Archive for June 1996

Hong Kong Harbour

Boy, these late nights and early mornings are starting to get to me… I spent last night doing a last-minute pre-China email-check at the cyberpub then found some munchies to eat while I caught up on my journal. I woke bleary-eyed at 6am and grabbed a taxi to the airport. For once I actually got one for a reasonable price, only 250 baht. Of course, it was the last taxi I’d take in Thailand on this trip.

I have to say, Thai Air get the award for the slowest check-in so far. They took fifteen minutes to clear the three passengers in front of me, requiring several phone calls and long chats with the girl to the side. At least I had some entertainment as one of the guys behind the desk worked out on the baggage conveyor. Not too hard as there was no baggage going anywhere. Another 250 baht airport tax. I’m not used to this, as tickets between the US and Europe usually include the taxes in the fare. This is becoming a very undesirable drain on my finances.

Landing In Hong Kong

Changed my baht to Hong Kong dollars and wandered the airport for a while looking for something to spend my eight baht change on. Before I changed the money I’d wondered if I should keep some for drinks but didn’t feel thirsty, within a few moments of changing it all I did. Could have guessed. I looked for Yui but couldn’t see her, guess she didn’t make it.

There’s something strange about money. It seems that the money I have in my pocket determines the country that I think I’m in. When my pockets are full of baht I’m intellectually in Thailand, Hong Kong dollars and I’m in Hong Kong, etc. It’s another strange feeling that’s hard to explain. I suppose the ritual money-changing just seems somehow more of an end to my visit than immigration and customs.

Flying into Hong Kong airport was a real experience, even more so than the time I landed there myself in a 747 simulator. There’s a ninety-degree turn just before the runway, and as we flew in to land we were so close to the buildings and other planes that I felt as if I could almost reach out and touch them. At least this wasn’t as exciting as a few decades ago. I once spoke to a guy who’d been in the Air Force back then and flew into Hong Kong on supply flights. The approach path actually came steeply down the mountainside and they’d send the radio operator back to sit on the toilet in the tail and inform the pilot if he was about to hit the ground.

Chungking Mansions

Hong Kong was hot yet again. I picked a guest house at random from the ones I’d underlined in my travel guide and gave them a call. The Kowloon Hotel (actually a Kowloon Hotel, there’s another across the road charging ten times the price) said they had rooms from HK$150 to 350, and I arranged to visit. Changed some more money and took a bus to the hotel, in Tsimshatsui near the infamous Chungking Mansions, where the really cheap travellers’ hostels are. I would like to have saved some money, but I was rather put off the place by the tales I’d heard of the rats being afraid to go out at night for fear of being mugged by the cockroaches.

Touts immediately surrounded the bus, trying to get me to go to their hostels. One followed me all the way while I tried to find the arcade where mine was located, and took a lot of shifting. Two more tried their hand when I got inside.

Took a lift to the 13th floor. The `hotel’ is really a group of flats which have been split up into individual rooms and dorms. Cheap, but not bad for Hong Kong prices. She showed me a HK$180 room, which was small with two beds, a shared bath and a fan rather than air conditioning. Even had a view of the harbor between the skyscrapers, and a view of the vegetable life-form which was engulfing one of the delapidated buildings below like something from a bad fifties SF movie.

A Room With A View

I was grateful to grab a shower, and wished I still had some clean clothes to spare. I had no time for laundry and would need at least one set in China. Blurgh. As soon as I returned to my room rain began to fall outside. I watched the streets for a while, the interesting mix of dirty and rundown skyscrapers and streets packed with neon signs in Chinese and English. Being the tourist area most were for Rolex and expensive Japanese electronics.

Slept for a while, as I hardly had the night before, then got up to catch up on writing. I spent about an hour and a half wandering around the local area getting a rough idea of what was where, then found a Circle-K to grab some munchies and a Citibank machine to take some money out of my bank account. I returned to my room clutching my prize, a bag of potato chips (some strange Japanese seaweed flavor), preserved mango, Sprite and chocolate cake. I dozed off around midnight and woke up again at 4:45am to pack and head for the airport. After a hot night in the room I was glad to be able to shower and change my clothes.

