Thursday, January 23, 2014

I am a free man, I just quite like my cell



So, what have I been getting up to in the last few months since I landed back in Davao and failed to take off again?

The brief answer, as far as colourful travel blogs are concerned, is sod-all. But to be fair, that sod-all has included writing thousands of pages of corporate content, further developing a relationship and getting through the 1960s TV series The Prisoner, which is ace as long as you don't watch the final episode. You might have noticed an increasing tendency to discuss my life in terms of the TV I'm watching, now I longer have actual life experiences.

I am a man of extremes. Not in terms of getting involved in treacherous activities or spending more than 24 hours without a Wi-Fi connection (not fair, I went 36 hours one time!) but in my tendency to drastically compartmentalise different phases of my life for the convenience of future biographers. When my latest self-imposed three-year cycle of travelling came to an end (following three years of university and three years doing real jobs), I went from visiting an average of two countries and flying 1,972.8 miles per month to sleeping every night in the same bed and not having ventured further than a mile from my flat in six months. In many ways it was exactly what I needed, and it took the new year, depressing weather and insane promo flight deals to push me into getting out into the world again.

I'm a little worried.



The jet-setting lifestyle I left behind (Kuala Lumpur LCC terminal)


I don't really miss travelling. I knew I could take a taxi to the airport and a connecting flight to Cebu or Manila heading to pastures new any time I wanted to, and because I generally get what I want in life I guess that means I didn't want to until now. I don't miss perpetual flight delays, getting lost and stressed out when trying to track down the bus station, striding angrily around the hotel lobby making it clear to the staff that the promised Wi-Fi isn't working or negotiating with crooked tour guides for a time-killing boat trip until I give up out of apathy and take more photos of repetitive temples instead. I've done my time.

I do miss some things though, like actually having somewhere to go. If you've never been to a developing country, or your experience was mainly limited to resorts and production-line package tours (you had the right idea, my holidays are going to be stress-free from now on), you might find it hard to believe that there is literally nothing to do and nowhere for me to go when I step outside my guarded apartment building, leave the guarded subdivision and hit the endless highway.

Alright, there's not literally nothing, as these hectares of land must be filled somehow, but it's almost entirely pedestrian unfriendly. Heading left down the road courtesy of a stinky jeepney will take me to malls (big whoop) and eventually to the city centre, if I want to walk around depressing streets and sit in unshaded parks, burning in the oppressive heat. Heading right will eventually take me to the intercity bus station where terrorists have inconveniently narrowed my options to northern routes only (not the worst of their atrocities, admittedly), where more non-literal nothing awaits.

I'm not being picky and demanding here - in Edinburgh I spent most of my free time contentedly finding new wandering routes around the old city streets or arbitrarily opting to follow a trail or river as far as I could before getting the bus home, taking the opportunity to 'read' a good audiobook and generally have a pleasant, premature retiree's weekend. I loved that simple pleasure, and I kept the tradition up when visiting other countries when there was sufficient infrastructure to make walking fun (Taiwan, South Korea, Australia) rather than a life-threatening annoyance (Greece, Egypt and basically all of South East Asia except Singapore).



They don't even have interplanetary Stargates in the Philippines yet,
that's how backwards things are here (Busan, Korea)


When I was debating the pros and cons of living in a developing country, I didn't even consider that use of my legs might be taken away from me. Walking really isn't a feasible pastime here in the Southern Philippines, and the constant threat of "hey, Joes" shouted from passing bikers doesn't exactly motivate me either, so I stay in the room bashing away at the computer until we run out of coffee and I head to the nearby supermarket, once every 60 days making the epic 20-minute excursion to the Fastpass office to extend my visa and checking out the 20-peso garbage pile in the only used book shop I've found in the whole city, picking up a battered sci-fi paperback or retro adventure gamebook from an extensive collection presumably donated by the estate of some dead nerd. Rest in peace, you're helping me stay off the computer.


So what are you going to do about it?


I still have the freedom of an online job that lets me live pretty much anywhere I choose (except China), but I'm also burdened with a nice girlfriend who I like a lot and who I know wants to settle down in a more permanent way in the near future. Pity me.

If we do stop renting and buy a place, it would have to be in the ideal Goldilocks zone that offers some level of serenity and separation from the urban chaos, while still being close enough to the highway so Jackie can visit her family and I can make trips to the supermarket a couple of times a week. We live in a country of 7,000 islands, plenty of which conceivably offer paradise, but that just isn't practical as long as I depend on a regular Wi-Fi connection and don't want to have to grow my own bloody onions.

Jackie's open for spending a few years abroad too. A few months ago (I think? Time is more elusive to measurement these days) a friend briefly entertained the idea of buying a bed and breakfast in an unprofitably remote part of Scotland and asked if I was interested in joining him in the venture. I spent the next few days daydreaming of heading out on a nippy morning, bundled up in a heavy coat with an MP3 player loaded with gothic novels and gloomy neofolk ballads, walking past fields with dilapidated fences and frozen rivers on my way to a better kind of nowhere. (Why am I an old man in that mental image?) It didn't work out, which was probably for the best financially, but I live in hope of the next zany scheme coming along to dictate the next phase of my life, as I'm clearly out of ideas.




Now we're travelling for a little while - the emphasis being on relaxation and doing my work in more pleasant surroundings, rather than the rip-roaring, death-defying escapades that I never used to get up to either. It'll be a welcome break from the monotony that's only just started to bother me as a voluntary inmate in this reasonably comfortable cell.

When we land back in the Philippines in a couple of months, I'll see whether the prospect of renting a new place and retrieving the rice cooker from storage feels comforting and homely or makes me want to cry. The planes are right there if I need them.

How have you been getting on?


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