Monday, December 15, 2008

Leilana in Wonderland

Today I decided to do the unthinkable - Walk to Work. No, it wasn't world environmental day - I was broke (it costs $2 to get a motorbike taxi) and besides, I wanted to get to know my area better.

Walking is something I did a great deal of back in New Zealand - almost every day I would walk to work and back, and think nothing much of it. This is because of several luxuries we have in New Zealand which make pedestrian life enjoyable, and - possible. Sidewalks, clean air, traffic rules - all of these things serve to make things easier for those who like to go by foot.

In Hanoi, none of the above apply. If there is a 'sidewalk' it is usually used as: a parking space for motorbikes, and a place to set up your stall. In the amazingly rare event of a free sidewalk, everyone will take advantage - including motorbikers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the road. Add to this: the extremely dusty, smelly air (I don't know how, but it's worse than Bangkok) and the cacophony of novelty horns, street stand sellers yelling and tinny remixed Christmas carols and you know why most people don't go for relaxing strolls around the streets of Hanoi.

Finally: you take your life into your hands everytime you cross the road. When I saw Jenna's post about crossing the road in Korea, a petty part of me smirked, because her road looked so much more accessible than mine - given that mine are an almost constant stream of speeding motorbike. How to cross the street in Hanoi: walk out slowly, looking confident and pray the drivers see you and swerve accordingly. Never stop walking, or you will 1. almost get hit, and 2. induce the stares and angry mutterings of the Vietnamese. Even if there is a bus coming at you, keep walking calmly as if you're surrounded by an invisible shield.

The best part (truly) about walking in Hanoi is the insane street system of TINY alleyways. Many of these alleyways are seriously about 1 - 2 m wide, with motorbikes driving up and down, people selling things and the few insane people trying to walk somewhere. The alleyways curve and go in multiple directions, never straight ahead, so absolutely everyone new to Hanoi gets lost at least once. A map is of only limited use, as no map could realistically try to list all of these alleys without becoming uselessly large, so the map only lists the major streets - the ones that actually take you in, and out of these mazes. However, a 'major street' may not be instantly obvious.

For example: refer to my painting here. Watch it fast, because it's really boring as I have no artistic talent to speak of.

As you can see, there is one obvious, brightly lit small road, and one creepy dark alley which goes down the side of a house, and is only about 2 metres wide. In fact (this is based on a real thing which happened to me today) - The brightly lit road leads to someones house and is a dead-end with a scary dog at the end, and the dark alleyway is
the main road.

I'm serious.

This is how, for the first time in my adult life, I got lost in a city - and ended up wandering around weird alleys for about 30 minutes, before popping out very close to where I began. It was actually hilarious (at least for the Vietnamese watching me) and I did end up finding my way through.

I'll see if I can get my time down tomorrow.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What I like: Walruses

I just watched the Arctic Tale, by the same makers as March of the Penguins, a film about animals living in the Arctic. For me this was awesome, since most of my top cutest animals live there - baby polar bears, arctic foxes, arctic owls, beluga whales. While polar bears were the top stars of the film, unsurprisingly since they are awesome, the other stars were the huge, brave and loving Walruses. Much like the Asian elephant, when a baby Walrus is born it is cared for not only by it's Mom, but also by it's 'Aunt' (often not related by blood in the elephants case).

The Aunt's are often more protective than the Mom, and will even go head to head with a polar bear to protect the baby. It's awesome.

Very little was known about Walruses prior to the filming of this movie (which took FIFTEEN YEARS to film) because they live in extremely inaccessible places, and they are quite scary looking. However, the cinematographers were young, enthusiastic dare devils with the patience of Mother Teresa, and waited FOUR YEARS to finally locate and film and Mother and Baby Walrus snuggling in the water.

As an extra treat, here is a beautiful Arctic fox:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm moving in with ... Jimmy Kimmel!

Iroronically, on the very same day I posted the previous post, finally admitting that I, in fact, lived at the guest house - the guest house informed me I would have to move, as they had family friends coming and need the space. I could move to their second guest house. I felt like bursting into childish tears - but I don't like the second guest house!