Getting out of the hotel was a bit tricky, as all the doors were locked and when unlocked one was barely wide enough to fit through with all my stuff. Travel light, remember. I took the lift down and stood on Nathan Road (the main drag in Tsimshatsui) looking lost. While I was looking for somewhere with no yellow lines so that a taxi could stop to pick me up, one slammed on the brakes and ushered me rapidly in. I threw my bags in the back, then followed.

The driver was mad, completely and utterly. He stopped for a moment to grab a packet of cigarettes, then we zoomed off. He asked me where I was going and I told him I was visiting a friend who was teaching English in Beijing for a year. He said he was also an English teacher – he taught English to his daughter during the day and then drove taxis at night. He rushed along the roads, sliding the car sideways on corners into the outside lane, forcing the other traffic to get out of his way. `Don’t Worry’ seemed to be his mantra.

For a few moments we discussed the relative insanity of London and Hong Kong taxis, and he was amazed that London taxi-drivers could make enough money if they didn’t drive the way he did. We also thought that perhaps the city should do something like Monaco. Each year they could close off the streets and have a Taxi Grand Prix; `This car Formula One’, he assured me.

I was glad for the seatbelt as he threw the car round the last corner into the airport with squeals from the tyres and brakes. I jumped out and dumped my bags onto the pavement, then with a hint of wheelspin he roared off into the night in search of his next victim, oops, I mean passenger.

Yet another US$15 departure tax. I thought I’d saved money the day before, but now all my savings had vanished. Oh well. Changed some Hong Kong dollars into Chinese Yuan just in case I couldn’t do it in China, then waited for the plane. Took the bus out to it and climbed the steps in front of the idling engine, hoping noone would fall on the throttle and suck me in. A group of Japanese tourists followed, all with expensive video cameras. They filmed each other leaving the bus and walking up the steps and one had to be physically restrained by the stewardess as he tried to film the engine from close up. Like practically inside it…

Yay, a chance to sleep at last. Next stop China!

This travel business is strange. I mean only a few days ago I was in Bangkok, then two flights later I’m back again and Singapore seems just like a dream. Soon I’ll be Hong Kong and I guess that Bangkok will seem just the same.

But then this whole trip feels quite strange. I first decided that I wanted to visit all these countries over ten years ago now, and back then I thought I’d do it between school and university. I never organised that, so all through university I thought I’d work for a year or so afterwards and then do it. Then of course every year my expenditure would approximate my income and I’d pull down the travel guides from my bookshelves, flip through them and think ‘well, maybe next year’.

Now here I am. After all that time I’m sitting in my hotel room writing this, drinking Sprite, munching on potato chips and doughnuts, and listening to the cleaners laughing while they put up the curtains that my room didn’t have last night. Geez, this place is like Grand Central Station at the moment…

Back to the point. For so long these places have just been marks on maps or photos in guide books and now I’m living in one. I’m two weeks into my trip, one country is just a memory and another will join it in a few days. Before too long it will be over and I’ll be back to work with nothing but a few photos and videotapes, souvenirs and memories to look back on. Time is very odd.

Still, I’m glad in some respects that it was delayed for so long. If I’d travelled before now I wouldn’t have been able to meet up with all my net.friends and see all these places from the local viewpoint. That’s certainly adding a nice touch to this trip.

Ooops, my laptop battery seems to be very unhappy. It’s only lasting about 1 1/2 hours now compared to 2+ when it was new. I wish I knew why. I guess it’s the stupid memory effect, because the integral charger will automatically charge the battery whenever it’s plugged into a wall socket. I really hope I don’t have to buy another one before I get home. Grr

William Gibson once called Singapore ‘Disneyland with the Death Penalty’, but I don’t think it’s quite that bad. Unlike most of Asia, the whole country is very clean and organised, and where Thailand is full of Buddhist Temples, Singapore has shopping malls. However, after a brief look at the ads in the newspaper I can’t see who can afford to shop in them. The wages on offer were not impressive, and cars were incredibly expensive.

The flight was uneventful, and not much more expensive than the trip to the airport with a Liverpool-supporting taxi driver. However I was a little concerned about the wingless plane parked alongside the runway. I hope it’s for fire-training or something rather than the result of a recent crash, but perhaps Thai pilots are as crazy as Thai taxi-drivers. The arrivals card was emblazoned with ‘DEATH PENALTY FOR DRUG SMUGGLERS IN SINGAPORE’, one of the few things that I actually knew about the country. The airport at the other end was very efficient, I was out in the arrivals hall within a few minutes of leaving the plane.

