One thing that I find to be conspicuously absent from the average CyberGypsy baggage check-list is a tough book. Continue reading What happened to Toughbooks?
So here’s a check-list of things that I have decided will go with me around the world this winter. Continue reading Location Independent Digitally Nomadic Cyber Gypsy Travel Checklist
I woke to a sunrise that calmed the clamorous valley of the previous night. I walked up the arcing stairs of the YHA to the roof and was met with a far warmer world. The laborers on the neighboring building site were huddled around warming morning fires, Pune had become solid after the little pinpricks of light had joined together. Continue reading Mahindra College, Pune to Varanasi.
At O’Reilly’s you get to spend time in the cool mountain rainforests surrounded by gorgeous tropical birds, a free treetop walk through the jungle hammock and a fine wine produced by the O’Reilly vineyard. This made me chuckle as the idea of a good Irish wine is a little bit of an oxymoron – well kind of. I drank a little too much and manged to fall out of my hammock and keep the neighbours awake.
One O’Reilly relative was kind enough to save some plane crash survivors as they clung to life on one of the remote mountain slopes nearby, there is a statue to commemorate this with ‘a great Aussie Story’ written on it as well as something about mateship. I like the idea of mateship, I think it’s all about keeping your buddies beer glass full or something like that, saving your fellow bod from a lonely demise on a mountain is also included along with anything in between these two bookends.
The top thing for me at O’reilly’s had to be the treetop walk. Cleverly constructed so that you walk out over a slope so that it seems as if you have hardly gone up into the canopy of anything at all, you soon find yourself up there with the birds. And what birds they are…
Byron Bay is one of those places that has been eaten up by it’s own success, a bit like the Thai islands, or any little idyll that has suffered the spotlight in fact.
Little more than 30 years ago it was just a quiet spot with green rolling hills a stones throw from a gorgeous beach, these days it has that patina of Americana that would scare the purist hippies into the hills.
I don’t have to lament these changes having not visited before so I loved the walk up to the lighthouse to see the views around the vast curving beaches either side. It was also a grand feeling standing on the most easterly point of such a vast continent.
For the night we slung the jongle hammocks up just back from the beach so we heard the rolling surf all night.
The east coast of Oz has so many gorgeous places to see, yet one of the most well know crowd pleasers is The Big Banana that sits glaring over the road just outside Coffs Harbour.
Now the problem with having the moniker ‘Big’ before your name is that you expect it to be nothing less than, well, big. The big banana didn’t really live up to it’s bigness in my books, but let’s not get Freudian about that or we’ll be here all day.
Here is a picture of the big banana, admittedly it would fill up your bowl of muesli should you slice it up for breakfast.
Well that’s about it right now. I have to prise myself away from this idyll to take a look up country or I’ll have to take up residency here in Bellingen. Now that’s no bad thing and we are considering it as an option, along with half of the rest of the world too. It’s a nice dichotomy to be in, but for now we are up for a trip to the gold coast and some of those little waterfalls with idyllic little pools we have heard about up country.
Australia is a bit more smoke and mirrors than I expected it to be. Maybe this is because over in the UK we think we know about Australia, it crops up in conversation and a good deal of it’s population think of London as a second home, so when I arrived I expected it to be familiar. But no, to be honest Hong Kong feels more like home – not only because I lived there for a year, but because more people seem to speak English than they do in Sydney.
Don’t get me wrong here, I know Australia is a melting pot, I just didn’t expect it to be melting quite as much as it is.
On a practical work front it is difficult to get Internet access too. I found it easier in Cambodia than I do here, which I explain to myself as being the result of Australia having a huge infrastructure to support – but this doesn’t compute.
I do love this city though, we went swimming in the Olympic sized harbour side pool today where you can swim lengths while the harbour bridge stretches above you and over the bay. This is such an outdoor place. I am having to adjust my white skin to the outdoors though as it is hot and humid here, in my 6 weeks across S.E.Asia I haven’t come across heat like this yet.
We have walked everywhere – a bicycle would be better and a canoe better than that, but for now we have walked. The markets over at Balmain and Rozelle were a treat – at Rozelle a jazz quartet played whilst I got my aching shoulders massaged, I was enjoying that melting pot right then as well as when we tucked into a Singapore Laksha at the Darling Harbour food circle.
Sydney is going to take a little longer than I imagined to get the hang of and I’m glad for it, it’s those songs you always learn to love the most isn’t it!
I went up to the travellers hostel in the evening to see if any old faces were still around and found ‘George’ still living there. George is a long term tenant of Chung King Mansions who gets very cagey whenever you ask him about his past. He told me that John the Book had died in March of this year.