I was trying to think of ways around it, and other guest houses which could offer me cable television (this is key) and a largish space for $8/ night, when I ran into my friend Dave and went out to have dinner with him. As usual, I whined to him, this time about my housing dilemma. He said, well you can always come stay at my place?

It transpired that he has a spare room, which he can rent to me for MUCH less than I'm paying now, and his house rules. I really like it. We are the only whiteys in the neighbourhood, so I get to experience celebrity-dom without needing to have a talent, much like the Paris Hilton of Hanoi.

The best part is: Jimmy Kimmel, I mean - Dave. My new roomie, Dave from Denver, looks, acts and jokes exactly like the TV host Jimmy Kimmel.
I said to him, "Hey, have you ever seen Jimmy Kimmel?"
He replied: "He's a handsome guy isn't he?"

Turns out, he has been stopped many times in the states by people who think he's Jimmy Kimmel. In fact, it happened so often he took to letting them believe he was. HA!!

Also, he has cable TV, and a dvd player.

p.s. To any overly eager beavers, and especially nice friends, who rushed right to the post office after my previous blog to send me mail - do not despair! I am very good friends with Lee, who works at the guest house and will get any mail which arrives for me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Love/ Hate Relationship

Not with Anthony, I just love him (awww!!). No, my love/ hate thing, and it swings dramatically, is with HANOI - City of my dreams, city of my nightmares.

First, my top HATES about Hanoi:

1. The 'unofficial curfew'. Ok, unlike in Communist Laos there is not an actual curfew of 11pm, but everything shuts then and if I wander around the dark, calm evening streets of Hanoi for ten minutes too long and get back to the Guest House at 11:10, say, I am greeted with a hmph and a look which says: Leilana, you are a bad, bad person and I can't believe you keep doing this to our poor, suffering family.

2. If you are walking on the footpath, and a motorbike jumps off the road, onto the footpath and you happen to be in the way - the driver gives YOU a dirty look, instead of the more traditional other way around.

3. Racist fellow teachers and travellers.

4. The Xe Om (motorbike drivers) constantly trying to rip me off with ridiculous fares, sometimes three times the proper fare and then looking pissed off when I pull them up on it.

5. The dead animals everywhere. On my street in the morning, there are baskets and baskets of bloody meat - including whole baby chickens.

Next, and more important, my top LOVES about this city:

1. The food, the food, the food. My favourite two things being: Banh Cuon, which is rice paper pancakes with dried, fried onion and dipping sauce. I eat it almost every day. My other favourite is a glass full of tropical fruit salad, with condensed milk, coconut milk and crushed ice. It's honestly the best dessert I have ever had. Also, I eat Mango like every day.

2. The aesthetic of Hanoi. Everything is so gorgeous and lovingly put together. The clothing boutiques are all like Stir and Belle Bird, but cuter and cheaper (ok, some are actually quite expensive). Houses are weird, narrow and tall. I live on the 5th floor and the guest house only has 8 rooms. Ordinary people, like Xe Om drivers and people working at stalls, dress impeccably in crisp, stylish clothes that make me think of Paris at the turn of the century. Old men especially, walk around in tailored pants, shirts, cute cardigans and leather loafers. I WISH I had a camera so bad.

3. The Xe Oms. Ok, most Xe Om drivers are jerks looking to make a grab and get a grope, but I have a few regulars who I LOVE and who (I think) undercharge me. I love whizzing around Hanoi on the back of a motorbike, I feel like the paragon of awesomeness. Especially because I am usually sitting sidesaddle (this takes some skill), with a cute 50s helmet, my little heels and a black minidress. I look AWESOME.

4. The Bia Hoi, and the Bia Hoi corner. Bia Hoi is a local microbrew beer made fresh every-day, it's only like 2-3% but it also costs: NZ 30 cents and is awesome. There are a few places around, but Bia Hoi corner (also known as International Corner) is where they congregate and you can sit and watch the madness.

