• 27Jul
    Categories: Travel Comments Off on Back in Bar Number 5

    Ok, this one is for you guys, not the travel blog.

    I went out yesterday to get the flash fixed on my camera. I went to my regular guy who I’ve known for like a year and a half. He’s awesome. Always does the job cheap, quickly, and never fucks me around. He’ll repair a lens for $10-20, replace a flash bulb, replace the whole flash assembly if need be (as I think mine requires), or even just charge your battery for free. He’s that sort of guy. He works at 124 Pasteur St, and of the guys there, he’s the only one who really speaks English fairly decent. You can talk to him about camera stuff and he understands anything.

    Since I was in Pasteur with time to kill, I went for a ride around. I rode past Secret Bar, thinking I might drop in there some night and see if Hoa was still there. To my surprise, the place was gone ! It had been replaced by a new bar. OMG. Things changing sucks. First the Rhum House disappared. Incidentally, I spoke to Cyrille on Skype briefly. He’s moved to Venezuala and has just had his first child with his wife, which he is very happy about. His Skype status recently changed to “hello, i m daddy now… je viens d etre papa ! ! kaelan 22 jours… un papa seul avec son Bébé” Anyway, he has a new Rhum House in Venezuala, but I told him I wouldn’t be visiting there any time soon hehe. But now Secret Bar is gone as well ? OMFG. I figured that place would stick around, having a Vietnamese owner as it did. But maybe they didn’t make enough money off their ridiculously overpriced drinks to pay all the staff, I dunno. It was a little empty at times. Still, so shocked to find it gone. I was so looking forward to just waltzing in there like nothing had changed and seeing their amused expressions when they saw me. So sad that the place had to go.

    But there’s one place I knew wouldn’t be gone. Number 5. It’s moved location about three times over the years, but it always exists. Heinz is a stayer at least, you have to give him that. So I dropped in. It felt good parking my bike outside and walking in in my leather jacket and shaking off my load and slipping my keys into my pocket as I sat down. Immediately I saw Vuong. She was the only person I recognised. Everyone else was new. Oh, except Ngan. She was still cashier, which I thought was hilarious because when I met her almost a year and a half ago she swore the job was temporary and that she’d be moving next door to the restaurant soon. I didn’t get a chance to say hello though, because I had to run out though, and when I returned she wasn’t there, so it was a shame to not see her. I remember so well that time last year when she told me she was engaged to be married the next month and I said that I still had one month and she asked for what and I said “Anh yeu em” and she jumped back in surprise like “WTF ? You love me ? I don’t think so”. So I wish I’d had a chance to talk to her and ask her how it was going as a married woman.

    I talked briefly to Vuong, but when I got back at 3pm for the start of happy hour (though I was only there killing time while my camera was being fixed) she sorta avoided me. It was quite obvious to me. I hassled her about it at one point and said “Why are you ignoring me Vuong ? You don’t want to talk to me ?” and she came and chatted for a little bit, but then wandered back to her position in front of some other guy. It was sorta obvious why though. It was the Heinz issue it seems. Everyone fucking knew. Vuong had told them all excitedly when I walked in. I guess they knew the story, but she was like “OMG.. that’s the guy. That’s him”.

    I noticed this especially because there was one waitress who did decide to sit down in front of me and watched me intently. I didn’t have much to say last night. I was unusually quiet. I wasn’t really supposed to be there and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of being back and act too rowdy. I did see a few people I know, including the guy with the tats that I ran into at Saigon Ink when I got my first tattoo, and he gave me a nod and lifted his drink. But mostly I just sat very quietly and browsed the net on my phone. I felt bad for ignoring the waitress and I chatted to her a little bit since every time I looked up she would be looking at me and smile (obviously that’s her job though). Her name was hard to pronounce so I’m afraid I can’t tell you it. She was pretty with a slightly Chinese look about her, but not really my type.

    After a decent number of beers, Heinz actually walked in. I looked up and saw him and looked back down at my beer. He either didn’t notice me or didn’t say anything. The waitress laughed out loud though. I looked at her bemused and said “Oh, you know about that ?” and she just nodded and grinned. I asked “How long have you worked here ?” and she counted in her head briefly and then said “Seven days”. I shook my head and said “Choi oi. Seven days and you already know that story ? Word sure travels fast when you have a bar fight with the owner of your local bar” She just giggled and said “Everyone knows. Heinz has fights with a lot of people, but never in here. I think that is the first time someone has punched him in his own bar”. I smirked a little. I felt embarrassed because something told me that Vuong had not told the story completely favourably, but at the same time it was sorta cute to be known by the new staff a year later just because I’d punched their boss.

    Heinz hung around for quite a while, despite me having been told earlier that he’d gone home and he wandered past me a couple of times and said nothing. Maybe he was too busy to notice, but considering the bar is normally full of regular patrons I was surprised he didn’t. He probably did but just didn’t want to say anything. Being the arrogant prick he is, I sorta expected him to tap me on the shoulder and say “I thought I told you not to come back here”, but he didn’t. Oh well, it was over a year ago and he’s probably had fights with dozens of people since then.

    It was an OK evening, though I mostly just sat by myself and didn’t say much. I did meet a cool Aussie guy though who was working here but leaving in a week and he really wanted to obtain something to enterain him and had no fucking idea where to do that, and I said I’d help him out and I wandered home and then met him in Pham Ngu Lao and hooked him up. He came back to my place for a smoke on the balcony and to chat and listen to a bit of music before he headed off to do whatever it was he did.

    I went out to Bui Vien and had a couple of bia hoi on the street. I talked to Daniel, aka “Mr 17″ for a bit and shared a joint with him before he wandered off and so did I. Not a particularly eventful day, but a little fun at least to cruise into Number 5 on my motorbike and see who was there. I wish I’d said hello to Ngan, but I didn’t, and I don’t really see myself going back. I might drop in at some point for happy hour, but of course, when you’re riding home (even though it’s not far) you can only have so many drinks before it becomes unwise to be on a bike in Saigon traffic. And mostly, I’ve just moved on. There are a couple of regulars I’d love to see though. I really wanted to see Phil the Brit, and definitely Joe the old Asian guy. I so much wanted to just run into Joe and go “Hey ! Joe ! How you going man ? Still chasing the waitresses you old dog ?”

    But Number 5 represented a particular point in my life. It was a very special time for me, those months when I basically lived in that bar, night and day. But I’ve moved on and I sorta don’t like hanging out with ex-pats all the time, and of course there’s the shitty repetitive playlist. Number 5 was an important time in my life in 2011. It was my reawakening as a person and realising that my life wasn’t completely fucked after my wife ran off and took my kid. I realised I could maybe find some happiness if I bothered to look. Some nice bar where people knew me and I had a good time and the beer was cheap. That’s why I have that tattoo on my shoulder. Because that point in time meant so much time me. But it’s not 2011 anymore and I don’t really feel at home in Number 5 anymore, so while it’s nice to drop in for a visit, it’s no longer my second home. Still, good to see that at least some things never change.

  • 11Jul
    Categories: Crazy Ramblings, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Looking up

    Still feel like shit. I feel like I’ve swallowed a housebrick because there’s this horrible heavy painful feeling in my stomach. But I took some drugs… both medicinal and otherwise and I jumped the first bus back to Hanoi.

    My friend Hieu I met the other night is keen to help me out any way that he can. I asked if he could help me buy a motorbike beause I know the price can easily double or triple as soon as they see a foreigner walk in the door and he said he’d be more than happy to. He even went out looking and said he found a very nice little Suzuki for sale at a store nearby for only $250. I’d sorta feel weird riding a Suzuki when 99% of the country ride Hondas and I am worried that being a less common bike that I might have more difficult getting parts for it, so I’m going to ask Hieu what he thinks.

    I still don’t have the money to pay for it. My parents are useless and my mum couldn’t even manage to read the Western Union site properly. I asked her if I had to nominate a particular outlet to pick up the cash from and she said yes, which is total crap because I read the site this morning and you don’t. All you need is a name, a phone number and a city, and then the receiver goes in with the receipt number and picks it up at any outlet. But that’s my parents for you… geriatric by the age of 60 and anything they’re not familiar with elicts a “Ohhh I don’t know about that. I’m not sure. Sounds like a bad idea. Why does this have to be done so suddenly. Can’t I think about it for a few weeks before I say no ?”

    Hahaha, whatever. My parents are good for some things, but for doing anything unusual like… OMG a Western Union transfer, they just fall apart and come up with a million excuses why it’s a bad idea.

    Anyway, Hieu said he’d lend me the money but I barely know him and I don’t want to borrow money off some Vietnamese guy I just met, because transferring the money to him internationally will be a huge hassle and take days and I don’t want to inconvenience him. I asked one of my clients in Australia if he’d Western Union me some cash instead, because it’ll only take me overnight to get the money to him and I feel much more comfortable about that.

    I hate to rely on other people, especially business associates, but what other choice do I have ? I thought I would have no problems just going into the bank to withdraw money, but not so, which really left me up shit creek without a paddle. But Hieu was so keen to talk to me, and when he found out I was into internet businesses and stuff he couldn’t stop asking me questions. He’s a university student and he runs a small torrent website where he distributes e-books that are hard to get and he wants some ideas on how to succeed in internet business. He seems quite smart and he doesn’t just talk about stuff, he does it. His website is really cool and I was quite impressed by it. After drinking with him all night he paid for all my beers and gave me his number and said if I needed anything to give him a call.

    Well, I guess it just goes to show that no matter how many shitty people you meet in life, there’s always a small number of kind ones who will make you feel better about the world.

    Life still sucks and I am still depressed as fuck, but at least maybe now I can do what I want and have a little fun and adventure while I’m here, and doing stupid boat tours definitely wasn’t going to fulfil that goal, so riding over 1600 km back to Saigon, down the east coast of Vietnam ? That’ll surely do it.

    Last night I wanted to take this site offline and just stop writing. But fuck that. Writing is one of the few things in life that gives me pleasure, so why should I take that away just because I don’t like some people reading it. I could change the URL, but really, who gives a fuck if my ex-wife reads it or my mum reads it. Most people don’t want to tell their mum what they’re really up to. Hell, most people wouldn’t even tell the world at large the shit I relate.

    But I don’t care. The last thing that matters in this world is what people think of you. The only thing that matters is what you think of yourself. I know I’m a good person. Well. Maybe not a good person, but I have a good heart at least, as they would say here in Vietnam.

    Bad person. Good heart. It’s not a bad trade-off. At least some people recognise it.

    I think at this point there’s only one other thing to say.. in the famous (slightly modified) words of Redgum…

    “Show me the bike shop. I’ve been to Hanoi too”

  • 06Jul
    Categories: Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Analysing people

    A lot of my posts cross over massively with my more open-minded site “stuckinsoutheast.asia” where I choose to post stories which are sufficiently sanitised and friendly that I think I could maybe show them to people like, I don’t know. Potential employers for example.

    But many things cross over. And while I will link to there from here, I won’t link here from there. I know that’s pointless because Google will implicitly see the relationship between the two sites but whatever. We will at least hope that a cursory look at a given URL will not always lead my friends reading my safer site, to the seedier part of the internet where this site resides.

    Imagine that StuckInSouthEast.Asia resides in Siam in Bangkok, or Ben Nghe in Saigon, while Tiny.CatPa.Ws resides in Sukhumvit in Bangkok or Pham Ngu Lau in Saigon. Just a rough comparison.

    I’m just at home at 5am on a Friday morning after a long night’s drinking, wondering what I’m doing, sitting here listening to classic rock music and enjoying my late evening.

    I saw some funny things tonight though. If you excuse Mr 17, aka Daniel selling me some weed, because I refused to buy off Gau because he’s a dick and because Tony had done a runner on me last week with my cash (at least for a short while) and Daniel had come back into the bar a second time AFTER midnight… which I cannot criticise because *I* did it as well.

    I was out getting Banh Mi Ga. A chicken salad roll. I’d already been out, seen Toan, chatted about him bringing my guitar in tomorrow and stuff. Actually, I asked him about my painting of the beautiful orange tree in the Mekong, but when I asked him for it back, the way he clearly said “you want it back ?” with a tiny emphasis on the “back” and a little upward inflection that I felt bad. I said “You like it ?” and he says “Yeah” and then goes and serves someone (he has a real job, he just helps out at bia hoi. You know… sometimes we all do)

    When he walked past again I asked again “You really like it ?” and he said “What would you think if I said I had it on my loungeroom wall ?” and I said “Well then I would say that if you like it that much, then it’s yours”.

    The painting cost me $20 and I really liked it, but I remember when Toan came to help me clean out my apartment last year and he looked around at my beautiful big Chinese fan and all my rice and bamboo paintings and my oil painting and said “Oh my god. I have lived here five years and I don’t have nice stuff like this”. I mean, I lived on a thin mattress on the floor and had no fridge or TV. I had nothing. But I *did* have art on the walls. And Toan was sorta impressed and I remember him appreciating it.

    So. When he said he really liked the painting I bought of the beautiful orange tree in the Mekong last year, of course I told him that he could keep it. I just said “Can I borrow the guitar back for a month ? If I’m here longer, I’ll buy one. I just want to borrow that one for a bit to noodle around on, ok ?” and he said “Sure, no problem. I’ll bring it into the bar tomorrow”.

    He won’t. I hope he does, but he works and he’s busy and he rides a fucking motorbike. It would be awkward for him to bring it tomorrow. But I’ll be stoked if he does because I’ll have a guitar to play tomorrow. But maybe this weekend if I’m lucky… and if not, I guess I can go buy another one. It cost about $20 after all.

    I’d love a better instrument to play of course. Last year, I bought a mandolin here and that was awesome as fuck, just bringing it home and going “Fuck me, I have a mandolin now. This’ll be fun to learn” and all of a sudden, without any real experience, a couple of cool songs came out of the mandolin. Not sure what else I can buy that’s cool here. Should I buy a Chinese Pipa ? That might be sorta weird. I don’t think they travel well and I imagine they are hard to get strings for. But we’ll see.

    The other person of note I saw tonight was… “Hanoi girl”. I don’t even remember her proper name. She’s from Hanoi obviously and she’s super cheery. She’s only a year younger than me, but I swear if you look at her, she seems at least 5 years younger, and I don’t just mean because Asian girls look younger. I mean that she is so bubbly and ebulliant and full of energy that you feel lazy just being around her.

    She’s a Hanoi girl, and she sorta wants a great man. I mean, there are lots of girls who hang around bia hoi looking for a good foreign man. I don’t want to say my friend Thao’s name, but she’s gorgeous so she won’t be hanging around there in 5 years time that’s for sure. But, there are some girls who do. Some are really dubious.

    You know the girl I photographed who was tattooed last week ? The fresh tattoo on her side, just above her hip ? Well, she’s been at bia hoi a lot lately. Always with a sorta specific little group. And I say specific not because it’s always the same people, but that she always has sorta one or two girls with her and maybe one guy, who is often clearly related or married to one of the girls.

    Anyway, it’s sorta obvious what her game is. And she isn’t looking for a man for the long term, that’s what I’m saying. I idly debated with a friend briefly whether she was a hooker and she took money directly (I didn’t agree, because she wouldn’t go to the whole charade of pretending to have friends) or whether she just took guys home and then robbed them.

    I mean she was a charming girl. She was sorta sweet. But she was also sorta scarred. And I don’t mean just physically or just emotionally. She was scarred in both ways a little bit. Cute as button, but I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could kick her in bare feet. And I guess she knew it, because she never wasted more than bare pleasantries with me (though we did share a joint briefly).

    But I got annoyed as she fucking TOYED with a vendor. I don’t want to bitch, but Bobby told me that Amanda sometimes did this in that she would just fuck with the trinket vendor and pretend she cared about the shit when she didn’t and had NO intention of buying anything, and eventually after 30 minutes of fucking with them, Bobby would have to buy some lame shit just so the vendor wouldn’t be really fucking pissed and would leave them alone.

    Well, this girl did it too. Because she knew she had a vagina and could fuck around and pretend to care about trinkets for 30 minutes and the tanned, dark Japanese guy who had turned up and joined them would buy some crap for her and she would lean back and laugh like it was all a joke.

    I hated her, and at the same time, I sorta liked her. She was sort of a piece of shit. But she did it in a totally honest and open sort of way. Well, unless she robbed him in his sleep. She probably did. Pretty sure she was heartless and not necessarily a hooker. I think she’d more the “lull them to sleep and then rob them blind” sort of girl. But that’s a dangerous act and you have to keep moving and such. I really only liked her because she looked a little like a Japanese idol I knew at a certain time in her career. Other than that, there was nothing positive I could say about her other than that she was very pleasant and a great actor.

    Daniel and I talked in depth about weed quality. He started it. I had no desire to talk to him about crap that I understand fully. But he wanted to. In fact he really wanted to show me the 3/4 of weed he had left and I was like “Yeah I know dude. I saw you rolling before. Everyone did. You’re as discreet as a fucking clown car. Put it away”. But we still had a LLOOOONG discussion about it anyway.

    Aaaaanyway, the second time I walked past that evening, Hanoi Girl pulled me in because I was like “No way. Just going home mate. Got food. And there’s no room to sit here” and then she was like “Yes there is. There is a prime seat right behind me” and I was like “Hmm. There is too. Maybe ONE beer”.

    One beer became four. I bonded briefly with the crazy little Vietnamese dude and his mates who had insisted I toast them earlier in the night. It’s a long story that I wrote about and just couldn’t be bothered posting. It’s “outtakes” of this blog if you like. He was just a funny kid and sorta chatting to me and I was going along with it. But he was horribly fucking rude to the girl in front of him. He joked about wanting a white girl and I joked about Korean girls and he was just horrible about the girl in front, right behind her back.

    I’ve seen this before and it’s sort of a cultural thing, but Vietnamese guys will sometimes be massively rude right behind a girl’s back just because she can’t see them. Partly it’s just poking tongues and pretending to retch.. The same you would do in Australia if a girl was hideously ugly… but this girl was not. She was a very pretty young Vietnamese girl that he was ratting on. Anyway they also sometimes do this thing where they pretend to cut their throat with their hand while making choking sounds and eyerolls.

    It’s fucked up to me. To us. To anyone who’s not used to it. It seems really fucking rude to me. And it IS. It’s highly fucking rude. But it’s also something that’s not entirely uncommon in Vietnam and it has no reflection on the chick’s beauty. Sometimes guys just pretend to be an asshole right behind the back of a very pretty girl because she doesn’t like them or because.. I guess they’re dicks.

    It’s a cultural thing, but still. It’s not nice in any language and they are fucking dicks. In Australia, pretending to cut someone’s or your own throat would be abhorrent. But here.. It’s just a part of lowerclass acting drama bullshit. I don’t know. It just happens here and it’s not as fucked up as it would be back home.

    But it’s important not to mistake what happens in a society for culture. That’s not normal body language. That’s an unusual example of something awkward and weird-ish. But when he and his friends left, Hoa rolled his eyes at me and I was like “Yeah man, kids, right ?” and he just chuckles and goes “Yeah. Young guys”. Nuff said.

    Anyway, that’s most of the back story to the SISEA article, except for the bit about Hanoi Girl having a police officer boyfriend in Brisbane who she had finally snagged late last year after I left. He came and he got drunk on the bia hoi. Really drunk or something and had to go to hospital. I dunno. Anyway, she helped his lame white ass out and he was real thankful and they hooked up.

    Anyway he’s a Brisbane copper and likes his SE Asian girls and quite was into Hanoi Girl and was only 1 year older (same age as me) and she sorta loved him and he sorta loved her. And whatever. He’d invited her to Australia for a visit because she’d been there before (to Sydney, Cabramatta … oh yes. We had a huge long discussion about that… it included the words “bullshit”, “fucking heroin”, “mafia” and other such gems.. all on her part) and wanted to visit again, because she knew Queensland was much more beautiful and less.. I don’t know.. fucking SCREWED UP than inner Sydney.

    Anyway, so they were chatting on the phone. She’d gotten her visa to Australia today and it had cost her a lot of money. Well, I mean, $120. That’s a fucking LOT of money for a Vietnamese girl who hangs out at a cheap bar in Pham Ngu Lau.

    I want to say that’s a happy ending, but I was a bit pissed off when I saw her still there at half past midnight and she invited me in.

    At one point when she’s sweet-talking this Irish guy was I was “Shouldn’t you be in bed ? You are going to Australian soon, right ? Why are you still here chatting up strangers ?”.

    Of course she wasn’t chatting them up. She was just practicing her English and expanding her vocabulary. Expanding her horizons for marriage, more-like if you ask me. I feel so sorta disgusted when I see girls do that. She has a really good chance with a foreign guy and she should be at home really working towards that, but she seems to think she’s better off just expanding her horizons more than her vocabulary, if you will. And that’s not a sex joke. It’s just a joke about girls always keeping their fucking options open.

    I don’t mean to think of Thao that way, because she’s such a cute, sweet girl. But after knowing the various types of girls who hang in Pham Ngu Lau talking to foreigners, It’s hard to not categorise her to some extent with the others. I don’t really think of her that way. But I can’t deny I do see little characteristics and think “Oh Thao. You are only one husband away from being Hanoi Girl, sitting on the street at 32 years old, pretty but clueless, desperate for a second decent foreign husband”.

    It’s shit, but it’s a fact of life in that I don’t think Thao is cut out for a working life. She’s smart but she’s lazy I think, and she just wants to socialise. She won’t work. She just wants a husband. And I say that in the most respectful way, because if I could be that husband I would do it in a second and not regret anything because she’s beautiful and caring and sweet. But I’m not on her list, so nevermind that. I’ll have to sit around and watch her probably fuck it up with someone and end up back on the street in a couple years.

    But I want to explain something for my family and friends back home why Thao isn’t dating me, despite us being good friends and talking every day on Skype for the last year and me being an all-round nice guy. It’s because I may have only in the past showed you a street photo of Thao. Something I took while we were slumming in the streets drinking booze and she had glasses and a ponytail happening. Well… Ok, let me show you the other Thao I know. When she dresses up.

    This is the Thao I see on Facebook. She’s not the one I drink with in the street. She’s sorta reserved and polite with her friends and gets really mad If I say any English that catches her up in front of her friends. This is the Thao I know on Facebook, and I think you will understand immediately why she’s not dating me.

    Well, that would be because she’s fucking gorgeous, right ? I didn’t initially get that my little geeky friend Thao from bia hoi was this sort of beautiful supermodel when made up, but apparently so.

    But it seems being pretty doesn’t make that much difference, because she’s no less single than I am. Well, if you discount the fact that there would be dozens of guys who WOULD marry her, given the chance. But other than that. She’s 26, single and her parents are looking at her disapprovingly as crazy and saying “Thao. Why the fuck you are not married ? You are 26 !!!”

    But that’s a long story and I won’t get into THAT much personal stuff online because that’s Thao’s business. All I was saying is that Hanoi Girl sorta reminds me of where Thao could be in a few years if she picks the wrong guy.

    Therefore clearly she should pick me. Because I adore Thao and well. Nuff said. Would not leave her and we could live in Vin Long and have lots of lovely children. What ? A man can dream, can’t he ?

    A long night of psychoanalysing people tonight. People people people. Why they are. What they do and why they do it. And how much is each one of them like a certain charicature. We are all a bit of a charicature of ourselves, but sometimes that one is a much more unusual one than would otherwise be soon. Turning subtlety into exaggeration. I wish I could do it in pencil, but all I can do is write.

    Tam biet. My friiiiiiiend.

  • 23Jun
    Categories: Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Chilling over Japanese sweets

    I was meeting Liam last night. I’ve mentioned him before, but never by name. Liam isn’t his name either. We were just discussing my use of people’s names on my blog and he thought I sometimes changed them. I have with at least one, but for the most part I haven’t because it’s just easier that way because I don’t know who I meet will be an important part of my stories. But when a nickname comes to me, and the person seems to be maybe a regular part of my tales, I will use it.

    And thus we have Liam. He’s a Java programmer from Norway. I’ve discussed him before long ago, because Joy knew him. He was the guy Joy claimed came to him in tears over his girlfriend and was rude and underpaid him and stuff. Which at the time seemed like a plausibile story. But you have to take Vietnamese whining and exaggaration into account. Because I later talked to Liam via email and GTalk at length and understood that Joy was just full of shit. None of that was really true.

    But I didn’t correct it on my blog because the opportunity to do so just didn’t come up. I related a story from someone that turned out to not be true. But the conversation and my reaction was true. It’s just I was listening to someone who was a bit of a whiny bullshitter. Like I don’t know a few of those in Vietnam hahaha.

    Anyway, Liam and I talked for ages over the last year, because after we talked about Joy, we then talked about work and we were even going to do some work together, but then we started talking personal stuff, because Liam was in love with a Vietnamese girl he’d met here some time ago, and things were pretty shaky and weird and he didn’t mind talking to me about it. And I love playing cupid and meddling with other people’s romances, given the chance, so I would end up staying up until 4 or even 6am my time many nights so that we could talk for hours about this girl and what he should do and what it meant when she said this, or did that, or didn’t do anything at all.

    Trying to make sense of Vietnamese girls is probably more of a battle than making sense of any other girls, but they do have certain characteristics that are common, and of course they have much the same motivations as girls anywhere. But it’s a challenge I was up to. And Liam went on to propose to this girl last year, with a little encouragement from me I’d like to think, and she said yes. It hasn’t been formalised yet, but he’s spent time with her parents and everything and it looks very good. You can see why I felt I should change his name since I’m outting the poor bugger’s romantic history for the last year.

    After things calmed down with his girl, it was time for me to complain bitterly about the Vietnamese girl I liked and how she was being confusing and annoying and driving me unts. The irony of it being that she had the same name as his girlfriend. So it’d always result from some interesting clarifications as we compared the two of them by name. But that’s another story.

    Since we’d agreed on Japanese (at my suggestion of course) I turned up at Ministry of Food early with my laptop. I caught a bike most of the way for 20,000 because even though it was only a bit over 2km at most, I didn’t want to turn up hot and sweaty. So an old guy mottle guy nodded enthusiastically when I said “Le Loi, Pasteur, 20,000. Ok ?” Easy job, because he’d be back sitting on his street corner in 10 minutes for $1.

    I went in and took a seat and ordered an ice matcha. Ok, Japanese culture lesson interlude. Matcha is the special type of tea that they use in Japanese tea ceremonies. It’s green, but it’s not a normal green tea leaf. It’s a special green tea powder they use that produces a very powdery, strongly flavoured tea and is used to flavour other items with the unique matcha green tea taste. The serving of matcha in tea ceremonies is of the utmost importance, but I’m not taking high tea tonight. I’m just having ice matcha with a scoop of (matcha flavoured) ice cream on the top.

    Matcha is a very powdery tea. It can be very offputting initially but it has a unique taste and it certainly feels healthy as hell for you. I’m really not that keen on the weird pearly balls they put in this drink. I am familiar with them because I’ve had them in other Japanese drinks before such as bubble tea and such. They’re just these slightly sweet, pulpy, sort of rubbery thing. At first your impression when you taste them is “What the hell sort of substance is that ? I’ve never eaten anything with that texture before”.

    I used to avoid bubble teas because I didn’t like those things getting caught in my straw, but these ones are larger and you can eat them with a spoon. Once you stop being disturbed by the weird texture you normally decide they’re sort of nice. Different, but nice. Your mileage may vary depending on whether you’ve enjoyed other Japanese drinks before, because they’re definitely weird to anyone who hasn’t had one before.

    I was pleased to hear they were playing the Violent Femmes “Kiss Off” in the restaurant. I thought it was really great that their musical repertoire was a little bit better than the average list of super-hits and popular nonsense that most places will play. Clearly someone with some musical taste had programmed the playlist to appeal to the more hip and fashionable 20-something crowd (of mostly Vietnamese) who come to MOF. Because it’s ultimately a sweets place. It doesn’t serve a large menu. At least not here in Vietnam. The ones in Singapore are much more a restaurant style. But this one in Vietnam actually advertises above the door “Japanese Sweets”. It’s the place I stumbled on last year that sold that mind-blowing hand made chocolate that was the most incredible thing I’d ever eaten.

    I connected to the wifi using the password on the menu, which was “kakigori”, a shaved ice dessert on which various other flavourings can be poured, from strawberry to matcha. I was thinking “I need that Violent Femmes album for my radio station kickoff tomorrow”, so I grabbed a torrent and sucked it down at a solid 600k/s, cheering as I did at MOF’s excellent choice of internet provider.

    Liam arrived as expected and sat down. He seemed a typical, excitable sort of European guy. He wasn’t exactly what I imagined from talking to him online for a year, and it bothered me to notice that despite being about my age, he looked much younger than me. Damn cheery, young looking Norwegians ! I was disappointed he hadn’t brough his girlfriend, because I really did want to meet her after hearing so much about her for so long, but naturally she would have been most likely bored shitless with our inane and quick chatter.

    Because we talked as quickly as possible, relating all our impressions of Vietnamese culture and the people that we hadn’t already discussed in the past. I told him some funny stories of things that had happened to me as a foreigner in Vietnam and he commented when he’d noticed something similar. For a couple of geeks, at least we kept it away from computers and it was all about people we knew here and business and work prospects and such things.

    We ate, and while Liam admitted he’d never really eaten Japanese other than sushi, he found a couple of items on the menu he liked. I had my usual katsu don, and we knocked back a couple of Sapporo each while laughing at each other’s stories about life and the type of people who come here. Liam had to go though because he had a party for a friend’s work he had to attend. But he rang me later to ask me to come out with them, but I was tired and heading to bed, so I declined.

    Much to my horror when I lay in bed realising I’d just turned down an offer to go drinking. Ok, it’s a perfectly normal for a regular person to turn down such an offer at almost 11pm because they want to go to bed. But that’s an unusual thing for ME to do. I stewed over it in bed wondering why I was being such a boring sook before falling asleep with the flavour of Sapporo and Miso still on my taste buds.

    Templeton must have knocked on my door about midnight. I didn’t hear him at first, and when I did, I lay in bed thinking what the fuck, and wondering how to best tell him to fuck off because I was asleep. Fortunately one of the staff did it for me and I lay in bed chuckling. Of course they’ll be pissed at me for it tomorrow, but at least I didn’t have to get up and get dressed and tell him to fuck off. Rats in the night. Rats in the night.

  • 21Jun
    Categories: Crazy Ramblings, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Lost for words (almost)

    I dunno what to write. I’ve thought of things, I just haven’t sat down and written them. Lots of passing feelings and ideas and little obvservations on life. But I’ve been sort of busy. Not really in an I’m-having-lots-of-fun busy. I dunno. My days seem to be pretty normal and are gone before I think twice. I sleep and wake up at the stupidest hours too. I have met a couple of decent people even though I haven’t gone out much. I like to drop into Bui Vien around 7 or 8pm because Yohan and his girlfriend will be not far away. He rarely drinks and won’t touch the bia hoi after the first night there because I think he got unexpectedly drunk last time. He swears the shit is 15% alcohol or something. It’s not. He just can’t hold his liquor. But anyway we chat a bit and he mostly has small problems in life, like little dramas with his Vietnamese girlfriend who seems to be really genuine and if she’s not just hanging out with him for money then I am sorta surprised, but she’s a nice girl and I give her the time of day, but I wouldn’t trust her completely, because she looks slightly mischevious. And of course he’s still complaining about bitch who runs the hotel he stays at. I don’t know why he stays there because he hates her so much and he even talked to the police about her, but she hasn’t done anything wrong really. He just hates her. I suspect maybe he always hates those sort of people who control his life directly. He likes to sit in the bar downstairs and write for a long time, and he won’t even buy so much as a can of coke sometimes, because he’s just sorta really tight. I know he probably gets a fairly decent amount from his dutch pension, but he hates spending a whole 20,000 on a can of coke there. I would think he would prefer to spend the afternoon hanging out somewhere else cheaper where they had more space and noone minded if he sat in the corner all day.

    But Kim’s bar is a tiny place that charges a premium price for a drink (at least, in Vietnamese terms), and even though the place is literally run by three teenage girls (ok, so the manager is probably in her twenties, but the only way you could tell is that she wears big ugly glasses and sometimes looks a bit stern) I’m sure it pisses them off that the weird epileptic guy is taking up valuable space that could be used by people more willing to spend money. There’s sort of no real way they can get through to him subtly (because sometimes I think Johan wouldn’t take a subtle hint so well, even from someone who spoke his native language) other than just looking at him angrily and saying “buy something” in frustration, which of course, he takes as a matter of great offense. What can you fucking do though ? I think it’s stupid that a bottle of imported beer costs less than a can of coke too. But it’s just that sort of place. Fucks me why he likes it because I’m sure there’s nice places to live that aren’t run by bossy young girls who want to overcharge for a can of coke, but I think he’s a creature of habit and I guess he just turned up there and wanted to stay. But it’s not like he doesn’t go out. He fucking knows half the neighbourhood. I mean, sometimes he says hello to someone and I comment “Yeah, I’ve talked to that woman too”, but he knows SO MANY of the local Vietnamese men and woman who just live and work in the side alleys. Beats me why he doesn’t stay in one of the lovely and cheaper little hotels above someone’s house in the side alleys. I think he’d like it much more. He just seems more like a “chess in the park” sort of dude than I “I spend the afternoons hanging at a popular bar in Bui Vien” guy considering he’s a bit shy and he doesn’t drink. But whatever. It’s none of my business. He’s a hard person to make sense of. Also, he’s Dutch. Nuff said.

