Sunday, December 09, 2007
Of the respected gentlemen
They say it would be wine and roses
If England were for Englishmen again
-Something about England by The Clash
I've been in the UK now for over six years. It's therefore become time to be naturalised. It's either that or return to Aotearoa. As Miss Sarah might not go for that, I've decided to stay. In order to stay I have to sit the 'Life in the UK' test. Essentially, I need to prove that I have both the necessary knowledge of English and that I am familiar with what makes Britain British.
The good folks at the Home Office have written two books to help with this. The first is a book of knowledge, or 150 pages of history, law, advice about how to get advice, and general idealism. The second book is 20 sample tests, with answers.
Your sample questions:
1. What traditionally happens on Mother's Day?
A. Mothers make special meals for their families
B. People celebrate the mother of Jesus Christ
C. People give cards or gifts to their mothers
D. People hold fireworks displays.
2. What percentage of Christians in the UK are Roman Catholic?
3. Select the Correct Statement
A. It is illegal to pay workers below the minimum wage
B. It is legal to pay workers below the minimum wage as long as they agree to the wage rate
4. What is the distance from John O'Groats to Land's End?
A. Approximately 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres)
B. Approximately 1,310 miles (2,110 kilometres)
C. Approximately 500 miles (800 kilometres)
D. Approximately 870 miles (1,400 kilometres)
5. What percentage of the United Kingdom's population is made up of ethnic minorities?
Answers for the non-British:
1. Seeing as 'A' is called 'Dinner' and happens every night, I figured I'd go with 'C'
3. B. I think this was aimed at those in the pay of 'gang masters'.
4 and 5. D. What I liked about these questions was that the options weren't in numerical order. Clearly while English is required, mathematics isn't.
So, on Friday, I sat the test. There were twelve of us in the room. Beside me was a Russian called Igor (you can't make some stuff up) and a large black Zimbabwean called Wellington. Wellington had been up for days studying and was frantically reading over his notes. Amongst the others were a Filipino girl, an Afghan, two Indians, and a south Asian who had decided that she would bring a Belgian driver's license rather than her passport as ID. We were all summonsed one at a time to sit in front of a computer, where we were presented with four options of how we would like our computer screen to look when we sat the test. While we waited, we were given cards that contained a screen shot of what the screen would look like. Finally, we were all called for one at a time to go to our computer, Wellington clapping everybody on the shoulder and wishing everyone good luck. I was second to last into the room.
We were told that we would we would have four dummy questions first, and then we would do the real thing. We would have 24 multi-choice questions, and we would have to get at least 18 correct to stay in the country.
I answered my dummy questions in less than 30 seconds. Two and a half minutes later, I'd been through the 24 questions twice, and because I was certain I'd got the first 16 correct, the last eight a further time. As I would have to wait for the rest to finish before finding out if I'd passed, I went out to shift my car. By the time I'd come back (less than ten minutes later) the waiting room was three quarters full, including Wellington, who was smiling broadly. Finally, the last person made it out and the supervisors came out with our results. Igor was the first to pass, followed by Wellington. He couldn't believe it. Finally, I got my certificate of passing and Wellington and I walked out. He was straight off to the pub (it was 10.30am). He'd been studying all week and wanted to celebrate. But then, if I was him I would too. If I'd failed, I'd have gone back to NZ. If he'd failed, he'd have gone back to a country where the government violently suppresses opposition, where the inflation rate is between 8,000 and 90,000%, and where it is estimated that only 20% of the population have a job.
It was an interesting insight into the people that make up my community in Oxford. I'm glad I'm staying.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
(For the record, I've got justification for not taking the train. It's just too tedious for here.)
The propaganda was correct, the fares themselves were pretty good - £45.99 to go out, £25.99 to come back. It was what followed that became close to criminal.
The taxes: £18.95 from Birmingham, £20.00 from Glasgow. I can let these slide as BMI doesn't charge these
To choose your seats: To choose your own seat costs £6.50. For the extra legroom seats, well these cost another £12.50
To check luggage in: £9.98 per bag. (Five bags = £50)
To use their insurance (ticked by default): £6.50
To use their lounge in Birmingham: £15.00. I'm drinking this dry.
To use a Visa debit card to pay for the fare: £1.99. If you were foolish enough to use American Express, you'd be paying £4.99.
