July 27, 2014
When you going to Ringgit?

I’m back. We’re back. I’m back blogging. We’re travelling. Last time I went far, this time not so far. Far enough. My partner in crime this time: my Darling Wombag. That’s not her real name, in case you were wondering.

We fly. We fly from a sweltering London to a sweltering Malaysia.

Sounds simple doesn’t it. Fly. Such a short word. Not such a simple process. Not so short. Not with SAUDI AIRLINES.

Literally hours before we fly, we discover, of course, no alcohol on Saudi Airlines. Sheeze. So we make up for all the alcohol we can’t drink on the 6 hour flight the night before we fly.

Then we make up for all the alcohol we can’t drink on the connecting 9 hour flight.

Then we wake up and fly.

The strategy doesn’t exactly pay off. 4 hours in, watching re-runs of Friends and blurred out wine bottles (no alcohol on Saudi Airlines) and blurred out shots of Jennifer Aniston’s chest (no seduction), I fail to see the funny side. It’s all a little drawn out. A little tedious. Tetchy.

A day and change later, we arrive in KL. Sayonara Saudi Airlines.

June 4, 2011
Endings. Never drag them out. Keep it clean, keep it quick. Don’t stop in Perth for a day on the way back to the UK from Melbourne.
Perth is the kind of city it would be impossible to get lost in. It’s sunny though.
I check the ferry schedule for Rottnest Island. It’s already been and sailed. I’m landlocked for the day.
I wander about. I think about the Victoria all-state deaf footy team that was on the plane to Perth, drinking Jim Beam colas and VB, giving each other the rock, blocking the aisle. A sports team on tour in every sense, except their banter was in a silent pantomime of sign language. Seemed to do a good job of filling what noise they would have made with laughter though.
Melbourne was lots of fun. Bella is lots of fun. She likes lamb chop bones, she likes seeing where she’s going in the Baby Bjorn and she likes booby time several times a day. I’ll never get used to seeing my sister breastfeeding, so I disappeared whenever a nipple threatened to reveal itself.
Melbourne is blessed. The beach, the sea, the bay, the stars. We saw them all. We toured the park, we met some dogs, we walked along St. Kilda’s pier. Hels mixed business with pleasure and I drank some wine while she tasted it. Seems like her job is just drinking coffee and chatting, so she’ll be off maternity leave soon. We ate in, we ate out, Mum and Dad changed some nappies and scrolled through pictures of Bella, telling stories.
I witnessed some firsts- Bella’s first Babycino, the first time she’s gotten sooky in the mornings, her first words (‘Uncle Guy’). Tell no word of a lie, she looked up and said, ‘Uncle Guy.’
I finish musing in Perth. I eat half a roast chicken. Go watch X-men. Sleep for 3 hours. Then I go home.

Endings. Never drag them out. Keep it clean, keep it quick. Don’t stop in Perth for a day on the way back to the UK from Melbourne.

Perth is the kind of city it would be impossible to get lost in. It’s sunny though.

I check the ferry schedule for Rottnest Island. It’s already been and sailed. I’m landlocked for the day.

I wander about. I think about the Victoria all-state deaf footy team that was on the plane to Perth, drinking Jim Beam colas and VB, giving each other the rock, blocking the aisle. A sports team on tour in every sense, except their banter was in a silent pantomime of sign language. Seemed to do a good job of filling what noise they would have made with laughter though.

Melbourne was lots of fun. Bella is lots of fun. She likes lamb chop bones, she likes seeing where she’s going in the Baby Bjorn and she likes booby time several times a day. I’ll never get used to seeing my sister breastfeeding, so I disappeared whenever a nipple threatened to reveal itself.

Melbourne is blessed. The beach, the sea, the bay, the stars. We saw them all. We toured the park, we met some dogs, we walked along St. Kilda’s pier. Hels mixed business with pleasure and I drank some wine while she tasted it. Seems like her job is just drinking coffee and chatting, so she’ll be off maternity leave soon. We ate in, we ate out, Mum and Dad changed some nappies and scrolled through pictures of Bella, telling stories.

I witnessed some firsts- Bella’s first Babycino, the first time she’s gotten sooky in the mornings, her first words (‘Uncle Guy’). Tell no word of a lie, she looked up and said, ‘Uncle Guy.’

I finish musing in Perth. I eat half a roast chicken. Go watch X-men. Sleep for 3 hours. Then I go home.