    I met this priceless old local yesterday though. I was at one of the little laptop accessory stores in the laptop district up the road early in the morning buying a usb extension. I knew where they were and how much they cost, because I’d bought one yesterday, but the store was busy and the dumb girl just didn’t really understand that I wanted a usb cable and not a usb memory stick, and I was just rolling my eyes about to explain that she was just slowing me down and I could find it myself, when this old Vietnamese guy speaks up and explains to her and actually helps find it. Which I could have done anyway, but he didn’t know that. I was sorta thinking “Hmm, you know a lot about the different types of USB cables for a 70 year old Vietnamese guy. What are you doing working here ?” because 70 year old guys really aren’t who you hire to work in a cabling and networking store as a rule, unless it’s to clean the shores or unload the trucks. You hire a bunch of pretty teenage girls to look pretty and do menial things because you pay them next to nothing, and then a few slightly older guys who have half a clue for when the girl is stumped.

    Anyway, I was sitting at Kim’s as it happens, having a beer a bit later on in the morning. Only about 11am. But I’d been walking around the inner city all morning. I went in there with the vague idea of getting a tripod. To be honest I was only planning to go as far as Nguyen Kim’s, the big electronics superstore which is only a few blocks away, but I realised when I got there that was only a bit after 7:30 and they wouldn’t be open for an hour or more. But traditionally, when I walk that way up Trang Hung Dao, I am almost always walking to Pasteur street. So my feet just kept walking. I didn’t even think about it. I just sorta went “Oh, Nguyen Kim’s isn’t open, I guess I’ll just keep walking”. Next thing I knew I was back in familiar old Pasteur. Pretty much everything was closed and all I could do is watch early morning people open up and sit around while a few select little stores (mostly the small few local coffee places, of the sitting on a tiny plastic chair variety that only the hardcore locals sit at.. often directly on the ground), and of course I took a walk up past Secret Bar. There are markets in one little street that start only 50m from Secret Bar, but they’re an insanely cramped little place and while they’re not super expensive, they’re not the best markets either. But I mainly just didn’t want to be crushed among several hundred Vietnamese hawkers yelling at me trying to sell me stuff at that time of the morning. But there are some big discount camera and cabling and other accessory stores in that street that do happen to be open at pretty much any hour and sell lots of useful shit for fuck all. It’s just cheap shit, but it’s cheap shit that if you bought a say, a camera or computer store, it would cost you several times the price, whereas at these sort of places, they have crateloads of cheap earphones, memory cards, games controllers, tripods etc at basement prices, but still in a proper store rather than some dirty street market. Sort of halfway between both worlds. It’s an up-market discount store basically. They had a tripod that was adequate but not perfect, but I asked to buy something else and it was stupidly expensive, and they quickly reduce their price when I complained, but it just pissed me off. It’s Ben Nghe for fuck’s sake. If you want to haggle over a price, you don’t go to Ward 1 of District 1. That’s a no-bullshit, fixed price area. Or at least it normally is.

    I found some places that had the sort of litle tripod I wanted. There were other ones at other stores on the way, but they were little stores that didn’t sell much and just charge a high price. I hate those sort of hole-in-the-wall “we sell lenses and batteries and memory cards” places because they look all modernish despite not being even walk-in, and the staff always seem to be busy talking to someone. They’re idiotic. I don’t want to stand around like a dickhead waiting in line to speak to someone who’s not going to be a pleasant shop-owner and who is just going to overcharge me like fuck for something I could buy anywhere else for a fraction of the price. It was just a curiosity so that I could try setting up my video camera outside for some time lapse photography. I was buying it for something to do, not so that I could rush to a hole in the wall screaming “I NEED this THING right now and I know you are open at any hour and will sell it to me at a ridiculously high price” place. Anyway, point made. That’s why I walked all the way to Ben Nghi area to buy the stupid tripod. Because I just wanted an excuse to walk there since I hadn’t been there in over six months and that little area was so important to me when I first came to Saigon. I met some great people there.

    In fact, I was out walking somewhere with Gau last night and he said hello to Darren, and american guy who was always at Number 5 with a couple of mates, early in the afternoon every day and would always seem to be telling some incredibly rude and sexist story or joke. He didn’t hear when Gau called out, but Gau gestured in his direction and asked “You know him ?” and I said “Yeah, I do. I got my first tattoo at the same place as him. But I know him from a bar in Ben Nghe” and Gau goes “Yeah, I think maybe you know him”. I guess. it is sort of likely. I drink in various parts of District 1 enough that I meet most of the locals sooner or later. And of course, Darren is a heavily tattooed American guy who likes booze and weed, and of course, Gau is a weirdo kid who sells drugs, so no fucking surprise they know each other either.

    Anyway, to reiterate what I was saying, I was in Ben Nghe before 9 am on the pretence of buying a tripod, but really just because I wanted to walk around early in the morning before it was open and the likelihood of running into people I knew were lower. Mind you, there were some people I did want to run into, like the guy at the camera store on Pasteur who was always so helpful and reliable and saved my arse a million times when I had broken shit or had forgotten a charger or something. But he wasn’t around, and unless he was opening late, then I really couldn’t see his store there, which was weird because I hope he didn’t close down because I would have gone to him over the 20 other places in the same damn street in a heartbeat and I even sent other people there when I asked.

    But anyway, he wasn’t, so I bought my tripod at an old but much larger accessories store on the same tiny street as Secret Bar. They mainly had semi-serious low-to-mid-range camera stuff there but they had a few of the tiny little bendy camcorder tripods that had been sitting in a dusty cupboard for donkey’s years and when the guy went to unlock it I was sure the rusted lock was going to be corroded shut for sure because I think it was last opened shortly after the last time Vietnam gained independence. The guy wanted 50,000 which of course was fine, but because he had to basically blow a decade of dust off it, I sorta smiled and said “I think maybe just 40,000″ thousand and he chuckled and went “Ok”. He didn’t give a fuck. He never sells those things. That’s why’re they in a dusty display case with a dusty lock. If he knew I’d walked from Pham Ngu Lao at 7 in the morning to buy it there he’d probably be like “What the hell ? There is a million places on the way you could have bought this”.

    But I bought it there for a reason. Because the other places would be annoying to deal with for a million reasons, or would be selling them among a million other products, and only have the one particular style, or speak shitty English or be pushy, or try and overcharge me or sell me something else, or want me to have a fucking coffee with them (seriously, this happens) or a million other weird things that I can’t think of right now. I just knew a place like this one would be big, have basic stock, wasn’t a superstore, would be run by the owner, have 1 of 5 different types of product rather than have 500 boxes of the same model, and would be dead fucking deserted at quarter to 9 in the morning. How’s that ? Is that a pretty fucking specific criteria for wanting to buy a tripod or what ? My whole story and trip was basically based around avoiding 50 different types of place that would have sold the thing I wanted just because I was picky. So I got the exact style of tripod I wanted, and it cost me $2.

    I’m sorry, but those little details mattered. Fuck you to the people complaining about the long-winded explanation. All those people who say my writing is “too wordy”, then that particular story was a very special “fuck you” for those people. My point was that often, when I’m in Saigon, I don’t do something I have to do because I just don’t feel like dealing with people. Shop staff can be pushy, or ignorant, or overpriced, or there’s a language barrier. So often there’s things you want to buy and you know places where you can buy them but sometimes you just don’t feel like going there. Like, I have to buy shoes, right ? There’s a woman who sits less then 20 meters from my front door who has a massive pile of shoes on a tarpaulin outside her shop where she sells, I dunno.. something else. But I just don’t feel like standing there and pawing over a pile of shoes on a very fucking busy tourist street right beside where I live and complaining they don’t have the size I want, and having nothing to sit on while I try them on. There’s a lot of things you can do in Vietnam, but sometimes don’t do because shopping at a Vietnamese store takes a certain about of perseverance and the right mind-set. When I find the right area, and I’m in the right mood, I will buy some shoes. I actually know the best area. If you go down Tran Hung Dao a few kilometres, then about parallel to it, but two block to the right (going south) there’s an area which I guess is probably the edge of District 5, and they have huge street malls what sell and repair shoes and bags and stuff. Cool area. Been there before. Really impressive. I’ll go there later maybe.

    So. If you remember where we were. I was sitting outside Kim’s having a beer at 11am because my feet were killing me from walking all morning in leather shoes, and the old guy from the usb cable store that morning comes past pulling a cyclo and nearly falls over dead when he sees me. He parks his cyclo to talk to me, which keeps rolling away every time he turns around like in some sort of cartoon, but he eventually wedges it up against something and comes and sits down to chat. He’s got these books with him. He actually showed me one briefly in the store. He’s a guide. He does cyclo tours. He’s a little more advanced than the average cheap lazy bastard who just hassles newbies in the street by yelling at them, because he actually does specific tours and he even has a small and very faded piece of paper covered in plastic laminate with a small list of places he takes people to such as various markets and landmarks around the city. Places like the post office and the chapel and the reuninification palace etc. He’s obviously still a pushy Vietnamese guy desperately trying to pedal his trade by getting in your face, but he is obviously helpful, well spoken, speaks multiple languages, and isn’t the type who will rip you off.

    The interesting thing is that obviously giving cyclo tours was Sit’s life. It’s what he’d decided was laid out for him as how he was going to spend his later years living in Saigon and he was going to be independent, and he was going to be good at it. So he carried around these little leather-bound books in which he asked people to write a little story in. Just a little recommendation to say where he’d taken them and what they’d seen and where they were from and who they were. And he insisted on showing me many stories from people from Australia, and one I briefly looked at was from a young boy who was there with his family and Sit took him on a tour of Chinatown and he saw some really cool things that he liked and said he had a great time and how he went to school in Ballarat or something. It was pretty cool. I didn’t want to make a big deal and get too engrossed because I don’t really like cyclo tours, but I would have to say that it looked like Sit was one of the most organised and well referenced ones in the city with his little black books full of stories and hand drawn smiley faces from happy tourists and I sorta felt bad about doing no more than buying him a can of coke for his time and effort in talking to me and helping me at the cabling store.

    I explained to him that I’m not really interested in such sites that he visit and that eventually I pass them all anyway in the course of the day and I don’t really like being taken to them like a tourist. I’ve seen pretty much all of the places on his list except the Hong Kong markets. He asks if I’ve been to Chinatown in District 5. I used to walk through the edge of District 5 every day, but the only time I’ve been to Chinatown was on that crazy and whirlwhind tour of the place in my first week in Saigon when I asked some guy to take me somewhere to buy a china tea set and he nearly killed me with his crazy driving. That day seems like a lifetime away because I had no idea where I was or where I was going and I was in the strangest, most foreign place I’d ever been.

    I did mention that I was aware there was a little Korean district in District 4 that I was keen to see one day, but it wasn’t somewhere this guy knew that well, and I know some who lives there that probably knows it. A woman called Lyra, who writes an even better English blog about daily life in Saigon than mine but whose blog features far less stories about drugs and hookers, and so by some people’s opinion might not be as good as mine. But if you happened to want to know where to find a really amazing ice cream or handicrafts store or something normal like that, hers is definitely the blog to read, so let me plug her site because she’s literally the only person I’ve ever linked to in my blogroll because she’s the only person I’ve ever met who basically writes several thousand words a day on topics like “Omg, I was wandering around Saigon today and I found the most epic store that sold little stuffed toys and trinkets in this tiny arcade”. Her blog is called Hello Saigon and she reviews Vietnamese movies, and flea markets and a zillion other things. I think I met her on a forum when I posted some lengthy but crazy story about my camping trip to Dong Nai, because she linked to some of my photos last year. Anyway, reason I mention her other than that hers is a relevant blog and because I know she lives in District 4 and probably knows the Korean part of town well, is because I’ve arranged to catch up wit her for coffee next week because we’re both foreign writers and photographers who write epic blogs about daily life in Saigon. But she’s married with kids, so there will be no funny hooker stories will come out of that meeting, but having just had her second child, I bet she can tell me all the most awesome places to buy Korean and Japanese accessories and toys and all the other cute, weird stuff I’m into

    But back on topic about Sit the cyclo driver, I sorta did want to go somewhere with him, and the Hong Kong markets sound pretty interesting, because good, authentic foreign markets in somewhere like Saigon are guaranteed to be cool. They’re just an area of Chinatown, and obviously it’s the sort of place I would mostly rather walk around myself to see things, but that can be very tiring in a busy foreign market that you’ve never been to, and I came up with another ulterior motive. I want to find somewhere to live here for at least the next month. I was going to go to Vung Tau to live for a month because it is really nice there, but a month in Vung Tau just seems like an eternity. I love to get away there for a few days, but I’d go nuts there for a month. I’d become a barfly at one of the beach bars and I just feel I’d be a sort of stereotype. At least in Saigon I can be weird and I’m just one of millions. In Vung Tau I’d become known too quickly and it’s just not the sort of place I want to be a local at. Vung Tau’s sort of for old people who want to go fishing, or pickup hookers in seaside bars. It’s an ok place to drink and also do seaside stuff, but that’s about it.

    So where am I thinking about living ? Well, Chinatown. Man, living in Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur was one of the most awesome times I had this year. It was only for a week, but I really liked being a local there and just hanging around the street restaurants and stuff. I mean yes it’s obviously full of hardcore locals, but it’s also a busy place where you can disappear easily. And you find that the sort of people who aren’t Chinese or at least locals who work or live there are some of the most interesting people you meet. People for example, like Andrew, the old guy I met in Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year who has kids in Australia and stashes his money in Singapore and who likes to walk around the city in the afternoon for his health and talk to visitors.

    When you meet another person who lives somewhere like Chinatown, it’s on a much cooler scale than when you meet someone who just lives in Saigon. Because there’s a million fuckwit, idiot foreigners who live in Saigon that you wouldn’t really want anything to do with. I mean just about everyone who lives in Saigon is pretty weird, but if you meet another foreigner who lives in somewhere like Chinatown, you have to ask “So, why do YOU live here ?” Obviously it’s not District 8, but then, there’s bugger all foreigners there at all. District 8 is way too fucking far. I liked it, but it’s not like it’s special in some way that I’d deliberately live 12km from the city again. District 5 is not much closer, because it extends further to the east, so it’s still a long way. But as I said to Sit when he asked where I was thinking about living and he vaguely asked “Phu My Hung maybe ?” which is District 7 and I hear an interesting and rich part of town which also has some great shopping malls, but it’s just that everyone lives there. I said “No. I do not want to live in An Phu or Phu My Hung with all those sort of people. I think I will like somewhere like District 5 much more”. Obviously it’s harder to live in District 5, because you’re going to find it harder to buy the things you want as conveniently and it’s just not as western, but it’s hard to explain.

    In simple but concrete terms, in District 7 you probably live behind a bunch of convenience stores and a shopping mall. In District 5 you more likely live above a Chinese teahouse or a Honkinese restaurant. But it’s more than that. I perceive a certain cultural, class-based or even political difference in the type of people who live in each area. Everyone’s different, but as a rule, it’s easy to develop stereotypes of especially the foreign people based on where they live here. I wouldn’t be caught dead among the snobby bastards in District 2, but I would associate with many of the cooler, trendier people in District 7. The people from District 4 seem really different and I think those people are the ones who enjoy the Asian lifestyle most, because it’s less westernised but a good residential area that houses foreigners from a much wider varieties of places than just the English speaking ones. District 3 to me I think is a bit too Vietnamese and boring. District 12 is apparently the cool place to live if you want to explore shinier Asian culture, because that’s where all the English schools are there are good jobs for foreigners, but it’s still very cheap, but it’s WAY too far from the city centre for my liking.

    Which sorta leaves me with District 5. It’s fairly Vietnamese and pretty urban and residential. Has a lot of foreigners, but isn’t very English speaking and mainly it contains a shitload of markets. Cheap things can be found in District 5. I want to poke around the stores there. If I don’t find anything I like, I’ll go try District 4. But I’m not picky. I just want a small hotel, preferably family run, whose wifi doesn’t suck (I will stay overnight to test it), who provides a TV that can get both YanTV and KBS World, a fridge, and has a balcony with something to look at. Aircon would be preferable, but if it affects the price significantly, I’m ok without aircon. Saigon is fucking hot, but if I can sacrifice aircon to get a place with a better view from the balcony, fuck yeah. I’ll sleep on the balcony in the open air if I have to. At the lower end of the budget hotels, the difference between aircon or not is about $4-5 a night and it’s optional at many small places like the family owned hotels.

    Finding somewhere to leave, even if it’s just for a month is important to me. Right now I live above a travel agent in Do Quang Dao street which is basically full of ladyboys, drug dealers, and tourists getting drunk until 4am. It’s a fun place to visit but you’d have to be a particular type of nutcase to live here. So I’m going to get Sit to take me on a cyclo tour around the Honkinese part of Chinatown and look for a cheap but reasonable hotel in an interesting area that has a balcony that provides some sort of awesome view of Chinatown. Right now I do love sitting on my (albeit miniscule) balcony and watching the people 3 floors below me buying beer and noodles and watching the waitresses calling out to passers by inviting them to come in for a beer, but my view is pretty obscured by the buildings and while I do have a webcam setup to stream video, it’s the shittiest $7 webcam I could buy. It proves it was possible and a fun idea, but don’t bother asking me for the link because it was just an experiment to pass the time, because people want to know what it’s like where I am, and it just occurred to me “Why don’t I setup a webcam and then when I tell people there’s something funny happening outside, they can just watch it for themselves and hear what’s going on”. So I’ll do that later. I’m also going to setup my proper video camera to do some time lapse footage of the street, and I’ve got some remote control software for my camera, so I’m going to get a big tripod for that too and have it set up on my balcony with a remote trigger so that I can capture beautiful high res photos from my laptop at the touch of a button. Maybe I’ll capture some time lapse of the sunrise or something.

    But Do Quang Dao is not where I want to do that. I took some lovely long exposure shots of the street last year and surrounding Pham Ngu Lao area last year, but I think I can do better this year and produce something more ambitious using several mediums or style of photography. I just sorta decided that I guess the point of being here it so somehow share what I see around me. Writing is good, but people like other things too. I love that little series of long exposure night shots that I took in Vung Tau last year and set to that Ayumi Hamasaki dance track. It was just a brief wander around my neighbourhood one night taking a few photos and half an hours effort throwing the pictures into iMovie and dragging an mp3 to it, but I mean to me, when I want to remember what I liked about Vung Tau, or show it off to other people, that knocked-up little video is one of my favourite things to look at. So surely with a little effort I could make something much more interesting. I dunno, I am just coming up with this idea, but if I happen to get a good spot somewhere where I live or where I can hang out without interruption maybe I could do some sort of ultra-long time lapse. Call it “5 days in Little Hong Kong, Saigon”. I dunno. We’ll see what I find there. Likely I won’t get anywhere decent with a good view anyway. But I didn’t drag all this camera gear halfway across several oceans just to photograph waitresses… AGAIN.

    Also, the people in this area are just too nuts when you get deep into the tourist area culture (and I don’t mean just the tourists, but the locals they deal with daily). Not in a good way. For instance, because I was happy to see Gau again and of course he was desperate to sell me weed, I hung out with him a bit. He’d find me at some place and I’d invite him in to talk and have a coke. But he’s such a whinger. So many Vietnamese people will just cry to you about how miserable their life is and how they have to walk 20km up a hill to get to work, both ways, and still don’t have enough money to buy food. Add being a ladyboy to that and you can only imagine the amount of dramatic whinging that I’ve suffered in one week. After 5 days of hanging out with Gau I had to say to him “Hey, you complain that you’re broke and you’re skinny because you have no money and noone buys from you. But that’s bullshit. You’re broke and skinny because you smoke ice all the fucking time”. I know it’s incredibly rude and direct sounding, but it was just something I had to say. I wanted to call him out on his bullshit. He’s not starving, he’s just a fucking drug addict kid who whinges a fuckload. But he’s interesting and I like talking to him.

    I probably shouldn’t have let him come over to my hotel though. I have only one friend who’s a Vietnamese ladyboy, and it’s amusing sometimes to know him because when people crack jokes like “Watch out for the ladyboys in Asia” I just say “Oh, one just left earlier”. I should clarify because you might not understand. A ladyboy doesn’t have to be a guy who’s an actual transsexual or someone who dresses up as a woman. It also refers to an effeminate gay guy. You know, the type who’s a bit sorta mincy and wears pastel pink shirts and that sort of thing. So technically, when I say “ladyboy”, I don’t actually mean he’s what you’d call a “trap”. He’s just a gay guy who doesn’t mind acting a bit girly. But when I was at the Bia Hoi place for about 10 minutes last night after dinner (I actually had a soup with Gau down the road) I mentioned dramatically to Toan that I had to get out of Pham Ngu Lau because my reputation was even more fucked up. He asked what I meant and I said “Gau was at my place after work, twice, and didn’t leave until the next morning. The manager actually knocked on my door and asked if Gau was my girlfriend and mentioned that its company policy that you can only have women over during the day for security reasons and because the guy downstairs always has to unlock the door to let him in and out in the morning when he comes and goes and it’s very inconcenient”.

    Toan just looked at me with this bemused and perplexed sort of expression with half a grin on his face and just goes “Are you fucking kidding me ? What ? You’re not, are you ?” And I just laughed and said “No dude. I am not sleeping with a Vietnamese ladyboy half my age. He just comes over to smoke pot and watch Kpop videos on my laptop”. And Toan just stares at me more with his jaw half open like he’s about to burst out laughing and goes “But obviously the staff think that you are” and I’m like “Well, yeah. I mean, you can protest and explain that you’re not, but as if they’re going to believe you”. And he goes “You’re crazy”. And I said “Dude, if you didn’t listen to David Guetta and Skrillex, I’m sure we’d be hanging out instead, but Gau is the only person I know in Vietnam who likes Girls Generation”.

    Toan repeats again “You’re crazy. You have a ladyboy drug dealer at your hotel all night because you share a love of Korean music”. I replied “And you listen to shitty American shit like One Direction”. And he goes “I do not listen to One Direction” and I said “Oh maybe you don’t. But you and Thao both post music on Facebook all the time and it’s always so terrible that sometimes I confuse which of you posts which shitty song. I think it was her that was going on about One Direction last week actually. You were the one who posted that David Guetta bullshit that I commented on”. “What’s wrong with David Guetta ?” Toan asks and I just say “You’re Vietnamese. I like Wanbi Tuan Anh. You like David Guetta. That’s why I was hanging out with Gau last night and not you. Because I don’t like David Guetta”. “Good lucky with that. I’m sure the hotel staff will love you”.

    And Toan was right of course. It’s nothing to do with Gau being a gay drug dealer. It’s just because he’s fucking annoying and he is sort of like Templeton the rat from Charlotte’s Web who scurries around Pham Ngu Lao, slipping in back doors and putting on a face and begging that he’s hungry. And after hanging out a few times and taking his sister and him out to lunch the other day, he was getting so pushy, wheedling for money. I bought a new laptop in Singapore. It was just a little Lenovo netbook, and I didn’t mention it because my mum will facepalm when she reads that, but it was already massively on sale, and I get an extra 50 SGD as an immediate rebate from Lenovo, and combined with the fact that it was duty free and in a foreign currency that mine is doing well against, it was so absurdly cheap I had to buy it. I needed a second laptop to help me do mixing for the online radio station I’ve setup. I’m getting back into the radio thing again, and a tiny little netbook was just what I needed to help with that. Also I can take it to cafes more easily without lugging my huge proper laptop around and not worry about breaking it, since it’s more valuable and breakable. Oh, and it’s bright red. Which honestly, was the main reason I bought it. I was just walking past it and I went “Oh that red laptop is so fucking cool. Is that the new Lenovo Ideabook ? Shit. Is that the price ? Holy fuck… How much is that in Australian dollars after rebate and duty free discount ? Oh fuck. That is coming with me”.

    Anyway I actually lent it to Gau one night. He asked if he could borrow it for the night and I just went “No you can’t borrow my fucking laptop, dude, get fucked”. He goes “Oh. I know. You don’t trust me”. And I said “It’s not about trust dude. Whether I trust you or not is not important. I wouldn’t lend my laptop to my sister if she was in the hospital dying of leukemia, and I’m not going to lend it to you”. The dying girl joke didn’t work as well with Gau’s poor english and he didn’t quite get my point but in the end, I did actually lend it to him for the night. And yes, he brought it back the next day. I mean obviously it wasn’t a really good move to lend it to him, and obviously my trust doesn’t go that far with Vietnamese ladyboys who work on the street in Pham Ngu Lao, but I guess I did it to prove that I didn’t actually think he was going to steal it. It would have been really embarrassing if I’d done that and he HAD stolen it, but he didn’t. I still won’t lend it to him again. He asked to borrow it again the next night and I said “Um. No. Once only because I’m a nice guy, but go buy your own fucking laptop. There’s a store two blocks away that you can buy one similar for under 5 million”. He started begging me to lend him $250 so that he could buy one and he’d pay me back and give me free weed and stuff, but I was just like “No dude. Get the fuck out of here. I am not lending you money for a laptop. You are in debt to the mafia already, I’m NOT lending you money”.

    He pleaded for a bit, and then even went as far as to whine about how his mum is sick and he has to pay for her medical care and he goes to see her after work because she’s in hospital just near here. I think it’s true because he’s mentioned it before. I’ve actually met all his family now. I ran into him eating with his brother a few nights ago, and he actually suggested I come meet his family. But when he seriously pulled the “I need money because my mum is sick routine” I just laughed and said “Really dude ? Coz I think I might have heard that line a few times in Vietnam before. You think I haven’t been here long enough to have some girl ask me for money for her sick mother a dozen fucking times by now ?” and he goes “Yes, but I am not same same as that”. And I said “Yes. I know you’re not the same. The difference is, you don’t have a vagina and they do”. I paused for a second to see if he would get the joke or be really offended. He just scowled, so I laughed my arse off. And then kicked the whiny little bastard out and told him I’d see him in a few days because I had shit to do.

    I don’t wanna make fun of him or put him down because he is a decent kid and I give him credit for proving he’s not a thief, but I hang out with him because I see him around the street a lot and because he’s a bit more friendly than the other vendors and it’s fun having someone to talk about Kpop with. My hotel actually has KBS World, and other than dramas it shows Kpop most of the day and night, so I’m afraid old Yan TV really doesn’t get much time on my TV set. But if Gau comes over to my hotel in the middle of the night again wanting to be let in, I’ll get kicked out. And I reached my winy Vietnamese whinger limit for the week, so he’s under strict orders to leave me the fuck alone until I run into him or give him a call. I’m already weird enough, without being seen every day with Gau. No offence to the kid, I’d just rather not have everyone assume I’m sleeping with him. It was funny for a day. It’s not anymore.

    So many things I should have done by now. I need to buy shoes, and clothes, I need to find somewhere more appropriate to live. That’s just the first few things on the list. But I’ve spent the last week pretty much holed up in my room, geeking it up, with my bed and the floor absolutely covered in cables and electronics fucking around with streaming radio servers and webcams and patch cables to connect different devices audio outputs together. I don’t really know why I’m doing it other than I sort of find it fun and I just think it’d be cute to run a radio station and stream video and shit from my hotel room in Vietnam. It just seems like an outlandish sort of thing to do. So when I have people online who listen to the station ask me “Where do you stream from ?” I can say “The bed of my hotel in Saigon”. There’s only one problem. It’s sorta hard to resist the cliche of starting my broadcast with that old Robin Williams phrase just for the sake of lulz. You know the one….

    “Good Morning Vietnam !”

  • 19Jun
    Categories: Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Thank god we didn’t go to a spa

    That’s the main thing I have to say. Gau brought his sister. I believe her name was “Ung” or something like that which I didn’t want to try and say lest I accidentally mispronounce it. I finally found out why Gau doesn’t drink. I sometimes wondered, but today he confirmed that the reason he doesn’t drink is because he’s only 17. His sister was 19. I mean, that’s fine. I don’t give a crap. Lots of my friends are more than a decade younger than me and lots more are a decade older. I’m just like that with people I guess.

    We got into the taxi and Gau asked me about the spa and I just said “Seriously ? What are we going to do ? Get pedicures ?” and he goes “Massage. You like ?” and I said “Not really” and he made some odd comment like “Massage from girl. Make sure you very happy” and I just gave him this look and said “Really ? And you take your sister to a place like that ?” and he sorta shrugs. You know, I can’t fault him for trying. Vietnamese people seem to think all everyone wants is a massage and a hand job (at the least). His sister looks like a nice girl. She’s not really my type, based on appearances anyway. She’s a little bit too sorta perfect but still ordinary. She’s pretty, but in a “I’m pretty just like millions of other girls here”. I don’t see any strong signs that she’s a nutcase, and as we all know, I am forever cursed to travel this earth falling in love with nutcases, so I don’t pay her too much attention.

    Also there was the fact she doesn’t speak English at all. Not a word. I don’t know why, but I find that sort of odd when one member of a clearly poor family speaks really good English and the other one doesn’t know a single word. I mean she didn’t even try and squeeze out “hello”, despite the fact that I managed at least a couple of Vietnamese words to her.

    At first Gau took us to some mall and I wondered if there was a point to it. He took us around this whole area on one floor and I was like “Where the fuck are we going ?” but I dunno. I think he had something in mind maybe, or possibly not. Perhaps he thought I was some dude who liked to hang out in shopping malls looking at expensive foreign perfume, I don’t fucking know. Gau even glanced briefly at a place selling diamond earrings. I laughed and I was like “Diamond earrings. For who you buy ?” and he goes “I cannot. No money” and I pressed further, saying “But who you buy for ? Diamond earrings for girls” and without breaking stride he just says “Sure. Some girls, some ladyboy. They beautiful”.

    Ok, so I wasn’t completely unsurprised about that. I know Gau is gay and I know he’s probably going to become a ladyboy one day if he can manage, but I dunno. He’s not that open about it or anything. He used to wear pink shirts and have blonde hair, but lately he wears black shirts and has black hair and looks like a typical sorta emo vietnamese kid and the idea of him putting on diamond earrings makes me laugh. Well, at least he has class is all I can say. I guess I approve more than if he was looking at some racks of slutty fake gold hoop earrings.

    Anyway, after we walked around that area for a bit I asked again “Where you go ?” and he’s like “I don’t know. Not sure. I want to go place play game”. I nodded. I wasn’t sure what he meant by games, but I figured maybe video games or something. Not really the sort of thing you’d take your 19 year old sister along to in general, but I think she was just curious about who the westerner he was going out with was and if maybe he was handsome and rich. I guess she would have been disappointed on both counts then.

    So we went to some games arcade, and I commented we don’t have many of them in Australia anymore. Also, the games were mostly different. There were a few racing games but it looked like most of them were rhythm games and other silly competitive shit. I saw not a single bubble bobble machine in the whole place. Gau lingered in front of the indoor dodgem car arena. “You like ?” I asked. He just says “I never. You want to ?” and I said “Sure. Good fun man”. I mean he’s never been in a dodgem car before and it was only $6 for the three of us to get a car each and we cruised around smashing into each other. I would play real cool like I wasn’t going to do it, and pretend I wasn’t paying attention to them when I passed, and then suddenly veer over at the last minute screaming and laughing like a maniac.

    Gau’s sister seemed to be having a good time too but I felt weird about her being there when she didn’t speak any English. I mean, if were on our own I’d just translate, but I always felt odd when I said something and Gau would translate for her. Sorta funny that sometimes you go out somewhere with a girl here and they insist on bringing their brother. Other times you go out with a guy and they insist their sister wants to come. I guess there’s not much they don’t do with family here.

    He wanted to know where we should go next and I was sort of at a loss for what to suggest. I mean there are things we could do, but I guess it had to be something sorta interesting so that his sister wasn’t too bored. Even though I’d asked and he said neither of them were hungry, I sorta knew that was bullshit. Gau’s as thin as a rake. He could use a good lasagne or two. He asked what sort of food I liked and I said that I cook lots of Asian food at home, but my favourites were probably Thai and Japanese cuisine. He said “Ahh, Japan. Sushi. I like”.

    Well, I suspect Gau was talking shit and hasn’t eaten a lot of sushi before, because the funniest shit happened. We went to this Japanese restaurant (I actually wanted to go to MOF in Pasteur street, but he found somewhere. It wasn’t the coolest place and the menu wasn’t amazing, but it was decent enough) and sat down and ordered. Gau and his sister were very modest in what they ordered. In fact, they only had one plate of prawn and squid seafood salad between them because while it was obviously my treat, they were at least decent enough to not take advantage of that fact.

    So Gau wanted sushi and I thought he ordered some, because I ordered a plate of sliced tuna rolls, but he did’t get any. But anway, back to the point. Apparently Gau doesn’t like tuna. He ate one piece of tuna sushi and he makes this crazy face like he’s choking and starts sticking his tongue out and making gagging sounds and he grabs a nearby plate and he ducks underneath the table so that he can spit out his mouthful of sushi out of sight.

    I swear I laughed so hard. I’m like “WTF you have against tuna ? Tuna is great sushi !” and he goes “Nooooo ! I no like ! Taste horrible !” I didn’t get it, because I thought it was awesome tuna sushi. He asked “I order different one ?” and I said “Sure. Pick one you sure you like ok ?” He called the waitress over and pointed at another item on the menu and she brought it out.

    It was teriyaka chicken. He ate some and I said “You like this one ?” and he said “Yes. Good” and I pointed to the remaining tuna rolls and said “But no like this one ?” and he gave me this horrified expression and said “Nooooo !” even more emphatically. His sister just sat there giving him this look as if to say “God my brother is a fucking embarrassment”.

