Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Great drinks of the world, only slightly childish

I don't foray into food features too often, drink dissertations even less so, despite being a living organism who needs fluids to survive, and most of the drinks I drink out here being necessarily foreign and interesting.

That's mostly because when I was travelling by myself I'd usually choose menu options that look like they took the least time to prepare and consume, so I could get back to my room and get on with important business like writing rubbish like this. But when I'm travelling with company and there's someone to talk to while waiting and to watch get excited when the bland dish finally arrives, I have more time for experimentation.

Here are 10 drinks of the world that have made a big impression on me in the last few years. Hardly any of them are alcoholic, which is more down to a lack of interest than some kind of responsible lifestyle choice. Only some of them are childish. I liked most of them.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Batu wouldn't Kek Lok Si when I'm Penangry

My first port of call in Malaysia back in 2011, the metropolitan island Penang was our last stop this time around before we work our way up through Thailand - the reverse of my original journey down the peninsula back when my travels were actually linear.

It was good to be back in civilisation and Wi-Fi zones after struggling to get work done in the peaceful paradise of the Perhentian Islands where I really shouldn't have been worrying about stuff like that and should have just written horrible stories or something instead. This visit also gave me the chance to see some of Penang's major sights that I somehow didn't get around to the first time, being too distracted by old buildings and loose monkeys.

We didn't hang out with any monkeys this time around. She doesn't really like them. This relationship is doomed.

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.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bleak mirror

It isn't easy travelling as a Filipino, when the whole world presumes you're a criminal and/or prostitute until proven innocent by a long and expensive paper trail, after which they may decide on a whim not to let you into their country anyway without being obliged to give you a reason why.

We expected to face obstacles when applying for Jackie's tourist visas to the notoriously xenophobic Japan and South Korea a few months down the line, but spending a few months travelling around friendly neighbourhood countries first, like Malaysia, Thailand and wherever else took our fancy, was supposed to be the easy part, dipping Jackie's feet in international waters and collecting some useful passport stamps to help her chances of being approved for more difficult countries in the future.

We only learned there's no such thing as a stress-free holiday for Filipinos after we'd already cleared immigration at Manila and were stopped just before boarding the plane. At least the Philippines is consistent, going to great efforts to give me the worst possible impression right to the very end.

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.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Things I didn't like about the Philippines

It's that time again - several months into a relationship where I start to think unnecessarily far ahead and consider the long-term ramifications of being with someone from a different country, specifically the matter of where I could end up spending most of my life if we settled down. I'm not selfish about this: if I can continue working freelance forever, I'll have the freedom to relocate wherever I'm needed. Jackie's close to her family so naturally she'll want to be close in a geographical sense too, I have no problem accommodating that. The only problem I have is that this place is a complete shithole.

That's the sort of unreasonable, over-privileged white man intolerance I know you love to read from me, but this isn't a few weeks in grotty hotels I can laugh off later, I'm talking about the place I'll be living for (probably) most of my 30s, 40s and however many more decades my poor nutrition allows. I got a bit bored of seeing the same streets in Edinburgh when I lived there for three years, but at least those streets were clean, paved and not filled with ignorant people staring and yelling at me (not filled, but there was the odd sod).

So since I've cracked open this can of intolerance and I'm taking sanity leave from the Philippines for a couple of months, here's the latest instalment in what was meant to be a regular feature to explore my real or imagined problems with every country I visit. Due to a packed travel schedule in the second half of last year and quite enjoying Australia in January, I haven't taken the time to make a formal complaint about anywhere since China, which makes things look a little unfair and specific - I'll try to remember to be racist about everywhere from now on, alright?

Here are assorted things that have annoyed or depressed me about the Philippines from my privileged, judgmental and probably hypocritical perspective. I'll be back again and again between our trips, but I don't know if I could stay.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I haven't talked about exotic foreign food for a while, mainly because in Australia I was eating complete shit to save money. But then I went back to a country where it's almost offensively cheap to get people to cook all my meals for me. A country which, I realised in surprise, I had next to no idea what the local cuisine is, despite having spent three weeks there before in 2011.

I must have been eating something, surely? Come to think of it, have I ever seen a Filipino restaurant abroad? What do they eat in this multicultural archipelago that's seen Spanish and American colonisation and a melting pot of immigration? Man cannot survive on balut alone. Thank god.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Davey day care

I don't talk too much about the friends I've made when travelling, mostly because people are annoying and time-consuming so I try to limit human interaction as much as possible. But every so often I'll meet someone who's fun and friendly enough to spend some time with, like Eshen.

I'll get this out of the way first - Eshen's a lot younger than my friends usually are. I thought it was a bit weird when I hung out with 19-year-olds in South Korea, but Eshen's only just turned two. She's certainly the first friend I've made while travelling who was born within the life span of this blog, specifically when I was on the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia (where were you on 18 April '11?)

But we haven't let this age gap be an obstacle to our friendship, maybe because people are less judgemental about that over here. I've seen loads of really old foreign men at my hotel with really young Filipina 'friends' and they seem to be getting on just swell. The language barrier isn't any greater than it would be with a child who could barely speak any other language either, and it's about the same as it was with the adult Koreans to be honest. Eshen speaks about as much English as I do Bisaya, but it's usually easy to work out what she's talking about when she invites me to play popular games like throwing her bag across the room, pretending to eat invisible food for three hours, pretending to be shot in the head (classic), placing coins between her toes or just openly laughing at my face even when I'm not pulling a face.

Until she starts crying for no reason and I call for her mother or Auntie Jackie. I can't deal with this drama queen stuff. But I'm learning.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Let's play refugees!

The main attraction we were looking forward to in Leyte (there wasn't much else to do) was the prospect of taking a bus and ferry back to Davao, rather than another bloody domestic flight connection via Cebu or Manilagainagain. With Philippines exhausts the carbon saving would be negligible or possibly even more damaging than flying there, but we were both eager for the more 'authentic' travel experience and - most importantly - the ability to point to these islands on a map in the future and brag, 'did it.'

We didn't let the bus company's (misleading) claims of 14 hours' travel time deter us, despite having endured a similar length journey a few days earlier, though I was a little uncomfortable about how little information we had about what the trip actually entailed, with nothing to be found online and only minimal details from the one guy at the bus terminal who wasn't trying to scam us.

How much time would we spend on the bus as opposed to the ferry? Would we sleep on the bus or arrange a cabin on the boat? Would we be squashed into tiny seats with cardboard boxes filling the gangway, no knee room and the teetering Leviathan luggage of 30 cross-country migrants threatening to concuss us at any time? This epic 26-hour journey makes The Lord of the Rings look like a walk to the corner shop in your dressing gown.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

See you Leyte

We stopped off in Leyte on the long journey from Sagada back to Davao, so Jackie's parents could size up this strange foreigner who'd be taking their daughter overseas (I think they bought it).

As ever, I was excited at the prospect of a brand new island to explore, but a lack of infrastructure and frustrating bus schedules in these provincial towns meant we didn't see a lot.

Seriously, there's nothing to see here.