5. The fact that just by walking up and down this street a hundred times I have somehow changed from "suspicion-inducing foreigner" to something like acquaintance. Now when people see me they laugh and smile, and introduce me to their babies. This is lovely. Also, the Xe Om drivers seem to be getting a clue and offering me more reasonable fares.

NB: Also, my adorable, hilarious, insane little students, especially my weekday ones. They are the cutest, weirdest little people to walk this earth. Today after class, this little boy who is 6 and hearing impaired, came into the staff room (which I don't think he's supposed to) and sat down beside me and silently held my hand for a few minutes, got up, and left.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You know Vietnam is Communist when...

  1. There are huge statues encouraging work ethic, and also - a ginormous statue of Lenin in a really prominent park. There is also another park called Lenin Park - the biggest park in Hanoi.
  2. A Vietnamese friend says to me, "I really wanted to study politics, I find it really interesting, but I'm not a communist... so..." (he also says this with a mixture of secrecy and pride).
  3. Children are not allowed to draw free-hand incase they are not good at it, and therefore will feel bad. They should only do colouring in.
  4. When they do colouring in the co-teacher tells them what colour everything has to be - the birds should be yellow and red. When a boy colours his birds grey, she yells at him: "Yellow. Yellow and RED. Not Grey!" and taps the paper. Otherwise, she's really lovely and the children love her.
  5. Vietnam Airlines flies direct to: Paris (colonial connections) and Moscow... but not London.
  6. People say: "democracy isn't right for every situation" (I'm not necessarily saying this isn't true, but it's certainly something you hear in authoritarian places).
  7. I'm unsure about handing out the BBC Country Profile about Vietnam in class, because it contains some pretty harsh words about the government and media control.
  8. The 'art world' generally consists of highly impressive copies of Western art. NB: There is a really interesting subversion movement, but it's not widely known or seen.
  9. Ho Chi Minh (the dead body thereof) just got back from being further embalmed in Russia, and it's big local gossip.
  10. I'm unsure about posting this...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hanoi So Far

So, I still don't have a camera. I'm not much closer to having one either, although I do have 'access' to a webcam so I suppose I could attempt to get stills and post myspace webwhore photos of myself, but I don't think that would show my dear readers much about Hanoi, or about anything at all.

I've almost been in Hanoi one month, and I finally got *properly* rid of my kindergarten job. In the first week, I got two part-time jobs: one at a small private kindergarten and one at a large language school. I thought I would prefer the small, private kindergarten. I was wrong. Teaching kindergarten children who don't speak my language is maybe the single most terrifying thing I have done + I love teaching the (mostly) teenagers at the language school corporation with no personality. So, I quit the kindergarten before things got messy and am going full-time at Language Link. Yay!

My living quarters: on the 5th floor of a narrow little Guest House in an alleyway in the Old Quarter. When I say Old Quarter, you are probably imagining some romantic Asia of old - and for once, this is actually what it's like. It's ridiculous, and crazy and fantastic. There are noodle stands everywhere, fruit stalls, ladies in those 'rice field hats' carrying baskets of things for sale, people fixing motorbikes and - this is my most favourite thing about Hanoi - all the old streets have a certain thing they sell on that street. I really love Tin Street, which has a delightful range of cake tins and cookie cutters. Also of note is Rum and Paintings Street, which - while lacking in the Rum department (times HAVE changed) - has the most amazing range of art shops, boutique fashion stores and shops full of the most beautiful home ware I have ever seen (vases, bedding, cushions, sheets, etc). I have become an interior decorating enthusiast overnight.

My room has unpolished wooden board floors, a doorway leading to a little 'balcony' (it's not nice) and most importantly for me - digital television. The Guest House is run by the nicest family in history, and my bestie there (she's my age) is called Lee, has a Californian boyfriend and is hilarious, loud, honest and nothing like any other Vietnamese person I have met. The mother is called Ha, is so beautiful it freaks me out and she dresses like she's going out for a 5 star dinner every day. The father seems to have a somewhat low opinion of me since I always come home after 11pm - just after! and he's still awake - but then does really warm things out of the blue, so I think that's just his way. They have a mother and daughter Chihuahua and a white, fluffy deaf cat they have to keep on a leash. The chihuahua's are both insane, but I'm growing an unexpected fondness for them - probably on account of the absolute ridiculousness they bring out in Ha and her husband.