I'm sure they're right, the fares are tiny. But those extras are the size of Andre the Giant.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
It's been so long that to a certain degree, it's become new to me, there a places I know, but there are lots of places I've forgotten that I know. Like, for example, walking down North St Andrews Square and seeing the wall of battleship gray buildings that stretch up past the bridges to the top of the castle. Or the sharpness of the sunlight on the follies that adorn Calton Hill. Or the Word Power bookshop on West Nicholson Street, where there are wonderful books but where they can't accept that Che really was a nasty man.
Over the weekend, I managed to hang with Wendy, her pals Simon and Ian, who are becoming my pals too, with Paul and Fi down in the Grassmarket, with Kirstin and Stefan, with sexy Dave and Phil at Baraka, and with lovely Ruth down in Portobello.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
At the Barrier we were met by the softly spoken Roger, a well informed man who had worked on its construction in the 70s. After the video we got the tour that the general public never gets to do, which was to walk through the tunnels and up into the shiny silver islands that adorn the lower Thames.
The wet floor sign worried me, being 15m below the river as I was, but I always knew that no matter where you go, Steve is a Twat.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Last year he wrote an essay on Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, the German priest and resistance leader who was murdered on Hitler's orders in the dying days of the Nazi regime.
The essay is here.
In the essay he presents his views on the role of Christianity in politics. I find these views rather reassuring.
"If these are the contours of classical Christian engagement with the state, the modern forms of political engagement are in the main much cruder. Below I list five of them, of which only the fifth bears any real resemblance to Bonhoeffer's position.
1. Vote for me because I'm a Christian. This is the model that is most repugnant. It is the model which says that, simply on the basis of my external profession of the Christian faith, those of similar persuasion should vote for me. This is about as intelligent as saying that because I am a Sydney Swans supporter, all other Swans supporters should vote for me, because we ostensibly adhere to the same belief system. This model is alive and well in the US. Thankfully, it is much less alive and much less well in Australia, although there are some dangerous signs that for certain Christian constituencies here, it represents an increasingly appealing message. It is a model for which there is no underpinning scriptural, doctrinal or theological authority.
2. Vote for me because I'm Christian, and because I have a defined set of views on a narrowly defined set of questions concerning sexual morality. Regrettably, this model has an increasing number of supporters within the broader Christian community. Such supporters tend to read down, rather than read up, the ethical teachings of the New Testament, producing a narrow tick-the-box approach to passing a so-called Christian morals test. These tests tend to emphasise questions of sexuality and sexual behaviour. I see very little evidence that this pre-occupation with sexual morality is consistent with the spirit and content of the Gospels. For example, there is no evidence of Jesus of Nazareth expressly preaching against homosexuality. In contrast, there is considerable evidence of the Nazarene preaching against poverty and the indifference of the rich.
3. Vote for me because I am a Christian, vote for me because I have a defined set of views on questions of private sexual morality, and vote for me also because I chant the political mantra of "family values". That is, take models number one and two and add to them the tag of "family values". Regrettably, that term has become one of the most used and abused terms in the Australian political lexicon. The concept of "family values" it involves is invariably a narrow one, and invariably leaves to one side the ability of working families to survive financially.
4. Apply models one, two and three above, and then add the following offensive play. Unleash a political fusillade against anyone who dares suggest that Christianity might have something concrete to say about the broader political, economic and social questions, and justify this fusillade with that hardy perennial, "Religion should be kept out of politics." This is a view which says that should anyone seek to articulate from a Christian perspective a view on the Iraq war, on poverty in the world, on asylum seekers, on indigenous Australians, or on workplace relations, then judgement may be rained down upon them from the heavens above, as in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Bonhoeffer's critique of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms was, of course, a response to this.
5. In the fifth approach, the Gospel is both a spiritual Gospel and a social Gospel, and if it is a social Gospel then it is in part a political Gospel, because politics is the means by which society chooses to exercise its collective power. In other words, the Gospel is as much concerned with the decisions I make about my own life as it is with the way I act in society. It is therefore also concerned with how in turn I should act, and react, in relation to the state's power. This view derives from the simple principle that the Gospel which tells humankind that they must be born again is the same Gospel which says that at the time of the Great Judgement, Christians will be asked not how pious they have been but instead whether they helped to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the lonely. In this respect, the Gospel is an exhortation to social action. Does this mean that the fundamental ethical principles provide us with an automatic mathematical formula for determining every item of social, economic, environmental, national-security and international-relations policy before government? Of course not. What it means is that these matters should be debated by Christians within an informed Christian ethical framework. It also means that we should repudiate the proposition that such policy debates are somehow simply "the practical matters of the state" which should be left to "practical" politicians rather than to "impractical" pastors, preachers and theologians. This approach is very much in Bonhoeffer's tradition.A Christian perspective on contemporary policy debates may not prevail. It must nonetheless be argued. And once heard, it must be weighed, together with other arguments from different philosophical traditions, in a fully contestable secular polity. A Christian perspective, informed by a social gospel or Christian socialist tradition, should not be rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere. If the churches are barred from participating in the great debates about the values that ultimately underpin our society, our economy and our polity, then we have reached a very strange place indeed."
