Saturday, August 18

what I have learned

The trip's over. Time to consider some of the things I've learned.

For one thing, I now understand why a couple of guys I know prefer solo travel - you get to do exactly what you want. (Mind you, with a travelling cellmate you sometimes discover other things you would never have thought of.)

When walking in a strange place, the GPS in your smartphone is a big help. You see yourself as a moving blue dot on the map.

I've discovered at least one way that I'm turning into my old dear. When she travelled, she couldn't care about sightseeing - she was happiest just hanging out in a hotel. She used to get teased about it, but now I'm going the same way. It doesn't have to be a luxury hotel (although that's nice when you can get it). It's just great to have no chores to do. Nothing at all to do.

Not having responsibilities is a wonderful thing. No job, housework, gardening, phone calls, bills. You get time to let your life empty, and time to select what to fill it with.

But everything balances up, and when you get home at the end of a holiday, suddenly life is filled to overflowing - first you rediscover cooking for yourself, then suddenly there's cleaning and repairs and the garden and the job. And all the wee chores you've been putting off for years stand out clearer than before. Dreadful!

I have also been reminded that you can't afford to trust anyone whose services you're paying for. A travel agent won't necessarily tell you which visas you need. An unknown house painter won't necessarily do the job properly (Albert would put it in stronger language).

Another thing I've realised is that there's no point in fighting it any more - my name is Albert and I'm a tea-oholic. Green, brown, black, red, twigs, in fact anything from the camellia sinensis plant. I got hooked when I was a kid.

Britain has the best black tea of anywhere, and Bavaria has the worst. In Scotland last month I grew sick of the pension fund nagging me on the phone to get her some draw-string tea bags. The hunt around supermarkets became a drudgery, and although I bought several boxes for her, I forgot to get any tea for myself! Doing something under protest, resentfully, is never productive.

And I learned the simple formula - around 4pm it's best to stop tea and flip the switch to Erdinger.

Thursday, August 16

cost of living, here and there

CHEAP. When I arrived in the country, I changed enough money to live for a couple of days where I come from. Well it's been a week, and I've still got all these notes to spend, but there's nothing I need. Even several massages a day won't get rid of much. If I can't make more of an effort, I could always make a beggar's day.

EXPENSIVE. Including lost wages, this trip has cost me NSCal$ 20000. Still, that's less than the cellmate has blown meantime on our redecorations. Which is the worse bargain?

Tuesday, August 14

therapeutic matters

Breakfast here is from 6 to 10.30. I had two breakfasts yesterday but ate much less than in one. You stick to fruit and juice for the first one, so as to leave room for number 2. But on returning at 10 you find your appetite's disappeared, and the room's so full of (very nice) Asian folk chattering, that it's like being in a flock of starlings. Thank goodness for my airtight headphones.

So today I had just a single (2-hour) breakfast. Picture a cavernous breakfast room, almost empty. A lesbian couple with screaming baby chooses the table right beside Albert. What's that about? Just curious.

Later, I went exploring in hot sun, and wandered into hundreds of dirty roadside stalls selling knives, Valium and Viagra. Not sure why tourists would want knives. The Valium is maybe against the jitters when you come down after an allnighter, and I gather the Viagra is to recharge you as soon as possible for the next whore. A nice business model - fleece people for sex, then sell them drugs that let you fleece them again sooner than they really want.

It was my gym night again tonight - I have been using a great abs machine, and learning how to better use a cross trainer. I wonder what machines they have back in New South Caledonia.

Today's example of balancing up: in Scotland, people with a free bus pass go on the buses in winter for a free heat. Here, I keep being driven onto yet another cheap train for the aircon. Or into a chilly shopping mall.

Monday, August 13

bobby goes to colditz

(written while still in captivity)

On my last night at pension HQ, I've just broken the electric motor on the security shutter of my window. There'll be hell to pay in the morning when the eagle eyed one notices. It couldn't just be a random breakdown of course - it has to be my fault for pushing the switch in a non-Bavarian fashion.

I've been here for a week now, on dirty protest as usual to avoid the whole drying-the-shower argument. After a humid sweaty day I'm gasping for a shower, but I daren't let her catch me in the act or the fuss will start up again. She's taken out her hearing aid and gone to bed, but I'm waiting for the sound of snoring before I venture out to the bathroom.

It's like Bobby Sands in an episode of Colditz. With a little luck, I'll be safely on the train tomorrow before she discovers the busted shutter and wet shower.

