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Friday, October 31, 2008


Computerless in Delhi

My lifestyle has become a mixture of travelling and staying put. It would be so easy to make a statement like 'I love travel'. And considering the lifestyle I have chosen for the past six years in particular, or perhaps my whole life in general, one might consider it would be an appropriate statement for me to make. But it's not true! The fact is that I hate travel. I hate the process of packing. I hate carrying all my possessions which equal more than one third of my body weight to strange places where I don't know the way, am not familiar with the transport systems and may not speak the language. I hate having to find suitable accommodation in yet another new city. I hate having to run the gamut of touts who think that your white skin is a symbol of your wealth and they are only too happy to relieve you of some of it. This is the style of travel that I have chosen and I want to say here and now that I hate it.

Of course there is another way to travel. I could stay in hotels that actually get star ratings. I could take taxis everywhere. I could go on guided tours. I could eat in the best restaurants. But what is the point? Except for the view, a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Hanoi or Delhi is just the same as a five-star hotel in Brisbane or Sydney. OK, so maybe the uniforms reflect the local culture. But believe me, when you are doing this you are not seeing the real Bangkok, Hanoi or Delhi. You might as well stay home and watch National Geographic Channel.

I am also not a typical backpacker, if there is such a thing. Hey, I don't want to stereotype backpackers. There's enough people doing that already. But I would like to distance myself from another kind of travel, ie getting pissed in cities all over the world. Getting pissed in Bangkok, Hanoi or Delhi can't really be all that different from getting pissed while watching National Geographic Channel in Brisbane or Sydney.

While I hate travelling, what I do love is being in places that are, to me, exotic. I love to stay in those places for an extended period of time, living amongst the locals. I don't want to live amongst expats. If I want to live among Australians, I'd go back to Australia and do just that. But I know what Australians are like. I lived among them for 55 years. Now I want to immerse myself in 'exotic' cultures; to live among the local people; to live their lifestyle; to learn what makes them tick and perhaps in some way to give a little back to their community. This I love and for the opportunity to do this, I'll put up with the crap that comes with my chosen style of travelling.

I've just spent seven months living in Bangkok. I lived out of town, in the suburbs. I lived in an apartment building amongst Thai people. Two days a week I went to Thai language class. I travelled on buses and trains, occasionally on motorcycle taxis but rarely in taxi cabs.

While living in Bangkok I did accumulate a few possessions: a small bookcase, a little cupboard, books, DVD movies, clothes. I did much the same while living in Mahasarakham, Kompong Chhnang and Melaka. This means I have to make decisions when I move on about what to do with all those excess possessions, all the stuff I can't carry. Occasionally I am able to store a few things in anticipation of a return but often I go through this process. I sort everything into three bundles: the things I absolutely must take with me; the things I'd like to take with me and those I can live without. When I have the 'must takes' in my bags, there is usually not much more room. I add a few of the 'like to takes' based on what fits and what will be most useful and I say goodbye to the rest. I give it away or throw it out.

I had been reasonably comfortable in my room in Bangkok because as well as the things I'd bought I'd also made a trip to Mahasarakham and brought back a suitcase full of useful stuff that'd been stored there. This meant that the sorting process in this, my most recent moving-on, was bigger than usual.

This is one of the aspects of travel that I hate. I hate trying to fit everything in and I hate having to leave behind things that to some degree I've become attached to. I've always been like this and I've always handled this issue in the same stupid way - I procrastinate.

And so there I was an hour before Ead was due to pick me up for the trip to Suvarnabhumi Airport, the bags half packed and accumulated possessions spread in neat piles around my room but there were one or two things that had still not found their way onto an appropriate pile. In particular, behind my desk there were a few electrical cables including the charger and cable for my Macbook computer.

After I reached Delhi I did a bit of writing. I wrote two blogs, one on my first impressions of Delhi and one on a caffeine incident I experienced. I also downloaded the 100 or so photos I'd taken at Suvarnabhumi Airport and processed a handful of them for my flickr page. When the battery started to get low I looked for the charger and that's when I realised what I'd done to myself because of my hate of travelling and my procrastination.