    I suspect Gau comes from a family of girls. I’ve met two of his sisters now. The significantly older one, and the slightly older one. And I get the distinct impression that he hangs on to the edge of their aprons whenever possible. But I can’t really talk. I’m a bit girly in my own way as well and I listen to the same music as Gau. I’m just not in a hurry to chop my dick off and put on a dress if you know what I mean.

    We finish up and Gau says he is so tired and lays down on the couch. I’m like “Why ? When you finish work last night ?” “2 AM” he says, still laying on the couch. “But I no go sleep last night. Awake all night”. I look at him curiously and wonder why he didn’t sleep. He just gives me an odd smile and says “same same you”. Ahh. I get it. I bought a little bit of something the other night that tends to keep you awake, and I guess when I did, Gau got given a small commission.

    I mean, I don’t really approve, because he’s 17 and a nice kid and he doesn’t smoke weed or cigarettes or even drink alcohol. But I guess he’s not averse to smoking a little meth. Oh well. I mean, in fucking Thailand it’s huge and everyone smokes meth or gaba, and I guess I can see Gau being into it. I mean I guess I knew because he actually said to me when I bought it “If you not busy and you want me come your hotel, we smoke ice together”.

    The main reason I refused is that when I do choose to take speed, I am probably the most antisocial person on the planet. I pretty much disappear into a corner and type furiously and do lots of unnecessarily complicated things on the computer that normally I just wouldn’t have the attention span for. If Gau came around, I would probably sit there on the computer. I mean, I guess I could lend him a laptop and we could sit there comparing our favourite Kpop songs or something. I guess in a way I feel pretty bad that he sat home in the middle of the night smoking ice on his own. Must have been sorta boring for him, because I suspect he doesn’t have a computer. I just didn’t know that if he wasn’t going to do it with me, he was going to do it on his own anyway, coz it’s not like I would have hated having him come over and visit. I just thought he would be bored is all.

    No wonder the little prick woke me to quarter to eight in the morning though. He was probably sitting there all fucking night going “I can ring David soon and do something today”. I was like “Man. I fucking spent two nights sleeping on the floor in singapore airport and I get no sleep. Then I come back here and you sell me amphetamines and I get no sleep for two more nights. I go home at 1 am and you wake me before 8am. What the fuck ?!” and he goes “I sorry ! I not know you awake so long. Why you sleep in airport in Singapore ?” and I said “Because I am cheap bastard and Singapore very fucking expensive. You know ?” and he just nods. You know, I want him to understand that I am not all that different. I’m a poor bastard too sometimes. To be fair, I don’t normally have to worry about whether I’ll be able to eat that day, but it’s not like I don’t have some concerns in life and sometimes sleep on the floor or an alleyway for whatever reason.

    Anyway, so Gau goes home with his sister, and I wander back out to the laptop district where this one little store promised me they could get me more memory for my laptop. But they fucking lied because like everyone else in Vietnam, 1333mhz is the highest speed they have, and my laptop requires 1600mhz, so noone has been able to help me. I’ll go into the better part of town later and try there. If I insist hard enough, someone will order it in for me. Obviously I’d like it immediately because my laptop needs it, but if I can’t, then I don’t mind if I have to wait a day or two, as long as the price is respectable. It’s just the machine is fucking dying for RAM. So it’s a priority.

    I hung out at Kim’s, the bar down the road, because they have pretty decent WIFI and they actually play music there unlike at the Bia Hoi place across the road. And I wanted to relax and not spend all night talking to strangers. Actually I’m sort of looking for some people I know who might turn up there. Incidentally, I ran into Toan last night. He was there with friends so we didn’t talk heaps, but we had a good chat. I told him not to tell Thao that he’d seen me, because she reeeeally fucking shitted me off with something she did the other day. I mean it was a total fucking social faux pas, what she did, and I was just dumbstruck by it and she didn’t even seem to realise what she’d done, but I think she got the hint when I just flat out stopped talking to her, and when she’d message me and ask how I was, I suddenly became busy and couldn’t talk to her. But yeah. I’m not going to go into that in any more detail except to say omg she’s such a tactless idiot sometimes. Also she’s just fucking obsessed with cute younger foreign guys. I mean, I get that, coz I am sorta obsessed with cute younger Asian girls, but at least I’m not stupid enough to think they give a fuck about me, whereas Thao sorta is. She’s adorable, but she’s as dumb as two short planks sometimes. There. I got that off my chest.

    Anyway, Yohan came down from upstairs where he’s staying and nodded and sat down. He was in a bit of pain because he apparently fell down hard last night some time. It’s possible he had a little too much to drink, but also just as possible that it’s as he said – he couldn’t walk and he fell down. He’s disabled and he doesn’t walk too good sometimes. Oddly he keeps up an incredible walking pace, but he’s not completely stable on his feet all the time, especially when he gets up suddenly. Anyway, we talk for a bit and who should walk in selling trinkets but bloody Twe ! She sorta glanced at me, but it took her a few seconds to realise who it was and she stands back and covers her mouth and says “Oh my god !”

    I grinned and said “What ? You think I not come back ?” and she goes “Maybe. I don’t know”. I joked and said “I always come back if you are here Twe. Always good to see you”. But apparently I’m not her only fan. Fucking Yohan knows her too. He hasn’t even been here that long, but not only has he met Twe but he knows her reasonably well, although not by name. Haha. He’s not on those sort of special terms with her yet. But it was so cool to sit there in amusement as he held his arms out while sitting down for a sort of hug, which she deftly avoided and then he kept patting her on the shoulder. Makes me laugh. Obviously Twe is more popular than I thought. But I guess if there was some nicer vendors around, Yohan would probably know them. He likes meeting the locals, and he sorta gets a kick out of being recognised, because when I wander around with him, he is always greeting people he knows. Some of them look like they wanna facepalm and avoid him because he can be a bit full on. But hey, he’s the local crippled dutch guy who eats cheap in the side alleys and befriends the local people.

    Anyway it was just sorta cool and funny that he knew Twe. I dunno why it matters, but I just thought it was good. There’s a lot of asshole trinket sellers on the street, but I was just glad to see that Yohan had also managed to befriend one of the only decent ones around. It was just sort of an affirmation, because I thought “Oh, well if Yohan likes her too, obviously she is a decent girl and it’s not just me”.

    You know, I fucking came back here for these people. I know Toan was one of my best friends here last year and we hung out a lot and talked about lots of personal stuff, but he’s sorta busy working insanely long shifts at Samsung here now and he never replies to Facebook messages coz he only uses Facebook to share links to his SHITTY fucking American musical taste. The other day he posted a David Guetta video and I’m like “Oh ffs Toan. Will you get some taste ? You listen to the most awful fucking music” and we had this brief sort of back and forth in the comments, but that’s really the only time I’ve spoken to him since I left in September. It was great to run into him last night, because well… Toan and I just get along. There’s no business relationship between us. He’s not trying to sell me anything. If we go out for coffee he wouldn’t dream of letting me pay, coz he’d be like “What am I ? Your bitch now ? I pay for my own coffee thanks”.

    But the vendors are sorta special in another way. Obviously I know that we really only talk because I buy something they sell and the conversation is just a way of making you happy and want to buy from them again, but obviously talking to someone they like is better than talking to some douche just so he buys a pair of nail clippers or a packet of marlborough off you. Anyway, that really almost completes my checklist. I saw Gau like 5 minutes after I arrived. I saw Linh a couple of nights later. And now I’ve finally seen Twe again, and she was happy to see me and we had a brief chat about stuff and I promised her she’d see me around again tomorrow night and we’d talk more.

    I haven’t seen Nam though. I want to, trust me. He’s like my number one man. The one kid who makes me laugh the most and makes me want to come back to live here so that he can brighten up my day all the time. Honestly, I wish Nam was my son. I really fucking do. He’s just the best fucking kind in the world. He’s funny as hell, polite but still cheeky, and he’s just got a cool smile that just looks so innocent and free of the worries in the world. And he seems to be very smart for his age. His sister Linh though.. she may only be 8 (probably 9 by now) and she’s happy to do the stupidest fucking shit for a laugh and to entertain people, but there’s something about her that just says to me that even at 8 years old, she sorta has a pretty good idea that as a girl, she can sort of get what she wants.

    She’s a cute kid (although after her appearance change recently I almost think of her as a teenager) and obviously she’s going to be pretty when she grows up, and she’s probably going to have all the guys fawning over her, and I think that she knows she can control them. She hasn’t fully worked it out just yet, but you can just sort of see the idea playing across her mind already. When she offered me the usually 70,000 dong bouquet for 50,000 thousand and goes “I give you discount because I know you. I see you many time” I think there was more to it than just “If I pretend to be his friend he will buy roses from me”. There was just the faintest trace of her being almost condescending in a way. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s sort of what I perceived. Yes. Even at 33 years old, I have 8 year olds who talk down to me sometimes. You know, I wouldn’t mind if she was my daughter either, but she’d be a fucking handful. You can just TELL. She’s got fucking attitude coming out of her arse sometimes, and she’s not afraid to give you an indignant smile and ham shit up. Maybe with luck she’ll have all the drama queen stuff over by the time she hits 16 and her parents can be saved from dealing with an impossible child. Anyway, she’s not my girl. I just buy flowers off her in the street and take photos of her being an idiot to amuse my friends. But I’m sure that if I have a half-Asian child at some point, she’d probably come out a bit like Linh in personality I reckon. But I’d trade her for Nam for peace of mind ! Hahahaha.

    So anyway, enough of this story. I know none of you know any of the fucking people in this story, so it’s probably boring as fuck to you. But a lot of what I write is like a journal to me and I want to write it so that I can look back on it and remember later. But also my point was that I just like seeing the people here on a regular basis. We might not be BFF’s ready to die for each other, but your friends are your friends, whoever they might be. If seeing them makes you sorta happier than you were before you saw them, then you’re friends.

  • 18Jun
    Categories: Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on What’s the weirdest thing you’ve put up your arse in a foreign country ?

    Yes, I am going to explain that title, but not just yet. You’ll have to read the rest of the story first.

    So, I’m back in Vietnam. I got here a few days ago to be honest, I just haven’t had a chance to write. I’ve been doing other things. I’ll just launch into it because I don’t have much time. I have a spa date with Gau. Oh don’t even ask. I’ll get to that too.

    So I arrived on Friday night. Took about three quarters of an hour to clear immigration. Having a Visa On Arrival is convenient at first insofar as you don’t have to go to the embassy back home, but at least if you do that you don’t have to line up with 50 smelly backpackers in the airport for an hour to complete the “stamping process”. After surviving that, I went out and grabbed the first taxi that was nearby. I got in with my bags and told the guy I wanted Bto go to Pham Ngu Lau and he goes “ok, 500″ and I’m like “What ? 500,000 ?” and he says “Yes yes. I have to pay for parking spot for long time. 500,000. Look, I have card on my neck with price to Pham Ngu Lau. No meter here. Fix price only”. I looked at him and said “Dude I am NOT paying 500,000 to get to Pham Ngu Lau. Last time I was here, taxi from the airport was only 200,000″ and he goes “I know. I know. But I have to pay parking. Ok, 400. Ok ?”

    400,000 ($20) was still a fucking RORT for like an 8km taxi fare to the city. But I was already IN the taxi, and I didn’t really want to get out and go negotiate with another taxi driver. So I just accepted it and paid him $20 to take me home. Because I was fucking tired. I walked up the street to Sunrise Travel in Do Quan Dao street where I’ve stayed before, and as I walked, I went “Where’s the Rhum House sign ?” I thought maybe they’d taken it down, because it was always having problems, but when I got closer I saw no lights and as I got just outside I saw the shutters were partially open and the place was empty. It looked recently abandoned and everything was a much plainer cream colour. The Rhum House was gone.

    I mean, Chris predicted it, because he just didn’t think a classier place like that really fitted in this part of town and that he just wouldn’t make enough money to be profitable at the fairly low prices he charged. But he was popular and he attracted a good number of customers, and obviously he had the french market cornered. Anyway, I do know what happened. I emailed TJ about it, since he was the co-owner and asked him. He said Cyrille “disappeared” from there not long ago. He said the rumour was that he owed a lot of money to the mafia. He didn’t sound bitter about it or anything, so I don’t think Cyrille particularly ripped him off, but he admitted that he didn’t want to worry about it anymore. He’s a pilot and it was probably a lot of fun to him to own a bar in Vietnam for six months, but he didn’t really run it, he just geeked out there and worked on code and got free drinks and stuff. You know, the sort of things I’d do if I owned a bar in Vietnam.

    So anyway, no more Rhum House. I checked into my hotel, had a shower, and headed outside to sit in Bui Vien and see who came along. Well, I only got less than a hundred meters from my door when I hear a familiar voice behind me saying “Hey !” I turn around, and of course… its Gau. My pleasure in seeing him again so soon is outweighed only by his pleasure to see me. But he immediately gets pouty and says “You say you come back, 2 months. But no. 5 months now ! You don’t come back long time. I very sad. Business bad. Look, I very thin” and he points to his arms and then points at me “You, same same always”.

    Hahah, that’s Vietnamese people for you. The funny thing is, they sorta have a special voice they whine in. I’ve heard it so many times. It’s a cultural thing. You get used to it. There’s a certain whining tone they put into their voice when they are complaining about their life in a sort of tongue in cheek way. It’s like an over-dramatised little scene on a sitcom. If you imagine the way a small child complains and stamps their foot while saying “noooooo. i want it. i want it”, the tone in their voice is the closest thing I can pick to this tone that Vietnamese do. They don’t all do it, but the ones who are a but more dramatic such as younger girls and slightly effeminate guys do. It’s just a sooky little whinge and I find it quite funny. It’s just their way of having a funny little whinge.

    Anyway, Gau says “We go get drink ?” and I say “Sure”. We head to a bar and hotel nearby. The one I stayed with Merry at some 6 months ago. He points across the road to the Bia Hoi place. He says “I don’t like. Too many people there, and many Viet Cong. I don’t like. Bad people now”. I nod and sorta get it, but I wonder if there’s more to the story. We sit and I have a beer and he has a coke and he again says “You don’t come back, long time”. “Hey, I came back didn’t I ?” I say. I missed the place, but c’mon, I was only gone a few months longer than I expected. But I knew Gau would do this. I was a very regular customer of his which means that I put food on his table but also we were good friends, insofar as you can be good friends with the cigarette selling kid that you meet on the street in Pham Ngu Lau. I just say “I know man. I tried to come in February, but I came from Laos and I didn’t have the application form already and I got turned back at the border and had to go back to Laos, so I didn’t come”. He laughs a bit and we talk for a bit before as expected he says “You buy from me ?”

    Well, fuck yeah. I haven’t had weed in like 3 months, and I must admit that other than just seeing Gau, naturally I wanted some weed. But not so much that I would have bought it from anyone else. I would only buy from Gau, because… I dunno, he sells it and I’m his friend, so of course I support him. One time I bought some from a book girl, and I told Gau about it because I was annoyed at him and he got so visibly upset by it and sulked and said “Noooo. You only buy from me”. It’s about loyalty and friendship. It’s important that you support the guy who sells you something, because he relies on you for his livelihood and when you walk the streets for 11 hours a day, your regular customers are important to you and often become your friends.

    Gau says “last time you angry me” and I laugh. Well, we did have an argument over money and he threatened to hit me with a chair and I pulled a knife on him. But it wasn’t really that serious and all he did was run off sooking and brought his big sister back. I said “I’m sorry man” and he goes “I know. I know. No problem”. He says “Your girl. I see her around here many times. She going with so many guy. I think she very bad girl. I hear she sold her baby one time”. I sigh and admit that that wouldn’t really surprise me. Merry wasn’t really into supporting kids. That’s why I bailed on her. When I understood that about her, I didn’t want to be with her anymore. Anyway, I tell Gau the story of why she has short hair now (Which I have never related to any of you, sorry, it’s a story I can’t share) and he covers his mouth and goes “oh my god”.

    Gau brings out his usual blocks of imitation Thai weed. I say imitation because it is compressed in the style that the Thai stuff is done in, but it’s just a bit lighter in colour and normally has a bit more seed and stem in it. It could well come from Thailand, but it’s just not as good as the real stuff, and I suspect that it’s probably Cambodian stuff posing as Thai. And of course the Vietnamese themselves couldn’t grow decent dope if their life depended on it. I ask him for two and I hand him cash and say “here, 500,000″ and he goes “For me ?” and I say “Yeah”. I mean, he would sell for 250,000 a block to most people anyway (possibly more for stupid people) but I only pay 200,000. So I just gave him a $5 tip. No big deal, but I don’t wanna be a cunt about it. He’s happy to see me and he obviously missed my custom.

    We talked about Kpop too. I told him I saw Girl’s Generation in concert in Sydney and I showed him my back stage photos. He pointed at Soo Young (I call her E Young on my blog by the way, but it’s the same girl) and says “She my favourite. Very beautiful” and I said “Yes. She plays guitar very good also” and he nods sagely and says “I know. I know”. See ? So like Gau and I had a really serious discussion about Korean pop idols and he loved my photos. To be honest, half the reason I came back here was so that I could say to Gau “You’ll never guess what I did ! I saw Girl’s Generation” because I just knew that of all my real life friends, he is the one who would appreciate it the most, so it was awesome to tell him about it.

    We talk more that I won’t relate, so I don’t want you to think the whole thing was about drugs and money. But Gau had mentioned business was shitty. Not many people were buying from him and lots more people were selling stuff and he was copping a bit of shit. He said he had to pay the mafia tonight and he was short and he was going to be in the shit and he said “Sometime, if I don’t have money, they hit me” and I’m thinking, I really don’t want to get involved or encourage this, but I do consider Gau a friend. So I loaned him 500,000 dong which mostly covered what he needed to pay back, and the rest he could earn that night. I know I shouldn’t do that, and I don’t want Gau to think I am an ATM or something, but look. In your own country, you would lend a friend a few bucks if they needed it and said they’d pay you back, right ? Well, I know that he won’t have the money the next night like he says, and to get the full amount back I’ll probably need to pester him. But it’s ok. When a mate is short of a few bucks you help him out, especially if it means he doesn’t get beaten up by mafiosa, am I right ?

    He wandered off to work, and I had another beer. A rose boy walked up. I thought it was Nam at first, but with a shaved head, but it wasn’t. I asked him if he knew Nam and Lynne. He said yeah but obviously I didn’t buy from him. But I saw him on the road only a few minutes later talking with a girl who looked older than him. He pointed and sent me in. I was like “Lynne. That is you ?” and she smiles and says “Yes. I remember you. Last year. See you many times” and I say “Choi oi ! You so big now. And you colour your hair. You look so much older !” she giggles. Honestly, I just couldn’t get over how she’d changed so much in such a short time. She even seems a little less idiotic. I’ll always remember her as the girl who stuck two dozen earbuds into every part of her face one night to amuse some Irish folk I was sitting with. Maybe it’s just tonight, but it amazed me. I rued the fact I had left my camera back in the hotel because I really wanted to grab a photo of her to mark the change in her appearance. Well, I needed one of Gau too because he doesn’t dye his hair blonde anymore, but of course Lynne is a lot cuter than Gau because she’s a 9 year old girl and he’s an 18 year old guy, so obvious she gets more photos taken of her.

    I bought the big bouquet she had off her. She tried to give me a discount because she knew me, but I wouldn’t hear of it and paid her the full 70,000. She thanked me and ran off. Busy night selling roses to romantic tourists for her. I gave them to the waitress, even though I knew her and she was sort of a bitch, but she was closest to me, and the whole point of buying roses is that they be random and for whoever, and besides, because she’s a bitch, maybe giving her flowers will make her less a bitch.

    Anyway I must skip ahead because otherwise I’ll be writing all day. I went home, slept, woke up, worked all day while listening to the all Korean music video channel on TV the next day, slept again, and when I woke up on the third day, I wandered into the area feeling a bit hungry. I hadn’t eaten since I got here believe it or not. I guess my stomach was jet-lagged. I just dropped into the same bar I was at last night, because the Bia Hoi place wasn’t open yet. I considered calling this place home, but I don’t like it that much because apart from being over-priced (the beer is cheap, but everything else expensive), the manager (who is a girl in her early to mid 20’s” is a bit of a bitch. Not normally, but I’ve seen the bad side of her before, so I know. But I have a couple of beers there and this guy at the next table who has been writing intently upside down (as in he is writing the words upside down, he’s not actually upside down of course) much to the amusement of some girl who came and asked me to do a survey on Vietnamese food and culture. This is common. This girl wrote the survey herself, and tells me she used Google Translate for it, and it was obvious because half of it made little sense, but she spoke decent English, but I guess there’s a difference between conversational English and expressing more complex thought.

    Anyway, after she left, he made some comment to me from his table. I started up a conversation, and when the rain started pouring down in a typical Saigonese afternoon rain, we were forced to head inside, where we got a table and talked more. He said he was writing a letter to his family to explain why he was not coming back to Holland. Apparently he has had some dramas in Holland and the government are not real nice to him or something and he likes it more here and is explaining to his mum why he wants to stay here forever and probably won’t be going home. He also explains why he writes upside down. He is handicapped and doesn’t have full use of his right hand. He told me the disease he had but I don’t recall it because it had a complicated name, but the major symptom for him was that he had a slightly spastic right arm and he was epileptic. And I can’t remember his name. I know it, it’s just that it’s Dutch and really hard to say, so I always avoided saying it and now I can’t remember it well enough to relate it to you.

    Anyway we hung out and talked and he said his girlfriend who worked up the road was going to drop down during her break with her sister. She rode past on a motorbike to his surprise, and dropped in with her older sister who just sorta sat around looking bemused to be there. His girlfriend was funny and cute and remembered MY name instantly at least”. They hung out and we talked and then the two girls left. We decided to go find some local food and my new Dutch friend took me to a great little alleyway place where some woman cooked up some delicious pork and beef noodle soup. We went to the Bia Hoi place then for a beer. And I can see why this guy doesn’t drink much, because he cannot hold his liquor. Two beers and was acting a bit silly and over-reactive. I don’t want to be critical because I thought he was a really nice, genuine guy and I loved talking to him, but he had a bit of a weird complex. He made a big deal of his handicap and frequently talked about how the police were his friend and would stand up for him. He had an argument with the owner of the bar and hotel where he’s staying over some cokes that she said he didn’t pay for and he thinks he did. To be honest, I think maybe he didn’t, and he just forgot, but he made a big deal out of the fact that he was going to call the police and pay them to come sort her out. I did my best to convince him that it wasn’t really worth it to go and bribe the police to come and hassle some girl who’s a bit of a bitch over one dollar’s worth of coke, but he was sort of a “my pride has been hurt and the police will fix it” sort of guy. Weird, I know. I think he may have had asberges syndrome as well, but whatever.

    The guy behind me made some casual comment about something to me and I chuckled and said “Ahh, been listening to that all have you ?” and he says “Only one in four words that I can make out, but yeah”. It’s a very small place there, and when you go there alone to drink, you usually just sit and observe and listen to people’s conversations and jump in when you feel something you can say is relevant. We had a run-in with someone at the bar who I can only really describe as a real life troll. I made a comment about the bridges in Vietnam and he countered with something about the tunnel being a feat of engineering and I said “What tunnel ?” and he goes “What ? You don’t know the fucking tunnel ? How long have you been here ?” and he turned to this guy beside him and goes “Can you believe he’s never seen the tunnel ?” and the guy just shrugs. The goes on further admonishing me after I tell him how long I’ve been there and he goes “Well I’ve been here for 17 years mate. 17 years. I know Vietnam mate. I know everything about Vietnam”. I couldn’t help it. He was obviously one of those. There’s a HEAP of those people here. Who wear it as a badge of honour how long they’ve been here. It’s the most massive dick-measuring competition to be an ex-pat in Vietnam and brag about how long you’ve lived here, and some people, like this guy, take it to an art form. Well, if he wanted to have a go at me, I wouldn’t hold back. I said “17 years, yet you are single, and hanging out at a bar in the tourist area with foreigners. If I lived here for 17 years I would probably be at home with my Vietnamese wife watching soap operas right now, not sitting around picking on newbies for not knowing as much about Vietnam as you, but I bet I have more Vietnamese friends than you do”.

    The guy beside us chuckled. We traded insults for a few minutes, and he was sort of good at it and none of them really offended me much, and I gave as good as I got. Eventually I turned around in disgust and the other guy chatted to me for a bit about him right in front of him. We did it a few times during the night, just talking about him like he wasn’t there. But he didn’t get really pissed or anything, and we traded insults a few more times during the night, and it was clear it was all in at least reasonably good humour. We both hated each other and thought the other was a fucking wanker, but it was all done with great wit and while malice was definitely intended, it wasn’t the sort of thing that was likely to end in a fist fight. At one point I turned around from talking to my Dutch friend, and the guy was sitting there with his face in front of his hand with his middle finger extended. He sat like that for ages and I just shook my head and said “What are, you fucking 12 ? Who the fuck does that at our age ?” My friend was clearly offended but I told him he really shouldn’t be. The guy was a total dick and he just didn’t like my friend because he was disabled and a little bit weird. At least he was fucking polite.

    Anyway, ignoring for a moment that wanker, even though it was fun to trade insults with him. And I guess by saying that it was fun, it means I feel I got the better of him. Anyway, I was talking to my Dutch friend about medication for some reason and he got excited and said “Oh. You know what I have ? I have diazepam, but it’s special, not like that shit they sell across the road. You should have some”. He produces this large satchel and hands it to me. It’s written in Dutch, but if I needed an explanation for the large size of a package that purported to contain a mere 10mg of diazepam, I didn’t need Google Translate to work out why when I spotted the words “VOOR RECTAAL” on the pack. I laughed so hard. I said “This is anally administered diazpam isn’t it ? This is valium that you stick in your arse” He grinned and said “Yes. I can’t get it here. I have to bring it from Holland. It is what I have to take because it works quicker and if I feel I am likely to have an epileptic attack, I have to take that immediately”

    “Dude, this is awesome” I said. “My world is so much larger now, knowing that rectal valium exists. I had no idea there was such a thing, but now thanks to you. I do. Thank you. I shall be sticking valium up my arse tonight for the first time in my life”. He says “I want to hear a full report ok ?” and I said “Dude, I’ll fucking blog about it. I swear”. Anyway, I was so tired when I got home that I just fell asleep, but this morning I emptied my pockets and I was like “LOL ! There’s my arse valium !” So this morning, after waking up, I stuck the nozzle of a tiny tube of sludgy, fast-acting valium goo in my arse and squeezed. Of course it was only 10mg diazepam, and if I wanted to feel something, realistically I would have taken 30 or 40mg, but still. That’s one thing I’ve never done before and it hadn’t even occur to me it existed. But now I have squeezed liquid valium into my anus. If “take drugs rectally” was on my bucket list, then it has now been crossed off.

    But you want to know the reason I woke up ? My phone is ringing. It’s a Vietnamese SIM. I don’t even know the number. But I know one person who does. Gau. At fucking 7:55am. Apparently I promised I’d go to a spa with him. Serious ? I don’t even know if that’s the water-filled spa you bathe in or the beauty salon type place. I’m not sure which would be worse. Fuck, seriously.. did I get drunk and agree to go out and get my ears cleaned and a pedicure last night with my gay, kpop loving drug dealer ? Coz, seriously. It looks like I did. *Facepalm* I think I need to go have a few serious before I do this. I can’t believe I agreed to go to a spa. Why couldn’t it be opera or something ? Gay people love that too, right ? I would be happy to give opera a try. But a spa ? Oh well. I’m going to have to go to a spa today it seems. Fucking crazy, right ? I need some vodka. I’m pretty sure there isn’t enough rectally administered valium in the world to make me enjoy going to a spa. But I’ll try anything once. Tell you about it later

    This, is your Samsung. This, is your Samsung on drugs.

  • 08May
    Categories: Asia, Crazy Ramblings, Travel Comments Off on Stupid grin

    I have a stupid grin on my face right now.

    I can’t really explain why. I’m just happy. I just got a wonderful email from a friend in Japan that I met on my travels, and another from a friend in China that I met in another country. These people were both touched by me in a certain way. I introduced the Japanese friend to a fantastic Japanese anime producer who he was not aware of, and he told me that after watching the anime I recommended, he was absolutely in tears because it was set near his home town and represented a lot to him.

    The Chinese friend, I guess I just touched as being an unusual person. We hung out with a lot of people that weekend that I met, but somehow, he was by my side the whole time as we talked furiously about photography and religion and travel.

    Then the was the Vietnamese friend that I met, and we keep in contact from time to time and she is keen to catch up the next time I’m in the country.

    I’m planning to visit at least two in the next year. One I hope to visit in a couple of months, the other in about a year, both in their home cities in China and Japan.

    I always remember when my wife had her penpal Hiroko that she talked to in Japan. She used to exchange snacks with her initially and later when Hiroko got married, she lamented on how sad she was about having to quit the navy in her job as a helicopter pilot to go home and be a housewife to her husband and have his children. I always thought it was sad that she didn’t remain in contact with her, but as much as I am impulsive and flighting, I guess my wife was more, because despite Hiroko sending us a beautiful, framed copy of her wedding photo, I never heard anything of her after that. If my wife ever conversed with her any further, she never told me.

    But I don’t want to do that. When you meet interesting people, especially from far away, you should nurture those relationships. You should stay in contact. I know it’s hard to know what to talk about with someone you’ve met for only a brief while or not at all, but sometimes you have to find things. Friendships can grow from the simplest roots and online and letter-based friendships are often some of the strongest because sometimes there are things you write in letters that you might never say in real life. They may be simplistic summarisations, but sometimes that’s the sort of expression that you never give to your feelings in real life.

    People are important, and the ones afar more so than ones close sometimes. I once heard a beautiful quote in a Chinese movie that I once wrote on this site.

    “Friends afar bring distant places near”

  • 07May
    Categories: Asia, Travel Comments Off on People you meet

    You know how it is when you meet people in life ? Sometimes you meet fascinating people, but you lose contact. You think you make a connection with them but you just don’t keep talking to them. It’s just a thing where you have a good time together and then life moves on and you don’t speak anymore. But then there are those other people who still look you up years later.

    In the last week I’ve had two people that I met a year ago on the same camping trip in Vietnam email me. First Lil (not her real Vietnamese name) emailed me to say hi and let me know that she had a new email address and to make note of it so we could continue to chat and said that she hoped I would be back in Vietnam again soon and we could catch up for drinks and see what each of us had been doing.

    Then there was Ben (also not his real Chinese name) who emailed me telling me that he’d finally finished his year-long tour of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia and had returned to his family home in China. He asked if I was coming to China any time soon as planned and said that he’d love it if I stopped into Chengdu where he lived and he could show me interesting places and introduce me to delicious local cuisine.

    So there you go. Sometimes just going on a camping trip can make you friends for life. Friends who remember you years later and still want to catch up and see what you’re doing. Cheers to meeting great people on holiday. I’ll drink to that this labour day weekend ! Here’s a photo of Ben and Lil on the day I met them both.

  • 19Apr
    Categories: Australia, Travel Comments Off on A beautiful journey into the Far North Queensland wilderness

    I arrive at the bus station with a bit over half an hour to spare and place my bags in the corner and wander into the office to see what brochures they have. I’m determined to criss-cross this crazy country as manage times as I can manage, and I have a brochure for the Indian-Pacific already, so I was interested in finding one for the Ghan. They seem to have run out though so I picked up one for the Kuranda line, thinking I could scan it in to compare how the reality of the trip matched up to the marketing photos. I sit down nearby to a family who are traveling with their two daughters. One had a Call of Duty: MW3 t-shirt on which made me want to facepalm and I thought “Oh, geek children, how sad”, though I’m hardly one to talk. As the bus pulls in, a guy a bit older than myself staggers up beside me with a small suitcase, swaying from side to side. He is clearly drunk as a skunk. We strike up a conversation anyway, even though I’m not too fond of talking to drunk people (though of course, very talkative with strangers when it’s ME who’s drunk) and he told me that he was on his way to Airlie Beach to see his daughter who works on Hamilton Island.

    I was sort of impressed and told him he must be very proud to have a daughter who worked on the most prestigious island resort in Australia. Needless to say, he was. He saw her often enough but this was the first time he’d been up to Hamilton in a long time and he was excited about staying there in a bungalow for a couple of weeks and mentioned that there was lots of work in the Whitsundays at the moment and that it was a great place to be if you wanted a job. I loaded my suitcase into the bus’ small trailer and then stepped into the background while the guy struck up a conversation with a young African girl. He was quite flirty with her, but she took it in stride and showed off her pearly white teeth in a big broad smile when he said something that was supposed to be funny.

    We boarded the little bus and headed off down the highway as the sun was just starting to disappear below the horizon, filling the sky with the most lustrous orange colour you’ve ever seen. I think from memory that a very oragne sky means that you can expect strong winds in the coming days which tends to mirror what the weather report had said the night before. I sighed and wished I could capture it, but of course you can’t capture a beautiful sunset from a moving bus, and there will always be more sunsets, but this one was particularly beautiful. The excitement and anticipation of the trip began to melt away from me and I felt sort of tired and a little bit weary already even though I’d just set out on my journey. The drunk guy sat not far behind me and had been snoring loudly since the bus took off.