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
From my hotel (the Seri Pacific if anybody cares, or if the bad people can't find me in Oxford), it's a ten minute sweat up to the office I'm working in. I pass by a huge mall, then the Ecuador and Arabic Republic of Egypt embassies. I'm in the countries beginning with 'E' consulate block, it would seem. One of the things I like about Malaysia is that is constantly being cleaned. Rubbish is not allowed to settle. Yesterday I passed a woman meticulously flattening out the sand in one of those ashtrays that adorn rubbish bins in countries where people are allowed to smoke indoors.
The office I'm working in is the Malaysian Remote Sensing Office. It's surrounded by a forest, yet it's in the middle of the city.
It's still incredibly surreal to me that in less than six months I'll be married. Great, but fookin' weird.
On Saturday I'm flying to Japan for a week or so. I have a day in Tokyo, a day in Kyoto, and five days in the child's dream city name of Fukui. It would appear that I will be spending most of time indoors. The day after I land in Tokyo, this arrives:
I believe it is called Typhoon(MAN-YI).
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
On Saturday, transit and stasis was from Kuching, Sarawak to London Heathrow. From Kuching the hiatus was half filled by Knut, a German based in Edmonton who works for the Asian Development Bank and spends half the year in Assam and Dhaka. Knut was on his way to Dhaka. At Changi he was focussed on spending the contents of his wallet on chocolate. He had to exactly spend the contents, $Sing47.20 on chocolate. How very German. I was happy to indulge him. After much consideration and mental gymnastics, he arrived at his selection. Much to his frustration he could only come to a combination that amounted to $Sing47.40.
After we explored the free automatic foot masseuses in Concourse F, he efficiently and precisely marched off with his chocolate to Concourse E and Dhaka. I promptly headed for the bar to fill some more lost time.
So, on Saturday night, I'm heading home to ask my girlfriend to marry me and I am sitting on a plastic deflated basketball of a seat the 'Sports Bar'. On the bar in front of me is a half finished pint of Carlsberg and the godlike AA Gill's new book, Previous Convictions. Behind me is a grand piano, which I suspect is there for decor purposes. The pint glass is slowly being drained when the piano starts up. At first, I'm thinking, 'you intrusive bastards', especially as the first track appears to be 'A Groovy Kind of Love' by Phil Collins. However, in contrary to every expectation, Phil's tune becomes passable and then quite enjoyable. I rotate my deflated plastic basketball round to face the band. The bassist is standing right behind me and is a Mexican looking guy in fifties. His little inverted v-shaped mo' decorates a face that is a study in concentration, but his eyes are twinkling. To his right is the pianist. This guy is a stocky Asian guy. He's a lot younger. He's got spiked hair and his pointed buckled shoes are mashing then tap-dancing the pedals. Beyond him, the lid of the grand piano hides the singer. Around the bar, fingers are tapping on bar tables, an Art Garfunkel double changes seat to get a better view, and conversation stops. Beside the bassist an Indian guy is having a great time. His hands are slapping the table and his grin is getting broader.
From Phil Collins, they move onto an outstanding version of 'Georgia on my Mind'. At this point the bar is filling up, passengers are standing in the terminal around it, there's some Antipodeans leaning against pillars, and there's a sense that there aint no better place to be right now. By the time 'From Russia with Love' has finished, the bar tables are starting to buckle as we tap and pound away in time. Most eyes are closed and smiles on faces are universal. Well, nearly universal. The Indian has been joined by two pretty Indian girls, and they want to go. Something about a 'flight leaving now'. Madness. The Indian really doesn't want to go. The two pretty girls persuade him. Right now, I'm feeling for his dilemma. Eventually the music loses out.
