Wednesday, December 31, 2014
It's the end of another arbitrary year, as if you hadn't noticed, and an opportunity for pathetic blogs to beg for desperate clicks by publishing banal end-of-year lists of some things they are aware were broadly popular within the previous 12 months, without risking revealing too much about their individual taste and putting off the clickers with obscure choices.
This isn't one of those blogs. I'm not interested in your clicks or your opinions, and I don't much care whether something's new as long as it's new to me. I barely bothered to keep up with what the kids were into even when I was one, and now that I live in exile under the tyranny of an 800MB daily download limit, my entertainment options of late have been limited. It's been the year of the low-bandwidth BBC Radio 4 iPlayer and occasionally being spoiled by the fuzzy textures and barely legible text of 240p YouTube videos when my standard 144p isn't available.
So here's a list of things I can remember happening to like in 2014, which invariably weren't made this year. I did enjoy some things made this year too - some of them quite a lot - but what chance does a single year have to stand out among all those multiple decades that preceded it (depending on the medium)?
I was going to do this last year, but abandoned it because it seemed a bit like a pointless waste of time. You can judge whether that means I've grown or shrunk as a person over the past year. You can also let me know your anachronistic picks if you like, I do care a bit.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
It's the festive season! Which means it's that time of year when a hiatus from work is forced upon me and I have to desperately seek ways to fill that void with even more tedious projects than the ones I'm financially compensated for and drive myself insane. Two years after I scoured the backwaters of the internet to find my plundered photos being used for nefarious purposes without my consent or credit given, I finally put myself through this again.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
In what may seem like an unlikely development for harsh realists, I took my Korean debtor to court over the money she "borrowed" three years ago, and despite my case resting entirely on an incomplete record of bank statements and apologetic emails, I actually won.
It's not really a cause for celebration, yet, as crucially I still haven't had a single ₩ of my money back and the legal costs aren't over. Thanks to
Not really. I'd rather have all money back, to be honest. I want to buy a house.
But it is still satisfying and comforting to be validated as right and deserving of full financial retribution (plus legal costs and some generous, mandatory interest I wasn't expecting) in the impartial eyes of foreign law, rather than being laughed out of the courtroom. I didn't even have to go to the courtroom, as my friendly Korean lawyer did all that for me. She's already getting her 8%, but what's the etiquette on tips?
Suwon District Court might be somewhere in this picture? Didn't go.
South Korea was already my favourite country in Asia (that one bad apple and several drunk English teachers aside), and this has only further affirmed my admiration for the place. It certainly scores above Thailand, where I've been told that making a case against my other major debtor would require physical appearances and plenty of spurious fees for the shady lawyers. Maybe next time I'm in town.
The lesson is: if you're going to help out someone of dubious moral fibre when they spin fables of woe and promise to pay you back within an unrealistic time window, at least do that in a developed country with a reputable judicial system and whose chief export isn't human traffic. Yes, that's definitely the lesson I should take away from all of this.
Today's irrelevant soundtrack: Metallica, '...And Justice for All'
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
A week after I learned I was apparently born in Ireland, and expressed regret at my laziness for never having bothered to visit that country in all the years I lived next door (at least the way I look at the world now), I was offered a chance out of the blue to enjoy an all-expenses-paid holiday to Dublin by the good people at Hostelworld.com:
As you are one of our top customers, I’d like to invite you to participate in our 2015 Hostel Conference in Dublin, Ireland in January.
We’d love you to join us as part of a group of our best customers to participate in a panel discussion with hostel owners.
We will pay for your airfare and accommodation in Dublin, as well as provide your meals at the conference itself.
Ideally, we would fly you into Dublin on Saturday, January 24 or Sunday, January 25 and fly you back home on the evening of Tuesday, January 27.
Your input into our conference would be much appreciated --- is this something you would consider doing?
All I had to do to qualify for this generous offer was to book practically every place I've stayed over the last four-and-a-bit years through the same hostel website, for reasons of familiarity and laziness, and to diligently review all 122 of them, because it's nice to have a good moan. There should actually be a lot more than that - it looks like the ones from January 2011 and earlier have been eroded by the time winds.
As my home country is listed as 'England' on their website (I thought I was Irish? I'm so confused), I assumed their already generous offer wouldn't stretch to the 23,798-kilometre round trip from the Philippines (we'll probably be elsewhere in Asia in January, but not much closer), so I gratefully declined. Which is a shame, as I would have enjoyed the opportunity to deliver my arrogant critiques of Wi-Fi and backhanded compliments about staff to the owners in person, rather than just reading their aggressive replies online.