    When we arrived at Maryborough West station, I walked up to the empty part of the platform and breathed in the warm night air. The drunk guy had lost his ticket and was following an attendent around asking what he should do, and the guy went and searched the bus and found it for him. As he came back onto the platform, I grimaced slightly when I realised he was going to come and talk to me again, but thankfully he was quite a bit more sober by now and sheepishly admitted to me that he had drunk far too much wine before leaving home, despite his girlfriend’s insistence not to. I didn’t let on that it was quite obvious, and as I heard the train approach I briefly considered arranging to meet him in the club car later for a beer, but they only serve light beer on the trains and there’s no way I’m going to part with $5.50 for a low alcohol drink, so I dismissed the idea.

    When the dirt-covered old Sunlander approached, I got a huge smile on my face as I realised it was a DIESEL locomotive ! It must be 25 years since I’ve been on the Sunlander so it hadn’t even occurred to me that it wouldn’t be one of the newer electric trains. It had these old, rounded, 70’s style carriages which looked very much different than the corrugated look of the newer electric trains and it had a bellowing, thundering whistle that it let off like a huge, proud but sad sigh as it pulled to a stop. It was a huge, long train like a great silver snake and I walked past more than one club and buffet car before I reached my carriage down near the end. The windows were big but sort of rounded and the club cars had the most beautiful little lounge chairs in them and the whole thing looked like something out of some old black and white movie. I was so glad that I had chosen to take the much slower diesel train than the newer and much faster electric tilt train.

    I left my suitcase at the front of the carriage and returned to my seat at the back and settled in. Since there was noone beside me, I arranged all my bags on the seat beside me where I could reach everything I needed easily. The drunk guy from earlier was right about one thing; the seats on the Sunlander are quite a bit more luxurious than the seats on the newer, electric trains. They were just imperceptively bigger and had noticably more leg-room. They were higher as well, so you had more space to stretch your legs out under the seat without bothering the person in front of you. But the biggest difference was the cushioning. It was definitely much softer and more comfortable than the tilt train, which I traveled on quite regularly and I settled back into my seat with a sigh as the diesel locomotive far in front of us let out a two quick toots and started chugging forwards, pulling the many carriages behind it exorably forward up the queensland coast.

    It was immediately noticable that we were on a diesel train because you didn’t get that constant whirring and scratching sound of the electrical wires above you and the slower pace meant that the carriages swayed from side to side more and it was noticably bumpier. But it was traveling in *style*. It just felt so much nicer and more relaxed. The only sound was the rattling of the carriages and the squeaking of the wheels as it bumped and shuddered its way up the coast. I was so engrossed in thinking about the train itself and writing that it seemed barely minutes had passed by before the announcer came on and informed us that we were approaching Bundaberg station. Even though it was only a fraction of my journey, I was amazed how the time had flown by so quickly without me noticing.

    I sat and observed the other passengers. There was an amusing young couple wandering back from the dining cart with a bag of what looked like cups of soup or possibly coffee. The guy was a tall, thin bloke with a bushy goatee and a mostly shaved head with a wide mohawk that went almost all the way across. He looked very friendly and I was quite sure that he was either a landscaper or some other sort of outdoor laborer, though he could have worked in a factory or warehouse as well. His girlfriend was a shorter, blonde girl who didn’t look like she traveled the train much because she stumbled down the aisle with these sheepish but sort of determined grin on her face as she clutched desperately onto each aisle chair’s handle as if she was negotiating her way down the side of a boat during a turbulent sea. I like them both immediately and I knew they were the sort of people I would get along with, and I sort of wished they were in my carriage so I could invite them to club car and ask them where they were going and what they did.

    The Call of Duty girl and her sister were directly in front of me, with their parents across the aisle, while behind their parents, opposite me, was a sleeping couple. She sort of looked like a backpacker, but when I got a glance of the huge, bald, goateed guy beside her I decided they were just Bundaberg tip-rats, which was proven when they got off at the next stop. When we stopped at Bundaberg a mother and her young daughter got on and proceeded to the end of the aisle, both peering at the numbers. They got to the end and looked at me and then back at the numbers and I looked up at where they were looking and realised that seat number 3 was across the aisle from where I was and apologised and said that I was in their seats because the sleeping couple had been in mine. I asked her if she wanted to trade with me, because I secretly wanted the seats I was already in since they were in front of the power outlet, but the mother shook her head and said she would prefer to sit by her daughter. I asked “Oh, don’t you have consecutive seats ?” and she said “Oh yes. I just don’t want to leave my daughter sitting alone”.

    It wasn’t until the train attendant wandered past to finally check our tickets and politely let me know that someone else would be joining me in the seat beside me at the next stop that it dawned on me that she assumed I would have another passenger beside me and therefore two people would have to end up switching. Not that it would have been a big hassle but now I understood what she meant. I think she thought I was hoping she would sit next to me, but of course I really just wanted the power outlet and an empty seat beside me for my bags. She was a nice woman though and we talked briefly and she told me that they were from Townsville and were returning home. I thought she looked a little old to have such a young child, but it’s quite possible that she had older children who were not with her or had left home already. She definitely didn’t strike me as a single mother, but her meek nature made me imagine that her husband was a drover or a fisherman or something like that which kept him away from home and caused them to be traveling home alone.

    I went to my suitcase and grabbed a book. I had four great books with me. I was in the middle of Keruoac’s “On the Road”, which was of course the perfect book to be reading while taking a long train ride into the unknown for absolutely no reason and had no doubt influenced my desire to just “hop a boxcar to nowhere” as Keruoac had loved to do. Other than that I had Albom’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” and a copy of Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” which I had already read, but just felt like bringing anyway for the sake of having some extra classic literature with me. Besides, you never knew when you might have the sudden urge to assasinate someone famous and it would be fun to have a copy of Catcher on me just to make the conspiracy theorists yell “Ah ha !” The fourth book was in case I got bored with reading the classics and wanted something lighter. It was a Japanese manga called “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”, though I assure you, it is no less epic a tale and is based on a piece of literature probably older than all the others that I had with me.

    The Sunlander’s cars may be beautiful but they were incredibly stifling, despite having basic airconditioning and I was feeling so hot that I wished it were possible to crack a window and let the warm Queensland air rush in. I idly took note of what everyone was reading. Call of Duty girl was reading some yellowed old novel that I couldn’t see the title of, while her little sister was reading John Grisham and her mother apparently read some technical book or teaching resource judging by the modern numbering of the pages on the side of the book. The woman across from me was reading a romance novel while her daughter drew in a colouring book and filled out simple crosswords. She seemed like a very caring mother who took a lot of time to help her daughter with the puzzles she was doing, which was in stark contrast to the tip-rat mothers at the front of the carriage who did nothing but swear at her unruly children and hit them to make them sit down when someone wanted to get past.

    I imagined how the little girl with the broad-rimmed glasses would surely grow up to be intellectual and very intelligent with her mother’s guidance and it made me sort of happy. I chuckled over the way she had assumed I wanted her to leave her daughter across the aisle and sit with me despite being clearly at least ten years my senior, but the romance novel sort of explained it in a way and I couldn’t help but grin to myself in the semi-darkness as I watched her reading after the main carriage lights had been turned off.

    I liked being at the back of the carriage because it allowed me the luxury of opening the port that I had smuggled aboard in my parents’ thermos and sipping it regularly. I felt very conscious about doing it nearby to the woman and her daughter because in my mind, anyone who sat close for long enough would realise it must be alcohol by the way I would take small sips regularly rather than long irregular gulps as I might have done if it was grape juice or something. But she was engrossed in her romance novel and didn’t seem to notice after the lights went out, although I can’t help but notice that before that, she had looked over and watched me with curiosity for some time. Sitting at the back of the carriage had another benefit in that of being close to the lavatory, but this also meant that many old-timers wandered past to use it, but I didn’t mind that because those sort of things don’t make any difference to my ability to sleep on a train, and I loved the way I could hear the sound of the wheels and the squeaky joints between the carriages when people opened the door. The train rushed on through the night as everyone read books by themelves and the little girl continued colouring in the near darkness.

    I hoped that the person who was to sit beside me would miss the train or something because I hated sharing, and if they were a larger person it might be difficult to squeeze past them to go to the bathroom as I already took up quite a bit of space with my full sized keyboard balanced on top of my laptop, my mouse on the armrest and all my bags wedged under my seat and the one in front. I decided that when they boarded I might just put the keyboard away and watch a movie. An hour ago I would have been horrified at the thought of watching a movie on such a wonderful train ride, but I find it harder to concentrate on a book with someone sitting too close to me, whereas if I watched a movie I could easily just put in my earphones and relax and pretend they weren’t there. I ate one of the many sandwiches that I had packed and brought with me so as to save money and avoid the awful pre-packaged crap that they served on the train.

    I wished I could afford to sit in the club car and drink, just to be sociable and chat to people, but it was closing soon anyway and I was trying to do this trip on a very tight budget. Before I left home, my neighbour dropped over with $50 for a computer I had fixed for a friend of his. I hate fixing computers and had he not just turned up with it in his arms I would have definitely said no, but I like to be friendly to him because we’re both musicians and I often listen to loud Korean pop music late at night which I’m sure he isn’t that fond of. I had insisted that I didn’t want any money for the job, because I knew the woman was incredibly difficult and would complain bitterly if anything wasn’t just the way it had been before, but he insisted that I had to take the money since I had spent so many days working on it. I wasn’t going to waste it on absurdly overpriced beer though. I could have given it to my mum, who I owe a bit of money to, but of course I’m a terrible, ungrateful arsehole who never pays his mother back all the money she lends me so I had ignored her frustrated emails she had sent me earlier today because I didn’t want her bringing me down on this journey.

    So I had done something a little extravagent but worthwhile with it. On my Kuranda leg of the trip, I had decided to upgrade to “Gold Class” for one direction of the journey, because I was surely only going to do that trip once in my whole life, and it was supposed to be the most scenic, most beautiful railway journey in all of Australia and one of the most heavily photographed train trips in the world, and they promised that you would be served lovely snacks and wine and sit in the most luxurious, comfortable seats imaginable, and I just wanted to do it once, even if it was only in one direction. It would make for good photos and a good story and cost only $47. So despite not believing in fate or god or any of that nonsense, I decided that the $50 was a very fortuitous occurrence that was going to allow me a slightly more wonderous experience through the mountains than I would have otherwise had. Plus, I might be lucky enough to get the seat to myself that way and have more room to spread out and take photos and all that sort of thing. I was quite sure it would be money very well spent and I looked forward to it with unbridled anticipation.

    I had slipped my laptop behind the lady’s seat next to me to charge, but as we approach Gladstone I realise that someone was probably going to get on. I got up to switch devices on the charger and the train attendant asks “Oh, are you getting off here ?” and I say “No, but I was told someone is getting on”. She half shakes her head and says “Actually that person hasn’t paid yet, so there is a 50-50 chance they won’t be joining us”. I was pleased and hopeful that they wouldn’t. The little girl across the aisle has been laying awake looking at me and sucking her thumb in this cheeky sort of way. I keep glancing over at her and she gives me this massive grin. We don’t actually say anything for ages, but we do this weird miming thing like you would do when speaking to someone who only speaks a foreign language. Except it starts off really simplistically in the form of grins and gasps and then moves on to more complicated sentences. Within a short while though she is reading the words written on the rubbish bag and keeps looking to me for help when she gets stuck. Without even reading the rubbish bag I can guess what it says, so when she gets stuck on words like “convenience” and “appreciate” I help her out. It makes me laugh so hard to realise that I am teaching some kid I don’t even know how to read.

    It’s hilarious and I realise that by responding to her I am just stirring her up and keeping her awake but everyone else on the train is asleep and I swear she looks EXACTLY like Suki only a few years older and I can’t help but grin when she is looking at me and trying to get my attention and she knows it. As people start to get on at Gladstone she counts each person who walks past. There is a massive amount of people getting on at Gladstone for some reason, even though it’s well after 11pm and she counts each and everyone and looks at me and holds up fingers until she gets past ten and then to my hilarity she whispers loudly at me and insists that I start holding up fingers to count the extra people that she can’t count on her fingers. I’m nearly rolling in the aisles laughing at her by this time, because she’s just so adorbale and funny and keeps doing this weird thing where she holds her head down and just swishes her pony-tail vigorously from side to side like a horse.

    I know I’m just causing her to stay awake and I probably should ignore her and let her calm down but it’s sorta difficult. Kids are just so hilarious, and compared to the little brats at the front of the carriage, this one is just a little angel and she’s just making me laugh so much that I can’t bear to stop her. Eventually she complains that she has to go to the toilet and and I point at the room behind us, but she says “I have to tell Nanny” and I say “Oh. Of course”, and aded “Wake Nanny then”, realising with amusement that this lovely old lady is not her mother but her GRANDmother and probably at least TWENTY years my senior.

    She shakes her head and says “No. Then she will wake up for a long time and be annoyed and then there will be no fun”. I chuckle to myself and figure that she must be able to wait, so I just say nothing. More people come backwards and forwards and we get far too into counting them, to the point that I am holding up four fingers to count 40 people while she counts the single digits. She tells me she has a brother called James and two sisters called Tabitha and Sabrina. I can’t hold back this time and I finally laugh out loud and then quickly cover my mouth just like she has been doing to hold back laughter. OMG, her sisters are named after witches. She tells me her name is Latika, which seems curious to me because it’s mostly an African-American name.

    Eventually her nanna yawns and stretches and seems awake and I say “I think your granddaughter needs to go to the bathroom. She didn’t want to wake you”. She smiles and says “I know. I was listening”. Latika looks shooked and says “We thought Nanny was asleep but she was awake !” I laugh and say “Nanny always knows what’s going on”. Latika goes to the bathroom, insisting that I count her as one of the passersby, bringing us to 42 and then 43 when she returns. I talk to her nan for a bit which is amusing and I of course tell her that I thought she must be Latika’s mum rather than her grandmother, but she pretends not to notice the compliment. She explains that Latika is actually a witch’s name too, although not one from as well known a program in which Tabitha and Sabrina feature. She says that her daughter and her husband made a pact in which the mother got to name all the girls and the father got to name all the boys and that Latika has a new little brother on the way and that his name is going to be Michaelangeo.

    I tell her that my daugther has an unusual name too and that it’s Suki and suddenly Latika screws up her face and points and says “That’s Chinese !” and I laugh out loud again and say “Actually it’s Japanese. But how did you know that ?” and she says “I just know” and her nan says “She’s a very smart girl. It’s troublesome, believe me” and I just grin. She asks where Suki’s name comes from and I say that it comes from a song. Latika immediately pipes up and demands to know what song it’s from and what it means. I say “It’s from a song called ‘Daisuki da yo’ and it means ‘I will love you forever’, and her name means ‘love'” and Latika’s nan just smiles and says “That’s very nice”. There’s something odd in the way she says this that indicates to me that she maybe knows what Suki means and I sheepishly add “Well, Suki doesn’t literally mean love, but it’s basically the same thing” and she just nods and I wonder idly if she speaks any Japanese but don’t actually ask her.

    Her nan tells me that the reason Latika is so smart is because she goes to a private school with only 34 people in the entire school. They don’t have any grade four students, so several years are combined and Latika shares lessons with kids who would be at grade 2, 3 and 4 level and her nan of course tells me that Latika is one of the ones at grade 4 level for many subjects, but of course, she is her grandmother so of course she would say that. Who doesn’t want their grandchild to be learning two years above their level ? I tell her nan that I went to a mixed grade private school too in Tully though not quite as small as Latika’s and she seems very pleased by this. I guess she thinks I seem like a nice guy if I’ve gone to a small private school in Far North Queensland. I idly wonder what Latika’s mother is like and assume she must be pretty smart to have such a bright kid.

    By this time, Latika and my conversation has gone on for at least two hours and her nan and my conversation for about an hour, and Latika is getting far too excited and we are both shushing her and telling her to calm down. I know it’s not my place to calm her down, but since she’s talking to me, I feel I should at least make some attempt to stop her getting too excited. Not because the whole train is asleep. Just because she’s 6 years old and it’s after midnight and she should be asleep. Her nan tells me that it’s very unusual for Latika to speak to strangers, especially men and I chuckle and say “Well, everyone says I look like a big teddy bear so maybe that’s it”. Her nan has been sleeping on Latika’s gigantic Easter bunny plushie that she got a few days ago. Latika whispers “Is your hair purple ?” and I grin and say “Yes” and she goes “I thought so ! Nan’s is too” but by this point, tiredness is setting in and she finally lays down under the seat her nan is sitting on and falls asleep sucking her thumb.

    I’m both disappointed and relieved that she’s finally gone to sleep. I wonder if her nan really was awake for the whole conversation or if she was just pretending to be. I suspect she was just awake for the last part, or mostly just dozing. Either way the whole thing was very funny and it sure beat sitting here watching a movie. The guy who was supposed to get on at Gladstone never turned up thankfully so I have the neighbouring seat all to myself. I know that earlier when I was watching Jpop videos, Latika was as unobtrusively as she could craning to see, and even went so far as to get her glasses off the seat in front so that she could see better. I casually turned my tablet around a tiny bit without being obvious but I didn’t want to encourage her too much. I’m glad she didn’t get too carried away and try and sit next to me or something because it would have been awkward. Fortunately her nan didn’t mind me talking to her and realised that I wasn’t annoying her by Latika talking to me so she was pretty casual about it and just shushed her from time to time so that she would calm down and not get out of control and start laughing too loud or whatever six year olds do.

    Well, I reckon I have a pretty good insight into what Suki is going to be like when she’s six. She’s going to be shy, but curious, adventurous but cautious, sharp as a pin, and have a great sense of humour as well. I mean, I’m sure lots of six year olds appear to have a sense of humour, but Latika’s was at least reserved enough that she wasn’t annoying and deafeningly loud about it and had the sense to cover her own mouth when she laughed too hard. After the two of them went to sleep I sat staring out the window for a long time wondering what Suki did today. Tomorrow is the last day of school holidays, and for a moment I imagine she will be back at school until I remind myself that despite her size, Suki is only three years old and has two more years before she goes to school. I try not to get too carried away thinking about it, but I have this feeling that I’m going to end up dreaming about Suki tonight. I’m on this lovely diesel locomotive headed into the far north with this lovely grandmother and her grandchild across from me, and I’ve been lucky enough to have the pre-booked seat beside me not occupied and I am feeling pretty happy.

    I sort of made some steps to get contact with Suki earlier today. It’s a long story and I don’t want to go into it during this wonderful tale of adventure, but let’s just say I was laying in bed last night thinking a lot and I decided it was time to do something. I don’t think I’m going to be very tired, but I decide to try and go to sleep for a little bit anyway just to see if I can. I’ll probably be back typing within an hour, but we’ll see what happens. I tuck my laptop in the seat in front of me so that I don’t have to get my bag down and gently pull my big tablet computer out from underneath Latika’s feet where it’s been charging. I have to have the cover open while it’s charging and Latika’s had her feet on it, but it’s not like a six year old’s feet are going to do any more damage to it than my big, adult-sized fingers are, so I’m not at all concerned that she’s been sleeping on it. I’ve had a lot of people screw up my hardware in worse ways and I hardly think Latika is going to break it.

    I haven’t had anything to hug in my sleep lately and I wish I had my Domo-kun pillow to lean on while I sleep. I do have Hello Kitty though. The one I bought in Singapore with the “I Love Japan” motif on it in support of the Japanese Earthquake of March 2011. I’ve been taking it with me on all my travels since Singapore so it’s cute to think that that particular toy has also done enough miles to cicumnavigate the world, just as I have within the last year. She’s a real globe-trotter and I just think it’s neat that I have her with me as a good luck charm, despite how horribly paranoid I am about losing her. I decide to get her down and at least tuck her into the seat pocket in front of me while I try and sleep. It’s almost 1am now anyway and my typing is loud so it’s probably best I try and doze a bit.

    When I awaken at around 6am we are sitting at a station. Everyone is just starting to wake up. I wonder if it could be Mackay. I turn on my phone and check Google Maps and of course it is Mackay. I hate Mackay, for reasons that I won’t go into. But it’s still been many years since I’ve seen it. As we pull away, the buffet car opens for breakfast and I listen to them announce tasty things like bacon and eggs and fruit salad and such, but it’s $15 for a hot breakfast which is far too much for my liking so I pull a still cold chicken and jarlsberg sandwich out of my bag and nom on that instead while Latika and her nan head up for breakfast. I sit looking out the window and eating my sandwich. I am thrilled to see nothing but canefields as far as the eye can see. Ahhh, I can’t tell you what it means to see canefields like this again. It reminds me so much of Innisfail, undoubtedly my favoutie town in Australia and I wish I had the luxury of stopping there and going to the old library. I almost feel like I should be able to walk in again after 22 years and say “Hey, where’s your Apple IIe ? I want to play Carmen Sandiego !” and then get all upset when they say “Uhh, that machine was retired about two decades ago. We have a PC now, and no more educational games, sorry”.

    The canefields are great. Just to look outside the train’s windows and see nothing but sugar cane warms my heart and I decide to listen to something that’s as Queensland as it gets; Graeme Conner’s “A Little further North”. I have just enough phone signal left to download it before we disappear into the tall cane and I will lose reception. I’m feeling good. I look for accommodation in Cairns. I looked yesterday and there was some backpacker place with dorm beds for $13, but it’s not there on the list today so I guess it could have been booked out. I ring another place that has very nice sounding airconditioned cabins with a queen bed for only $38 which sounds just fantastic. They won’t take a booking without payment, which I can’t do since I lost my credit card in Bangkok, but the woman checks and assures me that there are plenty available and that I shouldn’t have any problems getting one when I pull into Cairns tonight.

    The sun is coming through the window very brightly and I am torn between wanting to close the blinds to remove the annoying glare, and wanting to see the countryside pass by. I decide to leave them open, but then I notice Latika’s nan squiting at her book, so I get up and close them. It’s mostly scrubland outside by this point anyway. I continue listening to Graeme Conners classics like “Let the Canefields Burn” and “Cyclone Season” and watch as all the new people who got on in Proserpine wander back and forth down the aisle. After a good 5 hours sleep last night I feel surprisingly refreshed and not at all uncomfortable despite sleeping in various awkward positions through the night. I pad up to the club car in my socks, and ignore the signs insisting that footwear must be worn inside the serving carts, and buy a bottle of cold water because mine has run out. If only I’d packed as much water as I packed wine !

    I forgot they had a cold water fountain on the train. When I’m overseas I don’t mind buying water, but it just seems so pointless in Australia when we go to such expense to make sure our water supply is potable and I just have huge issues with the idea of paying even $3 for such a tiny bottle of water. I know that in Australia we price things according to what people can afford rather than what they’re actually worth, but I think that drinking water should be an exception to that rule. In fact, dammit, I think that on a 27 hour train up the coast, the water should be government subsidised and cost no more than 50 cents a bottle even if the stupid CocaCola company wants to charge absurd prices for something that is almost certainly tap water anyway. It’s unbearably hot on the train and my stubble is itching my neck because it’s so unpleasant. I’ll have to go into the bathroom and shave soon I think. I might even go and have a beer soon, just because of the heat mind you, not because I want one. I guess that’s one benefit of taking the electric tilt train – better airconditioning. God it’s not even 9am yet either. I am so thankful I don’t live up this end of Australia anymore. Even Kuala Lumpur, right on the equator isn’t this unpleasantly hot.

    I have a shave and chat to Latika’s nan a little bit about the Sunlander. The Sunlander is one of the last long-haul diesel locomotives in Queensland and has been running since 1953 but is due to be retired in 2014 to be replaced by a new electric train, meaning that it probably only has about 300 more trips left in the old girl. It’ll be sad to see such an iconic Australian train retired, but I think that extra 40% time saving on the trip is worth it to most people, Latika’s mum included, she says. 61 years seems like a long time for a train to be running, but I bet that with regular service they could easily run for 161. It’s interesting to note that the Sunlander is the 38th longest train journey in the world and the 3rd longest in Australia. I knew it was a long line, but I’m amazed that it ranks in the top 40 longest in the world. Turns out I’m not traveling quite as far as I originally thought, as I had only looked at the road distance up the A7 inland road, and the train line is much more direct and I’ll probably only be covering around 3,000 km in this whole trip but it’s still a long way.

    A guy at the front of the carriage plucks at an electric guitar quietly as we approach Townsville and everyone gets their bags ready since most of the train seems to be departing there, I watch as an old timer accosts another couple of old gentleman and natters their ear off about a French centenarian that he met recently, and the other guy gently puts his hand on the old guy’s shoulder and says “I’m sorry mate, I don’t have time to listen right now. We’ve got to get off”. The old bloke concedes, but then ends up following them up the carriage talking to them anyway. I guess that telling stories is what old people are best at right ? I wonder what sort of crazy stories I’ll be harranguing strangers with when I’m 80 years old.

    Latika’s nan says goodbye and Latika gives me a big smile and waves with one hand while sucking her thumb with the other as she clutches onto her giant blue bunny rabbit. I have this incredible urge to scold her and tell her not to suck her thumb, but I keep quiet. Besides, it’s not like it hurts anyone. It’s hardly the worst habit in the world. I’m sad to see them go but also eager to steal their seat, hehe. Not that I’m short of battery power because I’ve had my devices plugged in under Latika’s seat all day anyway, but I just like to have power within my grasp, so to speak. Unfortunately, another group gets on, and while there’s plenty of spare seats available, they are assigned to my area and one girl in particular is in Latika’s old seat, so I am forced to scramble back across the aisle again with all my bags. The girl is a dwarf by the looks and she’s had to undergo some sort of major leg surgery because she has massive surgical scars all the way up her legs where you can tell she’s been cut open to have some sort of metal braces or something put in.

    There’s something very odd about another small group, or rather, their parents outside. There is a girl with two young children sitting in a seat in front of the “little” woman. They’re clearly not her own, as she’s too young and I initially assume they might be her younger siblings except that she gets them to wave to their dad outside and he’s clearly a mixed blood aborigine, with a much heavier aboriginal heritage by the looks. The young girl is clearly as white as they come, but the two children have the tinest hint of aboriginal in them, since both have nearly black hair and huge brown pupils. I wonder why they’re traveling with this white-bread anglo girl. I would assume that their families were neighbours or friends, but the way the girl lets the little boy sleep on top of her lap seems to indicate a much closer relationship than just neighbours or family friends and I ponder what their story could be. As the train takes off the aboriginal father runs alongside all the way to the end of the platform, keeping pace with the train and making the children laugh and wave and call out “Daddy ! Daddy !” while a half-blood woman who may or may not be their mother walks along in the background with a smile and I ponder the situation. The most likely explanation I can come up with is that the kids have a white mother who left, and the father remarried to another aboriginal woman and that the white girl is one of the young kids’ relatives and still lives nearby in the area. But who knows, that’s just a plausible guess.

    There’s a lot of indigenous families on the train now. In fact, with the exception of the first class carriage, there’s now far more aborigines on the train than there are white Australians. The native boys are horribly unruly, screaming and swinging through the carriage like monkeys, barely touching the ground, but the girls are more well behaved and one comes down the train to get her brother who has taken way too long going to the toilet because it was occupied. To my amusement she even speaks to him briefly in their native tongue. Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard an aboriginal person speak in their native language. It makes me realise I really am back in the top end of Australia where this sort of thing is much more common. The girl goes in after the boy emerges from the bathroom and he just stands hovering beside me, leaning right over and watching me type. I find it horribly distracting and I try to ignore him but I can’t so I just sit staring out the window but he keeps looking anyway until his sister finally comes out of the toilet and gives him a shove and tells him to hurry up. She takes a long look at my laptop screen as well. Aborigines like to look at things. They don’t have the sort of upbringing in which it’s cosidered impolite to stare, and stare they will, especially at a purple haired writer sitting typing on a laptop covered in chinese dragons.

    This part of the journey is very slow. Cairns isn’t that far from Townsville, but the train slinks sort of guiltily through a very suburban area where people’s back fences jut right up against the train line – something that just wouldn’t be allowed in more built up areas down south. But Townsville, despite its size is not an overly wealthy city and its really only the farmers that keep it alive since it lacks Cairns’ tourism. I chuckle thinking about what Latika’s mum said when I told her I was on my way to Cairns. She said “Oh Cairns. Yes. Nice place to visit. Sure wouldn’t want to live there though”, which is funny because it’s exactly what a Cairns resident would say about Townsville. The Cairns-Townsville rivaly is one of the strongest in Australia and probably equals or exceeds that of the Sydney-Melbourne put-downs, only on a smaller scale. Everyone who lives in one town feels threatened by the other and is constantly putting it down.

    I think they get that a bit up here when two towns or cities are nearby to each other and of similar sizes or demographics. It’s like everyone is silently afraid that the other city will grow in popularity and outshine them and then everyone will move away from their city and leave it a ghost town, so they spend all day rubbishing the other city. When I lived in Tully, we had a strong rivaly with Innisfail because both cities like to lay claim to the “Golden Gumboot” award for the town with the highest annual rainfall in Australia. Tully was nearly always the winner, but every now and again Innisfail would chime in and say they’d beaten Tully, but it was once revealed that the weatherman had been urinating in the water gauge to skew the results, much to the amusement of Tully residents and the chagrin of Innisfailians. I bet they still talk about that. It’s probably such a well known story that it’s become an urban legend and Innisfail can never successfully lay claim to the Golden Gumboot without getting called cheaters by Tullyites.

    We pass no more canefields and all I really see are run down old houses with rusty tin rooves among the ghost gums. I know we will see more as we approach Tully and Innisfail though. I think again how I wish I had the luxury of stopping in Innisfail to see what’s become of the old place in the last 22 years. I remember there used to be a small temple there that we passed as kids and they had these two concrete balls on top of each other named “Josh Balls” which my dad thought was hilarious because that’s what he used to call my little brother, or just “JB” for short. When we passed Gladstone late last night I wondered to myself whether there was anything there I’d remember. That’s where I was born, but I haven’t really lived there since I was a baby, although we visited sometimes as my grandparents lived on a tiny island just off the coast of Gladstone for many years. I know my family have lots of friends there but we don’t really visit. All I really know about Gladstone is that it was a well known boom town briefly due to having a large aluminium smelter and a huge pier that was immortalised in a classic Aussie folk song by the band Redgum, but that it sort of fell on bad times and most of the work dried up. I don’t think it’s considered a very desirable place to live anymore, and I remember the last time I visited there for work the place was a ghost town even on a Saturday afternoon and the only people you saw were the ones ducking quickly from one pub to another with their blue cattle dogs trailing wearily behind them in the dusty heat.

    I glance out the window and see more canefields popping up and realise we must be getting back into cane territory and I check my GPS and see that we’re almost at Ingham. I am very, very fond of the Perth region in Western Australia, but I must say, when it comes to beautiful, relaxing country lifestyle, you just can’t beat this part of North Queensland from Ingham to Cairns. This is my favourite part of Australia. It’s right beside the ocean, yet most of the people who live here are battered Akubra-wearing farmers who sit on property minding their cane and looking at the sky and talking about when the rains will come while drinking rum or even home-made whiskey. When we lived in Innisfail it was on our yacht, moored in the Johnson River in the centre of Innisfail. I used to go ashore, promising my parents I would be back on the wharf at a certain time of day, but invariably I would get caught up at the library playing Carmen Sandiego or reading Asterix comics and I would walk home buying a cup of chips and a coke for a mere dollar and stand on the pier waving my arms, knowing that my mum would be poking her head up to the windows regularly wondering where I was and see me and come pick me up in the dinghy.

    I remember a couple of times we motored up the river in the dinghy to look for bananas, because other than sugar cane, the area around Innisfail is the largest banana producer in Australia and many of the banana fields run right up to the river, so we would cruise up the river in our dinghy looking for a crop that was dangerously close to the river and then pick a couple of trees that looked like they were about to drop their delicious fruits into the Johnson River at any moment and we’d hack them down and take them back to the boat to hang them up before they disappeared into the river forever. I remember one time up there I took my new Swiss army knife that I’d gotten for my birthday that year and insisted on hacking one of the bunches of bananas down myself with the harshly grooved raspy tool bit and then my dad caught it and we threw it in a sack and took it home. Unfortunately the tool must have slipped out of my pocket on the way home because my pockets were too small and I had to sit right on the prow of the boat to balance it out since there was only one big seat at the back on which my parents both sat.

    I have a terrible reputation for losing things like that. My parents don’t trust me with *anything* important, even now because every now and again I will forget something. I never told them, but when I was in Longreach, I had one of Josh’s old Akubras. I loved that Akubra so much and I used to wear it everywhere in Brisbane, even when it clashed bizarrely with everything else I wore and made look like some odd patchwork of cliches like metal-head, country bumpkin, and punk all at the same time. Well, on my trip out to Longreach, I left it in the field beside me when I slept and when I was packing up in the morning I somehow left it behind. I was so mad at myself when I realised it was missing and I actually cried on the way home. To lose my brother’s Akubra was just a tragedy, but to be honest, I would rather have worn it and had it really mean something and made me think of him and still lost it than just hung it on the wall as some sort of sad ornament as they have done with his big, black ten-gallon hat. One day I guess that hat will be mine and I’ll be very careful with it and maybe wear it just on his birthday.