A dozen or more years ago Grant, Ben and I travelled down the West coast of New Zealand's South Island to Wanaka, and then on to Te Anau and Milford. In a youth hostel in Te Anau,
Grant brought out his guitar and was playing away quietly. A Japanese guy asked Grant if he could have a go. On handing over the guitar, the guitarist proceeded to play Eric Clapton's Unplugged. Exactly as it was recorded. There was no doubt that there was talent on display, but it was nothing original. I think if Grant had let him, he would have played the whole album from start to finish, and without interpreting a single bar. It was soulless and it was sad. The difference between the guitarist and the band couldn't have been more striking. Every note, every rest, every key change was played with passion and with a love. There's a lot to like about a band that enjoys what they do. I've seen it most prominently in Prague at U Maleho Glenha, where half a dozen jazz musicians crowded onto three square metres of stage and played their hearts out for three hours. It was no band, it was jam night. These guys made it all up, they shared it all around, and the sparkle in their half-closed eyes accompanied smiles to light the smokiest jazz club. I've seen it when the Go! Team played Oxford, and I've seen it when Ben Harper played the Apollo, albeit with ardent fervour, rather than warm feeling. I've seen some of the 'greats' - Elton, McCartney, U2, and it's felt mechanical. Good, but not memorable. Stale, not fresh. Flat.
By the time they finished up with 'Here comes the sun', it'd got dark outside. 7am/pm had clearly been 7pm. The singer finally emerged from behind the piano. He turned out be a short man in his forties/youthful fifties. He looked quite the cat - stylishly dressed, with flat cap and thick framed glasses. There was a quick debrief and acknowledgment of the applause and handshakes before they wandered out into the terminal, their fame and adulation dissolving as they got beyond the row of pillars and the antipodeans holding them up. It'd been a mere 45 minute of hiatus, but it was the best 45 minutes I've ever spent in an airport.
(For the record, she said yes. I'll be married in January.)
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
I'd just got to my red Che-Guevara look alike T-Shirt of Jesus with 'Be the Revolution!' emblazoned on the front. Probably not the wisest or most sensitive T-Shirt to pack when travelling to Malaysia.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Thursday, May 10, 2007
This is one of the bits to like (from the Sydney Morning Herald):
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark sent a message of goodwill to Sir Edmund Hillary, after the great man was hospitalised a couple of weeks ago: "There's no one we love more. I think the message from every single one of us is, 'Hang in there, Sir Ed, we love you'."
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
The piece de resistance to the dance was the background video. This was comprised of a mangy seagull walking on an equally mangy beach. As the tune faded out, a deflated Nokia theme tune rang out over the pool.
The week began in Dallas. Now while I don't like a lot of American Foreign Policy, I love being in America. There's so much to look at and the people are so damn sincere. There's something about the absurd enthusiasm of the guy Grant and I discussed beers of the world with in a suburban supermarket. Contrary to the myth of American ignorance, the guy was highly informed about said foreign beers. From there to the a speedway themed theme park where Grant and I pretended to be drag racers before being pushed aside by small and large Texans in equal measure in the slicks. This was useful preparation for the following morning where at Trietsch Memorial United Methodist Church, the theme was (I think), managing change in this fast ol' world of ours. This theme was explored using a metaphor of the wall crew at NASCAR, complete with videos and a bloody great stockcar on the altar. Brilliant. Of all the sermons I've heard recently it's probably the one I can recall most of.
And no, the church did not fulfil the 'get me the hell out of here close minded prosperity doctrine and aint President Bush just great' expectations I had been led to believe I would get from a Texan church.
Beyond Texas and Monterrey lies Mexican Route 57. It's fairly dull, there are only three towns of significance in the 750-800 km of road that stretches between Monterrey and Queretaro; Saltillo, Matehuala and St Luis Potosi. Between Matehuala and STP is some very flat road flanked by cacti forests. Oh, and the road is straight. Because I was bored, and because Adrians English was thin and my Spanish limited to Pendejo, Buenos Noches and pero, I started taking note of the straight line distances. The straight that went for 20km was surprising. The one that went for 55km was just plain ridiculous.
