Sunday, March 30, 2014

At least it's Davao

We made it back to the Philippines without incident, despite me making a cock-up when faking my mandatory onward flight ticket the previous night and forgetting to update one of the 2013s to 2014. None of the airline or immigration staff who scrutinised it noticed the error. I'm not proud of being a sneaky borderline-criminal (I am a bit), but until they just let me tick a box to say I'll be legitimately extending my visa through the proper channels before the month is out, I'm not going to waste money booking a flight for show.

I wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of coming back to this country, especially after transiting a couple of days in Kota Kinabalu first and getting my last chance to enjoy diverse food, law-abiding traffic and being able to walk around without getting shouted at or mobbed by begging children. Being able to walk around at all is still a novelty.

To put my mind at ease when Borneo slipped away and I headed towards a fresh exile of uncertain duration in a country whose name serves as a punchline to jokes about sleazy sex tourism, I tried to dwell on the positives. My girlfriend's family and church are there, so that's nice for her. It's relatively cheap, though not as good value as many other, nicer countries in the neighbourhood. They generally speak English good, so I don't got to bother talking foreign. And at least I'd be staying in Davao City, which is completely uninteresting but generally agreed to be one of the less terrible parts for living in. Sort of like getting dengue fever but being spared the skin rash.

Since I've been staying here, the city has only suffered several minor mall bombings, child kidnappings and trifling corruption scandals, and ongoing controversy over restricted press freedom, an insane, warmongering mayor and his approved vigilante death squads. Yet I still hardly see any other foreigners sharing this taste of smoggy, urban paradise except the old men with loose morals. I sometimes see other young white men in (presumably nice and genuine) relationships with their same-age local girlfriends, doing their bit to redress the imbalance and salvage our international reputation. But I've never seen a white woman come to Davao. Well, why would they?

At least it's not Manila.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tolerating intolerance

It's important to be respectful of other cultures when travelling or living abroad. At least, that's the sort of obvious and patronising platitude that normally opens a rant like this to soften the blow and cast the writer in a desperately positive glow from the onset. I'm not racist but... You only have to look at the statistics... You know the sort of thing.

I've been happy enough spending a long period time far away from the bit of ground above sea level I happened to plop out on, and I like to think I'm not bogged down with too many preconceived notions making me UK- or Western-Supremacist apart from a shamefully disproportionate infatuation with British entertainment media that I'll never shake off. I'm not 'proud' to be British or anything, even if I miss some of the birds.

While I have absolutely no interest in watching your subtitled telenovelas or heading to your local cultural centre to watch colour-coded kids perform a traditional dance performance, I'm happy to coexist as we let each other go about our lives and avoid getting up in each other's grills. Until you voice your casual, culturally sanctioned prejudices that violate what my biased upbringing has informed me should be universal human rights, anyway. Then your backwards 'culture' can sod off back to the 16th century where we found you.

In this week's self-righteous opinion piece: how the obviously wrong attitudes of foreigners can put a strain on your relationships.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Another country down (three out of 18,307 islands is more-or-less complete), which means it's time for another unnecessarily thorough itinerary of samey meals.

Looking back on my photos from Indonesia the first time around, I was surprised that I didn't take a single picture or make note of anything I ate that month, with the exception of kopi luwak because when you drink coffee brewed from an expensive bean that's already passed through the digestive system of a small mammal it's worth jotting down.

Food then.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The final Kuta

I avoided Kuta the first time I came to Bali, and I made sure to tell people about that just in case they were under the impression I was the type of person who goes there.

I'm the kind of person who proudly avoids Kuta. The same way I've been to Thailand plenty of times but never sullied the experience by passing through Pattaya. The way I would have avoided Manila, Angeles, Cebu and other horrible cities in the Philippines if flight connections hadn't required it. Those places are for certain types of people that aren't me - we're all better off if I stick to fogey resorts in the more peaceful, boring areas and you can enjoy your pitchers and prostitutes in peace. Or in extremely noisy surroundings, whatever you prefer. Oh, it's the second one.

But now I've crossed that line and conformed, having promised my souvenir-hungry girlfriend a few days at the end of our trip in a place crowded with stalls selling tourist tat so we wouldn't have to think about it the rest of the month. But then the end of the month arrived and it wasn't a fair exchange. Kuta is fucking awful, and even the usual attempt to channel the stress and offence into a sarcastic blog hasn't lifted my spirits. At least I got to head back to my temporary 'home' afterwards. Bloody holidays, what's the point?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The pineapple test

"Sanitary bags. They put these in my room every day. They know I'm a man!"
- Alan Partridge

What makes a holiday resort feel truly friendly and attentive to its guests' needs?

The cheery greetings from owners and staff when you sit down to breakfast each morning?

Their ability to remember both your names, even if it's only 'Mr. David' on the reservation?

Their staff not chasing down and interrogating your girlfriend when she returns to the resort unaccompanied and has to show the room key to prove she is a legitimate guest and not a sneaky local prospector, and deserves the same treatment as all the other international (i.e. white) women they greet with smiles rather than scrutiny?