    I realise as we come up towards Ingham station that Josh was with us the last time I was in this part of Australia, but I am determind not to cry. I fail, but listening to emotional Otsuka Ai songs like Planetarium doesn’t help so I decide to change the playlist to something more up-beat and put on L’Arc~en~Ciel’s “Blurry Eyes”, which never fails to make me happy, especially the live versions which are just so insanely full of energy, and the bass guitarist just runs at full pelt from one end of the stage to the other until he falls down exhausted and I smile to myself. I look out the window to see even the lawnkeeper at the bowls club wearing an Akubra and wish that I could afford a new one, but of course a good kangaroo-skin Akubra is quite expensive, so I haven’t been able to bring myself to part with a good $80-250 or so for one. I will soon. What is an Australian who grew up in the far north of Queensland without an Akubra ? I need to show my heritage. I remember meeting this dinkum country Queensland Aussie in my friend’s bar in Saigon once, on my birthday, and he had his Akubra on the whole time and I commented about it and he said “I don’t like to take this here hat off mate, lest I might lose it, so I just keep it mah my head. That way no matter how drunk aye get, the hat is always on my head and I won’t forget it”. I agreed that was a good policy and one I should have followed with Josh’s Akubra.

    I watch the white girl with the two kids. She mustn’t be short of a buck because she has bought them all shitloads of food. They have big expensive bottles of Ice Break, orange juice, and she’s bought lots of delicious snacks at the meal cart like sausage rolls for the kids and pre-cooked meals for herself and such. Not that that’s a big deal because if I wasn’t traveling so cheaply I’d be doing that too, but it just seems surprising for a North Queensland country girl who’s traveling with a couple of half-blood aboriginal kids. As she leans forward I notice a very large and elborate tribal tattoo on her lower back. A “hag tag” we rudely call them in Australia, when a girl gets a large tattoo like that. I smile to myself and figures that explains it. She may be as white as any red-haired Irish girl, but she mixes with the blacks.

    Don’t get me wrong and think that means I look down on her or them. Black people are the native Australians and deserve our respect, but I’m not going to pretend that they’re the same as us. They are very different people and no matter how much they try and fit in, they are just a little bit more wild and native and I think that’s just great. It’s actually very nice to be among them, even the white girls who live with them. If she wasn’t busy with her charges and there was a nearby seat I would love to go and chat to her and find out her story, but there’s not, so I content myself with just sitting and watching from a distance. We finally arrive at Ingham station and I realise why the last fifth of this trip takes at least half of the time of the whole journey, because the train just crawls through towns at the pace of a snail laying down its wet, slimy trail behind it.

    I finally get a good look at the little boy’s sister. She’s odd. She’s as whitely pale as he is and I simply cannot comprehend how either of them could come from a mixed-blood family. I mean… she has FRECKLES for god’s sake, despite having dark hair and brown eyes. She clutches some sort of monkey teddy and shares a seat with her brother and stares outside and I almost wonder if they were *adopted* by their black parents, as unrealistic as that sounds. The older girl digs into a huge bag of treats and pulls out chocolate bars and candy and hands them around to keep the kids happy. Whoever she is, she’s a good relative or sibling. She has reddish-brown hair and green eyes though, so I suspect she is a relative and not a sibling though. I remember earlier when the train conductor came around and checked their tickets and the little boy held up a little plastic dinosaur and yelled “RAAAA !” at him and he feigned surprise and said “Oh no ! You’re not allowed to bring pets aboard the train !” and the little kid giggled and said “It’s a dinosaur, not a pet !” and the conductor said “Well he looks like he’s pretty tame, so I think we’ll let you keep him this time”.

    I have to make a call to check in with a client about a networking problem and I wax technical for a couple of minutes to one of the staff members because the boss is away in a remote country town, and when I get off the phone I find both of the suspectedly aboriginal kids staring at me with huge wide eyes. I can’t help but laugh and I smile at them both and the little boy goes into a fit of giggles which just won’t stop and the little girl just stares at me for ages with these huge brown eyes. I must admit they are both the most gorgeous children, and if I wasn’t deep into Far North Queensland I would say that surely they are of half-Mexican or Spanish origin, because they have such pale skin and the hugest eyes you’ve ever seen and they really are both very pretty kids. Their travel companion with the tribal tattoo just sits there reading some trashy Australian womens magazine.

    The little indigenous girl from before who scolded her brother walks past and stops and just stares at them for what must have been twenty seconds, probably wondering the same things I’ve been wondering, but in the mind of an 8 year old child. It’s pretty clear at this point that the white girl is related to them because they are quite willing to bawl in front of her and she is quite okay with smacking them and scolding them very sternly, so it’s very obvious they are not mere neighbours. It doesn’t seem likely that I will have much chance to talk to her about the situation so I resolve to look out the window where the scrub has fallen away to the beginnings of a far more lush, North Queensland wildnerness, on the verge of approaching rainforest. Another indigenous girl walks past laughing with a half-blood girl and I chuckle to myself and realise that this sort of thing really shouldn’t surprise me that much.

    It’s just that as a child in this area, I don’t really remember their being so many half-bloods. It was always the blacks and the whites, but things seem to have changed over the years and the distinction between black and white has softened considerably, and up here mixed race children seem to be the norm rather than the exception and I sort of think it’s cool in a way. I’ve always been sort of bothered the way most full-blood aborigines don’t want to mix in society or are very obviously different, but in an odd way, we’ve almost bred the problem out by just mixing the races to the point where half the people up here can claim to have an aboriginal heritage and are just normal Australian trash like anyone else.

    The disabled girl wakes up. I refuse to call her a dwarf because it just seems horribly impolite and even though she doesn’t seem to be particularly incapacitated I prefer to refer to her as disabled due to her surgical work rather than just a term of being diminutive in stature. She’s been sleeping with her fringe and hair totally covering her face for the last hour as though she were hiding from the world. Maybe she is. She’s not unattractive though. Her nose is a little large and she has the obvious scars on her legs, but she is otherwise a normal adult in her early 20’s. I wonder idly if she has a boyfriend and is happy. She sorta seems to be hiding though and not very pleased with her life. She’s dressed okay, and her hair is quite pretty and her face isn’t un-cute and she has big, well… assets. But it occurs to me that if she was really self-conscious, she would be wearing jeans or at least a long skirt, yet she’s not, so I realise that I’m reading far too much into her attitude and that she’s most likely not embarrassed about her scars, or at least doesn’t care to hide them and that most likely she’s just tired. I wonder where her friend in front of me has gone, because she’s disappeared for a couple of hours now. I presume she’s moved to another seat because that’s far too long to have been just hanging out in the club car.

    I decided to go and visit the club car, and well… it paid off. I met the sort of person that I couldn’t possibly have expected but who absolutely blew my mind and made the entire trip worth doing. He was a guy who didn’t really seem that much older than myself by the way he talked, but looking at the grey in his beard I suppose he must have been 10 years older. Initially I saw him munging out on a meat pie with his son and I asked if he’d mind if I took a photo as a representative shot of two Aussies eating a pie on a train into North Queensland. He initial response was “No thanks. I’d prefer that you didn’t” and I said “No worries mate”. But then we started talking and I asked where he was from (Cairns) and he asked where I was from (Hervey Bay I guess) and we got to talking. Turns out he was actually the guy I heard earlier picking away on his guitar, although it wasn’t electric, it was acoustic and he was just playing it really quietly. He really liked to play for people it seemed and we had only been talking a few minutes before he said “You want to come hear a song I wrote ?” and I of course said “Sure. I’d love to”.

    We wandered back to our carriage and he pulled his guitar out of his case and we wandered back up the carriage. But we didn’t cross into the first class cart or the dining cart. We just stopped in the small space between the carriages where you’re not supposed to stop and he sat down on the floor and said “This will do” and he started playing. It was a beautiful, simple song and I don’t really remember what it was about, but it was nice and had decent lyrics though nothing overly remarkable. We were sitting in between carriages, swaying as the train rocked from side to side. He had a couple of kids come up and hang around briefly who looking almost like they were native, but sort of Asian and I wasn’t completely sure, but they just stopped for a moment and carried on down the carriage. One fellow stopped for ages and listened. The guy I’d met, who later identified himself as Darren, said “Do you want to hear another song ?” and transfixed I said “Absolutely”. He noted “This one has a bit of a story behind it”.

    He went on to explain how he had picked up a Filipino wife some 17 years ago and brought her home to Australia and she didn’t speak that great English. They spent some time in very cheap housing up the top end and he ran into a bit of trouble. The owner gave him a bit of shit for having a foreign wife and demanded he leave because the locals didn’t like them. He refused and ended up in the local jail for “causing trouble”. He got harrassed heavily for his beliefs and treated very unfairly by the police who charged him with resisting arrest simply because he said they had no right to evict him just on the basis of the nationality of his wife. He appealed to the CMC and other such bodies and was resoundedly unsuccessful and made to feel even worse. The more he complained, the more they told him to fuck off and stop causing trouble, even though he had wanted nothing more than to live peacefully with his new wife in Northern Australia.

    He sang a song about it, and while I don’t remember the lyrics specifically, it was beautiful. It didn’t on the surface seem to be about anything in particular, and that’s why it was so awesome. It was just a great song and I loved it and I was glad he had told me the back story behind it. We sat in there and talked for a bit and then he passed the guitar to me and said “You play something”, and I did. I played some original thing without lyrics and he liked it and asked “What’s that called ?” and I said “It doesn’t really have a name, it’s just an original song” and he nodded. I played a little bit more and then I asked if he wanted to retire to the club car for a beer.

    Darren agreed, and he put his guitar away and we went and sat at the bar. He didn’t introduce me, but it was clear the couple of young kids nearby with the slightly darker than normal skin were his, but they were incredibly well behaved and I thought it was amazing the way they wandered in and out and listened a bit without ever interrupting or saying anything. They seemed very polite and well raised. We got into all sorts of long discussions. I just mentioned Josh at one point and he enquired about him and I had to reluctantly admit that he had passed away, but wasn’t really that keen to bring it up, but he gently prodded it out of me and seemed curious without being pushy. We were getting pretty close to Cairns and we both agreed it was time to go and get ready to disembark but before we did he insisted upon getting my phone number and asked when I was free. I told him that I was going up to Kuranda Saturday but that I would be free Sunday and Monday and he asked if I would like to come and have dinner with his wife and kids on Sunday night. I told him that would be absolutely wonderful and he assured me that he would give me a call on Sunday afternoon to confirm and that he would love to have me over and chat about stuff and play a little guitar or whatever and introduce me to his lovely wife.

    I went back to my carriage and sat down. The disabled girl (I dunno, I should probably feel even worse calling her that, shouldn’t I ?) was sitting in the seat in front of me and chatting with the other girl who I had learned was studying to be a nurse. She kept looking back at me and giving me this sly sort of smile and I wondered if she liked me. It seems I blew that though because I was feeling good and I wanted to listen to some music and I put on some Chisel and The Animals for a bit without earphones and she gave me this sorta disapproving look once and then ignored me. Oh. My music isn’t cool apparently. The little boy was so excitable and I played with him a bit. He had some plastic toys and he was putting his little cheetah on the chair back in front of me and yelling “RAaAaAA !” lots. I played along and lacking any other toy, I pulled Hello Kitty out and meowed back at him and he Rrraaa’d lots and pretend that his cheetah was eating Hello Kitty and stuff. It was funny, but his sister dragged him off as we pulled into the station, but he had left two of his toys behind including the cheetah and I looked at them in concern and wondered what to do. Fortunately the girl came running back onto the train to claim them.

    I got off at Cairns station feeling a little bit bewildered, with all my bags around my shoulders and my suitcase dragging behind me. I looked up the place that I was intending to stay again on my tablet and then checked out the distance and pondered whether I should just get a taxi, because it was quite a long way away. As I was deciding, Darren’s older kid ran past carrying a bag and gave me a big smile and a wave. We hadn’t even spoken, but he waved anyway because I’d been talking to his dad. I definitely liked his kids. They just seemed to incredibly polite and considerate. Darren appeared for a moment and said “So, Sunday good Dave ? You have your accommodation and stuff sorted ?” and I nodded and said “Yeah mate, looking forward to it. I’m just sussing it now and I’ll get a taxi in a minute” and he gave me thumbs up and got into a waiting car with his kids and took off.

    I didn’t get a taxi though. I was just feeling sort of energetic and excited about being in Cairns and I wanted to see things a bit and decided to walk a little, even if I didn’t make it all the way and had to call a taxi. I took off down the street with my suitcase in tow, stopping briefly at McDonalds for a quick bite. I found an abandoned shopping trolley outside and decide to chuck my bags into it and push it to my destination. I felt like a total tip-rat doing it and a few people who passed me sorta gave me an amused look. I pushed it all the way to my destination which must have taken me close to two hours in the end because I misjudged the directions a bit and walked in the wrong direction a couple of times. When I found the van park, I pushed it across a very large 6 lane motorway and I met three aboriginal guys in the middle of the traffic island as I stuggled to pull it up onto the island and one said “You right there brudda ? L’ss give you a hand mate” and two of them helped me lift it ont the traffic island. I thanked them and they said “Cheers bro. No problems mate” and continued on across the road.

    I walked into the van park and the guy at reception remembered me talking to him on the phone and commented that it had been a tough night as some woman had backed into a fire hydrant and they’d had no water anywhere in the park for four hours. I paid him for four nights at the incredibly reasonably price of only $38 a night and he showed me on the map where to find my little private bungalow and directed me where to locate the toilets, showers, game and TV facilities and the big pool in the centre of the place with the water slide. I really have to give this place a credit because I was very impressed. Not only did it have everything mentioned above, but the cabins were beautiful and new and well equipped with lovely wooden-framed queen beds, airconditioning and ceiling fans, large LCD tvs with Austar satellite TV, movies and DVD players in all rooms, a full kitchen with cooking facilities and large fridge which even included milk for the tea and coffee provided.

    I have to admit, there’s not many places in all of Australia you can get such beautiful and well appointed accommodation for such a reasonable price and they have literally several hundred bungalows and van and camp sites, so if you are in Cairns and you want a cheap place to stay with great facilities, I thoroughly reccommend the Cairns Sunland Leisure Park. It’s not far from the centre of town, and close to a Coles Express, a 24 hour McDonalds and Dominos pizza etc. Honestly, you couldn’t pick a better place to stay and everything was absolutely in perfect condition. The couch and bed were wonderful and the airconditioner more than powerful enough. Considering I looked at beds in a 10-share dorm room starting at $26, this beautiful private bungalow with aircon and satelite TV and all the mod cons for just $38 was absolutely the height of luxury and I’m so glad I didn’t resort to staying in some shitty, awful 10-share piece of crap with a dozen smelly backpackers just for the sake of saving $10 a night or so. I plugged in all my stuff to charge and left the TV running the music channel quietly and retired to bed for a well earned rest in a comfortable bed.

    I had set my alarm for half past six in the morning to ensure I had time to get ready and walk to the train station, but for some reason I woke at only a bit after 3 am and I guess I wasn’t thinking straight because I thought that was when I was supposed to wake up and I got up and went to the amenities block and had a shower and dressed and then came back to my room and checked the time and did the math and realised that not only did I have nearly 5 hours util my train left but that I’d only really caught a couple of hours sleep. I sighed and reset my alarm and laid back down to try and sleep a little longer. It took me a while to doze off but I eventually did and was scared halfway out of my skin when my alarm went off loudly at around 7am. I got up, checked I had everything I wanted to take with me, and headed off down Pease street toward the center of town.

    It was a miserable gloomy day and there were tiny spits of rain which eventually turned into a downpour and I tried desperately to shelter inffectually under a poinciana, or “dollar tree” after it’s scientific name. I decided this was a disaster due to the tiny leaves these trees have and that I had two choices; catch a taxi into town and experience a dismail rainy trip with poor photo opportunities, or catch a taxi back to my cabin and change my booking for another day. I decided to do the latter, but when I rang the taxi company they couldn’t find my location and I realised that the street name must have changed when it rounded the bend. I sighed and hung up to check my location on Google Maps. After doing so I thought I’d check the weather and decide what day would be better, but sadly the weather report said that showers would be increasing all week and there was a 95% of heavy rain for the rest of the week. I leaned against the damp trunk of tree in sheer disappointment, thinking that if I couldn’t get up to Kuranda and take decent photos then the whole trip had been a waste. I wouldn’t even be able to get down to the waterfront to take photos there due to the crappy weather.

    The rain let up though and I figured that since I’d already booked my tickets and the weather wasn’t going to get any better that I may as well just go anyway. I continued walking into town and I was thankful that I’d allowed lots of time to get there, because I had to stop a couple of times to shelter under closed shop awnings as the rain intermittently poured down more heavily, but I got to the station in time, albeit pretty wet. I cross the platform at Cairns Central Station via the overpass and made my way down to the Kuranda line. The early train was just getting ready to leave. I went into the office and collected my tickets and they gave me a little “Gold Class” sticker to put on my shirt, but it wouldn’t stick, so I got out my press card and hung it around my neck and stuck the sticker to that.

    A big group of Koreans arrived in a tour group and I watched them with a big smile on my face. I was just pleased that so many people had come all the way from South Korea to do this train trip. One little boy who was with his parents was staring at me as they walked past and I smiled and waved and said “Annyoung Hasaeo !” His mother’s eyes went wide and she covered her mouth in surprise and said to her husband something which I can only assume was “Oh my god. That guy there speaks Korean !” Apparently that reaction is common from what Simon and Martina say on their show about Korea – that people are so shocked when a foreigner greets them in Korean that rather than return the greeting they just express shock and exclaim right in front of you what a surprise it is that a foreigner speaks their language. Of course I only know about three phrases in Korean, so I don’t really but they didn’t know that and it left me with this big grin on my face as I watched everyone else wander by.

    The second train arrived shortly after and I boarded my Gold Class carriage with an Irish couple. We were the only people in the carriage and I wondered if the journey wasn’t really that popular, but then a staff member came along and the Irish people asked if they could switch seats because they didn’t want to be facing backwards, and the attendant told us that in fact our carriage would carry 31 people today and all seats would be full, but that if one of the other carriages were less full they could switch to another carriage if they wanted. At that moment, hundreds of Japanese filed through the station office with a number of tour guides directing them and I watched them all and hoped they would be getting into my carriage, but as I expected, being in a tour group they had opted not to go Gold Class and were duly distributed through the regular carriages, which were all named after valuable metals and gemstones. I was in the “Sapphire” carriage.

    It wasn’t long before the train let out two long toots and released the brakes with a loud hiss and the train lurched forward suddenly and we all swayed in our seats as the two huge diesel locomotives that pulled us picked up the slack between the carriages and we headed off. They played a recorded story about the line as we travelled, though it was very quiet and hard to hear over the noise of the train, not that the train was overly loud, but the speakers were very quiet. The attendant told us that food and drink services would start after we reached Freshwater Station which was where the majority of the guests would be getting on board since that’s where the tour busses all dropped them off. True to her word, a couple of minutes later we pulled into a very cute little wooden station covered in ferns and palms and other tropical plants and lots of people boarded our carriage.

    We did end up with three Japanese couples; two older and one younger. The rest of the guests near me were mostly British from what I overheard, and possibly a couple of Scots. I wasn’t sure about the ones up the other end of the carriage. We started off again and immediately several staff came around and listed our drink options which including beer, Jacobs Creek wines, soft drinks and tea or coffee. I asked for a red wine and received a nice big plastic goblet full of a very decent shiraz as another staff member wandered around offering everyone spinach and ricotta pastries. I nibbled my pastry and sipped my shiraz and looked out the window feeling very content and most pleased that I’d paid the extra $47 for the upgrade rather than just blow it at the pub or something pointless like that which I could have done any time.

    Immediately after the pastries, trays of delictable ham and melted cheese crossaints were brought around by one attendant while two others wandered around topping up everyone’s wine. I overheard the British family opposite me comment on how fantastic the service was and the Irish man agreed wholeheartedly, nodding his head enthusiastically with his mouth full of pastry. I was lucky in that one of the families had a small child and since they were on the side of the aisle with only single seats, one of them would have had to sit on their own facing away from the rest, so the father chose to put their child on his lap which left one extra seat, so I was relieved to switch to the spare seat so that I could face the direction of travel.

    I was sort of disappointed to be on the left hand side of the train though, because that meant that mostly I just had a view of the mountain, but I did run over the other side and squeeze between the British family once to get a photo of the train as we rounded horseshoe bend which is a very tight 180 degree turn. Fortunately though, being on the left was best to get photos of the magnificent waterfall. The seating in Gold Class was wonderful and I had a nice, comfy lounge chair just for me, and all the snacks were served on little trays with serviettes on them. The people on the right of the train had small shelves for their drinks, but we had nothing on the left, which seemed rather poor because I had to put my drink on the floor and I was worried someone would knock it over as they rushed to the left side to see the waterfall.

    As it turned out, it was lucky I HAD chosen to come on a rainy day because it actually made it far more scenic because all the mountain-tops were shrouded in mist and it made everything so incredibly picturesque, so I would actually reccommend that people do go up on an overcast or rainy day as it’s both more beautiful and has a more rainforesty feel to it, and also that way it’s not as hot. The train isn’t airconditioned, because the windows all open so that people can get better photos, but if it’s raining heavily and you have to close them, then it can get a little bit stuffy inside.

    When we got to the largest gorge with the second big waterfall (there were dozens of smaller ones) the train stopped and we all piled out to look at it in awe and take photos. Fortunatley this one was further away and we could get better photos because the earlier one was right beside the train and it was impossible to get it all in frame at once. While I was walking along, a youngish Japanese woman bumped into me by accident and said “Sorry” and I smiled and said “Daijobou. Arigatou” She nodded and took a couple more steps before it dawned on her that I’d just spoken in Japanese and she did a double take and looked back at me with this quizzical look. One of the young Japanese tour guides was standing nearby and watched this exchange and asked “You speak Japanese ?” I grinned and said “Hai. Watashi wa hanase chisana Nihongo” and made a small motion with my fingers to indicate that I only spoke a little. “Sugoi !” she exclaimed. I asked “Watashi wa David. Anata ga namae desu ka ?” to ask her name and she replied “Ahhh. Watashi wa Hitomi” and I nodded and said “Genki desu ka Hitomi-san ?” and she smiled and said “Hai ! Genki desu !” to confirm that she was well and I added “Hajimimashite” and shook her hand. Then she asked another question that I didn’t understand and I frowned a little and said “Gomennasai. Wakarimasen. Egaiwa desu ka ?”, asking her to repeat it in English because I didn’t understand.

    She asked “How did you learn Japanese ? Have you lived in Japan ?” and I shook my head and said “Eie. Chisana benkyo. Musume… namae Nihongo” in my best attempt to put together an intelligible sentence explaining that I had only studied a bit but that my daughter had a Japanese name, rolling up my sleeve to show her Suki’s tattoo. She exclaimed “Sugoi !” again and I knew what the next question that was going to come out of her mouth would be and I preempted it and said in English “No, my wife is Australian as well. We just gave her a Japanese name because we like Japan and listen to lots of Japanese music. We are both big Morning Musume fans”. I deliberately chose the present tense so that she wouldn’t ask awkward questions if I had said “was” rather than “is”. She just nodded and said “Ah so”. At that point the train blew its whistle and I smiled and said “Ja ne” and jumped back aboard the train and she waved at me with a pleasant smile. She was goddamn cute too I don’t mind telling you. Really, goddamn, cute.

    The funny thing is, I did basically the same thing when we got to Kuranda. There were Japanese people literally everywhere and even the pubs and stores often had signs in Japanese because it was clear that the majority of their visitors were from Japan. At one point I got stuck in the middle of a tour group of young Japanese people and I couldn’t get past because they were listening to their guide. I politely excused myself by saying “sumimasen” and then “arigatou gozaimasu” when they parted to let me past. They all saw my Japanese Domo-kun backpack in which I carried all my camera gear and one pointed and cried out “Domo !” and I turned back and grinned and said “Hai ! Suki Domo-kun !” and a few of the girls giggled and a couple of the boys chuckled. I just loved the idea that various of these tourist groups would all return to Japan and tell everyone that it was quite common for these Akubra-wearing, bearded Aussies to speak Japanese, so I loved taking every opportunity to mess with their minds and let them think that some of us spoke Japanese, even though I myself only speak the most basic conversational Japanese greetings and a variety of basic vocabulary.

    I did screw up once though. I walked into the most local looking pub for a bite to eat and this cute Asian couple saw me take Domo off my back and the guy motioned to his wife and they both turned to look at me with this amused look on their face. I smiled and said “konichiwa” since it was afternoon by that time, but they didn’t reply and I quickly realised why when they began talking to each other in Mandarin and I mentally facepalmed and realised they were Chinese, which should have been bloody obvious by looking at the guy’s face, but I was just so used to the place being full of Japanese people that I spoke without thinking. I wished I could have apologised for my error, but the only phrases I know in Mandarin are “hello”, “thank you” and “I love you”, but not “sorry”, so I couldn’t say anything to them and I just looked down at my beer feeling a little silly and ignorant. I guess being a smartarse doesn’t always pay *chuckle*.

    There was a pair of very beautiful young Japanese girls nearby at another table reading a tourist guide and the one facing my direction had a beautiful big frangipani flower in her hair. I can assure you she was very pretty and reminded me very much of a Morning Musume member who’s name I can’t recall , but I had nothing to talk to them about and they weren’t sitting close enough to me to warrant saying hello without it being weird and since my Japanese is pretty rudimentary and I knew that the conversation wouldn’t go much past basic greetings and would just prove that I was a show-off and not a fluent speaker, so I just shut up and watched them wistfully as I waited for my food to arrive. Other than the tour groups they were the first Japanese girls I had seen who were clearly single and I felt a little depressed and wished I could speak better Nihongo so that I could find myself a pretty Japanese girl one day.

    I ordered a 500g rump steak which was sort of expensive, but they were out of the soup which was the only cheap item on the menu. The food was terribly expensive, as was the beer at $7.50 a pint just for the cheapest local beer and I had to conserve money as I’d already bought a very nice leather hat at one of the many souvenir stores that had them outside. It was only a cheaper Jacaru brand and it was only cow leather, not the much more expensive kangaroo leather, but of course there was no way I could afford $160-250 for a genuine Akubra, so I settled for a cheap black cow leather one that still looked very nice and was only $40 on special. I felt good about buying it because I’d only been talking yesterday about how much I regretted losing Josh’s hat, so it was nice to be able to replace it and after I bought it I caught a lok at myself in a shop window and I think I looked pretty fucking cool in my black leather hat and dark sunglasses and beard. Not fully country-bumpkin, because I have a sort of Abe Lincoln sort of beard, but I still looked cool and reserved and distinctly Australian. I was quite happy with the look and I glanced at myself in the pub’s bathroom mirror and struck a few poses and decided to lay on the Aussie accent as thick as I could for amusement’s sake to further the Aussie stereotype for the tourists. Much to my amusement, the American party with the dwarf girl that I had sat near on the Sunlander even turned up at the table next to me and I chuckled at the fascinating coincidence and nodded to them, because she apparently recognised me, but we didn’t speak because I must admit that I only had eyes for the Korean and Japanese girls.

    Despite feeling a little lonely and spending most of the day at Kuranda just wandering up and back the main street wishing I had a pretty Asian girlfriend, I was very pleased with the experience of Kuranda. The trip up was even more breathtaking than I had anticipated and the Gold Class upgrade was more than worth every cent as I surely could not have even purchased the complimentary snacks and several glasses of wine they provided for that price, and they also gave us a very nice brass commemorative Kuranda Railway stick pin and a beautiful big postcard of the train going past the waterfall and a free Kuranda pen to fill it out with and said they would post it anywhere in the world for free. While I was eating I debated whether to send it to my parents since my dad had been good enough to lend me money to book my tickets at short notice since I didn’t have my credit card, or whether to send it to a friend. Since I lived with my parents anyway and they would see my photos, I decided to send it to my friend Peta in Western Australia because we’d spoken the other day and she seemed envious of how many cool things I got to see, and since she wasn’t from Queensland she would probably never see the Kuranda line in person, so I wrote a brief message on the back of the postcard as I finished my steak.

    The afternoon was drawing to an end and my train was due to leave in an hour, so I wandered down to the river near the station and walked along the muddy footpath in the light drizzle, trying my best to shield my lens from the rain so that I didn’t have to keep cleaning it. The river was very high and impressive and engorged with brown water running down from further up in the mountains and I took a few nice photos of the riverbank, but the rain started up a little bit heavier and I was forced to retreat back to the station and wait for the train to leave. I boarded when they invited us to, since my feet were tired and blistered and they hurt from walking so much in shoes that I haven’t worn for years. The regular class carriages were surprisingly nice, and had very wide, leather-covered bench seats just down one side, to allow people to get up and go to the other side of the train for photographs. There was only two other families in my carriage because I had chosen to get the later train back down the mountain, while all the tour groups took the earlier one. There was an old Asian couple up the front and an American family who had two young children who kept squeeling unbearably loud and crying and screaming at the top of their lungs, much to the annoyance of the rest of us.

    I was pleased that the carriage was nearly empty, unlike the very full Gold Class one on the way up, because I could stretch out at my leisure and switch sits from time to time to get the best photos depending on whether I wanted to shoot something in front of us or behind us, and since the seats were on the left hand side, it meant I got a great view of the valley side this time, and when we passed the waterfall again I didn’t even bother to get up and photograph it because I’d already seen it, and instead I chose to shoot lots of photos of inside the cabin of all the other people standing up and looking out at it which I think will make for great photos and show what a beautiful train it was. When we went around many of the bends I was able to lean out the window a bit and photograph the train itself as it wound its way slowly down the mountain and I was curious why the Gold Class carriages were taller than the rest of the train.

    Thankfully this was explained to us by the onboard announcements that I hadn’t caught in the other carriage, which informed us that the larger carriages were actually refurbished ones from the the old wooden Sunshine Express train from the 1930’s which was later replaced by the Sunlander and will in turn be replaced by the nameless new tilt train and I was very pleased to think that the old Sunshine Express hadn’t disappeared forever into some railway graveyard and some of its carriages were still running to this day on the Kuranda line, albeit with a reduced gauge size as required for the narrow railway up the mountain, which also explained why the Kuranda line had its own special line at Cairns station, because I had found that curious. The other carriages were newer and made specifically to match the old Sunshine Express carriages, albeit a tiny bit smaller, but the head locomotive was the same one that was used on the Kuranda line more than a century ago and had been painted by the local aboringal people in indigenous designs that depicted the giant snake from their Dreamtime stories that they believed had carved out the valleys through the mountains.

    When we got back to Freshwater Station, everyone else left the carriage and I was the only person sitting in it, which felt pretty eerie and quite sad and lonely, but it was also sort of nice to be trundling along this old train line back into Cairns city in and empty carriage. An attendant wandered past a couple of times and smiled at me and I gave her my postcard so that she could mail it and she thanked me and promised to deliver it back to the Gold Class carriage who would post it for me. I felt tired and more than a little sad. Going somewhere on a train is always exciting and feels romantic and adventurous, but returning somewhere on one always feels wistful and somewhat depressing as you get close to your return destination.

    It was raining so heavily by that time that I had to finally close the last window beside me to prevent the rain coming in and I hated the fact that I would have to catch an expensive taxi back to my cabin park, but my feet were so sore that I was glad to have an excuse to need a taxi anyway because I think the walk would have just about killed me after the long day. I think the more time you spend grinning and being happy on a holiday, the more you feel depressed when you get home, and when I finally did get out of the taxi and back into my cabin I flopped down on the bed and felt miserable. I know I shouldn’t, but I’d just had this weird feeling about this journey even before I left and I’d taken steps to say goodbye to everyone before I left because I just had this odd feeling that I wasn’t coming back or something. I know that’s stupid, but I just had this awful trepidation about the trip that I couldn’t really explain. I think maybe it was because I’d wanted to do the Kuranda line for around 25 years and I hadn’t been north past Bundaberg in about a decade, so there was bound to be something sad about “coming home” to North Queensland.

    The more I thought about it, the more miserable and depressed I felt. I had noone to talk to on IRC because I’d fought with a friend there and abandoned the channel I’ve basically lived in more than 5 years and laying in my cabin alone I just felt like I wanted to die. Traveling is wonderful, and I love how other people are envious of my adventurous spirit and the stories I tell, but there’s times when you’re stuck in some van park on your own, far from your home that you just wonder why you’re even doing it, and I guess I’m just running away from my life in a way. It’s not like I have any responsibilities or anything since I don’t even get to see Suki. It’s just that most people my age are either married with kids or else at least have steady jobs and live some sort of boring suburban life where even if they’re single, they come home from work and sit on Facebook chatting all night. I hate all that mundane stuff and all I really want to do is do freelance work and write stories and travel and meet random people without maintaining any long-term friendships which are difficult and cause me pain in the long run because I tend to befriend unreliable, callous people who mostly fuck me over eventually. Feeling awful, I push my laptop and tablet to the side of the bed and turn up the aircon and crawl under the covers and fight bad unwanted and unncessary tears and go to sleep despite the early hour.

    Fortunately I’m feeling a bit better when I wake up nice and early and I head over to the amenities block to have a shower and shave. When I get back I’m pleased to see that Darren has called while I was in the shower. I had pretty much convinced myself that his promise to have me over for dinner was just a passing gesture to a stranger on the train and that when he got back home to his wife he would have no desire to have some strange random guy he’d met over to his house, but I called him back and he was very polite and asked if I was still free this afternoon. I told him I didn’t have much to do because I had no plans in Cairns and the weather made hanging around the waterfront and taking photos sort of pointless. He asked if I had swimming togs and I said that I had shorts, and he said he would come and pick me up at 3pm and we’d all go swimming and then go back to his place for dinner.