June 4, 2011
DAY 30
Bella learns to sit upright in her cot to grab her mobile.

DAY 30

Bella learns to sit upright in her cot to grab her mobile.

June 4, 2011
DAY 29
Mixing business with pleasure at Port Philip Wine Estate

DAY 29

Mixing business with pleasure at Port Philip Wine Estate

May 31, 2011
DAY 28
Dad and Bella

DAY 28

Dad and Bella

May 29, 2011

DAY 27

Mission accompli

May 29, 2011
DAY 27
I arrive in Darwin. I might well have stumbled onto the set of Neighbours. The men are all real blokes, no-one is worried about anything and Bouncer the dog is on the baggage carousel sniffing bags.
They ask me why I’m only in Australia for 4 days. I give them the short version. I tell them work. I say I have to get back to London. I struggle to justify this trip with myself, let alone Messrs H. S. B. and C. But you know. C’est la vie. Life’s short. Life’s for living. La vie en rose. All that bunk.
I arrive in Melbourne. It’s cold. I was expecting that, but not the trees in autumn colours. It’s beautiful and a refreshing change. I’m close now. I am extremely excited. I have anticipated the bus ride or whatever to get me out of Melbourne town centre (present location). I have imagined the culmination of this trip three dozen times, on sleeper trains and dorm beds, in between moments and while staring out at strange scenery rushing by. I have pictured the front of the house, the doorbell, the look on my sister and brother-in-law’s faces. I’ve even come up with strategies for unusual circumstances (it’s raining) or unforeseen eventualities (they’re out). Every time I think about it, I smile like a big idiot.

DAY 27

I arrive in Darwin. I might well have stumbled onto the set of Neighbours. The men are all real blokes, no-one is worried about anything and Bouncer the dog is on the baggage carousel sniffing bags.


They ask me why I’m only in Australia for 4 days. I give them the short version. I tell them work. I say I have to get back to London. I struggle to justify this trip with myself, let alone Messrs H. S. B. and C. But you know. C’est la vie. Life’s short. Life’s for living. La vie en rose. All that bunk.


I arrive in Melbourne. It’s cold. I was expecting that, but not the trees in autumn colours. It’s beautiful and a refreshing change. I’m close now. I am extremely excited. I have anticipated the bus ride or whatever to get me out of Melbourne town centre (present location). I have imagined the culmination of this trip three dozen times, on sleeper trains and dorm beds, in between moments and while staring out at strange scenery rushing by. I have pictured the front of the house, the doorbell, the look on my sister and brother-in-law’s faces. I’ve even come up with strategies for unusual circumstances (it’s raining) or unforeseen eventualities (they’re out). Every time I think about it, I smile like a big idiot.

May 29, 2011
DAY 25 - 26
I fall in with Rich, a plumber from near Birmingham slowly en route back home after 2 years in Australia. We talk a lot about Australia and a little about plumbing.
There are literally millions of motorcycles in Saigon.
We go to the reunification palace and tag onto a guided tour of the building. Gradually numbers in the group dwindle until it’s just us and some out-of-town Asians. The whole place is pretty snazzy.
We walk around a bit, we eat pho, we drink beer: we behave like typical backpackers. It’s fun. I am now far away from the Trans-Siberian route and do not meet anyone doing anything except Asia. It makes me pine for the good old train days. Then I think, ‘Stop being so pissy, Guy.’
I meet a Frenchman from La Loire region with dyed black hair and silverish stubble who’s been living in the Philippines for 20 years. I meet a Californian skater with dreadlocks back from 10 months on an island west of Perth, where he party’d. Lots of Vietnamese girls in short black skirts sat at the front of bars want to meet me.
Against my better judgement, I book a one day tour to the Mekong Delta area. We ride various forms of transport: bus, big boat, little boat, bus. We all wear pointy hats on the little boats and float along like perfect asses. We tour shops and we all absent-mindedly paw at utensils made from coconut shells and popped rice. Finally we take rickety bicycles out and explore the area. Three hours out of Saigon the people are warm, smiley and approachable. 
It’s black and raining in the city when we get back. I don’t have time to do anything but eat, grab my bag and hop in a cab. At the airport I eat again. Then I board another stinking plane.

DAY 25 - 26

I fall in with Rich, a plumber from near Birmingham slowly en route back home after 2 years in Australia. We talk a lot about Australia and a little about plumbing.

There are literally millions of motorcycles in Saigon.