The other long-termer staying at the Guest House (apart from David, Lee's boyfriend) is Gee, a Vietnamese, American, Dutch portrait photographer. Gee seems to have taken me under his wing and started out as a fairly cynical, gruff character but has (over a few beers) started to tell me of his relationship complications with this Vietnamese woman and how much he loves, and misses, his nieces and nephews in Seattle. Here is an excerpt of conversation with Gee, taking place on my cellphone:
Me: Hello?
Gee: Where are you?
Me: Uh, just around the corner... (I don't want to tell him I'm in an internet cafe; he always hassles me about how much time I spend on the internet)
Gee: Around the corner?! What are you doing?!
Me: Umm... playing on the internet...
Gee: Well, come here, I've made some mango salad. - and he hangs up.

The mango salad was the best thing I've ever had and I made him spend three hours the next day teaching me to make it.

p.s. Yay Obama, and New Zealand - you're on my "dead to me" list (well, fifty percent of you are).

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I was just chatting to my sister and she told me this strange anecdote from the other day, involving a late night phone-call and her boyfriend Vinnie.

The phone was ringing at 3am (!!) and Vinnie managed to get to it to pick it up.

The other voice, some German guy, said: "What's it like to be woken up by a German at 3am?"

Vinnie replied in a confused voice "It's ok..." and the German promptly hung up.

My immediate reaction was that perhaps it is a modern art project, where the reponses will be taped and played to people in a gallery. My sister said that other people speculated that it might be a German radio station playing international pranks - phone calls from Germany to New Zealand can be very cheap now, or maybe even just a New Zealand radio station.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I love Anthony and I love Hanoi

Ok, so it's been veritable ages since I posted, or at least, a lot has happened in the world of Lei and I still don't have a camera so my only option is prattling on about it. Also, I realised I broke my ONE blog rule and raved about a temple in the previous post, if you are boy-cotting my blog as a direct result of this, I am truly sorry, but you will never know.

For those of you who thought you'd give me another chance: I spent one week in Bangkok with my Anthony and MY GOD. There's nothing like three months apart to put the spark back in your relationship. Just kidding. But, Bangkok was fabulous as always and seeing it with Anthony was ridiculous. I took some photos on his camera, which hopefully he will email to me and I will post. Right now he's busy drinking in Dublin though so I don't rate my chances.

Right now for me: it is my second evening in Hanoi and I feel more complicated and emotional about this city than any of the previous ones - probably because I know I have to make a life here for the next six months. First of all - it is NOTHING like New Zealand. Of course not, you say, it is a major city in South East Asia, why would it be?! Ok, of course not, but the other places I went felt more homey and comfortable and slick and everything modern and etc, but Hanoi is just insane. On first impression, it looked kind of like something out of a Sean Tan picture book, if he liked to paint what a person on LSD might imagine when they think of Asia. The skyline is so busy, because heaps of the buildings are multiple stories high (around three or four) but only about 6 metres across. And they are multi-coloured. This is because the Vietnamese government taxes you based on the WIDTH of your HOUSE, so people keep their houses narrow to save money and just build upwards.

The Vietnamese people are also nothing like the Thais, Laotians and Cambodians I've become so used to. Everyone warned me about them to be honest, especially those dwelling in Hanoi, but so far I like them. They are definitely not submissive like the Laotians, false like the Thais or obnoxious like the Cambodians (can be, overall Cambodians are my favourite people on the planet, so - NO OFFENSE intended). The Vietnamese are curious, but reserved, they are dignified and graceful, and only smile when they feel like it, or if they're a con-artist (which some of them are, I have met a couple), they seem slightly suspicious, but seem like to like it when I make a fool of myself. And once they've sussed me out, they're constantly offering me something for nothing.