    Yatta ! To be honest I wonder what we’ll talk about because Darren is very quiet and reserved and a pretty devout Christian, and I’ll have to be incredibly careful not to swear around his kids because they’ve clearly been raised very well, but I’m just so thankful that I’ve not only met some interesting people on this trip but that one of them has been so kind as to open his house to me and invite me over for dinner. It’s not like we’d be lifelong friends if we spent time together, but he’s an incredibly kind, sensitive sort of person and I’m just thrilled that he wants me to come meet his family, and if conversation gets stilted we can always just play guitar a bit, though I think we can surely talk about traveling a bit, because his wife is from the Philippines and I imagine he must have met her over there because he told me she didn’t speak much English when she first came to Australia, so I expect we may have lots of interesting conversations about Asian culture and stuff.

    Since it’s getting on towards 1:30 in the afternoon and I haven’t been able to cook due to the crappy electric cook-top in my cabin being dodgy and shorting out the power every time I use it, I decide to talk a walk up to McDonalds. I would prefer not to be eating takeaway but I’ve had to eat pizza and McDonalds two nights in a row now due to the lack of a working cook-top, despite having bought stupidly overpriced food from the park’s convenience store. The owner promised to bring me a new cook-top today, but he hasn’t yet, which is a little annoying, but I’m not that concerned because I’m having dinner at Darren’s house tonight anyway, but I certainly hope he brings me one tomorrow. There are BBQ facilities all over the park, which I look forward to using on my remaining days here after I find a cheap supermarket, but I’ve bought a bunch of packet noodle and pastas which I can’t cook on a BBQ and I would hate for them to go to waste.

    Anyway, I’ll just have takeaway food one more time and worry about the cook-top tomorrow. I wonder how long this story has gotten and do a wordcount and can’t help but laugh out loud as I realise that it’s already well in excess of 17,000 words, or over 60 pages. Oh dear. Lucky I’m not writing for a magazine or something because they’d take one look at this story and say “What the fuck is this ? A novel ?” But I don’t care. I like writing long stories. I don’t WANT to edit out the “boring bits”, because to me, it’s those insignificant little details that are the ones that will quickly fade from my memory, and they’re the sort of things that I want to read years later and smile over and think “Oh, I forgot about that”. If you don’t like it or don’t want to read it, or you do and think it’s boring then I don’t give a shit. Even if I linked you to it, it doesn’t mean I specifically asked you to read it, and you’re not doing me any favours by doing so. I just write. Noone has to read it if they don’t want to. Maybe I’ll take the most interesting parts and submit them to some publication later, or maybe I won’t. It really doesn’t matter to me. I sigh and turn off the aircon and head out to get something cheap for lunch.

    I wander up to the pizza store thinking that a large pizza on a $6.95 discount voucher will probably be more economical than McDonalds, but I’ve already eaten pizza two days in a row and I hate eating unhealthy takeaway shit, so I wander on to the supermarket to see if I can find anythign nice to fry up on the BBQ here. The supermarket is just an IGA, and they’re not the cheapest chain in Australia, and being in a remote North Queensland town they’re even worse, but they had very cheap leg ham, so I grabbed a few slices of that and since their cheese is quite expensive and I don’t want to waste a whole block, I get some Jarlsberg sliced for me, because if I’m going to eat cheese on a sandwich I would at least prefer it to be mouthwateringly delicious cheese, so I grab that and also I get a seasoned chicken schnitzel and some sausages that are on special. Satisfied that this is surely enough food to last me through Monday and that I can easily cook it on the park’s BBQs I head back home. On the way I pass a Japanese takeaway place. I wonder idly if they have udon, and when I look in, it’s proudly advertised on the sign that they do udon in four different ways. Drooling at the opportunity for a great meal of udon, I walk in and cough up $9.50 and order up a bowl to take home, but you know… a good udon is worth that compared to some shitty pizza knocked up by some pimply teenager in ten seconds.

    I read the newspaper while I wait, even though it’s almost a week out of date and I would have preferred to read about North Korea’s failed missile rather than all the fearmongering that went on beforehand, but beggars can’t be choosers and I don’t feel like buying a newspaper that I may not have time to read fully. Darren rings me up and asks if I mind if he comes a bit earlier than planned and I say sure and that I’ll be home in about fifteen minutes, hoping it gives me time to eat my udon before he arrives. I walk back to my cabin and quickly pack a spare set of nice clothes because Darren suggested on the phone that we go out to a blues club afterwards where he intends to play a couple of songs for the open mic night. I pack one of my tablets even though I am pretty sure I won’t need it since I know Darren is pretty dead against computers, and one of the songs he sang for me on the train was one he wrote called “Don’t give me a computer, just give me a vege garden” and he’s that far out of the internet age that he genuinely doesn’t even know what Facebook is used for, but I figure there’s a chance he may want to see photos or something so I pack it anyway.

    I grab my bag and my bowl of takeaway udon curry and head out to the front gate hoping to eat it while I wait for him, but it turns out he lives only a few blocks away so he’s already there waiting with his youngest son, who I haven’t met yet, so I chuck my food onto the floor of his four wheel drive and jump in the passenger seat after saying hello to his son Steven and their dog Benji. We drive on up to the foothills of the mountains that I visited yesterday on the Kuranda train and we get out and hike up this very steep trail in the light rain while bitching about everything that pisses us off about Australia that’s different overseas. It’s good to have a sympathetic ear, because Darren lived for more than five years in the Philippines and tells me that his wife and kids have also visited Brunei and the island part of Malaysia on holiday, so we spend ages talking about Asia and he teaches me a couple of words of Filipino because obviously he’s pretty fluent after spending so many years there.

    I find it very difficult to talk and hike rapidly up this steep mountain because when I’m talking I don’t breathe properly, so eventually I fall silent and let him talk while I concentrate on not falling arse over tit on the slippery rocks. It’s not an easy hike I can tell you, as the path is not so much a path as it is a steep and well used trail over the slippery, mossy rocks and Darren is keeping a pretty fast pace, while I’m wearing a pair of leather shoes and I’m a bit afraid of missing my step and knocking myself out on the rocks but eventually we reach the water hole and Steven runs into the rock pool while Darren and I climb up a bit higher where there’s a spot you can jump off into the pool below. It’s only a small pool, but Darren has obviously done this many times before so he takes a quick jump out past the sloping rock wall and into the water. But he’s not that far from the rock wall and I’ve never done it, so I decline because I’m not sure I can jump far enough to clear the rocky outcrop and I’d prefer not to hit my head and die on this trip so I walk back down the path and enter the water as Steven did.

    Oh my fucking god is it FREEZING. Darren assures me that normally the water is crystal clear, but due to all the rains recently it’s turned pretty greenish and murky but he fails to mention how bloody cold it is and by the time I’m up to my waist I’m pretty sure I’m wearing my balls as earrings, but I jump forward and immerse myself to get it over with, after which I’m fine and water is so refreshing that I emerge from the water grinning and shaking my head around and whooping. Steven climbs up onto a smaller rock nearby with a rough swing attached and swings out over the water and lets go, plunging in with a yell. We swim around for a bit talking more and trying to coax Benji into the water, but eventually Steven has to get out and drag the poor little scottish terrier into the freezing water with us. The rain is getting a bit heavier by this time and Darren checks to make sure I’m not too cold, but the rain is of course lovely tropical rain and actually does much more to warm me up than anything else so he wanders up the top to jump off again while I do a little breaststroke back and forward across the otherwise deserted rock pool, enjoying the refreshing coolness and delicious taste of fresh mountain rainwater on my lips before he suggests we head off back home for dinner. To be honest, I would have been happy to stay in that pool all afternoon but I know he has plans and his wife is waiting at home.

    On the way back to his car, the rain really starts pouring down and I roll my hat up around my phone to keep it dry since I didn’t have the presence of mind to take it out of my pocket and leave it in the car. I am sorta paranoid about dropping it, so I keep checking that I have it and my cabin keys while navigating the slippery rocks down to the road where the car is. Darren passes out towels for the car seats and we pile in with the dog and head back to his place which I realise is very close to where I’m staying. We get there and I head into the bathroom to change into jeans and a collared shirt since we’re going out later and I figure I’d better look decent. When I come out he introduces me to his eldest son Charlie, who I saw briefly on the train and then his Filipino wife Amy comes out. I take advantage of Darren’s earlier Filipino lesson and greet her in her own language and she smiles and tells me it’s very nice to meet me. Filipino girls aren’t my favourite Asian girls in appearance but it’s quite clear that Amy is quite an attractive Filipino and she has long, pretty hair and a nice smile.

    Amy invites me to sit down and I remember the red wine I’ve brought with me and I bring it out and offer it to her, because after all, I’ve been invited to dinner, and noone turns up to dinner empty-handed do they ? She is very pleased and pours a glass for the three adults and then heads out to take care of the BBQ’ing duties while Darren has a shower and gets changed. I sorta think it’s amusing to see a Filipino woman BBQ’ing sausages and lamb chops since in most homes in Australia, tending the BBQ is strictly a man’s job and my dad rarely ever lets my mum touch the BBQ at home. Amy brings out rice and the the most delicious looking potato salad and a green salad with lovely big chunks of cheese (just the way I like a salad to be – full of cheese) and olives and other delicious items. She’s clearly gone to a lot of trouble and I get the impression they don’t have a lot of visitors because Darren is a pretty quiet sort of guy and I know he suffers from a little depression and paranoia about other people, as is not uncommon in musical types of people and I know he’s on a pension because of it, although Amy works as a housekeeper at a big resort hotel just walking distance down the road, but she admits she only has one good friend who visits and to my fascination is a Papua New Guinean woman, and Darren mentions that I grew up in PNG and Amy is quite amazed and asks me a bit about it.

    Darren says grace and when he finishes, everyone else says “Amen”, and since I’m not religious anymore I add “itadakimasu !” with a grin and Darren asks what it means and I explain that it’s a Japanese tradition of saying that we are thankful for the food and Amy says it’s nice, and then we start eating while chatting on all sorts of topics about the various countries we’ve all visited and what the people are like there and Amy is very interested in hearing about Vietnam and asks me all sorts of questions about the currency there and what it costs to live and that sort of thing and then we talk a bit about languages and we go around the table and everyone counts to ten in various different languages just for fun. Amy counts in Filipino, and I count in Italian, Vietnamese and Japanese and then Darren counts in German and French. I think it’s great that we can all do that. It’s not like a huge big deal, but it’s nice to know that just around that table, we can count in more than half a dozen different languages. Neither Darren nor Amy finished high school and despite spending many years at university I never graduated from anything, yet I get the feeling that around this table is more worldly wisdom than you find in most university classrooms, since collectively we’ve all lived in 8 different countries for at least some period of time (not including time I spent traveling with my parents), and after dinner Darren shows me a book he’s written on Filipino culture which quite impresses me even though he hasn’t had it published properly yet.

    Dinner was just fantastic and Amy’s potato salad especially was very good and I suspect maybe she hasn’t made it before because just like a cliche out of The Castle, Darren asks here “What’s this honey ?” and she explains that it’s seasoned potatoes with cream and after dinner I compliment her on how good it was and she thanks me and says the wine was delicious and thanks me for bringing it. It’s just the nicest little experience. Everyone is so polite and kind. Noone ever swears any more harshly than saying the word “shit” when it’s really necessary and I can’t even recall the last time I was at dinner when someone said grace and I’m really thankful to be in polite company for a change after some of the uncouth druggos, deadshits and alcoholics I normally hang around with and I wish that they didn’t live so far away because it seems we all have a lot more in common than I expected. Amy mentions that they visited Hervey Bay on holiday a few years ago and she thought it was very beautiful and relaxing compared to Cairns.

    Amy goes and gets ready and I’m pleased to learn that she’s coming out with us, because I thought maybe she would just stay home with the kids, but she leaves Charlie in home to keep an eye on Steven and the three of us pile into the car with Amy dressed very prettily in a fashionable little jacket with her hair tied back quite elegantly. Darren only has on a collared polo shirt with some stripes on it that she’s put out for him that she obtained from a charity store and she compliments him on how he looks very smart “like some rich guy” and I smile to myself in the back seat because she obviously likes to make him feel like he’s important because he’s a pretty insecure guy and it’s sweet the way she does it subtly enough that he says “Really ? You think so ?” and I wish I had a devoted wife like that who gave me sweet compliments when I needed to hear them even after 18 years of marriage and I am quite jealous of the simple but happy little life they have their in a small besser brick house in the suburbs of Cairns with two lovely, well behaved children.

    The main streets of Cairns are quite packed for a rainy Sunday night and it takes us a while to find a park, but we locate one just around the corner from the bar we’re going to and Darren leads the way into a cute little place called “12 Bar Blue” where he clearly knows everyone and he introduces me to tonnes of people in his quiet softly spoken voice and everyone is very friendly and shakes my hand and asks where I’m from and tells me it’s great to meet me and I try to remember all their names as best I can.

    The night’s house band is on first, but I later learn from the guitarist Gordo that they have never played together before last night, though they all play in other local bands separately. Gordo is a tall bald dude on lead guitar and he’s one of those crazy good guitarists that just pisses you off because he’s just that damn good that he sounds exactly like the artist he’s covering. Chris is an older, grey haired guy with small round glasses and he just looks right at home on bass guitar, and the drummer’s name escapes me for the moment, though he’s clearly very good as well.

    Darren is the first to put his name on the blackboard because he says that since he’s not very good, they like to get him up first because he’s only very amateur and mostly sings folky, accoustic sort of stuff, so they like to keep him early in the night before everyone gets a bunch of booze into them and wants to dance and stuff. He’s prepared The Seekers’ “Georgie Girl” and Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind” which he played to me at his house and asked me my opinion. I said that his cover of Georgie Girl was nice, but I admit that it’s a very old song and I tend to think it’s not the best song for a blues club, but he’s keen to do it anyway and he sings it nicely, albeit in quite a high key, but he has a higher voice than me so I guess he has to sing in a high key.

    As the temporary house band are discussing their set list between songs I overhear Gordo mention “Folsom Prison Blues” and I comment to Darren “Oh, some Johnny Cash would be great” and he nods. He gets up to perform and does an amusing little intro in which he announces that he’s on early because he’s going to sing some old folk songs and tells everyone to consider it “a rest stop for your ears” which gets a good chuckle from everyone. He plays Georgie girl in a key that noone is expecting because he’s using a capo and Chris and Gordo both fumble around for ages trying to figure out how to match the key he’s playing in before Chris finally manages to work something out and jumps in properly and eventually Gordo works it out too by watching Chris, but in my opinion his lead guitar is a little overpowering for what’s supposed to be an accoustic song and he tries too hard to turn it into some sort of blues epic and play all the way through rather than turning his guitar down and just adding a background melody. Also, when Darren stops playing rhythm to pick out the little lead section in the middle, they keep right on playing over top of him when the guitar and bass should have stopped and allowed him to do his thing, but to be fair they had never heard Darren play it and didn’t know he was going to do that.

    After that, Darren changes his mind about doing Dylan and steals the band’s thunder by saying “Right. Folsom Prison Blues” and starts playing and they quickly jump in to catch him and I smirk because I know it’s Gordo’s new song that he’s just learned and Darren has stolen it just because I said I was looking forward to hearing it, and to be honest, he does it really, really well, so I’m quite glad that he chose to do that song rather than the covered-to-death Dylan classic and Amy and I lead the crowd in a big round of applause when he finishes. Darren comes back to the table looking pretty self conscious after the drummer makes some comment to him about how he needs more practice playing with a band, but frankly I think that while his timing was pretty bad during Georgie Girl, his version of Folsom Prison Blues was very good and they should have made more effort to follow his lead rather than showing off their own skills since the point of the night was supposed to be to showcase the amateur talent rather than for the professional musos to show off and jam, and I tell Darren that he did really well and that he just needed to warn them what key he was playing in so they didn’t all stumble over Georgie Girl, and of course Amy is full of praise like a good wife should be.

    Darren has bought the first round of beers and we sit there listening to the house band do a couple of songs while we wait for other people to wander in and write their names on the board. A couple of guys put their names down for later in the evening and Darren says “You should put your name down” and I blush and say “Nah man. I can’t sing and this is an up-beat blues bar. Noone wants to hear a song without lyrics and I only do original songs so it’d be hard for people to follow me” and he just nods and says “Ok, fair enough”. Some other people wander in and Darren introduces me to all of them. There’s one guy, Ian who he tells me is a dentist in the daytime and who sings and plays guitar at night, then there’s a girl whose name I think was Miranda whose face is half paralysed but who he assures me is a great singer anyway. He introduces me to Steve who he insists is a mind blowing blues harp player and he’s dead right too because his next song just blows me away with his amazing distorted harp sound that remind me of something straight out of the movie Dueling Banjos. Then there’s Jono who is an old bloke who is apparently a Cairns icon who has owned several local nightclubs and bars before the anti-smoking laws pissed him off too much and he retired from that scene and just sings in bars now.

    After Steve is so amazing on the mouth harp I start to ponder whether maybe I could knock out a quick blues number and just let Steve lead on the harp in lieu of vocals but they’re all so good that I’m reluctant to say anything. After Steve finishes, Ian the dentist steps up and leads them in a couple of very good songs that while they are excellent, are original songs that I haven’t heard, and then this curly haired guy in a leather jacket called Rod jumps in on another song that doesn’t have any lyrics to play an even more mind-blowing harmonica than Steve did earlier I lean across to Darren and say “You know. Maybe I could do a song without lyrics if Rod or Steve wanted to lead for me on blues harp and Gordo could fill in with lead guitar and stuff” and Darren goes “Yeah. Go on. Put your name on there” and in the spirit of my adventurous holiday to Cairns I don’t even think about it and I jump up and write my name on the board in 8th spot before I have time to debate with myself whether it’s a good idea or not.

    I grab a round of drinks for everyone and since they have $3 shots of C.S. Cowboy’s I grab two shots of those for myself in order to warm myself up to the idea of performing in front of an increasingly large crowd. Unfortunately, the following acts are just so damn good that I start freaking out and start sweating profusely and my stomach gets quite knotted, but I’m determind not to just back out. Jono gets up to do House of the Rising Sun, and holy SHIT is it good. Rod accompanies him on the harmonica and I am just sitting there dumbfounded because I know that I’m on the board right after Jono and there’s just NO WAY on earth I could follow one of the most amazing performances of House of the Rising Sun that I’ve ever heard in my life and I am ready to just run out of the club in order to avoid having to follow such a class act. Even a small group of aborigines are standing outside jiving madly on the street throughout the song and I notice the police walk past and check out how drunk they are to see if they need to be removed from the footpath.

    Darren had mentioned earlier that Rod can tapdance amazingly, and when he lays a big wooden board on the floor, I am sort of relieved, and think maybe this song will be a little less amazing, but clearly I shouldn’t have betted against Rod’s phenomonal tapdancing talent, because he announces that he’s going to be going to America for a performing arts contest this year and then procedes to just blow everyone’s mind to the point that people walking past start just streaming into the bar to hear him. The band strikes up some song and Rod plays two different harmonicas for a bit and then jumps on the board and starts tapdancing and then dances all the way around the goddamn bar, and then introduces each member of the band in turn and cues them all to do a solo, which they all oblige him in, during which he dances his way out of the bar into the street and Gordo leans out the door puzzled to wonder if he’s even coming back, but as they all finish their solos, Rod appears in the doorway and puts his microphone down on the bricks outside the bar and then does an even more incredible tapdance outside on the footpath, causing everyone to holler and cheer.

    My heart sinks and I say to Darren “Oh man, I can’t follow an act like that. That was bloody INCREDIBLE” and Darren says “He’s good isn’t he ?” and I just nod dumbly. Thankfully Gordo then says “Ok, we’re going to all take a break and we’ll be back soon with goodness knows what else. Apparently Dave is up next though I don’t know what he does”. I’m so relieved that they are taking a break between songs and putting some recorded music on that I don’t even have time to think about Gordo’s rather dismissive comment about “goodness knows what” coming up next, since clearly he’s familiar with everyone else who’s performing tonight except me. Darren asks me if I want to go outside and warm up and at first I say “No” but then I decide that it’s probably a good idea because I might be able to talk to the band and let them know what I’m going to play.

    I wander out with Darren’s beautiful Fender electric acoustic that Amy bought him (like a good wife should alway do for her musician boyfriend !) and tune up and Chris approaches and asks “You’re Dave ?” and I nod and he asks what I’m doing and I say “Well, it’s basically a 12 bar blues in E major, but it’s not really 12 bars in length and after B major I use a chord that isn’t strictly a real chord as far as I know”. Chris nods and says “Do you want to just follow us ?” and I shake my head and say “No, I don’t know if I’ll be able to. I figure that Gordo is just going to play a little lead melody and I’ve just asked Rod to accompany me on harmonica so you’re the only person who needs to really follow me, so I’ll just make sure you can see my chord changes so you can follow me on bass” and Chris says “Ok, no worries” and I briefly knock out the song I’m going to play and Chris says “Sounds alright”.

    I head in and grab a stool since I haven’t brought a belt for my jeans and I don’t really want my pants to fall down while playing, not to mention the fact that I’m nervous as hell and I play a little lead quietly to some song that’s playing on the intermission CD which I personally think is really good and some girl sitting nearby with her boyfriend is watching me closely and gives me a nod of appreciation which makes me feel a little more confident. The rest of the band files in, but the drummer has been replaced by some young guy called Josh and I hope that he’s good and has no problem with my timing, though I don’t really have too many problems with timing and I’m happy to fuck up a chord change or two rather than be more particular and throw off the timing of the song like Darren sort of did when he made a mistake. Rod gives me a nod from the corner beside Darren where he’s sitting to indicate that he’ll jump in when required and I take a deep breath.

    “Hey everyone who just joined us. My name’s Dave and I’m just visiting here and I met Darren on the Sunlander train on the way up and he told me this was a good place to come and make a fool out of myself”. Deciding to add a little local humour I continue by saying “I don’t sing, so I’m just going to do a little blues rhythm and I’m hoping that Gordo and Rod are going to blow you out with their melody and make sure that this song doesn’t come out sounding as boring as wet week in Tully” which thankfully gets a laugh and a cheer out of someone down the back and makes me glad I was able to throw in a local North Queensland reference to lighten things up.

    At that moment, Gordo directs the drummer to start and what timing to play in and then starts playing himself and I wonder for a second if they are expecting me to jump in. It seems they are, and it’s fortunate that the drummer has the timing almost spot on, so I just jump in at the right moment and start knocking out a basic E-A-B blues progression. Unfortunately however, my guitar is down too low and Gordo’s is up way too high and he’s just playing some blues riff as though he’s leading, rather than just filling in with some melody like I was expecting him to, which pisses me right the fuck off and I can’t help but think he’s a typical fucking show off lead guitarist who has to steal the whole goddamn show.

    Worse though is that he is paying NO attention to me and appears to assume I am playing a straight 12-bar, which I’m not. Thankfully, Darren sneaks up and turns up the volume on my guitar so that people can actually hear me and I notice that Chris is following my changes carefully, but the problem is that instead of just filling in with lead melody during the appropriate spots, Gordo is just playing the whole way through at loud volume, and when I jump into my neat little B-A based jazzy riff in the middle in which I jump from string to string which is supposed to be the highlight of the song, he fails to pay any attention and keeps playing in a different key, so I just abandon that idea and go back to the simpler E-A-B progression and try my best to just match what Gordo is doing.

    Much to my relief though, Josh matches my pace perfectly, Chris tries his best to follow me, and as expected, Rod just goes OFF exactly how I wanted him to and I give him a big nod and a grin as he leaps to his feet and jumps in front of stage to play a crazy harp melody which fits in really well and forces Gordo to back off a little. All in all, it turns out pretty well though. Admittedly, my guitar was really drowned out by Rod’s stupid electric rhythm, but Josh and Chris and Josh pulled it all together and made it work and of course Rod was the true star, and I’m pretty sure everyone applauded, though I was so eager to get off stage and hand Darren’s lovely Fender back to him that I barely noticed, and Amy gave me a pat on the back and said “Very nice David. Good song”.

    I just let out a huge long breath that I must have been holding in for most of the song and said “Oh, I DEFINITELY need a beer now” and got up to get one, but Darren quickly jumped in front and said “I’ll get it for you mate” and paid for it for me since I’d bought both of them drinks while he’d only had to buy me one. I accepted and sat down and drank it pretty quickly while Miranda came on stage to sing a nice vocal number and I was pleased to see that Gordon fucked it up quite badly and she sorta gave him a backward glance as if to say “Excuse me, this is my fucking song, will you try to not dominate if you’re not going to play properly ?” which put a smile on my face and Gordo did indeed back off and let her sing until everyone caught up to her, but her vocals were turned down too low and the drummer didn’t want to stop and adjust the levels on the mixing board above him.

    When Darren asked if I wanted to head off I nodded because I knew we’d been there longer than he’d intended and I was aware that Amy doesn’t normally accompany him because he had to introduce her to everyone, so it was a special occasion for her to come out with him, but she seemed to quite enjoy herself and I had a feeling that given the opportunity, she would have been happy to have a few more drinks than he did, but beers weren’t particularly cheap and Darren had to drive so she didn’t drink any more than he did, but her comment earlier in the night about the wine I brought being very nice made me think that she would probably be happy to drink a bit more than Darren if it didn’t seem inappropriate for a polite wife to out-drink her husband because I know that Darren isn’t much of a drinker, and on the way home he was pretty excited and she had to constantly caution him to keep his eyes on the road instead of turning back to talk to to me, which caused him to veer off centre a couple of times and Amy to cry out in alarm and insist he pay attention to the road.

    They dropped me back to my holiday park and Amy said “Maybe we’ll see you again if we’re in Hervey Bay on holiday” and I told them that I’m positive my family would love to have them visit because musicians and nice people are always welcome at my place and I had a feeling that my dad would quite like Darren and they would love to share stories about artifacts that they’d collected, because Darren had been very proud of his native Filipino dart gun that was hanging on his wall and my mum gets along with everyone so I’m sure she would have made Amy feel right at home. I feel bad because I know in my heart that it’s unlikely they will ever do so because neither of them use the internet, and just ringing someone out of the blue in a far away town and asking if they can come visit seems like more of an imposition than this lovely polite couple would want to put on someone. Darren promised to pick me up and take me to the train station on Tuesday morning in between dropping the kids off to school and Amy to work. I knew it was quite a task for him to run so many people around to their various destinations but I was massively grateful as it would save me enough money on taxi fare that I could afford to get a meal for dinner on the way home.

    I waved as they drove away and trudged back to my cabin in the rain thinking what an amazing day it had been. Swimming in a lovely, deserted rock pool, having a delicious dinner and discussing Asia and showing off a few different languages that we all knew, and then going out to a great little blues bar and both Darren and I getting up to perform. It’s the sort of day that you could never plan in a million years, and to have it happen with a bunch of complete strangers in a city I hadn’t even visited in two and a half decades was just priceless. And to think that it only happened because I decided to get up and visit the club car on the train despite saying that I didn’t want to do so due to the price of the beer and then ask Darren if I could take his photo, causing us to strike up a conversation. Had I not gotten up and visited that club car, I would not have ever met Darren, Amy, Charlie, Steven and their dog Benji (who incidentally was named after Darren’s favourite rugby league star, not the famous dog of the same name), not to mention such amazing characters as Jono and Rod or played with Gordo, Chris and Josh.

    I tell you what, that $5.50 light beer that I bought in the club car two days earlier sure turned out to be worth every goddamn cent, that’s all I can say. Sometimes a beer isn’t just a beer. It’s an opportunity to meet someone interesting who then leads you to meet more and more interesting people and despite my fear that Darren’s promise to invite me to dinner wouldn’t be fulfilled, it was, and I think that Darren and Amy got as much out of it as I did. Darren talks to a lot of people at the club, but there were a couple of times when I got the impression that they were just familiar with him being there rather than such great friends, and Amy openly admitted to only having one friend in Cairns, so I really hope I left as good an impression on them as they left on me.

    Sometimes, things like that just happen, but you’ve got to take steps to put yourself in the right position to let them happen. Just turning up in the club car wouldn’t have been enough. It was me who initiated the conversation with Darren by asking if I could take a photo of him and Charlie eating meat pies together and then asking him where he was from that caused him to open up to me and accept me and then play guitar with me and later cause him to invite me to dinner which then evolved into hiking and swimming and performing at a blues club together. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I have gained so much from this little trip to Cairns. Originally I just thought it would be an enjoyable trip up the coast and a good chance to take some lovely photos of North Queensland, but the people I’ve met made it worth a million times more than the cost of the trip. Latika and her grandmother, Darren and Amy and their kids and all Darren’s friends. All from a spontaneous decision to just drop everything and head off on a lengthy journey at a moment’s notice for no reason other than it seemed like a good idea. Spontaneous travel – it works bitches and I retire to bed happy and ready for the return journey on the beautiful Sunlander.

    [pe2-gallery album=”aHR0cDovL3BpY2FzYXdlYi5nb29nbGUuY29tL2RhdGEvZmVlZC9iYXNlL3VzZXIvcGF3emxpb24vYWxidW1pZC81NzMxOTQ0NTg4NzgzNDg1MzQ1P2FsdD1yc3MmYW1wO2hsPWVuX1VTJmtpbmQ9cGhvdG8=”]

  • 11Apr
    Categories: Australia, Travel Comments Off on Into the North Queensland Wilderness

    Well, I’ve only been back in Australia for a few weeks but I already have itchy feet. So I made a spirit of the moment decision to go somewhere. Where ? Well. A long way away, actually. I’m going to the rainforest village of Kuranda in Far North Queensland, in the mountains west of Carins. It’s just a tiny bit under 2,000 kilometers from where I am now, so it’s going to be a six day, 4,000 km journey.

    I’ll be taking the rattly old Sunlander train to Cairns, which will take a bit over 26 hours, then the next day I’ll be catching the scenic Kuranda Heritage Rail Line through the mountains. The Kuranda line is described as “One of the most photographed rail journeys in the world” because it winds very slowly through the rainforest hinterlands of Far North Queensland and it considered the most beautiful train journey you can do in Australia.

    That’s gonna be a long journey, and I expect I am going to meet some very fascinating people on my way there. The Kuranda railway line is obviously intended as a scenic journey, not as public transport. It’s not a long line, but because it goes through the mountains, the train has to go very slowly, and so it takes quite a while to get there for such a short distance. As such it’s entirely a tourist line and many people who come to Australia from overseas visit Cairns specifically so they can take the Kuranda line and see what Australia’s unspoilt rainforest looks like, from the comfort of a slow moving train as it winds its way through the mountains.

    I don’t wanna say much more. It was very spirit of the moment. I enquired about it just an hour ago, and found there was only a single seat left on the Sunlander to Cairns tomorrow due to the school holidays, so I just booked it on the spot without thinking twice. Getting back was a bit difficult due to the trains being mostly booked out, so I’ll have to spend a few nights in Cairns, but I think it’ll all work out. I’ve checked into accommodation and I’m fairly sure I can find somewhere, though since this is Australia, I’ll be forced to choose a shared room in a backpacker hostel since I won’t be able to afford a private room. Still, it’s going to be an amazing adventure and I can hardly wait to get started on my journey. Look forward to hearing about it !

  • 24Sep
    Categories: Food, Life, Love, Travel Comments Off on Nice people really do exist

    I’ve been stranded in Singapore since Thursday. I’ll tell you more about that later but right now I just want to tell you about some of the amazingly nice people I’ve met just wandering around Singapore. Sure, everyone in Vietnam is very friendly… but you know why of course. They either want your money directly or they want to rip you off. There are very few truly genuine Vietnamese people who will treat you with respect. But Singapore is not Vietnam.

    Firstly… It cost me a lot of money to change my flight. Pretty much every cent I had left in fact. I had just enough money to arrange another flight home and then I was basically so broke I couldn’t afford to eat. I mean a Double Whopper with Cheese in Changi Airport is about $12.50 … and that’s not a meal… that’s just the burger ! Seriously !

    I was sitting at the internet terminals and everyone was having problems because the primary Wifi access point that the information desk was telling everyone to use (You have to show them your passport and they give you a 4 hour password to use the wifi) didn’t work and everyone was confused.

    Fortunately I knew that SG and Starhub are the same company and so I was providing tech support for everyone in the airport lounge, advising them how to get online since the information desk were as useless as tits on a bull. A Filipino guy joked “Sounds like you should work here. You obviously know more than they do. Maybe they should be paying you since you’re in here doing IT support for everyone.

    He started chatting to me more and asked where I was headed and I told him Brisbane and he said “Wow. Me too ! What suburb ?” and I said “I don’t live there anymore but I used to live in Inala” and he said “That’s amazing. My family live in Archerfield… right beside Inala. That’s where I’m headed now. What a coincidence !”. I reluctantly said to him “Hey I don’t mean to sound like I’m hustling… but I missed my connecting flight and I’m out of money. You don’t want to buy a laptop hard drive do you ?” He asked how much and I said “I’d sell one for $60 ? At least that’d get me out of trouble and let me eat a couple of meals here”.

    He said “No thanks I don’t really need one. But look. I’ll do something for you because you’re a fellow Brisbanite. Take this” and he handed me a large wad of Pesos from the Philippines. I said “Oh wow. Thank you so much. How much is that worth if I exchange it ?” and he said “Mmmmm. A bit less than a hundred dollars Singapore. About 80 Aussie dollars”. I said “Oh my god. I can’t possibly accept that ! Not unless you take a hard drive or something”. He said “Don’t worry about it. I’m the CEO for an aircraft engineering company. A hundred dollars is nothing to me. That’ll help you get buy in Singapore because it’s a really expensive place. I recommend you forget about getting accommodation and sleep upstairs in the lounge. Everyone does it. And go to the 7-11 and buy some cups of noodles. They have hot water there and you can make it on the spot and even buy bread and cheap sandwich ham. You don’t have to pay $25 a meal at these bullshit restaurants that way”.