We stayed at five borderline-budget resorts during our month in Indonesia, which all gave us more than we really deserved for the price to varying degrees, but they didn't leave us with the same impression. The most effective way I learned to distinguish the false smiles from the sincere warmth was the pineapple test.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It don't matter if you're black or white, though as usual white is preferred

Bali's beaches are segregated by a natural apartheid that tends to see black sand discriminated against and left for the dark-skinned locals while stretches of white sand are celebrated, monetised and congested with equally white beach bums (equal in that neither the sand nor the people are actually white, that would just be freaky).

I'm not sure quite why this should be the case - aren't all beaches essentially dirt? I made sure to visit both ends of the monochromatic spectrum during my time here, and on closer inspection, do you know what I found? It's all just basically grey. And that's a bit like people, isn't it? Or maybe aliens.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Candidasa? Should have checked for Haribos before you sat down

One of my criteria for selecting places to stay around Bali's repetitively pleasant coast is the presence of attractions nearby that could make for enjoyable day trips and not require a long bus ride (really done with those).

The popular resort town Candidasa seemed to be the best option along the island's eastern terratoma, offering easy access to photogenic palaces and temples, sweaty rice field trekking and volcanoes, but what I hadn't counted on was local taxi operators being such greedy, pestering cocks, and with unreliable-to-nonexistent public transport at the other end of the scale, and no energy for or interest in haggling (really done with that too), that resulted in another week of not ending up doing very much.

Which is fine, because one of my other criteria for selecting places to stay around Bali's repetitively pleasant coast is that they look like nice places to hang around not doing very much, so we mostly did that. Shame those mercenary taxi drivers and boatmen didn't shut up all week, bothering me when walking around and even infiltrating the fringes of our fogey resort. This is your fault for being so generous with your tips in the Third World - if more people would be cheapskates like me, taking advantage of the depressing wealth gap rather than being all egalitarian and fair, maybe they’ll learn their place again.

Looking back, I really wasn't racist enough against the Indonesians when writing foreboding blogs the first time around, so I’m having to learn these lessons fresh. Maybe I was just in a good mood or something? Thanks a lot, Past Dave!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rubbish travel T-shirts you need to stop buying

I'm not the fashion police. The fact that I just used the term 'fashion police' should give you an idea of how diligently I keep up with the latest trends generally. I never want to look like I'm trying to be fashionable, to the extent that I've always actively curated a blandly unfashionable wardrobe, avoiding branding and unnecessary designs wherever possible - until I started travelling that is, when location-branded T-shirts became the only form of souvenir I allowed myself.

Now I'm not travelling so much and spending more time shut up in a flat, all those exotic place names do seem less relevant, and I'm back to the frustrating annual exercise of tearing through pointlessly patterned products at overstocked malls to find five cheap T-shirts with differently coloured, blank facades that'll see me through the next few years. It's even more difficult to find those over here, where I was led to believe their kids make them, but needs must when my white 'Save the Sea Turtles' shirt gets beiger with every wash and my girlfriend orders me to throw it out.

Since we've been travelling again, my travel tees have felt relevant again and I've been nostalgically reacquainted with some old favourites - bewilderingly popular products sold by pushy vendors on the doorstep of sacred sites (or inside) and in every other shop down your Khao San Roads and Legian Streets. Practical holiday mementos are to be encouraged, but you people need to stop buying:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Around the world in 64 minutes

The merciful absence of motorbikes on Gili Trawangan means the roads and tracks that circle and criss-cross this island are less lethal to cyclists, so I could enjoy my annual bike ride in comfort. I only had to make way for horses and push through impassable sand traps every ten metres or so as I zipped around stealing Wi-Fi from the vicinity of various restaurants I'd strategically eaten at in previous days to give me a broad smorgasbord of signals to choose from when my resort's own connection inevitably broke every single day.

When one of these Wi-Fi-leeching jaunts informed me that this whole island can be circumnavigated by cycle in about 90 minutes at a leisurely pace, I was keen to take on the undemanding challenge and was impressed with my (let's say) record breaking time of just over an hour, including breaks for iced tea and taking repetitive photos of dirt meeting water. I guess I'm just mint.

Depressing update: On our last day, on the way to the boat back to Bali, we saw one motorbike, casually ambling along as if it didn't embody the destruction of paradise. Absolute twat.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Gili triligi (of one)

The Gili Islands jutting out from the top of Lombok like the trailing clouds of a thought bubble have admittedly been devastated by tourism, but they still remain paradise islands due to one crucial factor: there is no motorised transport allowed.

I say 'allowed,' because this is clearly the result of litigation rather than everyone just agreeing to respect each other's peace and the sanctity of the environment. Imagine that! If you let them, they'd import a fleet of cheap scooters and cut the exhausts to produce that satisfying din, joining their buddies across South East Asia in the war against tranquillity. I know what you're like.

Of course, the locals have still found a way to provide comforting taxi hassle to tourists, lurking eagerly by the boat landing with their carts pulled by depressing, skinny horses to harrass new arrivals wading in through the shallow sea. But when you leave the village behind for the typhoon-battered east coast and inland coconut plantations you can truly enjoy peace and quiet. Apart from the periodic cacophony of the mosque five times a day. By which I obviously mean I have equal respect for all religions, especially the antisocially loud ones.

I could really live here. Maybe I'll look into it.