Why did they want me? Maybe they heard the news that I'm Irish and figured they could save on the transport if I was already in the area. I'm still flattered though - I'd probably get nice offers like this all the time if I'd ever made the effort to network or was generally friendly online, but then I'd be a sell-out to the People Who Hate People cause.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Picking up my intriguingly sci-fi-sounding Alien Certificate of Registration card from Immigration after the understandable four-week waiting period involved in printing a cheap bit of plastic (not that cheap, but we all know this worthless card is just a physical excuse to squeeze another few thousand extra pesos out of extraterrestrial visitors) I was shocked and delighted to discover that my entire background and heritage has been a lie.
Can you see what they've done?
Can you see what they've done?
Thursday, September 18, 2014
This blog should really have wrapped up this time last year, when I was burnt out from country hopping and already a few months into my vegetative domestic incarnation. But this place still serves a couple of useful functions, like letting the few of you who care know that I'm not dead (as of the last September 18th anyway) and a place for me to be casually racist against my host country when it gets on my nerves.
Less than a week ago, I'd prepared the annual summing up of my static life that customarily posed more questions than it answered and looked forward to another year of not knowing what I was doing with a life that was no longer my own. That was enough incentive to push me to discuss the finer points of our mutual situation step-by-step with my partner and to arrive at the most practical solutions that minimised unnecessary annoyances and successfully drained all the romance out of our continuing lives together. See, I told you this stupid blog was useful.
This time last year, I wasn't entirely convinced (or even partly convinced) that settling long term in the Philippines was a good idea. With the unwelcoming stares and cat-calls I have to deal with every time I walk down the street, the worst Wi-Fi in Southeast Asia, a worsening energy crisis, increasing terrorism in my backyard and the general dismay that you'll get from living in a corrupt idiocracy, it still isn't the most appealing tax haven in the world. Even in this small section of the world. Thailand has its problems too, but at least you don't get frisked and searched every time you bring your valued custom to a shop.
But this is where my girlfriend's life is, which isn't as fickle and freelance as my own, and now we've finally agreed (after a few failed attempts) that she doesn't need to be a slave to the whims of prejudiced immigration laws just for the chance of being treated fairly like the other humans, we're free to take control of our own lives and deal with the inevitable shit that comes with it. If we want to visit the UK and see snow, we'll deal with the mounds of paperwork required and go on holiday. Compared to the exorbitant costs, admin and uncertainty of moving back to the UK in the company of a filthy foreigner for a year or two, it's just less hassle to live in the Philippines.
Did I actually type that?
Friday, September 12, 2014
Recycled image may be irrelevant and solely for shock value
I really try to be a good boy. I'm always punctual with my rent and always send my work on time (except that time I forgot about those solar panel pages in 2012, Oliver. Sorry again), and despite living in a country that puts a lot of collective effort into trying to tempt me past moral and legal thresholds, I've never been tempted to take the enthusiastic locals up on their offers. Mainly because I find that whole prospect extremely untempting.
So it wasn't laziness or a deliberate affront to The Man that I let my 30-day visa waiver pass into oblivion on Monday, and spent the next couple of 'free' days off work nonchalantly writing silly stories and shopping for an oven and second hand books rather than getting the hell down to the immigration office and pleading not to be thrown into a prison that would undo all the hard work I've put in to letting these anal fissures heal, or else get deported away from my partner who isn't allowed to follow me thanks to racism.
No, I was blissfully, moronically clueless about my illegal immigrant status, having mistakenly thought (for whatever reason) that my regular foreigner penalty wasn't due for another month and only noticing I was already two days overdue when I was digging in my bag for something else and thought I might as well double check in my passport what date it was in October that I half-remembered my next visa extension being due. It was something like the 8th, wasn't it...?
Ah. I see. September, is it? Righty-ho then. I'm so screwed.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
When I graduated with a creative writing degree seven years ago, I had to make the decision whether I was going to follow my calling and walk in the footsteps of all the people I admired by living the frustrating life of the struggling artist, or sell out to The Man and use my 'skill' of being able to rewrite the same page 50 times in slightly different ways to convince you to book overpriced flights.
If I was bolder, less concerned with financial security and had more interest in writing things people would actually be interested in reading, I could be writing this from a grotty squat above a cafe that reluctantly tolerated my open mic short stories once a Thursday in exchange for helping out in the kitchen. Instead, I'm writing this on a terrible Wi-Fi connection in an inexpensive condo in the Philippines surrounded by a cultural desert but with plenty of money in the bank. I'm not confident I made the right decision.