Finding someone you’ve never met is always interesting, but I had more luck here than in some cases. I’d hardly passed the waiting crowd and begun looking around when my Internet pen-pal found me. We grabbed a taxi to the hostel to drop off my stuff, then after a brief walk amongst the huge bank skyscrapers we took the MRT train to Boat Quay where the Net Cafe is located. It’s a nice place, full of upmarket bars and restaurants, and the river is pretty at night. The biggest problem is dodging everyone who tries to drag you into their restaurants.

We chatted while we ate desserts and drank soft drinks. Food was to be a big part of this trip, as like Bangkok eating seems to be one of the main entertainments in the city. Fish ball soup was quite nice and entertaining to eat with chopsticks, but I’m not really a seafood fan. The satay club at Clarke Quay (where various traders set up stalls around a group of tables and chairs) was good too. However, I still feel somewhat guilty about tearing apart shrimps which have been cooked for me to eat. It’s the eyes that do it, I think – I don’t like food that watches me as I eat it.

Durians… ah, well. My penpal also took me to a Durian shop. For those who don’t know, it’s a large green fruit which smells like it’s been in a sewer – the smell is so bad that they’re banned from the MRT trains. However, if you can get past the smell it tastes very nice, if a bit strong. She was surprised that I did eat almost all of it, as she’d never met a Westerner who didn’t hate it before. She also tried hard to convince me that it didn’t taste of coffee, but I still claim that it does. We watched the few others who came in to try it and the guy behind us was amused by our stares as he took the first spoonful. He was on a business trip from Florida and his business associates decided to test him before he left. I was surprised that he liked it as well.

Getting lost was another fairly large part of the visit. The first night I tried to return to the hostel by myself, but as I left the MRT station I took a wrong turn and realised that I couldn’t remember the route. Oops. After half an hour of wandering around and trying to distinguish one huge skyscraper from another I finally arrived in time to get a few hours sleep before meeting up the next morning. I was a little surprised that I could wander aimlessly around the financial district after midnight without anyone stopping me; the City of London is always on high alert after the terrorist attacks of the past.

We did just as badly with buses at times. Not that I minded as I got to see parts of the city which were well off the normal tourist routes. Singapore is more than just the tall skyscrapers which we see on TV. The outlying parts of the city seemed a lot like Bangkok with small Chinese and Indian shops and a fair amount of dirt. The $5000 fines for littering presumably help to keep the rest of the city clean.

Another problem I had was getting up in the morning. Having mailed my alarm clock back to my parents to reduce weight I discovered that the alarm on my watch didn’t work. Aaargh.

Singapore Zoo is quite nice, with most of the fences carefully hidden to give the impression that they’re not there at all, and the animals seem happy enough. The elephant and sea-lion shows were both quite fun, and I liked the numerous marine/freshwater exhibits with perspex sides so that you could see the animals swimming underwater. Around the site we spotted signs to the ‘naked mole rat’ exhibit, and as we’d never seen a mole rat, naked or otherwise, we attempted to follow them. Each time the signs stopped just as we thought we were close to our goal. Or perhaps the mole rats were suffering from an attack of modesty and didn’t want to be seen naked.

We’d planned to visit the island of Sentosa, south of Singapore (Hmm, ‘Sentosa, South of Singapore’ – sounds like the title of a bad seventies adventure movie, perhaps I should write that one), and go to one of the water parks, but it was closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. After a lot of thought we finally decided to go ice-skating instead, a nice change from the heat outside. I’d done a lot of skating in my misspent youth, but my penpal had never tried it and was hoping not to fall over.

I was surprised by how bad I was when I first got on the ice and took a few minutes to get the hang of shifting my weight around from foot to foot again. My penpal did pretty well, after half an hour she was skating around happily holding my hand and after an hour or so was skating complete loops by herself. That’s a lot better than I did on my first try! And she didn’t fall over!!!! Yay!

Other sights we visited included the bizarre Occupation Monument and the famous Raffles Hotel, which is incredibly expensive (up to about US$3500 per night) and somehow both very quiet and very cool in the courtyard. The view from the harbour was very pretty, with the ferries leaving for Indonesia and Sentosa in the background. The sunset there was wonderful, the orange light illuminating huge thunder-clouds. We sat on the wall by the sea and talked while a photographer took pictures of the happy couple from a Chinese wedding. I was still surprised that the sun set around 7pm down here, and she was surprised that it stayed up until 10:30pm or later in England. I knew that the day was very long or short in the Arctic Circle, but for some reason I’d never thought that it would be so short near the Equator.