Outside Jurica, to the West, are San Miguel Allende and Delores. SMA and Dolores Hidalgo are where the Mexicans realised that indeed they could and started to throw out the Spanish. Miguel Hidalgo, reader of banned French literature and the priest with the temerity to start it all, raised an army. It cost him head. This head, along with those of three others were posted in nearby Guanajuato. It started something in the city. Aside from the colonial architecture and the stunning walls of painted houses, the big attraction in the city is Las Momias Museum, or the Mummy Museum. Now, I've seen some freaky shit in my time, but this museum takes the tortilla. About a hundred disinterred bodies are displayed, each in their own in glass case. The ones that are lying down are given silk pillows. Whether lying down or standing up, all the adults have the same expression. The adult of whom it is theorized was alive when she woke up from her paralysis but in a coffin has a very loud form of that expression. In the middle of the museum is the a room that contains the bodies of the little people. Freaky, freaky shit.
The macabre exhibitionism aside, Guanajuato is my favourite Mexican city (I've been to seven of them, ok, five cities and 2 villages). In such a small amount of space there is a hell of a lot of colour. It's like an cubic Jackson Pollock. It's also the dead centre (oops) of Mexico.
Tonight in French class I learnt how to say my car is knackered. I should have learnt this in Spanish. At the Matehuala end of the giant straight, and at 10.30pm, the car broke down.
Ok, this is getting a little boring. Here's some pictures.
Monday, April 23, 2007
After 80,000 miles, my overworked, somewhat thrashed 1.0 litre Micra has developed a terminal dose of corrosion. So I've retired it. Its (not 'hers', I'm not in the habit of giving a gender to my car, the only time I talk to it is generally something along the lines of 'come on you bastard, get up the hill') replacement is a 306 2.0 litre turbo diesel. Now my conversations have taken on a 'whoah, steady on betty' approach.
Being an estate, I can get a whole lot more cricket gear into it. I'd make a comment about the climate change implications but I suspect my flight to Mexico on Friday will probably dwarf the annual 306 emissions...
Monday, April 09, 2007
From Happisburgh LPA and I went onto Norwich, where there are more ruins and old churches than I'd expected. We wandered through Norwich Cathedral, past Edith Cavell's grave and through the nave, where the stained glass windows let the light dance on the pillars. Up from the cathedral we walked up to the forum to see an Earth from the Air exhibition. You know, those pictures that cause the heavy coffee table books. A lot of the pictures had an associated tale, generally lamenting the decline of the environment associated with the picture due to a blend of our consumption and apathy. All of the pictures were surrounded by sated shoppers. It made me think that perhaps we get deluged with too much information, as it is tempting to go through the phase of 'this is shite! I must be informed', where we assemble as much information as we can. The assembly of information then becomes a substitute for action, and then finally we read so much we end up with 'yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before', and while we're sitting with the apathy, someone comes along with the great climate swindle+. Happily we justify our inaction, and while we have our head in the sand, our house falls onto it.*
*As far as my hypocrisy is concerned here, I could quote Mark Knopfler, or Jesus on this one. 'When you point your finger 'cos your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointing back at you'. I'll be off to remove the plank from my eye now. It's quite unlikely that anyone has ever confused Mark Knopfler with Jesus. ('Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong...' Ok, enough Dire Straits lyrics now).
+The most enjoyable part of the swindle was that the popularity of climate change was to do with an unholy alliance between Thatcher and the hippies. Thatcher hated the miners, the hippies hate development and would be far happier if we all went back to scything and tilling.
Take me down to the lovely sea and the sky
Monday, April 02, 2007
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
As a result the video below doesnae work anymore.
Monday, March 19, 2007
At the moment there is the exhaustive playlist of two.
The space for the music has kindly been donated by one Rhys Lewis. If you need goodies from Aotearoa, you should visit him at www.shop.co.nz.
Tomorrow there shall be more, when I bring my iPod cord home from work...
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Yesterday, randomly, BadmintonStamps.com, a music blog I drop by from time to time, posted this (with downloadable track):
"It's hard to hate on John Mellencamp. He does his thing and he does it competently. But for all his general good guy decentness, in the end he'll always be a pop tart version of the Boss. That's because Mellancamp is to Springsteen what Coldplay is to Radiohead; a watered down version your imaginary daughter likes. This is of course assuming that you have an imaginary daughter. I recommend getting one if you haven't already. My imaginary daughter is eleven years old, her favorite movies are Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Splendor in the Grass, she reads Teen Vogue although it's a little advanced for her but she wants to seem cool, and she loves converse sneakers and Mellencamp. She's a pretty cool girl and I love her to pieces. And seeing her imaginary smile when this song comes on convinces me that I love the Mellencamp too. I mean, sure he's not in the same league as Bruce Springsteen, but at least he takes a dump on Bryan Adams".