I've been writing corporate propaganda for a living for five years now, and it's safe to say it's completely sapped my creative spirit. Since I stopped travelling and settled down a bit, I've been taking on so much work that even when I've had an idea bubbling away, I haven't had the hours free to write it. Today was my first free day in weeks, so when no urgent work requests had showed up in my inbox by lunchtime, I eagerly bashed out my latest abomination. It felt great.
This is the sort of story I would normally spend a few days meticulously planning, with diagrams following through on every small detail (like I did for this one). Since I don't have the time to perfect it and become too disillusioned to bother writing it any more (that happens most of the time), here's the raw creative explosion, complete with overlong sentences, needlessly confusing diversions and inevitable plot holes. It doesn't much matter whether you like it, I had a good time.
If I don't have any work tomorrow either, I might even venture out of the flat and do something. Wouldn't that be a novelty!
Monday, September 1, 2014
More of my least uninteresting (but still mostly uninteresting) dreams, since the last time I did this. Once again, I indiscriminately typed up my somnambulist notepad scrawls (what I could decipher of them) until I hit an arbitrary 20. Then I actually read it, deleted half of it, slept more sleeps and repeated the process several times until I reached a slightly less inane (but no less insane) 20.
I don't imagine anyone is actually interested in these, I'm only publishing them online since my computers like to break every year and this is a safer place to keep things. Featuring cannibalism, xenophobia, existential angst, prophetic visions and an astonishing lack of sex (I told you I made edits).
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Getting myself published in proper, non-internet book form was one of my vague ambitions when I was younger, before I met people who were actually active in pursuit of that ambition, expending considerable time, effort and life force to get their work noticed in the fickle maelstrom, and I realised I didn't have the necessary determination.
But now it might be happening accidentally, as I got an email from a professor in Brazil requesting the use of one of my photos of Jeju Island for a book she's writing about coasts for a proper publisher. And by 'request,' I mean she bothered going through the proper legal channels and getting my signed permission to reproduce something anyone could just steal from the internet (or rather, the slightly better quality version on my hard drive).
I didn't expect it would be my photography 'skills' that would be my path to secluded footnote immortality, but as the saying goes, if you obsessively document your activities for four years and throw enough shit jpgs at Picasa, some of it will stick.
This is how you're supposed to do it, bastards.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
I keep having to re-learn the lesson that comfortable living requires spending at least a little of the money I'm defensively hoarding. It goes against my instincts, since saving money is supposed to be one of the few silver linings I get from living in this place. You've already taken the libraries and basic human courtesy, don't take the savings away from me too.
It is possible to a rent a small 'house' in Davao City for the equivalent of £22.73 per month (1,700 pesos). I know, I did it. But that arousing price tag required making so many sacrifices to comfort and hygiene that it was hardly 'living' at all, at least through the spoiled perspective of my first world upbringing, all la-de-da with indoor toilets and a reliable water supply.
Compared to that, the studio apartment we moved on to seemed like Wayne Manor. It was just the one room and right next to an inappropriately noisy car repair yard, but it was at least close to a supermarket and the water came out of the tap about 70% of the time, so for £160.50 (12,000 pesos, including bills) I was sold. But then the bugs came, and the rat/s, and the afternoon-long power cuts, and I could no longer shelter myself from the hardships of this country by spending 99% of my existence indoors. The Philippines had got in.
When we escaped to Thailand for a month and visited friends in their properly nice condominium in Koh Samui, I couldn't face going back to the bugs.
Monday, July 14, 2014
My partner understandably gets a bit annoyed when I discuss personal things about her life in this blog, even when those things directly affect and entangle with my life. So I'll respect her wishes and not discuss the reason behind our annual trip to Singapore.
At least I got to enjoy my annual almond drink before we left, nyum nyum nyum!
Thursday, July 10, 2014
I don't normally bother offering tips or advice unless it benefits me in some way, like if I'm trying to work out what I think about an issue or just letting off steam about taxi drivers. Seriously, what a load of knobs.
Still, coming up with the following list and then needlessly alphabetising it helped to fill some of the dead time when being driven across Thailand in a cramped minibus, trying to ignore the stranger's head intermittently perching on my rigid shoulder and the topless man in the row in front complaining about the country to his local girlfriend to an excessive degree that made my own rants look like tourist board propaganda by comparison ('Why do they need so many f-ing drains?' 'Because of flooding.' 'But a hundred on one f-ing street?' 'Yes, there are typhoons and flooding.' 'Well, still.')
If you think you would be perfectly content passing the time talking to the people you like, playing with your phone or just sleeping, this list isn't for you. This is just for freaks.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Krabi Town was our unceremonious final port of call in Thailand, for the singular reason that the airport was the closest one I could find to Koh Samui operating cheap flights to Singapore, so we stayed a few nights beforehand. There was no question of us waking up late and missing our flight, thanks to the helpful public service of vans driving around residential streets blaring unintelligible adverts directly into every building from the early hours of the morning.