Obviously, this 'in depth analysis of the Vietnamese psyche' will become much more varied and complex as I stay here for a longer time, but those are my first impressions. They're also much more liable to rip me off than anyone else, but I'm getting used to it (to being able to tell when it happens and to say no).

Job front: I had two interviews today, one was dreadful (I still got offered the job, it pays very well, but I think I would hate to work there) and one was charming (starts only part-time, pay is ok, the place is wonderful). I think CHARMING wins... (I'll never be rich) - the womans first question was "The most important thing is that the teacher loves the children, can you love them?"


(Yes I can)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oh My Buddha!

I don't have a lot to say, but look at my photograph above to get an idea - just kidding, if you recall from the previous post, I don't HAVE a camera (I must seriously be the one tourist at Angkor Wat...) so I stole a picture off the internet. Alarmingly, this was the best I could find. Honestly, it looks much better in real.

In real. I went to Angkor Wat today!! In real.

To repeat something I already told Mom today: When I first arrived, I walked up to Angkor Wat and was like, wow, this is beautiful (unsurprising) but quite a lot smaller than everyone hyped it up to be. I mean, it was still HUGE, but not as huge as I had come to expect from a million and one anecdotes about it.

Anyway, I was walking around it, still quite mesmerized by it's detail and beauty, and then I walked out the backdoor. And saw a huge field, more temples and a long straight stone path. After walking for a while, I saw the real Angkor Wat and realised, with some hilarity (outloud laughing, by myself), that the building from before had merely been the entry gate to Angkor, not Angkor itself. As I got closer to the real Angkor Wat, I really surprised myself by bursting into happy, almost religious, tears (this happened more than once today) and gasping for breath at how blown away I was.

Architecture has never done that for me before.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

How Phnom Penh stole my heart (and camera...)

I find myself in the final few days of my extended stay in Phnom Penh - capital city of Cambodia. I have been here for over three weeks. Since my camera (amongst other things) has been stolen (more on that later) I'll have to attempt to use words to express how fabulous and filthy this city is.

I've been staying in Ellie's apartment on the fourth floor of a residential building near the river side and the old market (great for cheap rambutans, dragon fruit and bananas). Rambutans are my favourite, I am going to copy Gianna and put faces on them (this will be difficult, they are covered in hair) and post pictures as soon as I have a new camera.
The apartment itself is glorious and sparse, just how I like it, and has: 1 balcony which looks out over other people's balconies, this leads to much waving and laughing and great photos (which are now stolen) and 1 roof-top patio which is huge, and provides a 360 degree view of the city, from slums to apartment buildings, from low level markets, to the first (probably of many) high rise in this area, still under construction. Standing on that balcony, or that roof, is when I love Phnom Penh the most. Maybe because I'm not coverered in mud.

Mud. Phnom Penh is filthy filthy filthy. It rains all the time, and when it rains, all the rotting rubbish on the streets runs through them, and the mud and the blackest dirt I have ever seen. Unfortunately, in such rain, the only 'shoes' it seems prudent to wear are flipflops (given that they are plastic and don't mind getting wet), which has the significant downside of 'flipping' the dirt from the street, onto to the back of my pants, or legs if I'm wearing a skirt. Somehow the locals avoid this and arrive everywhere looking fresh, dry, clean and immaculate.

The locals. The people in Phnom Penh obviously range greatly - from the lady who stole all my things (a stupid bitch) to the children I've been working with at the shelter for ex-street children, who are the most fantastic, charming, tough, hilarious little people I have ever met and for whom I've extended my stay. They keep asking when I'm coming back and it almost makes me cry. There are also the ubiquitous tuk-tuk drivers, hassling me on every street corner "hey tuktuk lady!" "no thanks" "lady lady, where you go?" "no" and on and on, while I'm trying to hold a conversation with Ellie, with the tuk-tuk guy trailing and hassling along the way.