Monday, March 12, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
With the current debate on Trident, there are two audio clips that are worth listening to. One, from the Now Show, is funny and new and borrows from the other, which is a speech called 'Nuclear Weapons are Morally Indefensible' and is from the late New Zealand Prime Minister, the Hon David Lange. This is old and occasionally funny, was the Oxford Union Debate in 1985, and while being quite long is worth listening to. It remains as prescient today as it did in 1985.
By the way, Aotearoa is still being punished by our 'friends' for this one.
*Although if the aliens do come, and they don't come in peace, I'll be willing to admit I was wrong.
Anyways, being someone who is in the habit of shaving once a fortnight (I like my stubbly look - it reminds me I have testosterone, and on the whole I'm too lazy too shave in the firs place), it sometimes pays to shave. 'Cos you never know when your evening is going to end with a damn good snog.
*As a violent movie to go to on a first date, it comes a distant second to the time I went and saw David Lynch's Wild at Heart. Although that was most definitely her choice.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Flew to India...Saw poverty in the street...Saw cows in the street...Stayed in relative opulence...Couldn't drink garam masala tea...Flew to Kathmandu, couldn't land, flew to Calcutta, international flight became a domestic flight...Domestic flights are not allowed to serve alcohol...Stayed in faded glory five star hotel...Flew to Kathmandu...Landed in Kathmandu...face to face encounter with leper...Had dahl bat...Escaped the bandh and took bus to Pokhara...Caught up with friends...Caught a cold...Climbed Sarankot with small child on shoulders...Saw eagles...Saw very high mountains...Drank Special Edition Everest Beer...Oared on Phewa Tal...Stuck my hand in human shit...Had my first blade shave...Took jeep to Tansen...Driver answered mobile phone with both hands on sharp bend missing eternal abyss...Encountered Tansen Mission Hospital...Played numerous games of 'What's the time Mr. Wolf?'...Visited Nepali church in Nepali...Skipped out of Nepali church service at half time...So far avoided wiping my bum with my hand...Hit in the head by rock thrown by four year old ...More shoulder rides...Played with dirt...Read literary crud...More dahl bat...Made video of hospital...Laid around a lot...read more crud...Have generally great time with Sarah, Mike, and the three wee ones...Take nine hour Buck ride back to Kathmandu...Face to face with Downs Syndrome Nepali child in Butwal (I'm very sorry I didn't give you my biscuit)...Flew to see Mount Everest/Sagamartha/Chomolungma...Dodged piles of garbage in the street...Visted Monkey Temple with Cow, Sarah and cluelessly dressed Australian girl...Was freaked out by monkeys...Lots more eagles...Visited Kathmandu Durbar Square...Was somewhat disturbed by Hindu and Buddhist temples...Still don't know why this is...Had standout dinner at Kathmandu House Restaurant...Said goodbye to Sarah...Flew to Pokhara...Started five day Poon Hill trek in fair weather with the good guide Saran...Fair weather became less fair...Still managed to avoid using the back of the hand to wipe my bum...Started to get Heartland by The The and (Nothing but) Flowers by Talking Heads in my head... Glimpsed Annapurna South...Followed the chicken sellers of Pokhara...Learnt Nepali card game Dhumbal...Learnt that beer, toilet paper and mars bars are significantly more expensive than accomodation in the hills...Climbed to nearly the top of Poon Hill (3210m)...Cloud came down...Rain came down...Temperature went down...Hail came down...Temperature went down...Snow came down...Saw world's smallest glacier...Admired the snow in the hills...Carried on Ghandruk...Passed mute Nepali...Internally wept over mute Nepali...Did nothing else about mute Nepali...Stayed in big guesthouse in Ghandruk...Vowed to never stay in a guesthouse with TV ever again...Glimpsed Annapurna again...One kilometer straight down and one kilometer straight up in four hours...Finished walk...Returned to Pokhara for hot shower...No hot water in Pokhara...Went for shave and haircut...Had shave...Had haircut...Escaped being buggered/physically assaulted by barber by paying ten pounds to barber and his mate...Want to kill barber...Visited dry Dewi Falls and Cave Complex...Still wanting to murder barber...Spent morning oaring on Phewa Tal and admiring enormous mountains that had finally come out of their closet...Flew to Kathmandu...Eat final dahl bat dinner...Visited Bhaktapur Durbar Square...Made to visit Buddhist art school...Still uncomfortable in Buddhist