I know they won't be unintelligible to locals - though with the muffled distortion of a loudspeaker system pushed to its limits I'm not so sure - but wouldn't that be even worse? Is it more annoying having to endure someone's obnoxious phone conversation on a bus if you're able to understand the depth of its inanity, or if it's a load of foreign sounds making you ill-disposed towards an entire nation? (Or several if you're not sure where they're from).
Like honour and constructive criticism, noise pollution is a foreign concept in Thailand, one you'd have to be foreign (this means Caucasian, obviously) to make a noise about. It's hardly a therapeutic break from my regular life of exile in the Philippines, which is similarly selfishly cacophonous. I haven't done an unscientific comparison between the two countries based on my limited and disproportionate experiences, but it's the sort of thing I would do, isn't it? Go on then.
Friday, July 4, 2014
I said we didn't do anything touristy during our stay in Koh Samui, hence the intentionally boring last post.
But I had some unfinished business from my first visit to this place in 2011, and since my desire to force myself out of the resort to do literally something during my fortnight on the island chimed with Oliver's desire to do something during his significantly longer stay, tracking down a rock supposedly shaped like lady parts was as good a flimsy motivation as any.
I'll take what I can get.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
After a few days of self-imposed sightseeing in Phuket, we travelled to Koh Samui with the aim of spending a couple of weeks not doing very much, since I'd already done the mandatory day trips the first time round.
The plan was basically to transfer my regular, pleasantly boring life from a dull subdivision in the urban Philippines to a more scenic beachside resort on a Thai island, even if it was the most developed and tourist-sullied Thaisland north of Phuket. But if it had been a lesser-visited, undeveloped outpost I would have just complained about intermittent electricity and bad Wi-Fi wouldn't I? Paradise isn't worth it.
It wasn't exactly business as usual though, as Oliver and Shana staying on the island meant I actually had some social interaction with people older than five for a change. I also did my best to destroy any chance of serenity by finally taking legal action against the people who owe me a lot of money, which involved spending a lot more money and running around looking for an internet cafe with a scanner and a little less time reading at the beach and splashing in the sea.
Some people go on holiday to leave the stresses of life behind. I negotiate legal contracts.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
I love a good zoo, but as this is Thailand I'll settle for a crappy one with depressingly cramped cages and inhumane shows in which malnourished animals are forced to perform inappropriate feats for the amusement of braying crowds.
I've unintentionally patronised my share of animal rights atrocities in this country, such as guys beating the crap out of crocodiles, elephants forced to fight and play football (those were the same place, that's good value) and tigers jumping through rings of fire, but this time was different. These parrots weren't having any of it, and watching their flustered handlers struggle to fill the dead air as the stars refused to open compartments, overturn bowls and pick numbers off a board was like being in an amusingly awkward scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm. The animals were fighting back in the most effective way they could without subsequently being destroyed - by making their handlers look like complete knobs.
If only they were chickens, I could make a quality pun about them staging a coup/coop that would also bag me a few extra searches by people looking for a slightly out of date Thailand keyword, but unfortunately they had to be beautiful macaws instead. Even more regrettably, they started doing what they were told after a while, presumably following a few 'stern discussions' backstage. Those bruised wings will heal in no time.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Since I missed Phuket off my enthusiastic criss-crossing of Thailand the first time around in 2011, I was keen to try to recapture that youthful, cynical optimism before the rest of Southeast Asia suffocated the optimism part with its repetitive temples, endless stuffy weather and ubiquitous taxi driver scum.
You can already tell it didn't exactly work, but it was fun to climb aboard the lazy tourist conveyor belt for another round. Here's everything there is to see in Phuket, or more accurately, the itinerary in the leaflet that looked slightly better than the others that were basically the same because it swapped inhumane elephant riding for an only slightly inhumane bird show (coming next time). Now I don't ever need to go back to Phuket.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
While it might have been more entertaining to read about me getting hassled by transsexual prostitutes every time I left my hotel, I selfishly avoided Phuket's party capital Patong to stay in its quieter neighbour Karon, and my week was the better for it. I'm not as dedicated to your amusement at the expense of my happiness as I used to be.
I also didn't go parasailing or whatever that is in the photo, but it looks fun, doesn't it? "Wheee!" etc. Here are some tame holiday snaps.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
When foreign dignitaries who drew the short straw and ended up stationed in North Korea are given 'sanity leave' every few months to calm down in a less mental country, they wouldn't ship them to Somalia would they? So I probably should have chosen somewhere other than Thailand for my eagerly-anticipated escape from the ongoing nightmare of Southeast Asia's armpit.