The last night we just wandered around the city and chatted, which was fun. When we left the Net Cafe in the evening, heavy rain was falling; for some reason rain seems to follow me everywhere I go, guess it’s the English influence. We walked along the Quay hiding from the rain in the covered walkways outside the restaurants. Every time we had to run from one part of the Quay to another we were rapidly soaked.

We took the MRT and looked for a beach but took the wrong road. Ack. Eventually we gave up and did vampire impressions as we looked for somewhere to sit down. The city never seems to get cool, even at night. It does, however, get deserted soon in the evening. Probably no worse than London, but empty compared to New York or Jerusalem. Another strange thing about being down near the Equator – perhaps I’m hallucinating, but the moon is at a weird angle. It’s almost horizontal rather than almost vertical.

We found some tables and chairs outside a mall and sat down until the security guard arrived on his bicycle and kicked us out. We walked to the monument and checked the seats but they were soaking wet. As we left we surprised a courting couple canoodling on the steps. I don’t think they expected anyone else would be around after midnight.

Eventually we found some seats by the MRT station and watched the ants taking leaves to their nest. My penpal began an concerted mosquito and ant-swatting campaign, which I should probably have joined. In the morning I found loads of bites, the first I’d received in Asia. We chatted and watched the taxi drivers who accumulated across the road. With no-one to carry around the city I guess they had nothing to do but talk all night.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet either of my other net.friends in the city. One had emailed me to say that he was having a minor operation while I was there and the other was still bleary and jet-lagged from a trip to America. I wish I could have spent more time there, but the flight was the only one I could get. Singapore is an odd place, but I’m sure I’ll go back to visit sometime. Although this report probably doesn’t sound that exciting, it was quite fun. However that might be more to do with the company than the location.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, all I’d heard before I arrived were stories about the death penalties for drug smugglers and other kinds of strict law enforcement. During my visit I only remember seeing two police cars (one parked outside a doughnut shop). I guess that in a similar way to England the laws are observed because people just can’t be bothered to break them rather than because the government do enforce them strictly (though as with most countries the speed limits are widely ignored).

That’s good in some respects because it is a fairly nice and clean place, but on the other hand it does seem somewhat, well, boring, at times (again, like England). I guess we’re back to the perennial question of freedom or safety? I tend to lean towards the former, which is probably why in still preferred Thailand even with the pollution, touts and language problems. Same with America over England.

Not The Elephant In Question

You know they say ‘travel light’? And you always ignore it? Well, I think I understand what they mean. I’m dreading packing tomorrow before I fly to Singapore, so I think that I’m going to end up mailing some stuff back to my parents in the morning. There are some films and a tape that I’ve used up, I haven’t used my tripod so far (it’s not very heavy, but is bulky) and I guess I can lose my alarm clock too. I can use my watch if I need to, or rely on someone waking me up. That will probably only save about a kilogram in total, but a lot of room.

Back to recent events, yesterday started out as Taxi Hell. I’d found that when I met a taxi driver who didn’t understand English I could just point at the Thai version of the placename in the Lonely Planet guidebook and that would usually work. Unfortunately this time it didn’t, and I ended up being dropped off at the end of a small alleyway on an almost deserted road. For some reason it was blocked off, but I didn’t know why. During the week I’d noticed that a lot of grandstands were being assembled in the centre of Bangkok. If I’d realised that I was only a few hundred yards from them I might have worked out what was going on.

I wandered around for a while looking for the place I wanted to visit (the old Palace), and eventually gave up. I tried to take a second taxi, but the driver just gesticulated wildly in various directions so I gave up on that too. I could see a large tower above me and signs to the ‘Golden Mount’, so I decided to skip the Palace and take a look at that instead. I walked through the Buddhist Temple and just as I got to the steps up the mount someone blocked it off. Oh well.

Finally, I grabbed another taxi and the driver explained that there was a big army parade that day to commemorate the King’s fiftieth anniversary. This explained a lot. I arrived at the old teak Palace and explored it for a while, it was quite pretty and full of objects which the Kings had collected from all over Asia and Europe on their travels. I caught the end of a traditional Thai dance show by the canal, then left in the hope of taking afternoon tea at the Hilton.