    I was just flabbergasted that this guy I’d never met was just being so generous to me. He then asked what I did for a living and I told him I made web pages. He said “Oh. Maybe we can do business then. I will need a web page for my new company in a couple of months. Are you good ?” and I said “Been doing it for 16 years mate” and he said “Wow that is impressive. Here’s my card. Send me an email. When I need it done. You’re my man”.

    So not only did this total stranger just GIVE me close to a hundred dollars so that I could afford to eat and get into the city to buy some clean clothes in Chinatown but he even offered me a job.

    But he wasn’t the only amazing person I met. When I went into the city on the train I went to a Japanese restaurant because I swear they have MILLIONS of Japanese restaurants here. I think there’s probably more Japanese restaurants than all other countries combined. So at first I went into MOF, the Japanese Sweets store and restaurant that I love so much in Saigon. But when I looked at the price of a beer… it was $11 for a Sapporo. I just couldn’t afford that. So I went to another place nearby. It was an “All you can eat and all you can drink for 80 minutes Sukiyaki and Shabu Shabu” place. The price wasn’t cheap, but I knew that at least I could finally enjoy a few beers without spending every cent I had.

    Needless to say I had the waitress who was serving me running back for more beers pretty damn often ! I’ve never a met a Singaporean girl before and to be honest I actually thought she was Japanese. At many of the Japanese places they are trained to speak basic Japanese but this girl was new and knew nothing and when I said a couple of things in Japanese she asked politely what I was saying. I said “Oh I didn’t realise you weren’t Japanese. I’m sorry. You’re Singaporean ?” and she said “Yes. But I’d like to learn some Japanese so I can do my job better. Could you teach me some ?”

    I laughed and taught her how to say good morning, afternoon and evening and say thank you and please and excuse me and she dutifully wrote it all down and then made a fairly decent attempt at thanking me in Japanese. I chuckled and asked if I could get a photo of her. She said “Wouldn’t you rather get one with both of us ?” and I said “Sure ok” and she called over another girl to take a photo of us together with our arms around each other’s shoulders doing the victory sign and everything. It was so cool. Her name was Audrey. She even gave me her email address !!!! I doubt I’ll have a chance to see her tomorrow before I go because she’ll be working and I can’t afford to eat there a second time but at least I can chat to her a little later. Not every girl you have to meet has to result in a relationship. Sometimes it’s just nice to meet someone nice… make a connection… take a photo… and then go your separate ways thinking “Wow. That was a really nice person I just met”.

    Then I met some real Japanese women. I was at the hotel in the airport because I had bought some cheap (by Singaporean standards) clothes in Chinatown and I was so desperate for a shower I was willing to pay the $8 they were asking for a 10 minute shower. Two middle aged Japanese women came in and I heard one introduce herself as Misaki. When they realised there was a 40 minute wait on the showers they walked out in disgust but as they were leaving I called out “Kombanwa Misaki-san” (Good evening) and she turned and looked at me puzzled, probably wondering how I knew her. I said “Genki desu ka ?” (Are you well ?) and she nodded and said “Hai. Genki desu.” (Yes, I’m well) I said “Watashi wa David. Hajimimashite” (My name is David. Nice to meet you).

    Unfortunately that was about the end of my conversational Japanese abilities so I reverted to English and said “Excuse me for asking, but I’m collecting foreign coins from around the world for my daughter and even though she has a Japanese name… Suki actually and no, her mum isn’t Japanese I just like Japanese culture. But I’ve never met anyone who could give me any Japanese Yen. You don’t have any small value Japanese coins on you do you ?”

    She said “Wow. That’s so sweet that your daughter has a Japanese name, and such a pretty one too. Yeah I have a few Yen on me. Here’s a few for your collection” and she gave me some Yen and I thanked her profusely in Japanese and she just chuckled and said “No problem. Nice to meet someone so interested in Japanese culture”

    I had to go collect my bag of stuff that I’d left at the lock-up room while I went into Singapore City and when I got there the guy was out and had a note saying he’d be back later. On the counter was a small bowl of tips that people had left. Just like 2 and 5 cent value pieces but they came from all sorts of interesting countries including some I had never gotten coins from. I knew there were cameras there so I felt weird about it but I took all the small coins that I was interested in and then I left a 1 US dollar note in the plate and sat and waited for him to return.

    When he came back the first thing he noticed was the dollar bill sitting in the bowl and said “Is that from you ?” and I said “Yes. I hope you don’t mind but I collect coins and I took a few of the small coins you had in your tip bowl and I gave you a dollar to replace them”. He said “No that’s more than ok. Those coins weren’t even worth 20 cents. A one dollar tip is much appreciated. You’re very much welcome to them” and then he got me my bags and said “Thanks for being so honest. Most people would have pinched the coins and just left” and I said “I couldn’t do that. They may be small change but stealing tips is a low act. I’m just glad you didn’t mind me replacing them with a dollar note instead” and he said “Of course not. It’s a pleasure. Those coins were useless to me. I can’t even exchange them because the currency places don’t take coins so at least a dollar bill is worth something to me. You’re doing me a favour if anything”. So we both left happy and satisfied that we’d somehow helped the other person out.

    Later this evening I was sitting packing my stuff. I had bought a few small souvenirs. I bought some really nice Vietnamese rice wine before I left Saigon and I didn’t have enough space in my two carry on bags to carry them so I had to buy a small bag that I could squeeze my camera and my souvenirs of Singapore into so I’d bought a cute “Angry Birds” kids travel backpack because it was the cheapest bag I could buy in the airport. Many places wanted as much as $800 for a bag but this kids backpack was only about $50 and I needed it so I bought it. Anyway I was packing my stuff into it and I realised I’d bought TWO boxes of the gigantic imitation Pocky they sell here and there was no way I could take them home.

    I had been listening to an American woman talking to her daughter in the lounge chairs next to me and her young daughter wanted more snacks but her mum said she couldn’t have any. I said “Hi. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but I have this gigantic box of snacks that I can’t possibly take back on the plane. If it’s ok with you, your daughter can have them”. She said “Really ? Thank you ! That’s so nice of you. Abigail. Thank the nice man for the treats”. But Abigail, who was probably four or five was far too shy and shook her head and clutched the huge box to her chest. I chatted to her mum a bit and asked where she’d been living and she said “Kuala Lumpar” and I said “Oh. You don’t happen to have any small coins from there do you ? I collect coins for my own daughter” and I showed her the MASSIVE collection I’d just finished sorting and putting into a smaller bag.

    She said “Wow.. that’s impressive. Yeah I do actually. Here’s one of each of all the denominations of coins from Malaysia. That’s hardly a fair trade for the huge box of snacks you just gave Abby but I hope it helps your collection” and I said “Yes. That’s wonderful. Thank you SO very much” and she just said “No. It’s my pleasure. What’s your daughter’s name ?” and of course I told her and showed her my tattoo and she thought it was so sweet that I had a tattoo of Suki’s name written in Japanese. She asked if I would mind keeping an eye on their stuff while she took Abby to the bathroom and I did and then they had to leave. By that time Abigail had opened up and when they left she waved at me and said “Bye bye mister. Thank you” and I nearly cried in happiness just from meeting such lovely people.

    That’s what travelling is about. It’s not about taking photos of old buildings and buying postcards. It’s about meeting really wonderful people and talking to them and finding what you have in common and then parting ways knowing just a tiny bit more about another human being and feeling a tiny bit happier for the experience. Sure, getting out on the train and seeing a tiny bit of Singapore was amazing and Chinatown was pretty cool (though I’m disappointed I didn’t have time to see Little India which I believe is another cool suburb of Singapore) but even just sitting around at Changi airport I still met the most wonderful people and we shared stories and random people helped me out when I was down on my luck and I got offered some work and I chatted to some lovely Japanese women in their native language and then I gave a little girl and her mother a big box of snacks and everyone was happy.

    Don’t travel for the sake of seeing tourist bullshit. Don’t do tours. Don’t go to stupid tourist traps. Get out and meet real people. Whether they’re tourists too or whether they’re locals… just meet people. It’s what travelling is all about.

    You know. I’ve said it before. It’s the journey, not the destination.

    Oh and I know you want to see what Audrey the cute Singaporean girl who worked at the Japanese restaurant looks like right ? Ok, here’s a photo of us together. She’s not the girl of my dreams, but apparently the girl of my dreams isn’t interested in me and thinks I can do better than her. Which is just code for “I don’t like you but I’m going to say something nice so that you don’t hate me”. Anyway, here’s Audrey.

    Audrey from Singapore

  • 20Sep
    Categories: Religion, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Monks are tightarses !

    I don’t have time to talk about this much but today I was in Nha Trang again and I took the opportunity to visit the big Buddhist temple there with the two gigantic statues of Buddha. It was interesting and lots to see but the only down side was the “tour guides” who are supposedly training to be monks will lead you around for up to an hour and then say “We can’t take donations so you have to buy some postcards”. They wanted 400,000 per pack for the postcards and I had two guides… not that I even asked for them. They wanted me to pay $40 USD for two packets of postcards ?!?! WTF ?!?!?!

    I felt bad. As you would. I didn’t think I could tell a Buddhist monk.. even a trainee to go fuck himself and that I wasn’t possibly paying 400,000 dong for a small pack of shitty old postcards of lower quality than the photos I took myself but to be honest… I think it’s a scam. I’m not even sure they WERE students. I think it may have been bullshit. Anyway it somewhat ruined an otherwise great experience and I would just make clear at the start if anyone tries to guide you around say “I have no money. I can donate 50,000 and NO MORE. I will NOT buy anything !” because they are clearly setup to guilt you into buying shit at 100 times the normal price. Don’t fall for it. I actually did. I felt awful about telling them I couldn’t pay for their shitty postcards so I spent 300,000 on two packs of postcards… which is at least better than the 800,000 they were asking for !

    Anyway it was a great cultural experience and really moving and awe-inspiring. Here’s the photos.

    [pe2-gallery album=”aHR0cDovL3BpY2FzYXdlYi5nb29nbGUuY29tL2RhdGEvZmVlZC9iYXNlL3VzZXIvcGF3emxpb24vYWxidW1pZC81NjU0Mzg0MTgwNTMxMDc5NTM3P2FsdD1yc3MmYW1wO2hsPWVuX1VTJmtpbmQ9cGhvdG8=”]

  • 11Sep
    Categories: Love, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on All good things must end

    Merry and I were ready to get on a bus to Da Lat last night. First I took all of Suki’s clothes that I would never be able to give her thanks to Jo being a cunt and my parents always siding with her and not giving me her address and I packed them up for Merry’s daughter Mai instead. So many beautiful dresses. Then we went to the markets to buy gifts for Nimh so that he wouldn’t feel left out and I bought lots of cute clothes for him too.

    I was just out of the eye hospital and I’m still blind in one eye but Merry desperately wanted to go to Da Lat to see Nimh who is sick so we booked the 1am sleeper bus and we were in Pham Ngu Lao drinking with friends waiting for the bus.

    I was very angry with my parents for constantly lying to me about my daughter and my property and not in a good mood, but I was still nice to Merry. I bought her dozens of roses. First one rose from Nam… then another from Yam… then a whole big bouquet from Linh. Merry was drunk and she got angry at me. “Why you always spend money on roses ?” She demanded. I said “Because I love you and I like buying flowers. Sometimes you make me waste money on things I don’t want. You always make me buy things I don’t need and spend money on expensive taxis when we could just walk. I don’t like wasting money on those things. I am much happier buying flowers for you because they are cheap. You can give this bouquet to your mother when we see her”.

    She ignored me to go and talk to her friends. Later near 1am I said “We should go”. She walked off on her own to another bar. I guessed where she had gone and I went to find her. I said “Why are you here ? We should be at the bus station. The bus will come soon”. She stood up and said “Fine” and walked off. I started following her but I ran into someone I knew and I stopped for a second to say Hi and tell them I was leaving. When I turned around Merry was gone.

    I ran through the streets looking. I went to where I thought the bus station was but I couldn’t find it. I gave up and went back to the Bia Hoi place wondering what to do. Suddenly she turned up angrily saying “Where is my ticket ? Give it to me” I said “Where were you ? I was looking and looking for you” She just goes “Fuck you. Give me the ticket”. So I gave her both bus tickets and she ran off without me.

    The bus company rang me and asked in Vietnamese where she was and why we weren’t on the bus but I didn’t understand them.
    A few minutes later Merry came back. I said “What happened ?” and she said “Bus has left already”. I said “I told you ! You weren’t ready ! You were too busy sitting around at another bar !” She ignored me and went and sat drinking with friends and laughing and having a good time. When I tried to look at her, she ignored me. I said “What about all our clothes and the suitcase full of gifts I brought for Mai and Nimh ? She said “I threw them in the street”.

    I doubt this is true but I had no idea what to say. Most likely they were put on the bus to Da Lat because Merry did not have them. All I know is she was drunk and so very angry at me when I had done nothing wrong. I asked “What happened to the flowers I bought for your mother ?” she said “I threw them away”. I stayed talking with two nice people I’d just met commiserating what had just happened. They tried to tell me to work it out with her but I just said “I don’t see the point. I loved her. I bought her a wedding ring. I bought expensive ticket to Da Lat for us to see her sick child. I buy so many gifts for her family and for no reason she gets angry and me and runs away. If this is how she is going to act now… I don’t want to know how she will act in 5 years time. We’re finished”.

    When the place closed, Merry left with Toan and some friends. Toan said “Come with us”. I just looked at Merry who was staring back and me and said “Sorry. No. I’m going home. I’m tired. We should be on the way to Da Lat now, not getting drunk in Saigon. I give up. I’m going home” and I turned and walked away.

    I have no idea where Merry stayed last night or how she paid for her drinks. She made no effort to say sorry to me or ask me to take her home. I cannot even comprehend why she would be so angry at me for no reason after I bought us tickets to Da Lat and gifts for her family but I can only assume she just gets fucking crazy when she’s drunk. Ironically that’s exactly what Loi, a vendor girl said to me. She said “Why you not go home with Merry ?” and I said “We’re finished. She so angry at me now for no reason. I don’t understand”. She said “That girl fucking crazy. She here every night drinking, drinking, drinking. She’s fucking crazy. You don’t want her”. I agree. I want a good, reliable, kind, polite wife who cares for her children. Not an abusive alcoholic. Oh well. Sure, you all think it was stupid to get married to a girl after three days. But sometimes you take a risk and it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

    So I walked home in the rain. Alone.

  • 07Sep
    Categories: Crazy Ramblings, Love, Suki, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on This is the End My Friend

    Well, probably not “the end”, but this probably “the end” for a little bit. My story is done. “Love on the Streets of Saigon” has the happy ending I was hoping it would have, and frankly, sooner than I expected. Not to say I’m going home to Australia, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Things have changed back home and my only purposes for returning have vanished and suddenly there is no reason for me to go back ever. While it would be convenient to sort a few things out, they just aren’t that important and not worth the cost of the plane ticket to get there so I just don’t care about them.

    But I also don’t want to share anymore. From now on, everything I talk about would be intimate and personal, and while that’s fine when I’m only talking about myself, it’s not appropriate when you’re talking about the person you’re in love with and with whom you share your most intimate secrets.

    There’s a lot more I want to tell you about Merry and her background but I’m just not going to. She doesn’t want everyone to know what she’s been through and what her life is like back home.

    Suffice to say we are both suffering the same problems right now. We are both dealing with parents who don’t understand us and think we’re fucking retards who have no idea what we’re doing with our lives and don’t understand why we insist on staying abroad, and we’re both dealing with missing our children, which with regard to Merry is a subject I cannot speak of any further. Though at least I got to speak to her kids on the phone tonight. I wish I could speak to mine, but my asshole, criminal, junkie, insensitive, completely un-christian-like cunt of a wife refuses to even tell me where she’s moving to or give me her address to send Suki gifts, let alone see my daughter, and it’s possible I may never see her again.

    As such, tonight Merry and I went up to the roof to drink rice wine and take photos and talk about how angry we were with our ex-partners and why our parents just didn’t have a fucking clue what we were going through.

    And that’s it. I’m done for a bit. Blogging about my adventures in Saigon has been fun and I know so many of you have enjoyed it, but while I was always aware of the danger of having a public blog and telling everyone about my daily life, it has finally become a liability and everyone I know manages to use the things I say against me in some way.

    I simply cannot express myself here anymore without people twisting my words and trying to make them mean whatever suits what bullshit agenda they have, so it’s best I just stop expressing them. As such, while I may blog about some general interest stories about Vietnam from time to time, I think the personal stories are at an end. It’s been lots of fun pouring my heart out to you and showing you what a lonely desperate soul I’ve been, but I’m over that now. Merry and I have our disagreements but we have more in common in our hearts than we could ever have imagined when we first got together and we are both going through the same emotional stresses and difficulties as each other, but now that I share them with someone else, sorry, but I don’t need to share the with all of you anymore.

    It’s been great having you all listen but I think a large amount of the personal insights have come to an end just like the way I no longer buy flowers for random girls from Nam like I used to. That time is at an end for the moment.

    I guess I hope you all enjoyed the little while I spent looking inside my soul, but I don’t need to show it to you anymore. Too many people I didn’t want to read my shit were reading it and just using it as ammunition for later. I know that’s what happens when you publish things on the internet and I was fine with that before, but now… I’m done ok ?

    I hope I’ll still post from time to time, but it’s likely I’ll be writing a lot more stuff privately from now on, because frankly, I don’t even know 95% of you and of the ones I do know, at least half of them probably hate me and will just use everything I say against me, so fuck you. Go find someone else’s blog to read.

    Signing off,

    pawz.

  • 05Sep
    Categories: Travel Comments Off on More money !!!!

    Lil had mentioned to a friend of hers that I collect foreign currency for Suki, and he was leaving town and said to her “Give these to your friend” and gave her a couple of bank notes from Thailand. Then John said “Oh I guess I’d better give you something too then” and produced a Malaysian bank note and some Chinese Yuan coins.

    Later that night the subject came up and I was talking to a Canadian girl named Krista who’d been traveling and she gave me all sorts of great coins from all over Europe and Asia. I can’t even remember how many different countries I got currency from that night but it was so awesome. Everyone I met was just like “Oh, you collect foreign currency ? Here, I have some for you. Please, take it”. It was so nice that everyone wanted to help. So now my bag of foreign currency is fucking HUGE ! I have so many coins and notes from all over the world now it’s incredible. I can’t even identify half of them without looking up Google or Wikipedia, especially the Euros because they don’t say what country they’re from and you have to look for these little telltale details that give it away.

    So here’s a photo of all the currency I was given the other night. Aren’t people so nice to just give me money like that ? :”)

    Oh and I almost forgot. I interviewed Krista to ask her about her country. Here’s what she said. Sorry the video sucks. I was drinking and it was impromptu and I had no tripod.

  • 02Sep
    Categories: Parties, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Crazy fun

    I’d love to tell you everything about what happened the last few days and about all the great people we met at the Bia Hoi place and such and how much fun we had but I just don’t have time. Last night was amazing. We went out with Merry’s friend for her birthday and I was curious what we were going to do… whether it would be at someone’s house or at a bar. No, we went to karaoke. You know, proper, private booth, Japanese style karaoke. But that’s a different story. I’ll tell you that one when Tuan gives me the photos.

    No, the last few days we’ve just been at the Bia Hoi place drinking cheap beer and meeting people. Merry knows EVERYONE in Pham Ngu Lao. I’m pretty bad, but Merry is ridiculous. The only person worse than her is Lil, who just seems to know everyone in Saigon. In fact she gets out way too much. She rang me this morning. Woke me up actually just to say “Hahaha I thought you said you didn’t dance and you didn’t go to night clubs. Because I saw you dancing with that girl from the Bia Hoi place at Vasco’s last night at 2 in the morning”.

    I was just like “OMG. What are you spying on me ? Were you there last night ? You saw me and you didn’t even say hello ? Why not ?” She just said “You were with friends. I was with friends. So I thought I’d leave you alone and talk to you today”. Anyway she invited us out to lunch at a Japanese restaurant in the city. The one that makes that amazing hand-made chocolate that I love. Anyway so we’re all doing that soon, but I needed to at least post the photos of the last few days in Pham Ngu Lao.

    I mean we just met some of the most incredible people. They were all wonderful but I just have to tell you about a couple. There was this old guy called Sonny. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War. When he told me I was like “Bullshit. You aren’t old enough to be have been in the war are you ?” and he goes “Yeah. I’m 66. You didn’t think I was that old ?” and I was like “No. I thought maybe you were closer to my age, not my parents age”. He was a riot. He had us all drinking this crazy super strong rice wine. He was just passing around shots at the Bia Hoi place. You can do that there.

    Like many places in Vietnam, it’s acceptable not only bring your own food into a drinking establishment but you’re even allowed to bring your own booze in, as long as you’re still buying beer as well. So we were all having shots of rice wine. Most of the guys were just gagging in horror and quickly knocking back beer to wash it down, but I’m made of harder stuff and I was like “Yup, no problems” and Sonny was going “Good man. You handle Vietnamese liquor well”.

    Oh and there was Lockey, the Aussie. He was just sitting nearby and we got talking. He was an older retired guy with a Vietnamese girlfriend. She was very friendly too. She went and bought mudcrab and was breaking up the shell for us and we were eating mud crab. It was so good too. Best mud crab I’ve had in years.

    Then were was the “Everybody Yo” guy. I’ve told you about him before. I have photos here of him. He’s the guy with his hair bleached white who’s showing off and unzipped his fly for a photo for lulz. His name is actually Hoa and as soon as he told me I cracked up laughing and said “Oh my god, isn’t that a girl’s name ? The latest girl I dated was called Hoa !” He just smirked at me and said “No, it can be a boy’s name” and I was like “Maybe for YOU”. I’d say it’s a pretty sure bet Hoa is gay. He sure acts it, and he has his hair dyed a different colour every night. But he’s awesome. Such a funny guy and he’s there all the time. I love hanging out with him.

    I’ve become good friends with Tuan, the little guy with the glasses who often works at the Bia Hoi place. But the thing is, he doesn’t really work there. He just helps out for fun. He likes the owner and he likes to help out pouring drinks and collecting glasses and such even though he doesn’t get paid for it. Anyway we’ve been out with him so many times recently. He was at karaoke last night too. He’s a great young guy.

    We met a friend of his called Phuong Tau who was a really nice girl. I asked her “Are you Vietnamese ?” and she goes “Yeah why ?” and I said “Well, you don’t look totally Vietnamese. You look a little bit Japanese almost” and she goes “Hahaha. Yeah. Everyone tells me I don’t look Vietnamese and they always ask me where I come from”. She was a nice girl. We met another great guy called Corey. He was American but he lives in the Philippines. He’s traveled Asia a lot and just today he and Phuong Tau went off to a national park together to go hiking. I’m pretty sure she liked him quite a lot. They made a cute couple too.

    Speaking of couples. I know I bitched about the way everyone looked at Merry and I in District 8 yesterday. Not so in District 1. Last night at the birthday party, it was all mixed race couples. John the big American guy (who I detest and almost had a fight with the other day because he keeps calling the place “Ho Chi Minh City” and I was just like “Why the fuck do you keep calling it that ? Noone else here is calling it that”) was with a Vietnamese girl.

    Another British guy was with a Vietnamese girl. And another American. And I was with Merry. It was a crazy mix of cultures and there were no couples from the same country at all, hahahah. I guess what flies in Q.1 doesn’t fly so easily in Q.8 … you know what I mean ? In the city, anything goes, but in the suburbs it’s possibly more odd, I dunno.

    We spent so much time chatting to vendors the last few days as well. Merry knows as many of them as me. I even got photos of Gau and Nam and Linh and Twe and oh god.. I don’t even know the other ones’ names unfortunately which I feel bad about. But yeah, I have both my weed dealers pictures now. They better not rip me off ! Hahaha. Actually I have photos of me hugging both of them. Could that be a meme ? “Have you hugged YOUR drug dealer today ?” Hahaha.

    We had so much fun with Nam and Linh too. I mean, it’s lucky it’s school holidays. Some of the photos I have of Linh are taken at 4:30 in the morning and I was just like “Jesus Linh. It’s 4:30am and you’re 10 years old walking around the streets still selling roses. Shouldn’t you be home in bed ?!”

    I told you about the weird game the Irish backpackers were playing where they would pass a drink stirrer from person to person by screwing up your top lip to hold it in place under your nose. I couldn’t do it due to having a moustache though. They were making both Linh and Nam do it at separate times over a couple of nights. They somehow convinced Linh to stick dozens of the things in every hole in her face. Actually, knowing Linh I bet she didn’t need any convincing at all. She’s a little nutcase. I bet you’d have to convince her NOT to do that.

    Anyway, it was a great time but I don’t have time to tell you everything right now so I’m just going to link you to the best 200 odd of the photos that Merry and I both took and you can see for yourself how happy everyone is and how much fun we’re all having.

    [pe2-gallery album=”aHR0cDovL3BpY2FzYXdlYi5nb29nbGUuY29tL2RhdGEvZmVlZC9iYXNlL3VzZXIvcGF3emxpb24vYWxidW1pZC81NjQ3MjgwMDIwNjE3Mjg4MjU3P2FsdD1yc3MmYW1wO2hsPWVuX1VTJmtpbmQ9cGhvdG8=”]

  • 02Sep
    Categories: Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Roses

    Ok I buy a few roses. I went a little far the other night. I bought a big bouquet for 70,000 because lately I guess Nam’s boss has been upselling and offering bigger, more beautiful bouquets. It went off to the other bar as usual, but I also bought Merry a number over the the last few days. Not just off Nam but also off Linh, the little girl. Now, I’m not a big fan of Linh. She’s a little bit of a tard. She looks like a monkey and she pulls stupid faces and she’s just not as cute as Nam who is the most adorable little guy, while Linh is a bit annoying and in your face even though she’s pretty and young and vaguely charming.

    Now Corey and Tuan both knew what I was up to, as I’d told them before that I send flowers off to random people through Nam, but they hadn’t witnessed it until the first night. The second night when I bought a single rose off Nam, Corey said “Jesus, you must be keeping this whole suburb going. I bet you’re buying weed off his older sister or something too. I think maybe if you go into their house there’s photos of you there. Uncle Ho Chi Minh as leader up the top, then you underneath as benefactor, and then the rest of the family. They probably offer thanks to you for keeping their family going”. I know he was only joking but it was funny and it amused me to think that it was plausible that I COULD be buying weed of his sister and not even realise.

    Well you know what ? I almost am. Linh is his sister !!!! OMG ! I mean, I’ve seen the two of them together in the same place laughing together but it would have never entered my mind that the two of them could be brother and sister. I wondered briefly if they could be twins, but it seems Nam is 11 and Linh is 10. But I mean, that blew my mind, to realise that I’d been buying roses off two kids in the same family. I mean they have the market tied up. There is one other older kid in that area who sells roses, but you rarely see him and noone buys from him because he’s like 14 whereas Nam and Linh are barely 10 years old.

    But something happened that angered me. The second night Merry and I were staying together in Pham Ngu Lao we were talking with some Irish backpackers who had bought Nam’s big bouquet earlier in the evening and pulled it to bits over the table while they drank. They’re the ones who encouraged Linh to put all those weird stupid drink stirrers all in her nose and ears and who got Nam into playing that weird game where you pass the straw from nose to nose with people. They said “Nam was crying before” and I asked “Why ? What happened ?”

    This girl said “Some asshole hit him with a beer bottle” and I said “WHAT ?” and she said “Some guy was being a cunt and he didn’t want to buy a rose and Nam was pushing him and the guy just picked up his beer bottle and hit Name over the head with it. He ran away crying”.

    I was just dumbfounded how anyone who was not some psychopathic mass-murderer could hit a sweet, 11 year old boy who was selling roses over the head with a beer bottle. I sat there scowling wishing I had been there. I tell you what. If I saw some asshole foreigner hit Nam over the head with a beer bottle it would be like you attacked my own brother. I would have fucking killed him. I would have dragged him out in the street and beat him until he fucking wept. I couldn’t even comprehend how someone could do that to him. Who hits an 11 year old boy over the head with a beer bottle, especially when he’s some cute little Asian boy selling roses in Saigon ? I hope that guy gets hit by a truck on his way home tonight, I really do.

    Actually, Merry just got out of the shower and said she knows who it was. I tell you what, he’d better not meet me or he he’d better not be surprised to find me crack a beer bottle over his head and see how he fucking likes it. I bet I defend myself better than an 11 year old boy selling roses. But forget that asshole. Here’s a few photos of Nam and Linh. The two cutest rose vendors in Vietnam I’m quite sure.

    [pe2-gallery album=”aHR0cDovL3BpY2FzYXdlYi5nb29nbGUuY29tL2RhdGEvZmVlZC9iYXNlL3VzZXIvcGF3emxpb24vYWxidW1pZC81NjQ3MzkwODE5NDE2MDYwMjU3P2FsdD1yc3MmYW1wO2hsPWVuX1VTJmtpbmQ9cGhvdG8=”]

  • 01Sep
    Categories: Love, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Why is everybody staring at me ?

    I haven’t posted much lately, have I ? I bet you’ve been wondering what’s been up. I mean it’s pretty rare for me to go more than a day without posting but I have lately. Why ? Something came up. What ?

    A girl of course. A couple of months ago I read on my friend Ryan’s blog the simple post “There’s a rather beautiful girl sleeping on my bed”. I wondered how long it would be until I could make that post. Well, I’m making it now. There is a pretty girl asleep on my bed.

    Who is she ? Mmmmm I won’t tell you everything. I am happy to talk about my friends and such online but I don’t think it’d be cool to discuss intimate details about how Merry and I met. No, that’s not her real name but it’s the closest English equivalent.

    I’ve known her for about three weeks. She’s a regular at my favourite Bia Hoi place and she often hangs out with various friends of mine. In fact I’ve not only talked about her but I’ve posted photos of her before if you remember me refering to a local Cambodian girl. But other than catching her name and saying “Hi” I had never really talked to her much until the other night when we ended up sitting together and started talking and drinking.

    What happened was she asked me to look something up and I pulled out my eeePc and looked up something and was doing some stuff and she wanted to borrow it so I said “Sure” and passed it to her and she grabbed it and started using it, running Linux without so much as once saying “Where’s the Internet ? How do I get to Yahoo ?” or anything which amused me. I pulled out my Macbook Air (yes I really was sitting in a 25 cent a glass beer place with two laptops in my bag) and started using that. For some reason I needed the eeePc back so I offered her the Macbook. After a second I realised I should tell her how to click the trackpad on a mac because most PC users find it very hard as you can’t click just anywhere on the trackpad, you have to click down in the corner and I have had to explain that to people over and over before they finally get it.

    I look over and to my surprise she’s happily clicking away on my Apple laptop, using the trackpad without any problems, alt-tabbing between apps, opening new tabs in Safari, sending YouTube fullscreen while I’m stumbling around forgetting where the location of the modifier keys are on each laptop and I’m just staring at her with my mouth open going “How can you do that ? You just moved between a PC running Chrome on Linux to a Mac running Safari on OS X without even thinking twice I know people who have computing degrees and years of experiences in IT who can’t do that and you do it like it’s nothing”. She casually says “Computers are computers. Most of the buttons and methods are the same. If you can use one you can use another. I’ve never used this type of system before but it’s not hard”.

    Looking at her take to Linux like it was the most natural thing in the world I think I fell in love with her at that moment. I mean I had been impressed when Jo switched to Debian Linux from Redhat Linux at my suggestion and I was like “Wow a girl who uses linux” but Merry had never even heard of Linux. She just picked it up and went “Oh yeah I can use this” like it was a matter of figuring out how to use a bottle opener. I was just blown away, I tell you. Later she asked if she could use my camera and I said “Sure, you know how to use it ?” and she goes “I think so” and she proceeded to carry it around for the next two days taking more than 1000 photos. Some of them were really good photos too and in the gallery I’ll be posting later you will see many good photos and at least a quarter of the ones in that gallery are taken by Merry and you would never know the difference. Not to say she didn’t take a bunch of out-of-focus pictures of people’s feet as well though but she did take some great ones. Hahaha !

    Well, we drank all night with some friends we already knew and others we’d just met and come about 2am when the Bia Hoi place closed we went back to her hotel and sat in the bar downstairs which is 24 hours. We drank there for a couple of hours and we ran into this great American guy named Andy. Funny thing was, Merry just called him “Andy” out of the blue and he goes “How the FUCK did you know my name ?” and she just grins and goes “I just know”. I later asked her and she said “I don’t know to be honest. Just for some reason I just thought he was Andy and I said it. I have no idea how I knew”.

    She said at one point that we were drinking there because “Oh this is my hotel” and I sorta ran with it and convinced Andy that she actually owned the hotel. I mean it’s not implausbale. Thy owns Secret Bar and she’s 5 years younger than Merry so there’s no reason Merry couldn’t own the hotel we were at that night in theory. Anyway he bought it and we sorta joked with him all night and told a few fibs that he totally believed. He wasn’t the first person that night who said “Oh, I assumed you two were a couple”, but at that time there was nothing that had happened which suggest that was the case even though we were having a good time together.

    Later I was commenting how I may as well stay in Pham Ngu Lao all night since I had a dentist appointing in the morning and she casually said something not even to me about me staying with her like it was matter of fact. I blinked but said nothing, but later as the night wore on and things were getting a bit more friendly I said “Really ? I can stay with you ? Were you serious ?” and she said “Yeah no problem”.