My first experiences after landing in Phuket were the unhappy ending to a typically stressful day spent transiting in Manila, my least favourite city east of Cairo. But the next day things brightened up and this island didn't turn out to be anywhere near as awful as I'd always assumed it was going to be, having deliberately avoided its lure on every previous trip to Thailand before buckling under an attractive promo flight that would take me to roughly the area I wanted to be.
While the Philippines keeps providing new examples of why it would be a bad place to settle down and hope in vain for a stress-free life, Phuket has reminded me why Thailand is such an appealing option for expats, even the ones who aren't bitterly divorced senior citizens with loose morals. Thailand wins the contest by a long way, though it does help that I'm 500 miles away from Bangkok right now or it could be a closer call.
Monday, June 2, 2014
I've been to something like 23 zoos, aquariums and assorted animal sanctuaries as a childless adult (~20 of them featuring in this blog). There's nothing wrong with that, though I've always been a bit self-conscious about it, especially when Google started recommending my website to people searching for 'creepy guy at the zoo'.
After an unprecedented couple of months with a regular weekly workload I recently had my first completely free weekend in a while, and was able to draft in my sort-of-niece-and-nephew as the perfect camouflage for my shameful desire to see remarkable creatures in inhumane cages. The other adults would just assume I'd been coerced into spending my day watching orangutans climb the walls and hanging heavy snakes around my neck as we shared defeated shrugs that suggested we'd all rather be down at the mall, catching the game or whatever else normal adults are supposed to enjoy, the losers.
We all had a nice day out, if slightly stressful at times, and it provided more useful training and education for my theoretical parenthood in the future. Based on today's insightful module, kids are really not that badly behaved as long as they don't have to wait for food to be served in a busy restaurant and aren't obligated to get the majority of said food into their mouths when they scoop it up. So if I have kids, I probably just won't feed them. The signs said we're not supposed to feed the animals anyway! Look, I'm already doing dad jokes, I'll be fine.
Friday, May 30, 2014
I posed this question three years ago, when I was still flighty enough in my destinations and relationships that it seemed a comfortably far off prospect. It wasn't something I planned to deal with for a long time, it was mainly a random topic to keep my blog going between more interesting countries since I wasn't doing much in Singapore apart from browsing library shelves and food court windows.
These days it's less hypothetical, and while still comfortably in the future, the window is narrowing since my child-adoring girlfriend essentially set the deadline of her 30th birthday as her final chance to become a mother, as that's apparently the moment when the female body becomes a shrivelled, desolate husk and the ones who didn't make the time for children amid their various other life commitments are resigned to live out their pointless lives in a shack surrounded by stray cats that pretend to comfort them, but are really just biding their time until the old crone's too weak to fight off their hungry advances any more. That's the gist I got from what she said, anyway. She's nearly 27.
Having kids (or at least a kid) is important to her, especially as her nieces are growing at an upsetting rate and will achieve teenager proportions any decade now, so unless any of her other brothers and sisters decide they want to add to the family's perpetual financial crisis with a litter of their own to satisfy her gigil, she'll have to produce one herself. And apparently, that somehow involves me.
Monday, May 26, 2014
One of my benchmarks for judging how well my life is going at various points is whether my daily life is more interesting and colourful than my dreams are. Dreams certainly won the battle during my unadventurous school years; life scored occasional victories as I discovered adulthood; and when I was travelling a lot and stimulated by pleasant islands and weird racism, consciousness took the biscuit.
It's probably no surprise that since I slowed down and semi-settled in Davao, my waking hours (I said waking) spent churning out repetitive copy, chasing down pests and fixing everybody's financial woes for about a fortnight have been usurped by my slightly more interesting dreams. Only slightly though, as you'd be right in suspecting if you made it through any of my tedious dream journals written last year when I wasn't doing very much either.
Because I'm not doing anything worth writing about when I'm awake, here's yet another collection - more chaotic, unthemed and with mercifully brief plot synopses this time - of various dreams I've had over the last couple of months, and been able to recall and hastily note down in my bedside notepad or desktop Things.txt notepad upon waking.
I haven't looked back on any of these since I wrote them, haven't added details to make them artificially entertaining, and some of the ones written in the dark with closed eyes and a sleepy hand were basically illegible, but I strove for accuracy as you never know when this might come in useful for future psychiatry.
Monday, May 5, 2014
Complaining and curmudgeonly might be my default state, but it's not like I enjoy getting into these stressful situations where I need to exercise that typically British form of release to get through my day.