temples...Pay pound to not buy any Buddhist artwork...Last glimpses of Himalayas...Flew to Delhi (no wiping of bum with hand in Nepal)...Went to visit Red Fort...Red Fort closed on Mondays...Went to visit Gandhi memorial...Gandhi memorial closed on Mondays...Went to visit Qatab Minar...Qatab Minar open on Mondays...Admire Qatab Minar...Joy-riding round Delhi on Tuk Tuk...Made to buy chess set...Visit magnificent Humayun's Tomb...Discovered I'm quite comfortable in mosques...Arrange train and guide for Agra...10.30pm bed time to be up early for train to Agra...11.30pm Capoeira starts outside hotel...12.00am fireworks start outside hotel...1.00am fireworks finish outside hotel...5.30am get up to catch Shatabi Express to Agra...Am served personal thermos of tea, plus paper, curry and bottle of water on Shatabi Express...Watch Indians crap in fields alongside track...Arrive in Agra...Visit Taj Mahal...Argue with security about the admitting of cows into Taj...Lose argument with security...Visit Taj alone...Get photo taken on Princess Di bench...Am overawed by Taj...More eagles...Visit older and littler 'Baby Taj'...Am taken to look at how marble is engraved...Penny hasn't dropped...Realise I am expected to buy something...Buy elephant embossed coasters...Visit place where carpets are handmade...Still slow on uptake...Finally realise I am expected to buy carpet...Have sweet nothings whispered in my ear by carpet salesman...Undecided about carpet...Sweet nothings get closer...Decide to not buy carpet...Carpet salesman brings out calculator...Salesman types number into calculator and doesn't use any of the mathematical operators...Affirm desire to not buy carpet...Plummet to lowest caste and am frogmarched from carpet showroom...Am taken by guide to more shops...Tell guide I do not want to be taken to anymore shops...Becoming passive aggressive...Am taken to another set of shops...Passive aggression about to become unpassive...Am finally taken to Agra Fort...Spend hours admiring Islamic architecture, views of Taj, monkeys and hundreds of eagles, while avoiding returning to the guide...Decide Agra Fort is an outrageously good place to wile away the hours and avoid guide...Return to guide...Am taken to another shop...Choose to buy wooden statue of Gandhi...Tell guide to take me to place to drink beer...Last sighting of guide...Drink beer...Driver returns me to station...Tip driver on the basis of him not being the guide...Wait on platform...Watch 16 year old boy with one leg pull himself along the platform to beg...More grieving but no money for 16 year old amputee...Return to Delhi...Have great encounters with three generations of Indian family...Still have Heartland and (Nothing but) Flowers in my head...Still haven't used hand to wipe bum...See last eagles...Leave Delhi...Arrive in Oxford...Brush teeth using tap water for first time in four weeks...Delhi Belly symptoms arrive.
Friday, February 16, 2007
So, in lieu of detailed discussion I offer this:
- In India DO NOT hire a guide. Do it yourself, you'll be fine, and you won't get dragged through a dozen shops and have sweet nothings whispered in your ear about how good the carpet you're looking at is.
- Mark Tuly, quoted AA Gill's AA Gill is Away was asked about how he dealt with the poverty in India. His response: 'I don't have to cope with the poverty; the poor have to cope with the poverty'. This is a very useful insight when travelling in India.
- In India, it is best to travel with a friend.
- To paraphrase Gill again, the Taj is not too passe. It is fucking stupendous, supremely magnificent. But don't try to take a stuffed cow into it, the guards won't let it in.
- Equally magnificent is the Agra Fort.
- In Delhi, you have to ask for the beer. It's not on the menu, but it is there. And Indian beer is not to be smirked at.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
It's a very engaging study on his take on the Christian faith, and (so far) to a large extent it encapsulates my take on Christianity. I'm probably really enjoying it because I agree with it... I'll try to comment on it later when I've finished it.
However it is slightly damp due to the Rains of Nepal.
I didn't climb Poon Hill. I did climb 3000 odd metres. But there was no point climbing Poon Hill. Quite frankly I'm wondering what the point of the past five days was.
For the past five days the Annapurna Sanctuary has been covered in thick cloud and heavy rain. As a result I am cold, wet, tired and more than just a little grumpy. And I saw s.f.a of any mountains. Still, I suppose I do feel better for the exercise and if there is one point or lesson to take from this, it's to check the bloody weather forecast before setting off.