John the book was one of the characters I most remembered of my time in Hong Kong. He survived by selling old magazines or hiring neat clothes to travellers wanting to look nice for interviews. He was nocturnal.
But it was Alan who I met that evening that had the most strange tale to tell.
Alan is on remand at the moment. He is on remand because he was stopped by the police on a routine check, they found a knife and a knuckle duster in his pocket and decided, on this basis, to search his room at the hostel. What they found amazed them.
The police found a whole armoury including home made smoke bombs and a batman like outfit.
Alan had taken a disliking to the triads after splitting with his Chinese wife, so he decided to become a vigilante, getting rid of the scum off of the streets. He is handy with his martial arts so he would dress up in a mask and cape and then pounce on people that were up to no good. One trick he told me was to chuck ball bearings down an alleyway to confuse his prey.
Not being a witness to this I am not sure how comedic this effort would have been and indeed in the beginning I thought he was telling porkies so I doubted the validity of his story. But Alan showed me photocopies of the police report. He also has a video of them searching his room and pictures that the police took of every itemised weapon.
It might just be all true.
Apparently the police quite like him but they have to do their job and prosecute him.
The youth hostel at Mount Davis is basic but friendly, but it’s the view that you get which is priceless. I sat until late just enjoying the vista then turned in to crinkly myself to sleep on a thin plastic coated sponge mattress.
In the morning I took a bus to central and joined the throngs breakfasting in McDonalds. Afterwards I took the picture above which is why the sun is so low in the sky.
I then went to visit the place I stayed in upon arrival the first time around. I passed a woman in a lift that spouted ‘you loom, you loom’ at me as if I were deaf and in need of something to do with weaving. I kind of knew she meant room but what association she had with the said looms I couldn’t tell, so she looked dismissive and muttered her way into the lift and was off. That was the owner who speaks little to no English. The hostel itself looked deserted missing even basic furniture. At one time there was a bed near the door where a large black man slept and guarded the door at the same time, no mean feat, but now it seemed full of ghosts.
The travellers hostel was a funny old place where quite a few long termers in Hong Kong stayed as it was one of the few affordable bits of real estate to be found. There were a lot of English teachers and girls working as hostesses that entertained old Chinese men for a fee. I became very close to one of these girls, Jackie, who was the light and soul of the place. We would meet after her shifts and zip around the bars of Hong Kong from one happy hour to the next. One of these bars would pay men to dance on the bar top with no t-shirt on Wednesdays as it was ladies night, we would lean down and take another beer whenever we wished. We had no shame.
A few of the other full time resident of the travellers hostel were elderly Europeans that were not going home for love nor money. One of them, John the book, would rent out books, magazines and clothes, the clothes were for your first interviews that you don’t have anything in your rucksack for.The place was always busy, people gathered in the foyer swapping tips for jobs and the times of the happy hours for the bars around town, it was a lot of fun and felt like home. Now it looked devoid of life and a tad spooky as you can see from the picture below.
And another picture, where is everyone?
I was going to stay in the travellers hostel for old times sake but I decided that it felt a little morbid. I therefore headed over to the YMCA.
Now the Y in Hong Kong seems to be very unchristian. They charge 100 HK$ for Internet access alone so I am making sure I get my moneys worth. I was also looking forward to a swim but the swimming pool is closed, I guess I’ll have to wait for my swim in Sydney’s harbour side swimming pool that I have been told so much about.
I managed to find someone that did a traditional kosher massage and nearly missed my bus because of it, but I managed to hop on and find myself a little bunk by the window.
It’s lovely here, the Chinese have built a little shangri-la by some of the most eye catching scenery in the world. It’s not perfect and it would be easy to walk around with a critical eye, but it’s a great place to pass the time so today I did my spring cleaning and re-charged my batteries. This consists of cleaning out the rucksack by throwing away the pile of rubbish that accumulates on the road. Everything seems to have a value when you are travelling, even reciepts in languages you cannot fathom, so I have been ruthless and disposed of them all. I then washed my clothes which are drying right now, scrubbed myself, washed my hair, combed out the dreadlocks by dragging my fingers through my barnet and now I feel a good deal lighter.
I bought an expensive local jasmine tea and have been enjoying that all day, for lunch I ventured out to a local chinese eatery and selected from the goodies below…
If you click on the picture you will get a larger image to pop up. This techological advancement is cone of the many free add ons provided in the wordpress add on library gawd bless em.
