Friday, February 28, 2014

Dave in a wave

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

Just Padangbai

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

Eternal stranger

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

Makan love

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

Carry on Kampung Silou

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.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kinabalu? No thanks, I don't want to be eaten

Gunung Kinabalu is a modest mountain. Its height of 4,095 metres makes it just half an Everest, but like all runners-up they've found a few niche categories it can rank 20th in to keep it from feeling too bad. It's a shame it doesn't quite scrape into the Southern Hemisphere, accolades are piss easy down under.

Kinabalu is supposed to be relatively easy to climb too, and I would have given it a try if a sedentary lifestyle hadn't eroded what little physical fitness I once possessed. A week of walking around a city slightly too quickly at least put me in suitable condition to tackle the lesser trails of the surrounding Kinabalu Park, where I tackled nature head-on by sticking to conveniently carved footpaths over gentle hills. It took me back to my solitary hiking days around New South Wales and Korea, except I was doing it with someone who grew up in a pedestrian-unfriendly country and needs to rest every few minutes or die.

Maybe we'll skip those volcanoes in Bali after all.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Irrelevant soundtracks to my life

Sight and sound may not be as messily entangled with the memory archive as the senses of taste and smell are (oh look, Dave's read another book about the brain and thinks he's a neurosurgeon now), but many people will have experienced that pleasurable or traumatic jolt when a song they haven't heard for many years takes them back to a certain night or specific moment.

Pleasurable for the bored woman in a dead-end office job hearing a vintage hit on the radio and being pulled back in time to her first festival in carefree times; traumatic for the sole survivor of a creepy enchanted doll's murderous rampage who's finally got her life back together when the song on the radio fuzzes out and that chilling music box ditty fills the room, foreboding her imminent slaying. Proust's auditory madeleine is an emotional pick-n-mix, to be sure.

Back when I was travelling nearly-non-stop for almost three years (did I ever talk about that?), most of my days out were solo excursions, but I kept myself company and staved off boredom when wandering around another bloody temple by listening to audiobooks, podcasts and out-of-date radio shows piped into my ears at acceptable sound quality by a succession of cheap, non-mainstream MP3 players. If you've ever looked at any of my photos from those days out, you may have been irked by the space-saving image quality I opted for or eyed up another 'copyright-free' wallpaper for your shit website where you don't even label things properly, but you haven't had the full experience. My pictures work on more than just one level... they work on two! For me and only me, admittedly.

Since I'm doing this blog again for a little while, and my undiagnosed neurological disorders start flaring up if I don't keep a routine schedule, I've dug out and finished off a page I started last year but deemed too boring, pointless and self-involved for publication at the time, even by this blog's masturbatory standards. Proceed at your own risk.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sapi days

Kota Kinabalu is a weird place, almost entirely in a good way. Not content with building Malaysia's second busiest airport right next to the beach, this bustling city is also just a brief 'n' bumpy speedboat ride away from the five quasi-idyllic island escapes that form Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.

The largest and most prominent of these that can be seen from the city is Gaya Island, which we considered visiting until we learned that the luxury resorts share this spoilt paradise with dangerous stilt-house slums populated by illegal Filipino immigrants. Do they have to ruin everything?

Instead, we opted for the less deadly 'n' dinky Sapi Island, separated from Gaya by a shallow 200-meter channel. We'd be fine, I don't think illegal immigrants can swim.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Heroes in a half-shell

I got acquainted with Borneo's furry critters on my first visit to Sabah, but miscommunication and a little incompetence on both sides meant I didn't get to see its marine life up close, as the bus that was supposed to drop me off at The Green Connection aquarium took me to a bird watching centre. I just walked around that instead, it was okay.

Returning to Kota Kinabalu, this was my second chance to right the wrongs of history and contribute pitiful funds towards the struggle against marine pollution and the destruction of habitats that would be a lot easier if every convenience store transaction in Asia didn't involve multiple layers of plastic bags and straws.

Most importantly, I could get some vain photos of me with turtles. Did I ever mention I like turtles? Look back in the archive, it'll be there somewhere.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Occasionally asked questions

Since setting up anti-spam verification isn't enough to nip unwanted interactivity in the bud, I've compiled a selection of blunt answers to occasionally asked questions that hopefully won't be asked any more by the type of people I don't like visiting my blog.

Not you, you're great.