The following day I managed to get online (not on my computer) and find an Apple dealer that I could reach in Delhi. I got on the Metro and took a train ride to Srinigar Garden and found the Apple dealer who told me a replacement cable would cost 8,000 - 9,000 rupees (very expensive) and would take seven days to arrive. My plan was that in seven days I would be in Mussoorie, visiting one of the hill stations in the lower Himalayas, over 300 km from Delhi.

I thought it through and decided to confront the possibility of an attachment to my computer. I've decided, for the time being, to be computerless. Well, not entirely computerless - I still have the weight to lug around and there are, of course, internet cafes to help me communicate with you. I've also made some tentative steps towards getting my charger forwarded to me but it doesn't look like that will happen.

I had decided not to do any blogging until my computer was intact again but my friend Nazia had other plans. I might add that Nazia is a writer and that it was through our writing that we got to know each other and become friends. She was not supportive of the idea that my visit to India go unrecorded. She didn't argue the point. She simply went out and bought me a new notebook. No, not another computer, the old-fashioned kind made of paper that you write on with a pen. It has been hand bound with Indian fabric. It will be a souvenir of my visit to India in more than one way.

Perhaps my friend has an ulterior motive for her purchase. Recently I explained to her that writing was a form of therapy for me. When I have something on my mind, by writing I am able to get it out and to move on. Nazia has agreed to spend some time with me over the next few weeks. Perhaps she wasn't looking forward to my constipated companionship.

And it's working, already I've got this much down. In due course, no doubt I'll have access to a computer, either my own or one in a cafe and I'll be able to share my thoughts with you. If you're still with me, hang in there. There's a lot of pages left in this notebook.

And sooner or later I'll eventually upload the aforementioned blogs stored on my currently inaccessible Macbook.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008


Anticipating India

As a young art student in Australia I learned of the erotic sculptures in places such as Khajuraho. My mind boggled. How liberated those Indian people must be to accept such eroticism as part of their culture. Are Indian women all so voluptuous and sexy as this I wondered.

In the 1960s and later many of my contemporaries made a pilgrimage to India in search of enlightenment from one of the gurus that seemed to abound there. Are all Indians enlightened I wondered.

India was the home of Gandhi my greatest political hero and Siddhartha Gotama my greatest spiritual hero. With such as these for inspiration surely the Indian people hold lofty principles.

Throughout my life India has held a mystique, drawing me but from time to time I would also hear the negative side.

'India enlightened?' he chuffed. 'I found most of the people in India to be miserable. On the other hand in Africa where people are just as poor or poorer everyone smiles. If happiness is a sign of enlightenment, you'll find more of it in Africa.'

'In India they shit in the street' she told me. Not just she, I've heard several reports of that.

'If you catch a train in India don't ever leave sight of your bag. Someone will steal it.' Yeah? Don't some of those train trips last for three days? If I'm travelling alone how do I go to the toilet?

'I booked a tour,' my friend told me. 'It did not live up to the hype I heard from the travel agent so I returned to confront him. "I did not lie to you" he said. "Not lie, then what do you call it?" "I was making business." ' I've heard many such stories. Indians, I am told, will say anything they like—complete total bullshit—and they justify it as 'making business'. Yeah? I'd heard Indians were spiritual people. How about making karma?

For many years now I have been travelling in Asia and so far I've managed to avoid India. So far I haven't had to confront the paradox. I have lived and travelled in many countries in east and south-east Asia. I've lived amongst the poor. I have seen the beggars and the filth. Am I prepared for India yet? 'Nothing prepares you for India,' another traveller told me.

I'm biting the bullet. Today I leave Bangkok and will arrive in Delhi on Friday. Watch this space.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008


Visit Dr Pee Pee

In my neighbourhood in Bangkok I noticed this sign on the awning of a doctor's surgery. I thought it was just a normal doctor's surgery but now that I can read a little Thai, I'm reading signs that I had previously walked past and phonetically this says 'Pee Pee Clinic'. Was this a urologist, I wondered??? I took this shot and back at home I entered the second line into my online Thai translator and it says 'Treating illness, allergy and common diseases'. So, it apparently is a general practice. I also checked the word 'pee' and it means 'fat' which doesn't quite fit either. Maybe one of my Thai friends can enlighten me.