Sunday, August 12

disaster adjustment and recovery

One thing about being an old person is you take longer to adjust to sudden changes, and so my first day in Thailand was a bit of a daze, half-wondering how I got here and what I wanted to do here for a week. Naturally one thing I'll need to do is have a massage, after some market research to avoid the obvious pitfalls. I was amused on the phone last night when the pension fund warned me against getting AIDS.

Yesterday I set off to explore, and got only as far as two shopping centers, where I had several meals. Great food but they believe in eating small portions and often, possibly because of the heat. I also bought dinner provisions for the kitchen. Swam in the full size outdoor pool which is like a jungle scene from Apocalypse Now. Hoping to get further afield today.

Solo tourism has a lot going for it, you can do whatever you feel like - no need to negotiate, ever!

I have two great books about the country, not travel guides but rather contemplations on the culture, by Brits who moved here. Reading them gives much more depth and fun to the process of walking around. For instance, one reason why Bangkokians or perhaps Bangcockers are so impressively well organized, and the street stalls are so portable yet compactly designed - in the days of old Siam they lived, traded, and dined from little boats, where space was at a premium and they developed stowage into an art.

Similarly, the hairs-breadth weaving of motor cyclists can be traced back to boating skills. It seems that Thai traffic and rivers both obey the laws of fluid dynamics.

I caught my first glimpse of the olympics on TV yesterday, I think someone was running faster than everyone else.

Okay, time to get up for breakfast now at 6. I might manage a second breakfast at 10 using the cellmate's voucher.

PS - a motorbike taxi driver taking some time out:

Wednesday, August 8


One of the many benefits of leaving Piddledorf for good yesterday, is looking forward to normal toilets - the one at pension fund HQ has an inspection ledge that makes you wish for stilts and a gas mask.

Getting her car out of the garage to drive me to the station, the pension fund made her usual sequence of forward and reverse manoevres, ending up in the same place each time. Eventually, she seemed to come to a decision, and rammed decisively backwards into the gate post, smashing her lights. My smugness lasted until my own idiotic disaster, a few hours later.

On the train to the airport for the flight to Shanghai, I emailed Rodders about his Chinese trip. He replied in minutes, and I discovered that I need an entry visa for China, which I would have applied for long ago, had I known. The travel agent had only ever told me to get a USA visa (unnecessary because I entered via land).

Still on the train, my Internet allowance with the phone company ran out just after Rodders' email, so googling for solutions became impossible! Eventually I got the cellmate's discarded SIM card to work. The Chinese consul here was already closed for the day, and anyway they have a 4-business-day delay in processing applications. Arrival in China without a visa is treated as a crime, so my Chinese holiday would have been in a cell pending deportation. Well if they want to make it so hard for people to visit, eff them!

In a long, noisy and expensive phone call from a cafe, I notified the airline, but the (very bavarian) staff said they cannot amend my booking, that only the travel agent (fast asleep in another time zone) could do it.

I ended up staying up all night (in a hotel so awful I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway) finding a solution. Around 4 am, just as I dropped off to sleep, a call came in from the travel agent, all chirpy "hey, you're off to Bangkok".

I lost my hotel deposit in Shanghai, but the hotels in Bangkok are cheaper. On the other hand there's the expense of insect repellent. It all balances up.

There were a couple of other disasters yesterday, but now things are looking up - in the past hour I found a 5 euro note on the ground, and gate-crashed the first class lounge for a 3 hour pig out on fine food and endless weissbier on tap. I'm just about full now and there's still cream cakes and organic Darjeeling to be tried. Then at last I'll get some sleep on the plane.

Monday, August 6

good deed

On the way to the cemetery before breakfast, I saw this cute creature on the cycle path, and moved it to safety before a tyre could squash it.

I've just been to a concert in the middle of nowhere, by Norma Winstone MBE, the British grande dame of modern jazz. A little anodyne at the start, it swung in the last hour, and there were several encores. I used to hear her on Radio 3 last century.

Now waiting for the last train back to pension fund HQ (in receivership). Tomorrow I'm going to make a break for it.

On the way to the uncle's cemetery before breakfast, I saw this cute creature on the cycle path, and moved it to safety before a tyre could squash it.

Sunday, August 5

windmills of my mind (what's left of it)

While setting up this shot, I fell head first into a ditch full of nettles, losing the phone in the process. Rummaging among the nettles to find the phone, I thought: is this any way to live?

Thursday, August 2

flag waving

On Friday, Olympic opening day, I witnessed several patriotic displays. First there was the Red Arrows flying overhead as we walked back from Arthur's Seat. Then there was this ornamental window-dressing in a beauty salon in Stockbridge (ahem). Amazing what you can do with nail varnish and cosmetics.