If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
Friday, February 02, 2007
Yesterday, I flew alongside the eastern Himalaya as far as the Big Boy, which could and possibly should be called Sagarmatha or Chomolungma.
I've been fortunate to spend much of the last two weeks in the company of my pal Sarah, who has been an excellent travel companion. Mainly because she is a top woman, but also because she has spent much time in India (at least 12 trips, I think) and therefore knows the haggling process, and the right questions to ask when buying services. She is also an enthusiatic, yet rubbish (or chronicly unlucky) yahtzee player, which has resulted in my learning to be a gracious winner. She flies home today. Thanks for a great fortnight, mon amie.
Four days of my visit were spent in Tansen, where Sarah and Mike and the three wee ones live and work at the UMN Mission hospital. It's the only hospital for 50 plus miles, or, more importantly, two or more hours driving. Mike has a year-long placement as a surgeon. In a months time he might be redundant as the hospital is likely to run out of water.
This afternoon I have some shopping to do for the walk. If anybody wants me to bring back some cheap but authentic pashmina you need to email me specifying colour and I'll see what I can do. Within reason!
After the walk I'm finally back off to India. La vache and I are off for Lady Di pose at the Taj.
When queueing in Nepal for anything (such as the departure tax at the airport - Kathamdu airport, like Auckland and unlike every other airport I've been to, requires that you pay your departure tax after you've bought the ticket but before you have checked in), the approach is simply to barge to the front and wave your money furiously. At the moment, due to problems on the terai (the low parts of Nepal), there is limited access to petrol in Kathmandu. As a consequence, drivers queue for up to five hours to get fuel. They use the same approach as is required in the departure tax payment queue, but do not leave their vehicles. It is possible to see scrums of motorcyles 100+ strong involved in this. It is believed that in order to conserve petrol it is essential for drivers to switch off their engines when waiting at traffic lights.
Driving to and from Kathamndu is precipitous and requires one or more of the following:
- gigantic testicles
- blind faith
- the ability to see round corners
- no fear
- no brains (for to think about what you're about to means you will not do it).
- A very loud horn
- The ability to make trucks that are coming towards you either disappear or fit into very small places
I've been in overtaking maneouvers on roads with 500m+ drops past several heavily decorated and lumbering Tata trucks on blind corners while being a passenger in a less decorated but equally lumbering buck, which I've subesequently learnt is called a buck 'cos it's half bus and half... As I say, momentum is important. Astonishingly, we never met an oncoming vehicle, and I'm sure either my driver had radar or telekinesis. For the 18+ hours to date that I have spent being driven in Nepal, it somewhat amazes me that none of the vehicles I've been in have touched any other vehicle. And the only tipped over Tata truck I've seen was on the terai near Butwal. It was a very straight and flat road and it had spilt its load of steel. It appeared to have collected a tree on its way to resting on it's side, with the side of the road being some 20m plus away.
The best ride I've had was from the airport to Thamel, the tourist part of Kathmandu. Our driver was as high as a kite and giggled constantly as he played with is horn. At one stop, he started to attack his dashboard, kicking and punching it with all the energy of a rutting stag. After two minutes he held up in triumph an ejected cassette. Giggling he replaced it with a techno version of My heart will go on. Later, and in mid-traffic, he happily raised the the blood-drug concentrations in his body.
For the next five days, I'm on foot...
Monday, January 22, 2007
Tomorrow we hope to get to Pokhara but as a result of the local transport folk being upset at the government not compensating the local transport folk for a number of their buses being torched in a riot last week, Nepal is now on strike. If the strike carries through till tomorrow we'll be off to see monkeys being revered in temples.
In the meantime, here's some signs I've seen. The first tells me what I cannot take as carry-on luggage in Indian flights (they omitted to include duty free alcohol that you buy in the arrivals hall. You can only take through booze you've bought in the departures hall. Essentially this is a way for the customs men to get cheap wines and spirits. The Aussies in front of us, seeing the high fives, didn't play along and tipped their scotch in the bin. I was willing to lose the five quid bottle of german sparkling wine I'd bought for Mike and Sarah...). The second photo advises me that if I'd like to know how black holes work, I need not stray from the hotel Jet Airways put us up in. Which was vastly superior than a white tent on the front steps of Heathrow.