Finding a taxi was easy. Explaining to the driver was very hard, and he eventually dropped me off on a street corner after a total failure to communicate. I tried a few more. The only taxi who wanted to go there wanted four times the usual rate. I started walking and found a street sign which was marked on my map, finally worked out where I was, then spotted some paratroopers dropping out of the sky only a few hundred yards away. Then a column of armoured cars rumbled past, and I finally realised why the taxis weren’t very happy about travelling in that direction. At this point I regretted not refilling my water bottle from the Palace restaurant and decided that I’d better walk past the parade zone and pick up a taxi on the other side.

I followed the route, skirting the boundaries of the area that had been closed off, then the road abruptly came to a halt with a crowd of people in front of me. Jets flew over only a few hundred feet up, a military band paraded past and MPs on motorbikes drove up in front of us. In the distance I could see the Golden Mount where I’d started my travels. I now understood why they’d been so concerned about closing it off, it was only about a hundred yards from the grandstand where the Royal family were sitting, an ideal sniper shot.

Tanks Roll Past

Well, as I was stuck there I thought I might as well enjoy the show. It was fun, something of a big boys’ toy show. Tanks and missile launchers rumbled past, more planes flew over, fireworks went off, the band played, flags waved, the MPs sternly kept everyone under control and squirrels played obliviously in the trees and telephone wires. I also had a excuse to pull out my video camera and get some use from it. That’s the first tape finished…

So I missed my afternoon tea, but saw the Thai Royal Family and lots of cool toys, and waved at the soldiers with the rest of the crowd. I might even appear in some crowd-shots on TV or in the newspapers, as some official-looking photographers and guys with BetaCam cameras were filming us during the parade. Afterwards I hung around for a while taking pictures as they packed up, then began the walk to the hotel. By the time some taxis had emptied I was half-way there and could see little point paying them rather than finish on foot.

Sunset At A Memorial (or something)

I’ve actually been walking a surprising amount here, and if you don’t mind sweating like crazy I can recommend it. You’ll get a much better understanding of the geography and see a lot of things that you miss from the road. The city is packed with tiny food stores and huge night-time food markets which you can’t see from a taxi because you’re either in the wrong place or too low down to see over the walls. In fact, food seems to be the thing in Bangkok, at night any empty space from the sidewalk to building sites comes alive with food stalls of various sorts.

Ah well, that’s enough for now. I have to nip down to the cyberpub to check that all’s well for tomorrow, then get ready to fly to Singapore. I found some accommodation for when I get back here, it’s not as impressive as this hotel and costs more than I paid the travel agent for this one, but it’s about 1/3 of the price that they wanted for me to extend my stay here. Hotels are strange…

Hee… may be on TV again – a TV crew arrived to film the cyberpub while I was there. They only interviewed some of the staff rather than the customers though. I also saw something that I’ve never seen anywhere but Bangkok – elephants blocking the sidewalk. See what I mean about the advantages of walking?

You know the problem with this technomadism business? To make it work you need good access to the Internet. In Israel I could just take my outgoing mail along to the Internet Cafe on a floppy disk, ftp it up to my isp, send it, then ftp down my incoming mail. Here things aren’t so simple. Last night I visited the Cyberpub in Bangkok, where floppy drives are out of bounds, so my planned brief session became an expensive one.

It’s certainly the smartest Internet Cafe/Pub that I’ve been to, the food was good and I spent a couple of hours there drinking beer and listening to live music. But I couldn’t afford to read or reply to even half my messages. I guess this means you’ll get this message from Singapore!

At lunch I think I finally worked out why I’m still feeling somewhat lethargic at the moment – caffeine withdrawal.

As some of you don’t work in the computer industry, perhaps I should explain. Computer people will put up with a lot of things. Computers keep crashing? Air-conditioning breaks? Major hurricane blows the roof off the building? Terrorist car-bomb explodes in the lobby? No problem – we’re tough, we can handle that. But if the coffee machine breaks down… well, you’d better get it fixed or there’ll be a major mutiny.

Most software is written in a caffeine high, and before I flew out here I was probably drinking ten or fifteen cups a day. Since I arrived I’ve drunk three in five days. So not surprisingly my body is rebelling somewhat. One interesting thing is that now I’m no longer addicted I do actually feel an effect when I drink it, which I’d lost over my years of perpetual coffee-abuse. I suspect this will be good for me once by body finishes adapting.