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Monday, October 06, 2008


Koh Samui on the cheap

Koh Samui is perhaps Thailand's most popular island resort for good reason. It has many natural attractions and facilities have expanded in recent years to cater to the influx of visitors. This doesn't mean it must cost you and arm and a leg to go there. Yes, there are many upmarket resorts to cater for the well-heeled if that's your bag but if you are travelling on a budget Koh Samui still has a lot to offer.

I arrived on Koh Samui by ferry from the mainland and was met by my friend, Colin, who had hired a motorcycle. We headed off together to a quiet area on the north-eastern shore of the island. There we visited Richard who was staying at a bungalow resort. I took this photo as we sat on the veranda of Richard's 500-baht-a-night bungalow right on the beach. The bungalow is small but has all the basic stuff included. This area is away from the busy-ness of Sumui's east coast. If you want a really quiet spot you couldn't do much better than this. The resort where Richard was staying has its own restaurant with reasonable prices. If you want to chill out there is no reason to leave. And if you want a change there's another restaurant about five minutes walk up the road.

I stayed with Richard while Colin went back to the ferry terminal to pick up Lhi. After they arrived we headed off for the east coast. There was a storm approaching so Colin went alone on the bike and Lhi and I waited for a songtheau. They travel around and across the island at regular intervals and are the usual way for getting around. We managed to keep our luggage dry but the rain got in at the sides of the songtheau so both Lhi and I got our backs wet. It is the rainy season at the moment so you have to expect this from time to time.

Lhi and Colin got themselves a bungalow at Utopia which is on the northern end of Lamai Beach. The place was fairly heavily booked so they were back from the beach but it was only a short walk away. Their cabin was small but comfortable. It was surrounded by other cabins as you can see in this pic taken from their veranda. 500 baht a night included wireless internet access and an all-you-can-eat breakfast for two people. Let's face it, in Australia you'd pay at least that just for the breakfast.

I checked out Lamai Pearl towards the southern end of Lamai. If I didn't have Colin to show me around I don't think I would have found it. It is well off the road and there are no signs. Imagine your grandfather bought some remote seafront land about 30 years ago and built a cabin on it. He built it himself. It was solid but a bit rough and ready. That describes the cabin I got for 250 baht a night. It wouldn't suit everyone. For starters the bed was rather firm. Imagine a concrete block covered with a yoga mat—that's what it felt like but it was a real mattress and I like a firm bed. The place was clean and right on the beach. I was very happy there.

If you don't want to rely on songtheaus to get around you can hire a motorbike. Colin got his at Nathon near the ferry terminal. This meant he was able to use it to get across the island. It cost 150 baht a day and gave him a little trouble. He got a flat tyre. They said he would have to pay to repair it himself. But the tyre repair shop pointed out that it needed a new tyre because the old one was bald. He was close to the hire shop at the time so they gave him a different bike. The same thing happened again. I got my bike (see pic) in Lamai. There are hire places all over the place. Mine cost 125 baht a day, was newer than Colin's, in better condition and gave no trouble. I recommend you check the bike over carefully before you take it. Driving on Samui (or anywhere in Thailand) can be a bit crazy and it pays to have a safe vehicle.

If you'd like to know a little more about what to expect on Koh Samui I suggest you take a look at my earlier blogs and my flickr photo pages. Have fun.

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Friday, October 03, 2008


Beach vendors of Koh Samui

I spent a day on Chaweng Beach with a couple of friends. This is an ideal place to relax because you don't have to think of anything. Just about anything you want—from a mat to sit on to your food or a change of clothes—can be bought or hired from a vendor on the beach. Here are a few of them.

The water looks soooooo inviting but you're not too sure about your swimming ability. Don't worry. Just hire one of these swim rings from the vendor on the beach. (The same one who hired us our mat)

As well as snacks this one carries a small bar-b-que so that your gai yang (BBQ chicken) can be heated on the spot.

My friend Gik spent quite some time browsing the vast assortment of jewellery this woman was carrying before selecting a couple of items. Gik had a go at lifting the board with all the jewellery and found it was a struggle to get it off the ground. Most jewellery vendors carry much less than this.

The beach vendors are licensed hence the orange vests. Perhaps there would be even more otherwise. Competition is strong so it pays to have a way of getting attention. This ice-cream vendor is serenading these young woman with a song about the goodness of ice cream. They weren't hungry. He came back later and still no luck.

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