Along with the tuk-tuk drivers, I have never seen the difference between rich (myself, amongst others) and poor more obviously than in Phnom Penh. You can't eat a meal without a child staring at you and making hungry motions over their stomach. From an academic point of view (what else right) I find this interesting, as it means I have to face up to my own priviledge in a daily, habitual way, rather than just when I decide to go to the film fest documentaries. From an emotional point of view, well. It's really hard.

Phnom Penh is also filled with incredible beauty. Inbetween the dirt and the industrial slums, there are stunning temples, crumbling french colonial buildings, shady court yards, bright green trees with purple flowers, parks full of people flying kites and playing badminton, cafes cafes cafes, and the most physically attractive people I've seen in my life. There is also the sky which is extremely dramatic in these parts. None of that grey drizzle and lack of light you find in Dunedin. I've had showers with less pressure than the rain here. The chance of being hit, and killed, by lightning in Cambodia isn't actually as remote as you'd think - unsurprising, when lightning is striking literally every two seconds during a storm. And all this can blow into a perfectly sunny day within about fifteen minutes.


Finally, the undramatic tale of the theft of all my things:

I was sleeping on a mat, on the floor of the living area of Ellie's aforementioned apartment, in my underwear and a singlet top, stretched out in a ridiculous position below a rotating fan. My night, unusually, had provided a very sound sleep and it was only around 6am that I half-woke and in a blur, could see a woman standing at Ellie's work desk, looking over the contents.

She turned to me, and asked me something in an accusatory tone in Khmer. She was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, glasses and a ponytail and looked to be in her early 20s. It didn't cross my mind she was doing anything wrong - she must have walked in by mistake. This was, by the way, the first and only time we forgot to lock the door (we live on the fourth floor, through other peoples houses almost, so we weren't as concerned as we should have been).

I mumbled back something about "I live here with my friend Ellie" and pointed toward the door. She looked stunned (probably at my naivity, and my near nakedness) and promptly left. I was about to drift back to sleep, when I decided to tell the others. I went to the bedroom, stood there and said "um, guys, there was just a lady in the lounge" Ellie said ok and went back to sleep. Yami said "are you sure?" in a patronizing tone usually reserved for children, and I snappily replied "I know what I saw!"

On returning to the lounge, I wondered myself - am I sure what I saw? I have imagined things in the past, but really, this seems like a leap. Anyway, I'm tired. I lay back down and dozed for a while, rolled over and rested my eyes on the place I keep my camera. There was no camera there. Ok, stay calm, you probably put it somewhere else. No. I woke the others again "Guys, I could be wrong, but I don't think my camera's there" - this got them up, although they were still doubtful, and annoyed. We looked, no avail, and what did transpire was that my STA travel wallet (containing such items as my PASSPORT and TICKETS) and my actual wallet were also MIA. Shit. I freaked out. Cried. Got hysterical. Went to the pool and had a drink, complaining all the time about how middle class the lady looked and how she probably just needed some money to top up her phone.

Currently, I have a new emergency passport and can once again travel, thank god. The camera will take longer to replace, so I hope you can bear with me during the lack of images on my blog. Don't worry, most of my blogs will not be this long.

Much love xoxo

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sihanoukville - Suckynoukville (Low Season)

Ok, that word play didn't really work, but anyway, I was surprised to find that my most whiny, self-indulgent blog proved to be one of my most popular. Perhaps this post, seeing as it is about the place I was whining about, will also engage you in a similar way.

Anyway, Stuart asked the very pertinent question of - what is wrong with Sihanoukville? Why did I hate it? Well. Sihanoukville is a sprawling, ugly city whose only attraction is the beach and the laid-back life. Also, some of the cheapest prostitutes in South East Asia. In Cambodia, you can find prostitutes who charge about $2. This awesome perk draws in some less savoury characters, who then realise this is the one place they have ever felt powerful or well-liked and buy a business (cafe or guest house seem common) and drift into semi-retirement with their 20 year old 'girlfriend' (who they just happen to pay).

Since I was traveling alone at this stage, and it's low season, I had little choice but to converse with these old timers and hear about their fascinating take on the rich and ancient culture of Cambodia. My tactic was - smile sweetly, say very little, and wait for them to reveal themselves. And this they did, all too willingly, since they have lived for the last decade in a city FULL of people just like themselves, they seem to have forgotten usual social decorum.