I also booked my ticket to Shenzen and hence onwards to Hong Kong. I have planned my time there to take in some of my old haunts from when I lived there over 11 years ago, so that’ll be a trip down memory lane.
Tomorrow I might cycle up country and take a bamboo boat trip up river, my bus isn’t til 8pm and I know the way well enough by now to find the river landings for the bamboo rafts.
So, I’m not going to rabbit on anymore as I am going to get some dins with a German feller called Fred that I met on the way through Guilin. I like yangshuo, but then again I have fallen for quite a few places on this trip on reflection. It’s a wonderful world. (right now a Chinese girl is watching TV in the YHA munching on raw sugar cane, she looks like a panda and reminds me that we are all still animals at heart).
I beckoned to the man reversing the bus in the bus station that perhaps he should be so kind as to let me on. He shrugged one of those ‘why should I care’ shrugs and just pulled away – I gave him one of those ‘my finger has just picked your nose through your arse’ middle fingers and turned around. The crowd watching doesn’t understand interactions like this, emotional exchanges are kept to a minimum in South East Asia unless you are drunk and singing Karaoke, so I looked a little sheepish and returned to the throng whence some dude that looked a little too relaxed in sunglasses, smoking a cigarette, leaning, suggested that it was in fact bay ‘2’ I needed and the bus was still there.
You see this is a problem being in a country where you can read nothing and have a temper that flares at things a great deal more trivial than Spurs losing, it’s easy to feel like you are not quite getting the whole picture.
Here is a case in point. People overcharge you for everything here. It’s a sport, unless you happen to be in a supermarket where items are marked. I was at a juice bar the other day and asked for an orange juice. There was a huddle amongst the staff where I picket out a few words like ‘handsome devil’ and ‘looks like Brad Pitt’, but when the time came to be charged I had to point out that nothing on the sign-board above the counter came to anything near as much, I could get an icecream sundae that looked like a limestone Karst for half the price of my small orange juice. They just giggled and took the money.
You’ll pay a dollar at a street stall while the feller beside you is offering something that looks like one of the old half Pennie pieces, but heck, I am aware that with the new Chinese economic boom every one of them needs a moulinex so let me oblige and help a little.
The bus journey to Yangshuo was comfy and quick, but what a surprise Yangshuo is. It’s a cross between some swiss ski resort (without any skiing of course) combined with the lake district and a cut down version of the everyday Chinese hassle but with nice coffee shops to escape to. It’s a lovely little place and I shall put my feet up here until I have to leggit to Hong Kong at the weekend.
I hired a bike from my comfy little youth hostel (The Backstreet Hostel) and peddled down to the river for a looksie. I was gently lulled into a sense of well being by a young Chinese girl, Linda, who quite bizarrely sparked up a conversation in Spanish. Before I knew it I had employed her services as my tour guide for the day and set off on bicycles to check out the scenery around Yangshuo. Linda is her ‘English name’, having a passing similarity to Yin Degiong’, Yin De’ Lin De’ ‘Lin Da’ ‘Linda’, Ok and onwards.
We took a break at lunchtime in a small restaurant by the river that had a whole load of ducks drying outside. We had passed a whole bunch of ducks on the road that I suggested would have been quite tasty, this led me to drool at the gaggle hanging up, my mind greedily pondering crispy Peking duck and lots of it, Peking Duck being the Gina Lollobrigida of the food world it does rather get one going.
When it arrived it was a mess of chopped up bony dried ducky stuff cooked in something that tasted a bit like mobilube. The vegetables that come with it were rather nice though so I did my best while Linda berated me for picking around the duck looking for something that looked a little like, well, Duck.
We peddled on and Linda got a puncture. We deposited her back at the restaurant where some feller fixed the puncture then peddled around the countryside paying huge sums for fresh fruit, for instance when we purchased some from some little old lady that looked as if she was 125. She had a sign that said ‘I’m old and these extortionate fruit prices keep me in Satellite TV and the ability to watch movies with fresh young Hollywood actors in it so it’s either money or a shag’. Well it was something like that.
My high spot was when we stopped at a little little pagoda to buy some Pomelo (a bit like a grapefruit) whereupon the old feller selling them burst into song. I expected this to be a ‘lucre for a song’ pitch but now, Linda joined in and before I knew it we were swopping songs. I came out with Jacques Brel songs and before we knew it we had bonded like a teenage boy/girl band. We parted with a wave and a touch of sadness and continued along our way.
The scenery is amazing here. The reflection of the Limestone Karsts in the water of the rivers flowing through them has to be one of the prettiest nature has to offer anywhere in the world. We peddled and took snaps and headed towards some big arch of stone before the sun went down.