If I do end up living in the Philippines for the long term, I might eventually become so beaten down that I don't have the energy or willpower to speak out any more and just let the corrupt government, incompetent monopolies and ignorant bystanders stomp my deeply-lined face into the dirt. Or this blog could end up being the longest, most tedious suicide note in history.
Or I could just run away, which is what I'm doing next month. For a little while at least, before I willfully fly back into the inferno again. I'm not philanthropic enough to do everything I can for the people I love, but I'm also not selfish enough to be a true hedonist and just do what's good for me. You know things have got pretty crazy when Thailand is your sanity leave.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Why didn't I pay attention to Ebeneezer Scrooge? I have the stinginess down pat, but then I go and spoil it all by doing something stupid like helping someone out, rather than looking out for my own interests and letting them take care of theirs. I don't think Dickens intended for his festive fable to be interpreted in reverse, but that's what my bad decisions have taught me.
I used to think it was incredibly selfish of people to refuse to lend money to people in need when they clearly had some in the bank, gathering dust and trifling interest, and always offered to help people out with the odd hundred, even when the odds of getting it back were usually around 50%. It was worth the frustration and feeling of being let down by one person when I could have my trust justified in another, as money arrived back in my bank account two years later with a note apologising for the delay. Maybe it was a form of gambling, but one where the maximum possible jackpot is getting to keep the money you started with plus the feeling of having done some good. That's nice, but it won't buy a house.
Then I started travelling and earning more money than previously, and I failed to upgrade my policy to distinguish between large and small 'loans,' worthwhile or trivial causes and trustworthy or unsavoury characters. It's my own fault for getting into this mess - so I'll save you the effort of going straight to the comments to share that harsh reality with me, thanks - but I trusted these people to live up to their end of the unambiguous agreement too. When the agreed repayment dates arrived though, I received nothing but excuses. Usually not even that, as getting a response to my pestering emails was a long and arduous task due to a lack of internet access on their end that conveniently ended on the day I finally reached my limit and threatened legal action.
It was no idle threat, as I have a Korean lawyer on standby ready to embark on a £2,500 lawsuit, but then my threat elicited a request to stall for time before the debt would definitely be repaid this time for certain, and I relented because that unlikely story being true would be the most positive outcome. I guess I hadn't reached my limit after all. Nor had I on the other occasions every few months since then when the new deadline has expired, legal action has been threatened again and she's asked for a few more months before our absolute, final, real, last deal this time.
Now it's the end of April, and our most recently agreed 'last deal' from the last extension in January, and I'm ready to fire off the traditional email reminding of my international bank details and enquiring when I can expect to receive my first £1,000 repayment as agreed. I wonder what will happen this time? Will she finally repay my foolish kindness or will I finally have to put even more money where my mouth is?
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Oliver is a bit busy and lazy to bother writing his own travel blogs these days, so since I'm lacking inspiration in my own boring life and seeking any escape from boring work writing, I wanted to help him out. He provided the requested photos without even commenting on what a strange request it was. That was nice of him.
I don't know what he got up to in Paphos, what he thought about it or what these photos are of, since I haven't been there myself. But I've tried my best to get inside his mind and emulate his style so it wouldn't be too obvious. I'm not going to do anything boring like research though.
Oliver, feel free to copy and paste this into Wordpress as is.
I don't know what he got up to in Paphos, what he thought about it or what these photos are of, since I haven't been there myself. But I've tried my best to get inside his mind and emulate his style so it wouldn't be too obvious. I'm not going to do anything boring like research though.
Oliver, feel free to copy and paste this into Wordpress as is.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
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.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
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
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
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 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
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.
Friday, March 21, 2014
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
"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
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.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
One of my criteria for selecting places to stay around Bali's repetitively pleasant coast is the presence of attractions nearby that could make for enjoyable day trips and not require a long bus ride (really done with those).
The popular resort town Candidasa seemed to be the best option along the island's eastern terratoma, offering easy access to photogenic palaces and temples, sweaty rice field trekking and volcanoes, but what I hadn't counted on was local taxi operators being such greedy, pestering cocks, and with unreliable-to-nonexistent public transport at the other end of the scale, and no energy for or interest in haggling (really done with that too), that resulted in another week of not ending up doing very much.
Which is fine, because one of my other criteria for selecting places to stay around Bali's repetitively pleasant coast is that they look like nice places to hang around not doing very much, so we mostly did that. Shame those mercenary taxi drivers and boatmen didn't shut up all week, bothering me when walking around and even infiltrating the fringes of our fogey resort. This is your fault for being so generous with your tips in the Third World - if more people would be cheapskates like me, taking advantage of the depressing wealth gap rather than being all egalitarian and fair, maybe they’ll learn their place again.