Here are some excerpts of various conversations:

Me: So why did you move to Sihanoukville?
Him: It's more laid-back than Phnom Penh.
Me: Oh ok, but you had your heart set on Cambodia?
Him: *laughs* Not my heart, love. An organ lower down.

Him: Did you know there are only FOUR psychiatrists in this whole country? They don't even believe in that stuff here. (NB: I later found there are 20, which is still extremely low)
Me: Wow, that's crazy. And especially bad when you think about how many people must be suffering post-traumatic stress... (Apologies for sounding so banal, but it's hard to keep up my usual standards of intellect when talking to these guys).
Him: Nah, I don't worry about that anymore. I used to feel sorry for them, but you stop caring. Everywhere it's the same. In Australia, when I first got there I felt bad for the aboriginies, but then when I got to see them, I stopped feeling sorry for them. It's human nature.

Same guy: Suppose, if I told you, I LIKE going down to a cock fight, that I like the atmosphere, I suppose you'd think that was wrong, wouldn't you?

Him: (referring to a teenage girl, who is the younger sister of his girlfriend) "See her, she's a lesbian paedaphile."
Me: Sorry what?
Him: Well she's definitely a lesbian, and she certainly likes 'em young.

The top image is of a monkey being kept in a small cage in the hotel I ended up in. I didn't see the monkey until after checking in, or else I would have stayed somewhere else. The images of the beach just show how deserted this place is during the low season. The cockroaches I had killed in a fury during the night, to find them the next morning with some new friends - ants. At first I thought the cockroach was alive again, since it was moving - turns out it was being carried by ants.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Koh Mak (and puppies!)

Koh inThai means: Island, and Mak means: super cute. No, I don't know what Mak means, but it should mean cute, because look at it. Also, it's tiny and pretty deserted (even by locals). Maybe one of the more surreal places I've been. It's in South Eastern Thailand, near the more famous (and much bigger) Koh Chang, but Koh Chang has faced a lot of development in the last ten years and Koh Mak is still pretty basic so I chose Koh Mak. I feel like I did the right thing.

Below, to the left, you will see my bungalow, where I had: my own hammock, two deck chairs, my own bathroom, a huge wooden room - all for: $10. Because it's low season and there were only two people in the whole resort. Me and the guy you can see in the picture. Three Austrians also turned up and -get this- they were the first nice Austrians I have ever met in my life! Don't worry, I didn't tell them.

Carrying on, we have some very badly taken photos of PUPPIES. It might seem like I'm becoming nuts about dogs, but this is not true, I'm not even a dog person - ask anyone (especially Anthony, he knows). But maybe these ones are quite nice, even if you can see my finger in the photo and it's out of focus! (Puppies mess with my mind)

And finally, above we have the coolest one of them all - the lovely, calm, patient Mom. This is also a shout-out to MY Mom who has made this entire trip (including these puppy photos) possible and who once again, for the 100.000th time in her life, has bailed me out of my stupid situation. I hope one day I can bail her out of at least one stupid situation so my karma isn't so out of whack. I love you Mom, and thank-you thank-you thank-you.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The 'Real' Thailand (ok, Bangkok again)

After my last post, it seems important that I show the cheerier side of traveling. Well, sometimes, I'll be all hot and bothered, walking along the chaotic streets of Bangkok, sick of the tuk-tuk drivers, and suddenly - I'll see the above. She let us pat her, and she was the softest, cutest, happiest little thing I've ever come across. Happy you say, yeah right, how could she be? How can that be comfortable? I have no idea, but I'd be willing to bet $1000 I don't have that she really is happy. I've never met such a chirpy, satisfied little beast in all my life. And who wouldn't be, with those shoes!

Below I have a selection of party snaps, important, because pretty much all I did in Bangkok for two hazy weeks was sleep and party (thanks a lot Argentinian!). The final snap is of the motorbike helmets outside the protest, I think they look like candy.