One thing I will probably be addicted to after I leave is the food. Being able to get good Thai food for a fifth of the price we pay in England is just wonderful. I shall miss it when I go. So far I’ve just been ordering anything that stood out on the menu and on a couple of occasions I’ve had trouble working out how to eat what turned up. I guess it’s like an intelligence test – ‘Given this food and these utensils you have one minute to decide how to eat it’. I haven’t been thrown out yet.

I couldn’t go dancing with Yui in the end because she got stuck in a traffic jam (no joke, you haven’t seen traffic jams until you’ve seen Bangkok). She’s now off visiting her parents so I won’t see her again until I get back from Singapore. Consequently I’ve been being a tourist.

Friday I wandered down to Lumphini Park and spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around, but was practically boiled alive on the way there and back. I’m not sure I’d try it again in this weather. Saturday I visited the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha shrine. I really love the traditional Thai architecture, it’s far more colourful and elaborate than just about anything in England. The place is very much a tourist-haven, so for once I didn’t feel uncomfortable about wandering around with a still camera hung from one shoulder and a camcorder on the other. This is probably why I blew away a couple of films and half a videotape in an afternoon.

I was also accosted by some girls from one of the local schools to be interviewed for their English class project. That was quite fun, though I was stumped by the question about ‘what does Edward mean in English?’ Strange to be in a country where I’m a tourist attraction.

Now that I’m becoming used to Bangkok, I can hardly believe that I only have about four more days here. I definitely expect to come back some day, but my inability to speak Thai has become increasingly frustrating so I think I’d want to learn it to at least an elementary level first. I can get around well enough, but even just ordering food in a restaurant can get quite complicated.

Bangkok From The Air

Bangkok is hot… very, very hot. Except when you’re indoors, when it can be very, very cold. Somehow the air conditioning often seems to be set far too low. The city is also extremely congested. The 24km trip from the airport to my hotel took about two and a half hours the day I arrived, including about half an hour sitting stationary in one traffic jam! I can certainly understand why so many people ride motorbikes here, as they can weave in and out of the stationary cars and buses. However, given the rather exciting driving style where you can never be entirely sure which side of the road people will be driving on, I’m not sure that motorbikes would be conducive to a long life. Taxi drivers must be very brave.

Thanks to a combination of the time difference and the hassle of the last few weeks I pretty much fell asleep for three days. Monday I got up solely to shower and eat, Tuesday I spent the afternoon wandering around the local area, then met up with Yui, a net.friend here. As it was her birthday she took me out with some of her friends for dinner in the evening. That was nice, though I finally passed my hot-food-threshold. After my friend Ben’s extremely hot Indonesian curries I didn’t think that was possible. Hopefully we’ll be going dancing on Friday.

I think I’ve probably eaten more Thai food here than I ever did back home, and I’ll get through plenty more before I leave. I rather like the Thai way of eating with a fork and spoon, it works well. I think I should have mastered it soon.

The Cat Has The Right Idea

Yesterday I got up in the afternoon and started doing some touristy stuff, today I got up at 8am and I’m probably going to visit the National Museum. Being a sucker for museums I’ll probably be there all day. If not then I’ll head for the cyberpub at one of hotels here and see if my magic mailbot works. If you get this there’s a good chance that it did.

Bangkok reminds me of Jerusalem; there’s the same sort
of mixture of old and new architecture, though most of the buildings in the area I’m staying are definitely new. Another difference are the Thai ‘spirit houses’ which are built along with all new buildings, so that the spirits of the land will move into the spirit house rather than live in the buildings with the occupants. I can see why they would, most of them are very pretty, particularly the two outside the hotel.

Ah, the hotel. Yes, well, I’m paying $22.50 per night to the travel agency for my room and apparently the normal room rate is more like $150 per night. I don’t think that they often get people wandering into the lobby carrying huge rucksacks and wearing trousers with holes in them. It’s nice because everything is here, but on the other hand I’m not meeting any other travellers like I did in the hostel in Israel. I’ve also learnt to avoid getting a taxi from outside the hotel as the drivers think all the people staying here must be rich.