Looking back, I really wasn't racist enough against the Indonesians when writing foreboding blogs the first time around, so I’m having to learn these lessons fresh. Maybe I was just in a good mood or something? Thanks a lot, Past Dave!
Sunday, March 9, 2014
I'm not the fashion police. The fact that I just used the term 'fashion police' should give you an idea of how diligently I keep up with the latest trends generally. I never want to look like I'm trying to be fashionable, to the extent that I've always actively curated a blandly unfashionable wardrobe, avoiding branding and unnecessary designs wherever possible - until I started travelling that is, when location-branded T-shirts became the only form of souvenir I allowed myself.
Now I'm not travelling so much and spending more time shut up in a flat, all those exotic place names do seem less relevant, and I'm back to the frustrating annual exercise of tearing through pointlessly patterned products at overstocked malls to find five cheap T-shirts with differently coloured, blank facades that'll see me through the next few years. It's even more difficult to find those over here, where I was led to believe their kids make them, but needs must when my white 'Save the Sea Turtles' shirt gets beiger with every wash and my girlfriend orders me to throw it out.
Since we've been travelling again, my travel tees have felt relevant again and I've been nostalgically reacquainted with some old favourites - bewilderingly popular products sold by pushy vendors on the doorstep of sacred sites (or inside) and in every other shop down your Khao San Roads and Legian Streets. Practical holiday mementos are to be encouraged, but you people need to stop buying:
Thursday, March 6, 2014
The merciful absence of motorbikes on Gili Trawangan means the roads and tracks that circle and criss-cross this island are less lethal to cyclists, so I could enjoy my annual bike ride in comfort. I only had to make way for horses and push through impassable sand traps every ten metres or so as I zipped around stealing Wi-Fi from the vicinity of various restaurants I'd strategically eaten at in previous days to give me a broad smorgasbord of signals to choose from when my resort's own connection inevitably broke every single day.
When one of these Wi-Fi-leeching jaunts informed me that this whole island can be circumnavigated by cycle in about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace, I was keen to take on the undemanding challenge and was impressed with my (let's say) record breaking time of just over an hour, including breaks for iced tea and taking repetitive photos of dirt meeting water. I guess I'm just mint.
Depressing update: On our last day, on the way to the boat back to Bali, we saw one motorbike, casually ambling along as if it didn't embody the destruction of paradise. Absolute twat.
Monday, March 3, 2014
The Gili Islands jutting out from the top of Lombok like the trailing clouds of a thought bubble have admittedly been devastated by tourism, but they still remain paradise islands due to one crucial factor: there is no motorised transport allowed.
I say 'allowed,' because this is clearly the result of litigation rather than everyone just agreeing to respect each other's peace and the sanctity of the environment. Imagine that! If you let them, they'd import a fleet of cheap scooters and cut the exhausts to produce that satisfying din, joining their buddies across South East Asia in the war against tranquillity. I know what you're like.
Of course, the locals have still found a way to provide comforting taxi hassle to tourists, lurking eagerly by the boat landing with their carts pulled by depressing, skinny horses to harrass new arrivals wading in through the shallow sea. But when you leave the village behind for the typhoon-battered east coast and inland coconut plantations you can truly enjoy peace and quiet. Apart from the periodic cacophony of the mosque five times a day. By which I obviously mean I have equal respect for all religions, especially the antisocially loud ones.
I could really live here. Maybe I'll look into it.
Friday, February 28, 2014
I'm always grateful when events conspire to create a recurring motif in my life story, and in yet another reminder of my poor physical fitness - heightened by the travel break - I chose a lousy time to enter a large body of water for the first time since Krabi last April. We'd seen these waves get fairly boisterous the previous evening, but on the day I'd come prepared with swimming shorts and a snorkel, they were practically ASBO.
I got tossed around in the foam like a Monster High 13 Wishes doll in a dangerous-dog's maw (am I getting the 2010s references right, kids?), and even when I made it out to a safe distance and escaped the barrage, it took a long time to get my breath back. With no lifeguards and few other people foolish enough to enter the Leviathan, I was worried I'd start to feel faint - like that time after a school swimming lesson when my friends told me I looked like ET when he's dying.
But after getting my breath back and perving on a few colourful fish with the shoddy, leaking mask I'd been given (outrageous!) I made it back to the shore in one piece, my sand-filled shorts still on, and only mildly scared to let water splash my feet for the rest of the day.
This year's Bali trip has already given me one customarily fun/traumatic memory, here's hoping for more!
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
I 'did' Bali at the end of my first year of travel. Zooming around notable temples on package day trips; trundling between the coast and the highlands on hazardous local buses; donning sarongs to hang out with urban monkeys - it was paradoxically one of the most stressful and most tranquil months of my life, and I always planned to go back.
