Saturday, August 31, 2013

Deleted scenes: Malaysia (feat. Singapore)

After completing the southern island circuit of Thailand, tourists have two major options: buying a motorbike and speeding through the risky roads of the adventurous Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia loop or taking the bus south to more orderly Malaysia and sterile Singapore. Can you guess which option I took?

I did get round to those other countries eventually, but one at a time on separate trips. I'm not 25 any more.

I found Malaysia to be an underrated travel destination, though I understand why the party people tend to overlook it. That's part of the reason I like it. Falling into a bit of a lull after seven months of tireless travelling, and with a 90-day visa not motivating me to leave any time soon, I saw a lot more of the Malaysian peninsula than was really necessary, later polishing it off with a quick trip around the more exciting Borneo bits. And Singapore has a nice library.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Deleted scenes: Thailand

I resisted Thailand's obvious lure when starting my East Asia travels in more conventionally unconventional Taiwan, the sort of place people normally go last when they've exhausted all the interesting countries in the region and can't be bothered to arrange the visa for real China.

As soon as I arrived in Thailand though, I realised why it's so big with the tourists. Actually, it took about a week until I'd sufficiently adapted to the heat and stopped trying to go so stubbornly against the crowd. The tourist trail in Thailand is rightly criticised for being unadventurous, full of scammers and destructive to native habitats, but it's a lot of fun too, and this is the only country I've returned to every year for more. Unless you count all those Malaysia passport stamps I got from transferring at Kuala Lumpur LCC terminal every two months, which you really shouldn't. Malaysia's up next.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Deleted scenes: Year one

It won't have escaped your attention that I'm not a professional photographer. Professionals don't stubbornly and stingily persevere with the same cheap camera long after its LCD display has broken, meaning they're unable to play around with the settings or even see the poorly framed pictures they've taken until they get back to their hotels. I don't owe you fancy pictures.

But sometimes I'm pleased with photos I've taken, as are thieving bastards apparently. Whether it's down to the serendipity of animals striking austere poses, the sunset picking out details in satisfying ways or me managing to pull a face that doesn't look smug, I'll try to find ways to include as many photos as I can that fit whatever agenda I'm going for in the relevant blog post, giving the nicest ones top billing.

For every photo transferred from my camera to my hard drive there are 10 deleted, and not all of these survivors make it to the internet, especially in the early days. When I've dragged old folders down from the proverbial loft to dredge out any unused pictures of Dave in a cave or Dave from a slightly different angle, I kept coming across photos that I forgot I had, which I never shared with the world because I was worried about storage space or irrelevant pictures distracting from the narrative arc of the post. I can take this much too seriously sometimes.

So here's a selection of previously unseen photos, videos and writings from my first year of travelling, after those first few countries I rebelliously tackled without a camera and excluding Thailand and Malaysia too, which were too big and get their own summer specials. It's guaranteed to be entirely free from coherent plotting beyond 'Dave saw some things and aimed his camera at them.' This post could just as well be titled 'Misc 1.'

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More panda filth

By overwhelming lack of demand, here's the previous story I wrote dealing with unnatural panda attraction that I mentioned last time. I don't know if it'll help to clear my name of any accusations in advance or just dig a deeper hole, though compared to that horrendous thing I posted earlier in the week, this one's actually quite... sweet? Alright, it's still bloody weird.

This was originally written to be part of a longer story, but as I was going through a New-Year-motivated period of ambition and arrogance at the time, I submitted this scene to the monthly Melting Pot sketch show at The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh, and was astonished when it was accepted.

It was an incredible experience to see people laughing at my stupid jokes, getting tense at the right moments and presumably wondering where the laughs were in the extremely long, pointless tangents I really should have taken out. It was performed by John MacIsaac and Vladimir McTavish, if you're familiar with their work, and they imbued it with more passion and humanity than it deserved. Thanks, guys!

(I just remembered you're not supposed to know it's about a panda or that ruins the whole point. So try to forget that).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Taiwan tale

Unlike my previous tales, this latest twisted braingwrong wasn't inspired by my surroundings, but it was similarly the product of me taking it easy and giving my imagination arguably too much freedom.

I've sometimes thought about going back to Taiwan, which was my entry point to Asia almost three years ago and is basically an easier alternative to Real China, but this hasn't been a likely possibility since I got a girlfriend whose country seems locked in a perpetual feud with the ROC. It seems even more difficult for us to get into than Japan, and I'd rather just go back there. I wouldn't go alone; I'm not that guy any more.

This started out as a morality tale about a god-fearing, self-abusing Filipino, but switched to Taiwan for its more convenient access to pandas. This is the second time I've written about a disturbed guy with a panda fetish, but I'm confident this doesn't say anything about my own perversions - these idolised, notoriously frigid and iconically Asian creatures just seemed the most fitting victims for my disgusting characters.