By the time we arrived I was knackered, but I hiked up the 800 steps with my heart pounding like I had done no exercise in the last four weeks and had replaced food with beer. By the time I reached the top I had redressed the balance, my blood was as clean as babies wee and my lungs were working again.
After this all I could do was head back to the YHA, fall into a shower and sleep face down and arse up in a heap in bed, I woke up at 4.30 am in time to catch Spurs/Spartak in the Uefa cup, Isn’t life just a peach sometimes.
Tony dropped me off at the station and made sure I was a happy web designer. He is paranoid that I’ll pull the plug on his shiny new website as I haven’t had what could be described as the most hassle free stay at his place, but I’m more pragmatic than that so he’s OK with me, his website will be OK.
The Vietnamese train looked like someone had taken the plans for some posh German hi-speed train and had then had the mutoid waste gang build it for them. It was sleek but patched up and scratched up so I wondered what kind of wars this train had been in. Train wars, trainzilla versus train kong, it’s obvious this train didn’t come out looking too pretty, but that’s the Vietnamese, they might suffer indescribable losses in their scrapes but they win, pretty or not.
So we pootle off to the border where we arrived before midnight. We sat chilly in the cold night air in a cheerless waiting room as we went through customs, some poor women in another glass fronted room peered through a sign that implied she was looking out for people with contagious diseases, she looked like she needed a break.
So after our spartan Vietnamese train we then boarded our Chinese counterpart. A Vietnamese officer checked our passport whilst looking as casual as he could, ciggy hanging from his mouth and his army jacket loose he was trying to be a James Dean to his Chinese counterparts impassive and upright demeanour. They stood close enough at the train door to share a kiss but didn’t swap a word, I guess they are still a little pissed off with each other.
The Chinese carriage was the same design as the Vietnamese one, I guess both made in China, but here the similarity ends. The Chinese train was warm and comfy, carpeted on the floor and with guards that were polite and helpful. I settled into my carriage with three friendly and chatty Vietnamese and after swapping stories, as well as passport necessities with the authorities, slipped into the best nights sleep since I was snuggled up in Streatham.
We stopped in the morning at Nanning where I slipped out of the station and experienced China for the first time (I spent a year in Hong Kong but it was British at the time). I had a plate of Dim Sum and a bowl of noodles that were both delicious, then hurried back to the train where we boarded again. I was woken again at 1.30 as were were soon to pull into Guilin, I arrived refreshed and happy to be in China.
I am now sitting in a youth hostel with a great wifi connection near the river in Guilin. I will head to Yangshuo tomorrow where I will hire a bike and get out into the country side.
So one thing I have proved is that building a website in the wilds of S.E.Asia is only different from Streatham is that I get someone delivering a never ending supply of beer. Now pinch me now as that seems to be a kind of work nirvana, but that’s me – I am supposing that the average nun wouldn’t hope for the same working conditions when abroad, but you never know.
Tony, the Hotel Gaffer tried to squeeze as much blood out of this stone as possible by getting me to submit his site to all sorts of Hotel search engines, but by early afternoon had had enough. Jackie, Kwah and I all went out to lunch and sat in a little cafe while Kwah laughed and tossed his noodle soup over the balcony at unwitting passers by. He really is a happy kid and is very bright, his disability is purely physical so he should be up to speed soon with the help he’s getting – The Kianh Foundation is the charity if you want to have a ganders.
I said my goodbyes around 4.00 and hopped on a bike with Tony to go to the station – off to China.
So I start early and spend the day tap tapping away like a web monkey whilst being delivered beer fule by the frantic hotel owner who believes I will not finish his website by the time I leave. Little does he know, I have obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to finishing jobs like this, I get tunnel vision until I have spent myself, frothing and wild eyed.
I was luck enough to meet Jackie and Kwah towards the end of the day and suggested taking them both out for a meal. Jackie is working for a charity that helps out disabled kids in Vietnam, she has taken on Kwah as his family had him tied to a bed for a number of years which wasn’t doing him too much good. Jackie is a scouser with a wicked sense of Humour and Kwah is a Vietnamese kid that laughs all of the time, a perfect team methinks. They took my mind off of the job for a while as we sat at the coffee shop at the end of the lake and ate, quite frankly, crap food (they have great cakes though so my fault). Afterwards I returned to my slavish and wide eyed tapping until I passed out in the early hours, pissed and overworked.
Tomorrow I am off to Vietnam, apparently the internet connections are faster and the food is better, but I have enjoyed my stay around here. I’ll come back and have a better look around, but for now I’m motoring.