We go to the reunification palace and tag onto a guided tour of the building. Gradually numbers in the group dwindle until it’s just us and some out-of-town Asians. The whole place is pretty snazzy.

We walk around a bit, we eat pho, we drink beer: we behave like typical backpackers. It’s fun. I am now far away from the Trans-Siberian route and do not meet anyone doing anything except Asia. It makes me pine for the good old train days. Then I think, ‘Stop being so pissy, Guy.’

I meet a Frenchman from La Loire region with dyed black hair and silverish stubble who’s been living in the Philippines for 20 years. I meet a Californian skater with dreadlocks back from 10 months on an island west of Perth, where he party’d. Lots of Vietnamese girls in short black skirts sat at the front of bars want to meet me.

Against my better judgement, I book a one day tour to the Mekong Delta area. We ride various forms of transport: bus, big boat, little boat, bus. We all wear pointy hats on the little boats and float along like perfect asses. We tour shops and we all absent-mindedly paw at utensils made from coconut shells and popped rice. Finally we take rickety bicycles out and explore the area. Three hours out of Saigon the people are warm, smiley and approachable. 

It’s black and raining in the city when we get back. I don’t have time to do anything but eat, grab my bag and hop in a cab. At the airport I eat again. Then I board another stinking plane.

May 28, 2011
DAY 24
Still no luck with the Vietnamese invitation letter. There’s nothing at Guilin airport. Something doesn’t want me to go to Vietnam. I figure I was a draft dodger in a former life.
I fly four hours south to Kuala Lumpur to fly one hour north to Saigon. Beats me why. For a trip that was originally conceived as an overland route as far as I could go, something has gone badly wrong.
In Kuala Lumpur airport there is a Business Centre. It’s located in the Plaza Premium  Lounge. I’ve gotten really good at it in China and I haggle down from 118 Malaysian Ringgits to 28 to use e-mail and print the Vietnamese invitation letter. I settle my business. Next to me an American surfer who missed his flight and says ‘bra’ to his buddy on the phone settle his business.
Onboard the first flight there’s a quiz near the end. They give away dinner for 2s. They ask for the flight number, then the Air Asia website, then the captain’s name. No-one has a clue what the captain’s name is so they ask the menu price for something and everyone goes for the in-flight menu card. People hold the same menus aloft on the second flight and stub fingers at pictures of mineral water, nuts, duty free.
Following so much time on trains, I am not a fan of air travel. In spite of being that much closer to my fellow passengers, I have next to zero inclination to strike up conversation with them. Build me a high-speed sea train and put me on that instead. Give the Chinese 2 years and someone will have come up with the plans.
At the airport I withdraw cash. It’s Mongolia all over. I have piles and piles of Vietnamese Dong.
I share a cab with a half-Vietnamese, half-German girl into Saigon. She has her own fashion brand and lives right near the American embassy. She gets out first and says I need to only pay the cab driver 50,000, she already agreed a price. I watch the meter rise to 200,000 then scram as fast as possible after giving him 50,000. He follows for a while, there’s some shouting, I wonder if it will get ugly, then I’m just another backpacker in the backpacker area.

DAY 24

Still no luck with the Vietnamese invitation letter. There’s nothing at Guilin airport. Something doesn’t want me to go to Vietnam. I figure I was a draft dodger in a former life.

I fly four hours south to Kuala Lumpur to fly one hour north to Saigon. Beats me why. For a trip that was originally conceived as an overland route as far as I could go, something has gone badly wrong.

In Kuala Lumpur airport there is a Business Centre. It’s located in the Plaza Premium  Lounge. I’ve gotten really good at it in China and I haggle down from 118 Malaysian Ringgits to 28 to use e-mail and print the Vietnamese invitation letter. I settle my business. Next to me an American surfer who missed his flight and says ‘bra’ to his buddy on the phone settle his business.

Onboard the first flight there’s a quiz near the end. They give away dinner for 2s. They ask for the flight number, then the Air Asia website, then the captain’s name. No-one has a clue what the captain’s name is so they ask the menu price for something and everyone goes for the in-flight menu card. People hold the same menus aloft on the second flight and stub fingers at pictures of mineral water, nuts, duty free.

Following so much time on trains, I am not a fan of air travel. In spite of being that much closer to my fellow passengers, I have next to zero inclination to strike up conversation with them. Build me a high-speed sea train and put me on that instead. Give the Chinese 2 years and someone will have come up with the plans.