Still, I'd prefer you didn't read this. Especially from chapter δΈ‰ when it gets seriously horrible. Once you've read it, you can't unread it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ad nauseam for a dream

Did you enjoy my Tedious Dreams Trilogy earlier this year? Would you like to be bored by more self-indulgent unconscious nostalgia? Absolutely no chance? Well tough jugs, because I want there to be a written record of these fuzzy memories of things that never even happened before dementia devours it all. You don't have to read it.

In this final (promise) collection from the neural archives, I identify recurring themes in my adult dreams, good and bad. Mostly bad, to be honest. I have plenty of pleasant dreams, I guess they just tend to be more freestyle.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Things that don't even look like other things

During my career as a Ghostbuster (Ghostdebunker doesn't have the same nostalgic ring to it), I was regularly disappointed by how easily people would latch onto the flimsiest photographic 'evidence' that seemed to substantiate their belief that our dead ancestors forge dents in metal fireplaces in the background of photos designed to reflect a camera flash from a certain vantage point to vaguely resemble a stretched, out of proportion face, usually missing a couple of key features, but it's the best they could do. Come on, they're dead! Cut them some slack.

Sometimes we might think we see a face in tree bark, an angel in a cloud or Jesus Christ on a dog's arse (that photo sums up the pareidolia phenomenon better than any dissertation could), but what's really happening is the part of our brains that learns to recognise our mothers' faces soon after birth as a self-preservation measure is over-compensating and interpreting random stimuli as familiar objects - faces in particular, or your preferred brand of supernatural icon. It doesn't even have to be very accurate to be perceived as a face, as the seemingly universal recognition of a colon paired with a bracket or other grammatically irrelevant punctuation to express generic emotions attests. N.B. For those who haven't read a couple of Robert Winston books and now think they're bloody psychologists, he means this: :)

This glitch happens more often when the brain is tired or in poor lighting conditions, making late-night paranormal investigation vigils the perfect pareidolia breeding ground. I won't even get into the 'investigators' who deliberately use faulty sound recording equipment because it produces 'better results' than more accurate recorders that don't make a slight breeze passing the microphone sound like Linda Blair violently vomiting green slime in The Exorcist. And don't get me started on 'orb' photos (HOW ARE YOU NOT AWARE OF DUST?)

I'm not on a mission to destroy fun. Pareidolia is at the enjoyable and light-hearted end of the mental illness spectrum and I appreciate it for what it is. I found stories of ghostly apparitions and faces in the floor fascinating when I was a kid, but we're not kids any more - so when you're tired and think a tree looks sort of like a monk, by all means take a photograph, post it to your blog and consider sending it to Richard Wiseman, but don't make more of it than it is and don't insist it looks like a thing when it doesn't even look like a thing.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tibungco tale

Having already wasted some of my invaluable life making a Photoshop collage of a sparsely populated farmyard to illustrate an off-hand remark about how few animal names I know in the local language, I was somehow inspired to waste even more of my dwindling span writing a children's folk story based entirely around it.

This story is set in and around the ramshackle 'house' I spent one of the worst months in my recent memory, and stars some of the creatures that infested it. Some foreign terms have usurped their English equivalents in my lexicon when it comes to everyday things that are more common over here, so here's a glossary for your reference:
butiki: Common house gecko (the little one)
iring: Domestic cat
lamok: Mosquito
ok-ok: Cockroach
toko: Tokay gecko (the bigger one)
If you can spot any morals in this fable, please explain them to me as I was left confused. Have you strung up your mosquito nets? Then I'll begin.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Learning Cebuano

When Jackie & I returned from our South East Asia jaunt, we were surprised to hear that her adorable niece was now capable of forming complete sentences. Sadly, this inevitable development of rudimentary speech means the gulf between me and Eshen will only get progressively worse the more she learns - I was evenly matched when we only had to communicate in monosyllables and happy or angry facial expressions, but soon she's going to start wondering why Tito Bid doesn't reply to her questions ('Tito Bid' is as close as she gets to 'Tito Dave' right now, but it's still a huge step forward from 'Da Da Da' a couple of months ago. And people have done worse).

The only solution to preserving our friendship is for me to put this extensive free time to use, now I'm spared travel and blogging commitments, learning to speak Cebuano at the same rate as a two-year-old. It's not going to happen, but I can give it a try.

And as I seem to be desperate for blog filler before this thing wraps up in September (you should have seen some of the barrel-scraping projects I got half-way through before abandoning, fortunately you never have to), there's no better solution than a tedious educational post that actually encourages me to learn something useful for my life. The guilt hits me about once a week when I remember English isn't my girlfriend's native language and that all I know of hers is a few onomatopoeic animal names.