Two and a half years later, I headed back to Bali with my girlfriend and without any tourist obligations. The plan was to basically enjoy doing nothing, which seemed to confound everyone from the sarcastic immigration officer to our fellow guest house tenants I'm forced to interact with when held hostage by common area Wi-Fi. Is this self-appointed paradise island not the place for that sort of thing? It seems pretty peaceful to me, apart from all the motorbikes.
Our first port of call was exactly that. Padangbai is the gateway to Lombok, and consequently a well-worn resting stop on the backpacker trail that many visitors express regret at not having spent more time in before eagerly speedboating to an essentially identical destination. I'm far too experienced and lazy to fall into that trap, of course. We stalled our boat for a week.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The BBC uses my images without asking, so it's all fair game
Sod it, I'll just become Asian. I don't have to give up anything really, I'll just be one of those Westernised ones. I already like most of the food, I don't have to eat the pungent preserved fish as well. I don't have to start warbling karaoke or buy an antisocial motorbike to do my bit towards the neighbourhood din. I already follow my girlfriend around as her personal photographer, diligently snapping excessive pictures for an imaginary portfolio like a well-trained Asian boyfriend. They'd never accept me with this face, but a little unnecessary cosmetic surgery never hurt anyone (according to the misleadingly positive news stories I used to be paid to write every day for a Harley Street clinic. Don't blame me for your botched boobs).
You know your foreign friend back at university? Whose English wasn't perfect but who tried to fit in and who - good-natured ironic racism aside - you basically accepted as one of the guys, since you all came from different backgrounds anyway? That doesn't happen out here. Even if I became pointlessly fluent in the local dialect of this one island of the best English-speaking country in the continent, the racism-tinged wisdom passed down by older, more experienced bloggers has led me to believe I'll always be viewed as the outsider. If I spend all my life here, I'll never be local.
So while that sadly means I'm condemned to be a tourist until I die or leave, it's at least a handy excuse for cultural and linguistic laziness. It's always worth trying to learn these lessons second-hand at an early stage so I don't become one of those bitter ex-pats in the future myself. I know, it's too late already.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
That's sort of a foreign pun this time. Makan means 'eat' in Malay. No, it still doesn't really make sense, but look impressed anyway.
When you talk to locals from any country (there may be notable exceptions), they'll invariably tell you more about the food you should try than the places you should see, and I found this in Malaysia more than anywhere. The first time I visited I was determined to try the breadth of the cuisine on offer, as long as it didn't exceed the low budget threshold, and made a couple of overly detailed blogs cataloguing my efforts. It wasn't very impressive.
These days my income isn't actually any bigger and I'm paying for two, but being in company deludes me into thinking I can be slightly more lavish now, which means only eating at dirty roadside huts a couple of times a week. Here's a similarly tediously exhaustive food diary (not literally everything I ate; I'm not completely insane) from our recent Malaysia/Borneo trip and from our previous trip last April, which I somehow forgot to obsessively document at the time. Must have been something I ate.
Guaranteed to be free from edifying cultural or culinary insights. I didn't cook it, did I?
Sunday, February 16, 2014
We were nearly cursed to be among those day trippers making the four-hour round trip from Kota Kinabalu to the national park area on several occasions until I finally got a reply from the one guest house I'd found in the region that wasn't full and promised Wi-Fi. It's also the first 'homestay' I've stayed at that's taken the term to heart.
During our time at the pleasantly isolated Slagon Homestay (that's only the second time in this blog's history I've given an unsolicited link to a hotel - I don't shill lightly) I felt like a child again, which was a bit disconcerting after nearly a decade of independent living but certainly lightened the load on a trip where I've basically been the dad. After dealing with bitchy Filipino staff at our last hotel (will these people never leave me alone?), our surrogate Malay mother made sure we were well fed at every meal time when we couldn't be bothered to get out and see the natural wonders on our doorstep.
Even better than the buffets and the chilly, foggy mornings was the bookshelves, which might be the highest quality guest house library I've ever seen (and I always check them out). As well as handy travel guides, some genuinely decent novels and local interest publications, they even had - most excitingly and unlikely of all - the next few volumes in the nostalgic children's adventure gamebook series I've been working my way through.
I added one to the pile. Maybe if a few more childish nerds pass through these parts they'll eventually complete the set
We could easily have got sucked in to living out our visas in this place and never moving on, but unfortunately we didn't have the same minimal freedom as Lone Wolf to choose between several predetermined paths through our lives, as we had a flight looming. So that was a lucky escape. Being happy and not having to deal with transport and immigration stress for a while longer would have been terrible.