On 18th June 2013, faced with the unappealing prospect of boarding flights the next morning that he'd been forced into booking by the Philippines' ungenerous immigration requirements, Dave realised he belonged with his girlfriend in her backwards village where adults stare and children shout at him all the time, paid to extend his visa by a few weeks and sent his empty seats on their way to Sumatra. I hope they're enjoying themselves and keeping out of trouble.
It was an expensive gesture, to be sure - not only in terms of the cost of these three uncancellabe flights, but also in the lost potential of blogs slipping away. There will now be no stressful account of taxi scams in Medan, no poor quality vistas of majestic Lake Toba, no disappointing follow-up to Dave's pathetic drug experimentation when he eats a happy herb pizza in Tuk-Tuk and goes to bed early. Make no mistake; Dave made many sacrifices on the day he finally settled down.
Well, sort of settled.
What the F?
Calm down please, my mother reads this. This isn't an end to my travels, we just wanted something a bit easier when I stay here between trips than the local hotels I've been staying in previously, where Jackie didn't feel so comfortable visiting (considering some of the other 'visitors' I've seen, I can't blame her for not wanting the association). So when the opportunity came up to rent a house in her neighbourhood by the month, it solved our problems. Well, it solved her problems and gave me quite a few extra ones, but what's the difference?
Old estate agent trick: throw in a child to make the place seem bigger
Let me give you the guided tour of my bachelor pad.
Okay, done. It's amazing what a transformation some minimal furnishing can make - it can make a dingy shithole into a slightly more colourful one. There's another room off to the left, but I don't want to disturb the cockroaches, they seem pretty comfortable.
Surprisingly, this might not even be the worst place I've rented in my life, as towards the end of Edinburgh I was paying a friend by the week to use the one sanitary room in an otherwise apocalyptic flat that I cleaned up a few times before getting annoyed at his laziness and just sticking to my own areas. One time I came home from work to find the bath completely caked in dirt, so I cleaned a circular island of white directly beneath the shower head where I could stand for my few remaining weeks. I wonder if it's still there or if he ever got round to finishing the job.
Still, at least there was a shower, rather than just a bucket in an outdoor latrine like I have now. We also had a 24-hour water supply and didn't have to plan washing dishes and cooking around a time-share arrangement with another village. Some of these people have the latest smartphones but can't access water in the afternoon, I don't know if I'll ever get used to this country.
Trouble in paradise?
That's a pretty loose definition of the term. Have you seen this place? It isn't all Boracay.
It isn't perfect that my girlfriend happened to be born in the Philippines, which in case you haven't noticed isn't exactly in my top 20 countries (I've been to 27 countries), but there are things about me that aren't perfect either... theoretically at least. But because I'm not the one with strong family connections and other ties to a homeland, me emigrating here permanently would seem to be the only option if we want to be together long-term. Unless I work hard and spend my fortune emigrating her entire family or something. I'm sure Britain would love that.
When I've thought about settling down before in different countries, it wasn't too long before the doubts became suffocating and I gave in to my instinct to flee. But as much as I enjoy seeing new places, there must be part of me that wants to settle down, or it wouldn't keep coming up. Anyway, I can't expect people to travel with me to foreign lands indefinitely, as appealing as free travel may be in theory. Not when the cost is having to spend your time with me.
To be honest, the ceaseless travel has been getting to me for a while anyway, the 21-day visa period for the Philippines and the need for connecting flights or an expensive visa extension each time rubbing it in even more, and I've been craving the downtime I used to enjoy every so often when spending a month or more in a Taiwanese apartment (Dec 2010), South Korean aparthotel (March 2012) or Australian Haylie's basement (Dec 2012 - Jan 2013), slurping my cup noodles and looking over the same view every day rather than always worrying about booking the next hotel. There's also the risk of becoming an Alan Partridge/Major character when I'm greeted by the same members of staff as I go down to breakfast at 07:00 sharp every morning.
Remember cooking? What was all THAT about?
I love that stuff too (especially not having to do my own bloody cooking), but I've seen my own feelings reflected in Jackie when we travelled together - starting out enthusiastically recording a video tour of our hotel room in Sagada and even taking photos of the bloody MRT tokens on the Kuala Lumpur metro before getting fed up with the people and the food in Vietnam and missing her niece. My life on the road can be stupidly great, as long as I pull over and take a nap every now and again. This nap's just a little longer and may turn into a full-fledged coma if I really like it and settle here permanently.
Not in this house though. I'm not that much of a masochist. I feel I should reiterate that this hovel is a temporary measure for reasons of practicality, I'm still earning fine thank you, and that if I do choose to live here permanently in the future I'd invest in a significantly better property in a nicer neighbourhood.
I should also note that 'permanently' means something like six months or so, because who can plan further ahead than that? I'm not Nostradamus. The Philippines will eventually kick me out after 16 consecutive months of visa extensions, after which time I can just fly back in to start the whole process again. But I can guarantee I won't make it to the end of this year without running away somewhere for sanity leave anyway.
What about my blog, F-er?
Don't worry, this isn't going to turn entirely into a racist, Philippines-baiting blog (only about 75% of the time), as we're planning a domestic trip next month and we might go to a nice part of Indonesia like Lombok a month or two after that, but if I do feel like calling it a day, the third anniversary in September would be a convenient time to slow down from compulsive twice-weekly updates to updating only when something of interest happens to me. You know, like a normal blog. There are a few things I've got to get off my chest first before I leave you to it.
Wrapping this up might also show some sort of progress, or I could just end up making the same mistakes over and over in different parts of the world and be back on the road in time for Christmas. It would be tough to let this thing go, my blog has been my only constant companion over the last three years (if you don't count my birth certificate, USB sticks and some socks I never wear - those have had a right old adventure!) but I prefer clean breaks in life. If only those ex-girlfriends and flatmates would pay me back more quickly so I can compartmentalise more efficiently.
Literally everything I'm carrying now, now
More than sacrificing my freedom to travel and accepting a drop in the standard of living from three-star hotel to barrio barracks, the biggest mental obstacle I had to overcome before agreeing to rent this unfurnished residence was the prospect of having to kit it out with a load of objects that would then become my responsibility.
I moved out of the family home when I was 19, then moved again after university, so I've done this before. I've just got used to travelling with nothing heavier in the world than a laptop or 900-page book - how am I supposed to trek through jungles and climb volcanoes weighed down by a rice cooker and clattering cutlery? I wouldn't actually attempt that, obviously. I'm not mad. It was just to illustrate the exaggerated burden I felt as we patrolled the kitchen store and added another bare essential utensil to our basket, when I should have been getting excited about playing house.
In the interests of transparency and autism, here are the burdensome objects you can add to my earlier inventory (doesn't count disposable things like food and cleaning products). Fortunately, it seems Jackie or her family will be happy to accept most of them if and when I move out, so I won't have to feel too guilty about adding to the world's stuff:
- Air bed (+ air pillows + pump)
- Box fan
- Electric hob
- Rice cooker (doubles up as a regular cooking pot)
- Frying pan
- Chopping board
- Forks x2
- Spoons x2
- Knife x1
- Plates x2
- Bowl x1
- Cups x2
- Towel (happy now, Douglas?)
Are you happy?
Could be better, could be worse. Things feel simultaneously simpler and more complicated now, but at least I'm saving money. Until the electricity bill comes next month and I realise my over-reliance on the fan costs more than a luxury hotel would.
Let's see how long this lasts. At least I can't now be accused of only skimming the surface of countries and not living like the locals do. But if this self-imposed low quality of life does make me crazy, I can be in Singapore by early afternoon.
Update: I lasted a month!