At the airport I withdraw cash. It’s Mongolia all over. I have piles and piles of Vietnamese Dong.

I share a cab with a half-Vietnamese, half-German girl into Saigon. She has her own fashion brand and lives right near the American embassy. She gets out first and says I need to only pay the cab driver 50,000, she already agreed a price. I watch the meter rise to 200,000 then scram as fast as possible after giving him 50,000. He follows for a while, there’s some shouting, I wonder if it will get ugly, then I’m just another backpacker in the backpacker area.

May 27, 2011
DAY 22 - 23
I scram out of Guilin to Yangshuo, hoping to see the karst rocks up close. The bus bumps along.
I check into a hostel on West Street. It’s like the Khao San Road. It’s worse than the Khao San Road. It’s not what I envisaged. There are cheap souvenir stalls lining the street. There are restaurants serving fluffy pancakes. There are happy hours and beggars. An old lady bent at the spine like a closed book. A million thousand backpackers, men with haircuts that might have suited them 15 years ago, girls not much better. Can’t say it didn’t appeal at some point in my life, just not now. It’s a bit overwhelming, like a bad acid trip when all you went out for was a few quiet drinks and some nuts.
I rent a mountain bike. The lady hands me a map. She tells me I’ll get lost at some point. I think, ‘I cycle, lady’. I think, ‘I won’t get lost, I eat maps for breakfast’.
I cycle til Yangshuo is far, far behind. I get lost, the trail gets a bit technical, I fall in a rice paddy. All I can do is say aloud to myself in shock, ‘I’ve fallen in a rice paddy’ and hope the farmers aren’t somewhere watching. Cloying, wet mud everywhere. It strikes me that the next time I have to wash my socks, I’ll be in Australia. It’s a bittersweet moment.
Later I pass a sign advertising cold drinks. I stop. The lady calls into the house from the field where she’s working. I wander through their house, past piles of grain and eight ducklings under a wicker basket, a large picture of Mao, into a courtyard. It’s lovely and they’re a cute couple.
Later down the road I find a weathered old guy in a vest selling beer from his house. He says 10 kwai. I say 5. He says ok then and caves like wet sand. He pulls up a seat and we sit together looking over the fields to the weird hills. It’s idyllic. A passing neighbour spots some loose change in my bag. We all examine it. I give her boy a 2 pence piece and some roubles. The weathered old guy I give 10p, then he goes for a pound coin. He weighs up the two coins and it becomes abundantly clear he prefers the pound coin. Who wouldn’t? Man’s got a nose for a good coin.
I eat after the ride. A beautiful girl in a colourful throw with an inch thick fuzz cut walks in and sits nearby. I’m running through my mind the most attractive features in a girl. I get as far as confidence and cheekbones. Confidence is head and shoulders above cheekbones, of course. If that girl were to walk over and sit here, I think, well that would be some girl.
Next thing, she walks over and asks if she can sit. She sits. She asks if I speak Spanish.
Spanish?
I don’t. I don’t speak Chinese either and conversation doesn’t get too far. My kingdom for a Spanish dictionary and a poncho. Meanwhile, I can’t figure out if she’s a remarkably confident girl, or a prostitute. One guy, one girl, easy pickings. Solo travel has it’s advantages, but I can’t help feeling like a target in places like Yangshuo.
I ask the waitress for my bill, she says where are you going. I try to explain to her I’m going to watch cormorants catch fish the traditional way. I’m not sure she understands. I walk away, stunned at my dumb luck and incapacity to capitalise. Probably was a lady of the night though.
I go to watch the stupid birds catch the fish. It’s a tour, the first I’ve booked all trip. We all get jammed onto a boat made for half our number that lurches to the side when we pull up along a bamboo raft, a fisherman, six cormorants bobbing along. It strikes me then- what was I thinking? Honestly. Trying to take pictures of black birds at night.
The first one surfaces with a reed in his beak. Eventually we moor and hop off to take pictures together with the birds. It’s a horror show. Most of the birds remain lashed to the raft fanning their wings and blinking at the camera flashes. The lady sat opposite me on the boat throws peanuts at them. What did I sign up for? They ignore her and the peanuts.
The next day I take a bamboo raft with three Chinese: Julia, Lilly and Ronald. I’m not sure those are their real names. I leave them and hike most of the riverside trail, then scram from Yangshuo back to Guilin to get to Guilin airport tomorrow to catch a plane to Vietnam because it’s on the way to Australia.
I look forever for a computer to print my Vietnam invitation letter for the visa. I walk forever. There are no computers. What’s wrong with these people? Little wonder they’re still playing cards in the streets and bashing grain. They haven’t discovered Solitaire and elaborate oil painting rackets yet.