I'm actually in Phnom Penh now, living in Ellie's beautiful inner-city apartment (there will be photos), but my camera has a virus and so I've just managed to get it working, so there will be some catching up to do. Next up: the tiny island of Ko Mak, uber-next up: Sihanoukville, and an explanation of my hatred for it.

P.S. I LOVE PHNOM PENH. (like, really really).

Monday, September 8, 2008

News: Sometimes Travelling Sucks

This won't really be 'news' to most of you, but I thought for once I'd use my blog for it's traditional purpose - to whine. Most of the time, sure, great, I'm drinking too much, checking out new cities, generally doing the best possible thing one can do in their early to mid 20s (almost mid, jesus). In fact, my generally positive traveling outlook has received critical acclaim of the good and bad kind, with other travelers telling me "Oh yeah, but you're always optimistic" when I think some problem will sort itself out, or my friends saying "You love everywhere though!" when I say I love a place.

Well, here's a place I don't love: Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Bane of my life. I only spent one day there but it managed to burst my bubble in a big way. Now I'm in Phnom Penh and tomorrow morning I'll be fine for sure, but for now: I have no money left in my bank accounts (I do have enough cash, hopefully, to last me), I just paid $18 for a room because there was a power cut, a storm, I was slightly drunk and tired and I couldn't be bothered moving to a different, cheaper area right now. Now I feel insanely guilty, because I know I should be staying in a $3/ night place given my above financial situation. The tuktuk and moto drivers are bringing out a rage in me I didn't know I had, because everywhere I walk I hear the chirpy sounds of "tuktuk? hello lady! lady!! where you gooo?!" Oh jesus. I want to beat those guys up and give them a long lecture on the merits of WALKING in a new city, especially when undisturbed by tuktuk drivers I would SURELY approach myself if I needed a lift.



I'll probably delete this in a fit of shame tomorrow morning, so if you're 'lucky' enough to catch it before I do that, well, great. Thanks for being my friends, it's invaluable on nights like these (just knowing you exist).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


On Sunday I went to the infamous anti-government protest/ sit-in at the government buildings in Bangkok. Here are some horrifying images of the kinds of "hooligans" wreaking untold havoc on the population on Bangkok.

The people in these photos have been peacefully protesting against the government for months - the problem is that their protest isn't democratic. The government has huge support in rural and uneducated groups (much like John Key back home) and would therefore probably be re-elected even if another polling was held.

Regardless, two nights ago, this group of peaceful protestors was violently attacked by pro-government groups using sticks and bats to beat them. One man was beaten to death, many more injured. The government itself has been urging restraint up until now, but the supporters took matters 'into their own hands' and now a state of emergency has been declared in Bangkok.

Monday, August 25, 2008


So, I'm currently hanging out in Bangkok. Ellie (she's so cool) is flying in today and I plan to help her apartment search. By the end of the week I should sort myself out and head to an island for some snorkelling, but for now I'm happy peering into the absolutely insane world of Kao San Road. I may do some crazies-profiles at some point, but I'm not sure I could completely communicate how far these guys are off their rockers via text. I'd like to photograph them, but they'd probably stab me to death in my sleep. Peace.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Visiting Waterfalls during a National Flood:

The sign says: Do Not Swimming Area.

Waterfalls don't listen to fences! They do just what they please.

At a different waterfall, a young boy having one of the best days of his life:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Royal + Some not-so-Buddhist Dogs:

The Royal 'Guest House' in Chiang Mai. I paid $15/ night for a room with hot shower and towel. I wouldn't usually spend that much, but $15 is a small price to pay to feature in your very own late 1950s Italian Coast Film Noir.

At Wats (temples) there are always hordes of dogs bludging off the Monks' general kindness. The monks seem to find the dogs' violence fairly amusing, and react by shaking their heads slowly and laughing, tut-tutting at the dogs.

P.s. This is truly my last 'retrospective' about Chiang Mai. But I do ADORE the city. Next post: my long and glorious week in Luang Prabang, the flood (seriously!) and TWO waterfalls.