, especially when my plans for day trips end up lying some way off the train and bus networks. Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and Berowra Valley both looked tempting and conquerable on Google Maps, lying on opposite sides of the rail line and Pacific Highway just to the north-east of Suburbia, but when you show up eagerly at a train station to be greeted by a sign informing you that the Berowra Valley trail begins 10 kilometres in a non-specific direction, you remember the lesson you thought you'd finally learned a long time ago - that Australia is big, and even on a local map nothing is as close as it appears.

But I persevered and managed to get at least an abridged introduction to both national parks, joining the Great North Walk at several intervals within reach of public transport and turning back after a couple of hours before the sun started to set and the 136 bus ceased its limited Sunday service, rather than heroically carrying on and risking spending the night in the open air if I didn't come across a town. If you're under the delusion that I'm some kind of thrill-seeking adventurer and not just someone trying to fill his days with nice visuals to accompany his audiobooks, I don't know what blog you think you've been reading for the last two years.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kind of red

Day two in the Blue Mountains as I continue to tick off the region's most easily accessible, well-travelled tourist trails and leave the more creative bush walking experiences for less lazy people with ambition and cars.

At least I saw some wildlife this time, even if it was only birds, lizards and insects.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kind of blue

I've felt pretty damn content since I arrived in Australia, and walking around the cool rainforest trails of the Blue Mountains National Park was definitely the high point - not only in the literal sense. I always love escaping from the urban sprawl and losing myself in the wilderness, especially when I don't have to actually get lost, can stick rigidly to easily accessible, well maintained trails and get home in time for dinner.

But all peaks must have their troughs (again, I'm not literally talking about terrain, but it is stylistically helpful that my mood changed in direct proportion to my elevation above sea level) and the illusion shattered when I got back to Sydney centre and had to deal with rush hour traffic for the first time since I got here.

It's so much more annoying being able to actually understand the inane banter taking place around me after spending so long in the non-English-speaking world, like a guy loudly narrating every stage of the journey over the phone and some teenagers dissecting a recent episode of Geordie Shore with more reverence and enthusiasm than necessary. I forgot how terrible people can be. Utopia my arse! Australia has the same problems as anywhere.

So the next morning I escaped to the mountains again, returned to the city in the evening and repeated the cycle for the rest of the week, riding the sine wave of stress into the sunset. Wheeeeee!

Friday, January 11, 2013

A bad read

I've been a fan of audiobooks since childhood, when it seems I pestered my parents into buying an assortment of books on tape covering everything from the nativity story to Batman. Maybe it was the parental comfort of being read to, back when I could read the same 30-page book endlessly without it getting boring (as if the Caped Crusader escaping a crushing room of spikes only to find himself tangled in the tentacles of a giant squid could ever get boring), or maybe I just enjoyed being ordered to turn the page when the bell sounded like Pavlov's bookworm.

I even went through a very strange phase (even strange by my standards) of recording books from my collection and my own stories for seemingly no purpose. I never listened back to these, and I don't think there were any commercial prospects for Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park being read slightly too fast by a nine-year-old boy who doesn't understand genetic engineering or chaos theory. Maybe there are, but it's too late now - I taped over them all with Offspring mixes when I was 15, partly because I was too embarrassed to let them survive.

Since I've been travelling, I've relied heavily on audiobooks to entertain me on days out, whether I'm exploring temples and national parks or just getting lost down residential streets trying to remember where that bus stop was. I mostly try to listen to something new, mixing in the odd old favourite alongside podcasts, radio dramas and the occasional Offspring mix for old times' sake.

One common problem I come across is how a lousy narrator can really ruin an otherwise good book. This is the guy or occasional girl who'll be speaking in my ear for anywhere between four and forty hours, and if I don't click with their line delivery, or find their attempts at voicing characters of the opposite sex distracting or plain offensive, it can really hinder my enjoyment.

So here's a list of some of the least successful audiobooks I've come across so far. It's far from thorough, so I hope I'll have more to add in the future. Though I mostly hope I won't.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rockin' the suburbs

I'm not sure how I'm rockin' them exactly, unless 'rockin'' means 'living in and walking around,' in which case I am a bloody rock god. If 'god' means someone who walks around for a few hours at a time trying to photograph elusive birds until he gets tired, a bit bored and sunburnt, so goes back to his comfortable room to watch QI (there must be some obscure religion, surely?)

I stayed in Sydney Suburbia for six weeks in the end, which has been plenty of time to get to know one specific area intimately, on days when I wasn't stubbornly insisting on extracting the maximum value for money from my travel pass by making six-hour round trips to see some slightly different cliffs. This month's blogs may get a little repetitive, sorry. I hope you like green.

Friday, January 4, 2013

What are we doing here?

You get a very different perspective on Australia if you cross the planet in stages and take your sweet time getting here. Flying from London to Sydney with a compulsory stopover in Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur isn't enough to build an anthropogeographical map of the world and its people in your mind that can be utterly demolished when you land in this far-off country, inexplicably run by white people. What the hell are they doing here?

I've visited plenty of fallen colonies in the last couple of years, some of which have only shaken off the European influence relatively recently, but this is the first one I've been to where they stayed for keeps (I haven't discovered America yet). After working my way through East Asia and noticing subtle marks of ancient colonisation and migration - Chinese-hybrid Thais, Malaysia's migratory melting pot, the malleable Buddhist faith - it's very strange to head south and see white people where you'd expect people to be darker than that.

Admittedly, most of them are slightly tanned. And - get this - they only speak bloody English too! Or a close approximation anyway.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A month of Sydneys

I don't normally celebrate New Year, which gets the same attention from me as my birthday, Christmas and Ramadan. Despite spending my last three December 31sts in capital cities where they don't let the arbitrary turning of the Gregorian calendar pass by unnoticed (Edinburgh, Taipei, Seoul), I preferred to spend those pivotal hours like any other: on my computer, avoiding contact with revellers or just being asleep.

But when I ended up spending this New Year in Sydney, and was invited to see in the New Year from the best vantage point in the city and enjoy several hours of drinking in the park, sleeping through the event this time seemed a little disrespectful. And anyway, this might be most easterly (and earliest) New Year I'll ever have, which, combined with the equally redundant time zone system and the end of my month in Sydney, somehow resulted in a night worth celebrating. Happy Early New Year!

Oh yeah, I'm in Australia. Didn't I mention that? I should probably backtrack a little...