DAY 22 - 23

I scram out of Guilin to Yangshuo, hoping to see the karst rocks up close. The bus bumps along.

I check into a hostel on West Street. It’s like the Khao San Road. It’s worse than the Khao San Road. It’s not what I envisaged. There are cheap souvenir stalls lining the street. There are restaurants serving fluffy pancakes. There are happy hours and beggars. An old lady bent at the spine like a closed book. A million thousand backpackers, men with haircuts that might have suited them 15 years ago, girls not much better. Can’t say it didn’t appeal at some point in my life, just not now. It’s a bit overwhelming, like a bad acid trip when all you went out for was a few quiet drinks and some nuts.

I rent a mountain bike. The lady hands me a map. She tells me I’ll get lost at some point. I think, ‘I cycle, lady’. I think, ‘I won’t get lost, I eat maps for breakfast’.

I cycle til Yangshuo is far, far behind. I get lost, the trail gets a bit technical, I fall in a rice paddy. All I can do is say aloud to myself in shock, ‘I’ve fallen in a rice paddy’ and hope the farmers aren’t somewhere watching. Cloying, wet mud everywhere. It strikes me that the next time I have to wash my socks, I’ll be in Australia. It’s a bittersweet moment.

Later I pass a sign advertising cold drinks. I stop. The lady calls into the house from the field where she’s working. I wander through their house, past piles of grain and eight ducklings under a wicker basket, a large picture of Mao, into a courtyard. It’s lovely and they’re a cute couple.

Later down the road I find a weathered old guy in a vest selling beer from his house. He says 10 kwai. I say 5. He says ok then and caves like wet sand. He pulls up a seat and we sit together looking over the fields to the weird hills. It’s idyllic. A passing neighbour spots some loose change in my bag. We all examine it. I give her boy a 2 pence piece and some roubles. The weathered old guy I give 10p, then he goes for a pound coin. He weighs up the two coins and it becomes abundantly clear he prefers the pound coin. Who wouldn’t? Man’s got a nose for a good coin.

I eat after the ride. A beautiful girl in a colourful throw with an inch thick fuzz cut walks in and sits nearby. I’m running through my mind the most attractive features in a girl. I get as far as confidence and cheekbones. Confidence is head and shoulders above cheekbones, of course. If that girl were to walk over and sit here, I think, well that would be some girl.

Next thing, she walks over and asks if she can sit. She sits. She asks if I speak Spanish.

Spanish?

I don’t. I don’t speak Chinese either and conversation doesn’t get too far. My kingdom for a Spanish dictionary and a poncho. Meanwhile, I can’t figure out if she’s a remarkably confident girl, or a prostitute. One guy, one girl, easy pickings. Solo travel has it’s advantages, but I can’t help feeling like a target in places like Yangshuo.

I ask the waitress for my bill, she says where are you going. I try to explain to her I’m going to watch cormorants catch fish the traditional way. I’m not sure she understands. I walk away, stunned at my dumb luck and incapacity to capitalise. Probably was a lady of the night though.

I go to watch the stupid birds catch the fish. It’s a tour, the first I’ve booked all trip. We all get jammed onto a boat made for half our number that lurches to the side when we pull up along a bamboo raft, a fisherman, six cormorants bobbing along. It strikes me then- what was I thinking? Honestly. Trying to take pictures of black birds at night.

The first one surfaces with a reed in his beak. Eventually we moor and hop off to take pictures together with the birds. It’s a horror show. Most of the birds remain lashed to the raft fanning their wings and blinking at the camera flashes. The lady sat opposite me on the boat throws peanuts at them. What did I sign up for? They ignore her and the peanuts.

The next day I take a bamboo raft with three Chinese: Julia, Lilly and Ronald. I’m not sure those are their real names. I leave them and hike most of the riverside trail, then scram from Yangshuo back to Guilin to get to Guilin airport tomorrow to catch a plane to Vietnam because it’s on the way to Australia.

I look forever for a computer to print my Vietnam invitation letter for the visa. I walk forever. There are no computers. What’s wrong with these people? Little wonder they’re still playing cards in the streets and bashing grain. They haven’t discovered Solitaire and elaborate oil painting rackets yet.

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