Next week I’m off for a couple of days to visit friends in Singapore, then back here for a day or two before I leave for Hong Kong. I’m wishing now that I’d had the three or four weeks I originally planned so that I could have travelled out to see some of the other towns and rural areas. Bangkok is an interesting city, but I think the congestion would get tiring after a while. Guess I’ll just have to come back another time, and learn some Thai first to make life easier.

This is actually looking to be a big problem with this travel business. One reason for making this trip was so that I could visit all these places in one go and not have a need to visit them again in the future. Of course the opposite seems to be happening – having seen a bit of the country I want more time to see the rest of it. Oh well, if I can find a telecommuting job…

I keep wondering when the pink elephants are going to appear. After averaging about three hours sleep a night this week my brain is no longer terribly well connected to reality. At least I get an early night tonight – yay! My three-page TODO list is now down to one, and it mostly covers things like ‘buy films’ and ‘pack’. Only the ‘sell car’ line is looking unlikely. Still, if my parents can get $600 for it I’ll have about the amount of money I was expecting, and I can load up my credit cards in the last month or so if I have to.

The last of my tickets arrived today so I have almost everything sorted out on the travel front, I just need to find accommodation in those countries where I haven’t already organised it. I should be able to do that when I get there. I’ve been working out exactly what to take and packing it away. The first thing I threw out was the hulking great light for my video camera. As it weighs over three kilos and is the only thing I have which can’t be charged from 110V I’ll make do with the little one. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a zillion things – I can’t believe that I can live for six months with what I’ve packed.

This morning I finally risked opening up the attic and clearing out everything I had stored in there. Because no-one had been in there for a long time the cobwebs and giant spiders were like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Then most of what I pulled out went straight into the rubbish bags, sigh I might as well have dumped it years ago but I wasn’t being as ruthless back then. Now I have to go to my ex-landlord’s funeral, shop, mail a few dozen change-of-address letters and do some work.

I’ll be sending personal mail to a few people in between finishing off the organisation and my last work project, otherwise this will probably be the last message before I get to Thailand. There are a couple of Internet Cafes in Bangkok so I should be able to get to one next week.

I still haven’t quite accepted the fact that I’m finally doing this. I’ve been so busy in the last few days that I haven’t had any time to sit down and think about it. I’m not sure I will until I get on the plane, which is probably lucky as there’s no way I can chicken out then. Ah well, in a few months I’ll probably be complaining that I don’t have much time left before I go back to work.

Hi! This is largely a test message to ensure that all this magic works. I’d be very embarrassed if I flew out of here before discovering that my software had some bugs. Consequently some of you may already have heard some of this. Oh and while I remember, some of you got the wrong instructions on how to unsubscribe – due to a Dumb Programmer Error the sign-on message said to send ‘subscribe’ to the list to unsubscribe… oops. The real instructions will be appended to the end of this message when you receive it.

Well, organisation is going OK but I’m having big problems selling my car. I had one person arrange to come to look at it on Saturday but not turn up and several more called while I was out and didn’t leave messages or call back. Oh well, my parents have offered to sell it for me if I can’t get rid of it by the weekend. I must say, I’ll be glad to get out of here and recover from all the stress of arranging to leave.

Directing My First Movie

Last night I saw the rushes of the movie (well, if you can call it that, it will only be about a minute long when edited) that I shot last weekend as part of the film course I’ve been taking. It was fine except for the police car siren in the background during one important piece of dialogue. I’m amazed that I didn’t notice the sound at the time, I must have been concentrating so hard on everything else that I missed it.

Sixty-four of us were taking the course and we made one film per pair. One member of each pair directed, the other operated the camera and the rest of the group rotated between the other jobs on the crew. I think ours was actually one of the better ones (he says modestly). It got quite a few laughs, and afterwards a few people told me that they liked it. At least it was in focus, unlike some.

We then returned to the studio for champagne and moved on to a Salsa club for an hour or so. I talked to a girl who works at the studio and wants to make the English equivalent of `El Mariachi’. She reckons we could do better for less, which with cheap or free equipment hire might be possible. Hmm, I wonder…

With all the movies and music videos being made over here this summer I wish I’d waited a few more weeks before leaving. Whatever happens I’ll be here for a few months in the New Year so I’ll have time to edit that movie and see if I can work on some others.

Whew, better get back to the organisation. I haven’t even worked out how I’m getting to the airport this weekend…