    Well, we found out we had some interest in each other I guess ;”) I stayed with her a second night, and since she couldn’t afford to stay in the hotel any longer I told her that if she needed a place to stay she could come and stay with me. Yes well, I’ve said before that I’ve never really dated a girl in my life. Every girl I’ve been with, I’ve lived with her either before, or we got together or immediately after. I’m just interested in that separate living shit. If I like a girl I want her right by my side at all times, and Merry was just like “Sure, I’d love to come live with you”.

    So I went from “Single” to “In a serious relationship with a girl I’m living with” in the space of a couple of days. Life’s funny, isn’t it ? Right now I’m not in an immediate hurry to go home. Merry isn’t sure what she wants to do. She can’t stay in Vietnam indefinitely without work. I said I wouldn’t be against the idea of coming to Thailand for a while where she works or even visiting Cambodia, though I doubt there is any work for me there because it’s a fairly poor country and I doubt I could do anything there other than teach English for a miserable wage.

    We met up with Joy for a drink so he could talk to me about some stuff and he kept referring to her as “your wife” and me as “your husband” to her. I turned to her after the first time he did it and said “Did you hear that ? Joy just called me your husband” and she just grinned at me and said “Fine with me”. I mean, she really does like me and I think that’s cool and I think she’s really fascinating and I respect her a lot for being so talented at computers, photography and speaking nearly half a dozen languages fluently.

    I’ve never been interested in dark skinned girls. I even openly said to a black girl I know online recently “I could never have any interest in a black girl. I’m just not attracted to them”. Now Cambodians aren’t black, but they are very dark brown and pretty much as dark as a lot of Americans that you would refer to as “black” so it really was odd as I lay there that first night staring into her eyes thinking “My god she really is quite beautiful”.

    I wasn’t sure until I showed a few friends on IRC her picture and mostly they are people from whom I expected outright ridicule or at least a smartarsed comment or at best a “Meh not really my type” but every single person commented very positively and said they thought she was really beautiful and had an amazing, heart-warming smile and that was people from Australia, USA, Netherlands and UK. I was like “Wow, you really think so ?”

    Hmm. Maybe I’m a lucky guy. I just liked her from her personality at first, but later I would look at her face and her pretty smile and white teeth and think “You are a really nice girl. Why the hell do you like me so much again ?” Apparently I’m the nicest, most open minded and polite but funny guy she’s met. Alright. I can live with that.

    I must admit though there were a few moments when it’s been weird. When we left Pham Ngu Lao and went back to my place on the third day, we got some looks. At first I wasn’t sure because people look at me all the time in Q.8 but they normally look and say hello. This time they just stared. Merry didn’t notice. But I took her to Cau Xanh for dinner because we were hungry and I wanted to introduce her to the place because I like it so much and because they are so nice to me and I always go there alone so I wanted to prove that I really did have friends and didn’t eat dinner alone every night.

    The waitress came up and brought us Saigon beer without even being asked and was about to pour our glasses from two different bottles and Merry stopped her and said (in Vietnamese) “No, only one bottle. We’ll share” and took it out her her hand and poured it. The girl’s face just turned and she had this look of disgust on her face and practically sneered at her.

    When the waitress walked off I said “Did you notice that ?” and mentioned what had happened and she just shrugged and said nothing. I said “How do Vietnamese feel about Cambodians” and she said “I don’t really know from much experience because I haven’t been here long and I’ve never been into any regional areas like this but yeah I once talked to a Vietnamese person about it and they said ‘Yeah. I do hate Cambodian people’ so I guess maybe they do”.

    Noone came to serve us in a hurry after that. The girl only came back to get another beer and didn’t bother topping up our glasses because obviously Merry was going to do it, and every time she turned up she gave Merry this look of unbridled antipathy. But Merry not only didn’t care, she didn’t even notice. I guess she didn’t even look at her, but even later, walking through the markets hand in hand, she didn’t seem aware of how many people were staring at us even though I was.

    People look at me all the time in Q.8 but with a smile or look of amusement on their faces. I mean in Pham Ngu Lao it’s so normal to see a western guy, often decades older walking along with a Vietnamese girl. We saw it so may times over the last two days. One old guy who had to be 70 was walking along arm in arm with a girl in her mid 20’s and we all chuckled. Late on the second night this fat American guy in his 60’s walks down the street with two pretty Vietnamese girls in their early 20’s, one on each arm. Merry grins and says “Look David, that’s you in 25 years” and I just turned and glared at her and said “How could you say that ?” and she laughed and looked embarrassed and said “I’m sorry I was only joking”. Heheh, not to say it’s not possible. Just I’d hope that by that age I was actually settled with a proper girlfriend and not going out with girls in their 20’s !

    But none of these people in Q.8 looked amused. To be fair though, they weren’t disgusted like the waitress at Cau Xanh seemed to be, they were interested and they all had their eyes on us until I looked back at them and they would quickly look away without the usual “Helllloooo !”. Children didn’t mind, and they were still calling out hello as usual and we were both greeting them, but no adults went out of their way to say hello.

    I dropped into the laundry place to drop off some clothes and also ask the girl if she’d fix my kimono and because Merry wasn’t sure if I could manage that conversation with someone who didn’t speak English, so she tagged alone and came to the door with me. When I asked the girl to fix the hole in my kimono Merry chimed in with something I didn’t understand. The young girl seemed quite happy to see us and was pleasant and smiled so I felt better about that.

    Maybe on another day it will be different and I’m sure after they’ve seen us a couple of times it will be fine. They are probably just like “Wow, you’ve been here for a few months and you come home with a Cambodian girl of all people ?” On the other hand there’s another odd side effect. I was specifically told by Cam after I rented my apartment that I could not have a girl live there with me due to some weird sort of security issue or something but when I talked to Cory about it today he said “You know, they may not care if she’s Cambodian. You’re foreign, she’s foreign. Different rules, you know ? They have no idea who she is or how long you’ve known her. They will probably just let it go because she’s not Vietnamese”.

    I totally hadn’t thought about it like that. Suddenly a few other things made sense that had happened over the course of the last few days when I thought about that comment he made. We’re both foreigners, but I’m Australian and she’s Cabodian, therefore people have a totally different feeling about us than if we were Australian and British or Australian and Vietnamese. I just don’t think about this stuff. I’m aware of the social significance of dating a girl of a foreign origin but I just don’t think about it. I knew when I got together with Merry that she was different from any girl I’ve dated before but I didn’t meet her and have these thoughts about what our relationship would mean in my mind when she was taking me home or vice versa.

    It’s just funny, you know. I hope it’s not a big issue for long. I’m sure people in my neighbourhood will get over it and treat us normally once they are familiar with us, but it’s sort of odd right now. I don’t even think about it. She’s woken up and she’s joking around with me and making fun of me for stuff and I’m teasing her and her nationality is the furthest thing from my mind I assure you.

    It’s amusing. We just had our first minor dispute, other than her getting jealous the other night when I kept talking about other girls I’d met here. I was listening to Otsuka Ai on my laptop and she started listening to The Eagles on hers and after a while I said “Merry, I was playing music first. I think it’s a bit rude of you to start playing music on that laptop when I’m already playing music” and she goes “But you’re listening to Japanese music and I like English music” and I said “I let you listen to The Eagles this afternoon. It’s my turn now. I get to listen to Otsuka Ai and you get to like it and later you can listen to what you want, but you can listen to different music from me on another laptop 2 and a half feet away from me, that’s just annoying”.

    She accepted what I was saying but it’s amusing to note that she doesn’t like Japanese music at all. If she can’t understand the lyrics, she won’t enjoy it. Fortunately we settled on some Vietnamese music that I’m very fond of (Wanbi Tu Anh of course) and we both enjoyed that because she could undestand the lyrics and I understood the feelings and the video. But we are going to have some issues if she wants to listen to American shit all day and not appreciate any Japanese music. I hate american pop music but I will put up with that if she will give some Japanese and Korean music a go. I think maybe she’s not so bothered by Kpop, but she seems to have little interest in Jpop at all. Is it because Japan isn’t part of South East Asia ? Hahaha, it’s funny to excude another Asian style of music when they’re from so close to you. Anyway, I’ll convert her. Give me some time. She’ll be naming every Morning Musume member by photo or by voice within six months or I’m not a true Asian music fan ! :”)

    So what’s Merry look like ? Well, allow me to show you a few photos of her including one of the two of us looking very happy and cute together.

  • 28Aug
    Categories: Parties, Travel, Vietnam Comments Off on Pool party !

    This post would no doubt be longer if I’d related it last night before going to sleep but I was buggered and when I got home I just crashed.

    Joy wanted me to make some phone calls for him to potential sponsors and I needed to pickup my camera charger finally so I walked into the city. I got caught in the rain as usual because it always rains in the afternoons lately and I mean, it seriously rains. After walking in the rain for a bit, I ducked into KFC for shelter and grabbed something to eat while I waited for it to ease off, which it did thankfully and I continued on. I went to my favourite camera store in Pasteur and as soon as he saw me the guy there said “Hey, how are you doing sir ? I have your new charger right here” and reached behind the cabinet and produce a nice new Nikon battery charger and said “So sorry about the problem with the last one. If you have any more problems with this one, bring it straight back and we’ll get you another. Very sorry for the inconvenience”.

    I’ve heard that about Vietnamese stores before from people. If something you’ve brought breaks, they replace it immediately, no questions asked. One person even said their maid dropped their cable tv box and they took it back to Nguyen Kim and they just gave them a new model without even asking what had happened to it. So that’s pretty cool. In Australia they would have been like “You bought this more than two weeks ago. You don’t get a replacement. We’ll send this one off for repair and you might get it back in a month or two”. So that’s pretty cool and a nice thing about Vietnam.

    I met up with Joy and we headed back to Pham Ngu Lao, stopping off for lunch on the way. He kept telling me about this girl he knew. He said she was looking for a western husband and that he’d told her about me and said I was a good, kind person and whatever but that he wanted to check her out first and make sure she was genuine and that she’d actually stay with me because he said he knew another guy who bought a girl a house which obviously had to be in her name because he wasn’t a resident and she’d just left him and kept the house. But he said to me “You want to marry a Vietnamese girl right ?” and I said “Well, maybe. But not immediately and not just any girl” and he said “Oh no. This girl is very, very beautiful. I guarantee, you will see her and you will not want to leave. She is a very good girl. Very beautiful, polite, kind. You will like her a lot”.

    I tried to explain that I just don’t really like the idea of being setup. It would be so weird to meet a girl and know that she’s not just getting to know you, she’s assessing you and deciding if you’re good husband material. You know what I mean ? If she liked me and she wanted to keep seeing me I would be thinking “Is that because you like me as a person or because you just happen to think I’m good enough to be your husband ?” It would be so weird. I really don’t think I could do it.

    We went back to Pham Ngu Lao and sat around and I had a few beers then I called a couple of people Joy wanted to talk to. We tried to call a guy in Australia who Joy assures me is a really nice guy and has a very good wage because he works for the government but I couldn’t get hold of him. Joy said “He is very rich. He earns 48,000 a year” and I laughed and said “Joy, that’s not much in Australia. The average wage in Australia is 66,000. That guy earns very little” and he was like “Wow, so much money” and I said “No. Australia is expensive” and he said “I know a woman who has a big house on the beach in Sydney. How much would that cost ?” and I said “Probably 3 million dollars” and he just stared incomprehensibly at me and I could see his mind boggling over how much money that was just for a house. Oh well, he’ll get the picture eventually.

    He wanted me to ring a woman in the USA who’d sponsored him 10 years ago, presumably when he was a missionary in Singapore but the guy at the phone store told him the time difference wrong and said it was almost 7am there. I said “No Joy, it’s not even 5am in Florida yet” but he assured me she wakes up very early, so I agreed to ring her at 6am, her time. I did, and of course woke her up but she wasn’t mad. She just explained that her husband had just died very suddenly and she was retired and had financial troubles of her own and her whole life had been turned upside down so she really wasn’t in a position to be worrying about Joy. I talked to her for a bit and thanked her for her time and apologised for waking her up. She seemed a nice lady, but I can certainly understand why now wasn’t the sort of time for her to be worrying about sponsoring Joy.

    I’d been wearing these sunglasses I’d bought because the light was hurting my eyes and Joy kept on commenting that they made me look like some rich businessman and said “How can you afford these ? These are expensive Ray Bans” and I laughed and said “No, these are cheap imitations. Less than $5. But they look ok” and he goes “Yeah. I think you look like a movie star. You are a very handsome man. I think you must have much success with girls”. Normally, this would piss me off because people in Vietnam say that sort of shit to you all the time and I just don’t fucking believe them because they’re just kissing your ass, but I know Joy’s not that sort of person. Apparently he really does think I’m some good looking guy with movie-star qualities. I find that hard to comprehend, but I admit, I’m not totally unhappy with my new look with my short hair. Sure, I miss my long hair, but I admit the short hair makes me look friendlier and younger and more approachable, so yeah, I guess I’m not too bad, but I find saying I look like a movie star pushing it a bit. It’s not like girls are throwing themselves at me, though frankly I’ve been taking it pretty easy in that respect lately.

    Kelly, the New Zealander guy was there at the Bia Hoi place and he said that he’d gotten into Neil’s apartment complex and that he was going to start teaching immediately. He was very happy with the setup there and couldn’t stop thanking me for helping him find it so I was glad I was able to do that. The job really didn’t suit me, so I’m glad it wasn’t a complete waste of time meeting Neil. Turns out that Kelly is a rabid Mac user as well, which I really wouldn’t have picked, but I guess just because you’re a spiky haired Kiwi that’s covered in tattoos doesn’t mean you don’t have taste in computers, and I chatted to him at length about how much better Macs were and he just said “Oh but OS X is the real reason. It’s just so much less bullshit. Windows is constantly popping up stupid messages and errors and shit and you just want to scream ‘Stop fucking around just what I asked you already !'” and I laughed and agreed with him. It’s always nice to meet someone who really appreciates why Macs are so much better, especially when it’s a lay person who’s not into computers but has tried a Mac and immediately gone “Oh this is SO much better. I’m never going back to that Windows shit”.

    A terrible thing happened though. My eyes had been sore all day. Partly because of this cold I’ve got I guess, sp I decided I had to take one of my contacts out and wash it because it felt dry and itchy. I’m always reluctant to do this in public in case I lose it. As I’m pulling it out, a guy walks past and said “Interesting place to be doing that. Hope that works out”. On his way back from the toilet I sheepishly admitted to him “I lost it. I was pouring water into my hand and it floated into the water bottle and when I tried to get it out, it went on the ground and now I’ve lost it”. He said “Awww that sucks man” and another guy nearby agreed and said “Yeah I’d rather have no contacts than one. If I try and wear one it drives me crazy” and I said “Yeah but what prescription are you ?” and he said “-5″ and I said “Yeah I’m -7. Without my contacts I can’t even cross the road. Especially not a Vietnamese road”.

    There was an Aussie girl there who was a teacher. Her name was Nairi and I liked her because she spoke quite fluent Vietnamese and was flattering the old lady who ran the Bia Hoi place we were at by telling her smart she was. She said “There’s an optics place just down the road that sells glasses. I bet you could buy new contacts there” and I said “Yeah maybe, but I doubt they’d have my presciption just laying around” and she said “Near enough would be better than nothing, right ?” and I said “Yeah. Good point. I’ll go ask”.

    I walked into the place and said “You have contact lenses ?” and the old guy said “Sure, which type. Daily, monthly, what ?” and I said “Don’t really care. Whatever’s cheapest. I just lost mine and I need a replacement immediately. You have them in stock ?” He asked what prescription I was and I told him and he said “No problems. They’re not at the store but we’ll have it for you in ten minutes”. “Cool. How much ?” I asked, fearing the worst because I really had very little money on me. “130,000 dong” he said. My mind melted on the spot, trying to comprehend that a set of Accuvue contact lenses that would have cost me $40 in Australia could be bought here for $5.90. I said “Yes please” and went back to the Bia Hoi place to wait for 10 minutes. I came back and the young girl ran in off the street carrying a bag with two fresh lenses and a lens case I took my old one out and put the two new ones in. Oh it was utter joy. Beautiful clean lenses and perfect sight again. for less than six dollars ! I was so relieved, because I doubted that Viet would be keen on taking me all the way back to District 8 to pickup a spare lens before the party, so this was just a godsend.

    I invited Nairi along to the party and she said she’d be keen to come but that it would have to be after 10pm and that she’d call me to find out if it was still going by then. Viet turned up and I was busy chatting to Nairi and he struck up a conversation with some other Aussie guy sitting there. Aussies just seem to gravitate towards this place due to the cheap beer, but Kelly assures me that there’s another Bia Hoi place down the road that’s even CHEAPER, which is hard to comprehend, but I love the old lady here even though she’s incredibly bossy so I don’t really want to find somewhere new. I know them and they know me, so it feels homely when I go there and even though she’s a bossy, almost deaf old lady, whenever I turn up she’ll smile a tiny bit at me in recognition which makes you feel good, so I feel happy going there.

    Anyway I said to Viet “Ready to go ?” and he said “Yep. Jump on” and I did and we headed off to District 3. It was a much further part of District 3 than where I’d lived before, so I wasn’t familiar with the area. When we got to the area we found a tiny supermarket and went in. Viet picked up some squid and some things but then looked at me and said “You’re the BBQ master, being Australian. What do we bring ?” and I said “Well, fresh meat would be good as well. They have some nice pork over there, we should get some of that”. So we got the squid and some pork and a bunch of chips and peanuts and of course about 18 beers before heading off.

    We knew what street number Eddie’s place was, but the thing is, Vietnamese blocks tend to go deep into the back alleys, so apart from the major number, you’ve got to wander through these alleys looking for the minor number as well because the little alleys aren’t named because there’s so many of them and it would be impossible to find anything if every little alley had a name, so they just number you based on the main road and then what building number you are, like for example 284/53. We rode into the alley and stopped to ask for directions to his building and someone told us and we found it fairly easily. I was feeling good about the fact that when Viet had bought and ordered the food, I understood pretty much every word he’d said in Vietnamese and when I suggested he buy chips I had said “khoai tây” instead of “potato chips” and when we asked for directions of course I understood the street number they were talking about as well. I am obviously far from fluent, but it’s good to know that I know enough words to follow the conversation… sometimes.

    We got to Eddie’s place and we didn’t have to check the number. There was a mass of people standing outside this apartment building on the street and someone had a BBQ and was cooking food. Viet went to park his bike and I walked in and immediately recognised a couple of people, but others just greeted me anyway. Eddie saw me and came over and said “Hey, David. Glad you could made it !” and we shook hands, grinning. Lil saw me too and came over and said “Nice to see you” and at that moment, Viet came back and I introduced them to each other. I sorta had this silly idea that they were going to hit it off, but while they chatted for a while I don’t think either of them were interested in the other. I don’t think Viet’s even looking for a girl. At one point I heard him saying to someone else that he enjoys the “single life”.

    I asked Eddie “Why isn’t everyone on the roof around the pool ?” and he sorta grinned sheepishly and said “The roof isn’t very big and the pool’s probably not what you’re expecting” and he showed me a picture on his phone. It was a kid’s wading pool. I laughed and said “Oh. That’s not what I had pictured when you said ‘pool party'” and he said “Yeah well, it’s not so much a pool party as a party with a pool. A kid’s pool”. I laughed again and said “Oh well, everyone looks like they’re having fun anyway and your bbq is going well” and he said “Yeah for sure” and handed me a plate with some prawns and scallops on it and I nibbled a nicely bbq’d scallop.

    I met this Vietnamese-Australian guy. I mean he was Vietnamese, but he had a heavy Aussie accent. He was a bit of a nutter too. He introduced himself as “Duke” and I said “Duke ?” and he said “Well, it’s D-u-c. But you know what people will call me if I tell them that in Australia” and I said “Duck ?” and he just nodded and said “Yeah”. I made some joke at one point to someone else about considering myself sort of Vietnamese and Duc turned to me and said “You will never be Vietnamese. Well. Maybe. Come back to me in five years time and talk to me in flawless Vietnamese and we’ll decide then if you’re Vietnamese”. He’d been making sorta arsehole-ish comments like this all night but I knew he was only joking and I said “Yeah well you certainly seem more Aussie than Vietnamese with that rude attitude of yours” and he goes “Yeah man. I’m a total cunt. I have the Aussie thing down perfectly” and I just said “You got that right”. I resolved at that point that I was going to call him “Duck” all night and tease him by quacking at him, but I think he must have left early because I didn’t see him again. He was a cool guy, but I think maybe he pushed the “I’m an Aussie bastard” thing a bit far. Not everyone was likely to be as easy-going as me about that sort of attitude as I was and he sometime pushed the border between funny and rude.

    I met lots of great people, but after the first few I had to explain to each one “I’m sorry but I’ve used up my quota of names that I can remember in one day, so don’t be offended if I forget yours”. I was amazed how many Vietnamese people were there. I assumed it was going to be a western party with maybe one or two Vietnamese but I think there may well have been more Vietnamese than westerners which was great to see and everyone was getting along so well. There were people from a few other countries there and I met this nice girl named Hiroko from Japan and of course without trying to show off, I politely greeted her and introduced myself and said that it was nice to meet her in Japanese. It was great seeing her face light up when I did it and she seemed so happy that I’d gone to that effort and of course asked me how I came to know Japanese and I rolled up my sleeve and showed her my tattoo like I’ve done a million times before and she read it and said “Suki ?” and I said “watashi musume” and she was delighted to learn that my daughter had a Japanese name.

    I didn’t feel like I was showing off by doing this, because everyone had been doing it all night. One guy commented that he was Chinese and a couple of people immediately said “Nihao” and other people were learning language from each other. Someone said that some of the meat was marinaded and this Vietnamese guy was like “What’s that word ?” and we all said it slowly for him and he was like “Ma-ry-nay-ted. Cool. Thank you. I want to remember that word” so it was cool that everyone was really into each other’s culture and language and we all wanted to learn from each other. Hiroko asked why I was into Japanese culture and I shrugged and said “I don’t know. I just tarted off watching anime and then I fell totally in love with Japanese music. Otsuka Ai is probably one of my favourite artists in the world” and she was like “Oh my god ? You like Otsuka Ai ? Yeah, she is amazing. Very popular singer” and I said “Yeah, I always said that when I finally get to Japan, seeing her perform is the thing I want to do the most. I like Morning Musume too though. You like them ?”

    Hiroko said “Yeah I do, but they’re not so popular anymore” and I said “I know. Everyone’s into AKB48 now. I don’t like them. They’re just trying so hard to be Morning Musume and they seem to think if they cram three times as many members into the group that it’ll make them more popular” and Hiroko said “I agree. AKB48 suck. They’re so generic and manufactured” and I said “Yeah, and they don’t have Tsunku behind them to teach them. They’re not in the same class as Momusu, so it’s such a shame that they’re popular now and Morning Musume isn’t” and she said “Heh yeah, I remember listening to Morning Musume back in high school, they’re that old” and I chuckled and said “Yeah, I’ve been into them for years”. I’m so glad I was able to talk about Morning Musume without anyone thinking I was weird.

    The BBQ’ing duties were passed around all night, but as other people drank I seemed to get landed with it more and more often. Everyone said that’s because I was an Aussie and therefore born to BBQ, which I agreed with. One of the guys had brought heaps of marinated chicken feet and after I cooked them up I said “Wow. I haven’t eaten chicken feet before. This will be interesting” and he said “Not only that, but now you’ve become a master chicken feet BBQ expert !” and I laughed and said “I guess so”. There was a great variety of food. We had heaps of squid and there was tuna heads (yeah I know, ick) and big slices of salmon and pork and someone had some delicious home made shish-kebabs that were really good, and there was interesting little pieces of crumbed fish with garlic and butter wrapped around little vegetables and there was lots of chicken drumsticks but for some reason none of the Vietnamese people knew the word “drumstick” and we were all explaining that westerners call them “drumsticks” rather than just “legs”.

    So I mean the food was great and I had lots of people helping me and I would just plate it up and people would walk around offering it to guests. When I took a break from BBQ’ing and let someone else take over I went and got the chips and peanuts that we’d brought and wandered around offering them to people. Everyone was like “Wow, you’re such a great host” and I was like “No kidding, and it’s not even my party”, but you know, that’s what I love to do. When I go to a bbq, all I’m concerned about is making sure everyone is happy and well fed and fetching them drinks and offering them food.

    There was this pretty Vietnamese girl who’s name I forget who was chatting to both Viet and I. She produced an envelope for a club nearby and Viet said “She wants to invite us to go to this club tonight” and I said “Nah not for me thanks. I can’t afford it and I’m sorta tired. I don’t wanna be out all night”. She was standing close to Viet and chatting to him lots and I leaned over and whispered “I think she likes you” and he he muttered back to me something like “I think she likes everyone actually”. I mean, I shouldn’t say this, but she was just seeming a little too friendly toward us. I can’t put my finger on why, because everyone was friendly, it’s just I felt a little intimidated by her, but then, I often am by pretty girls.

    She wasn’t my type though. I did meet another Vietnamese girl who was probably even more friendly but just came off differently for some reason. Her name was Phuc and she worked in a hotel. She was just so charming and bubbly. She reminded me a bit of Thy from Secret Bar because she’d permed and lightened her hair. I mean sure, she was very beautiful, but it was mainly her personality that interested me. She just exuded charisma and she seemed so warm and open. I mean, I think she’s way out of my league because she was tall and I think she probably had a great body but I don’t really remember that well because I swear I just don’t focus on things like that. I just thought she had a very pretty face and a delightful personality. I chatted to her whenever I got the chance, but there were other people monopolising her time as well, so I didn’t get to talk to her as much as I would have liked.

    I met a great German guy called Maurice. He was a freelance graphic designer and I said “Oh, I’m a freelance web developer. I do layout and programming but I’m terrible at actually drawing artwork” and he said “Well I’m the opposite. I draw great but I can’t code” and I said “Wow, we should really work together. I love working with other people on stuff and I routinely work with people on the other side of the world” and he said “Oh I agree. It’s so easy to collaborate and work together with people even without ever seeing them in person. You should get my number and we can do some work together some time”. “Absolutely” I said and pulled out my phone and got his number and promised to text him my email address later. He was a great young designer who sounded like he had talent and he was friendly and enthusiastic about the idea of working with me on something. We talked about how awesome freelancing was and how it gave you the liberty of just running off traveling and not worrying about work commitments like people who work in offices have to. I do hope we have an opportunity to do something together.

    Who else did I meet ? Oh god, lots of people, though I couldn’t really remember their names and to be honest I don’t even really remember them all well enough to do justice to describing them, but I know if I saw them again it would all come flooding back and I’d recognise them immediately. The Irish girl was there again and it seems she lives with Eddie and while I got her name again, I immediately forgot it. I know it started with D, so I’m going to call her Drew. Damn my shitty memory for names. It was interesting though because Maurixky was there too and I was like “Oh this’ll be interesting. Those two don’t like each other” but I guess they kept out of each other’s way because there were no dramas.

    Well, there was one big drama, but not between the guests. Everyone had parked their motorbikes in a local parking lot, and later in the evening someone wanted to retrieve their bike but they’d lost their parking receipt. Eddie just went over and got the bike for them and took it out. Weeeelllll, that wasn’t such a wise move. Some locals thought he was stealing it and they caled the police. A SHITLOAD of police turned up. When they all arrived and spilled out of their cars with like half a dozen of the extra-serious dark green uniformed guys and about the same of the blue shirted guys I thought “Ohhhh this is going to be interesting”. Eddie bolted inside when he heard them coming. I think he knew that it was likely to get reaaaally awkward and they may well want to take him to the station.

    I just continued bbq’ing like nothing was going on and watched. The green-uniformed guys came up tried to talk to some people, but the police here never speak English. A couple of Vietnamese guys talked to them though and explained that Eddie hadn’t stolen the bike and that it belonged to someone from the party and they insisted that was ok, they just wanted to talk to him and see some ownership papers or something to prove it wasn’t stolen. Of course the person with the bike had already gone home so that wasn’t possible.

    The police had and English speaking guy turn up to assist them. He wasn’t uniformed but he obviously worked with them and he explained they just wanted to talk to Eddie and have him explain it. Drew tried to defuse the situation by saying that Eddie didn’t live there and only she lived there and that Eddie had just come back and gotten his shoes and then left. I sorta didn’t think that was the best approach, because it was just going to make Eddie look guilty, but she kept on that tack, insisting Eddie wasn’t there. They said they weren’t leaving until they spoke to him. It went on for about 20 minutes and she tried calling Eddie on my phone and I texted him and said “Man, I think you should just come down and talk to them” but he didn’t respond.

    It was a little bit of a lame approach for him to just hide inside like that and leave us all outside to fend off the police, but he didn’t know how they were going to act, so I understand his reluctance to come out and speak to them because it wasn’t really his fault. To be honest though they were incredibly reasonable. Had this been Australia, they would have barged straight in without an invitation, demanded everyone’s ID, probably searched us all, and then torn the house apart looking for the person they were after. I mean, back home, these guys would have had a field day bossing us around and questioning us and intimidating us, and one of the Vietnamese guys I was talking to kept saying “Yeah, they are being really cool about it”, and they were. But they also didn’t look like they were in a hurry to leave.

    The English speaker with them said they wanted to come inside and look around and see if maybe Eddie was inside, but he didn’t insist. He just said they wanted to. I turned to my friend and said “Why haven’t they just done it ? In Australia they wouldn’t ask to come inside, they would just force their way in. They’d break down the door if they had to” and he said “I think they just don’t want to cause a fuss. It’s difficult for them because he’s a westerner and they don’t want to anger anyone so they’re just playing it cool. They probably won’t come inside if we don’t invite them”

    I suggested that maybe everyone except the people cooking should go inside because maybe if we weren’t all on the footpath outside they might get bored and give up. Out of sight, out of mind, you know ? It sort of worked too, because Drew got everyone inside and then half-shuttered the doors and the green shirted police all left and just the blue-uniformed ones remained. Eddie’s landlord turned up, and a Vietnamese guy said to Drew “That’s your landlord, you should talk to her”. She went over and talked to the woman and apparently she was very friendly too and not bothered. She was just curious why we were all there and so many people had been invited. Not that it was massive. There was maybe 40 people there at most. I think she just wondered how a westerner happened to know so many Vietnamese people.

    One of the Vietnamese guys who had ALSO spent time in Australia said “You know that kid in Australia who had that big party ?” and I laughed and said “Corey !” and he goes “Yeah, Corey Worthington” and I said “How could we forget ? He was so famous for a split second in history. He got a Wikipedia article and everything, but they took it down again because they said he wasn’t important enough historically”. But frankly, the fact that he’s well known on the other side of the world sorta indicates he WAS important historically and we joked about his stupid sunglasses and the way he’d joked around on TV when he was interviewed and the other guy said “Yeah, he got his own manager and he started hosting parties and stuff. He really hit the big time just by throwing a ridiculously huge party one night”.

    Viet said he had to head off. He clearly wanted to stay, but it was already 10:30 and he had to teach a class in the morning and he said his boss was a real hard-ass and would be really angry if he was tired or functioning at anything less than 100% and while I knew I could have twisted his arm to stay because he was really enjoying himself, I knew it wouldn’t be responsible of me to do so, so I bid him goodnight and we shook hands and I said “Depending on what day I’m leaving, I’d really like to invite you down to District 8 to go out for dinner. I’m always eating out there by myself and I’d like to prove to all the staff that I actually have friends, especially Vietnamese ones” and he said “Yeah sure, I’d like that. I don’t know that area so I’d like to check it out. I think it’s probably a lot much more casual and local in that area and everything is cheaper” and I said “For sure. I love it, so I’d like to bring some people down that way to go out” and he said “Ok, well I look forward to it” and he headed off to get his bike, since presumably HE hadn’t lost his parking receipt !

    Eddie still didn’t come down, which I understand. He didn’t know the police were being so reasonable. He was probably afraid that the moment he showed his face they were going to drag him off and chuck him in jail until they were ready to question him. It wasn’t really his fault. It was really the fault of the guy whose bike it was for causing all this fuss over a lost parking receipt. Thankfully though, the police did finally give up and go home, as did all the rubber-necking onlookers who’d come out to see what was going to happen. It was quite amazing the way just as the police turned up, so did dozens of Vietnamese locals who just stood around and milled among the police wondering “What’s happening ? Is someone going to be led away in handcuffs ?” I must say though, while the police were persistent, they were nothing if not polite and calm. There was no yelling or bossing people around. They didn’t even raise their voices once. They just calmly said they’d like to speak to Eddie if possible so that he could explain what happened and maybe contact the owner of the bike so that he could provide proof of ownership.

    Frankly, I think it’s great that they were so on top of a potential motorbike theft. In Australia, police don’t give a fuck about stuff like that. They would have been like “Yawwwn. Call it in tomorrow and if we have time we might send a guy out to look into it” and that would have been the end of it. In Australia, the police don’t care about helping people find stolen vehicles or property. They only care about bossing people around and arresting drunks and harassing people for no reason and flexing their muscles. It was really eye opening to see this and think “Wow, Vietnamese police seem so reasonable” but I know they were obviously being extra reasonable because we were all foreigners other than the couple of Vietnamese people remaining, because there are times when they’ve been known to be very aggressive and on some occasions they’ve beaten people up, but there was no way in hell they were going to do this in front of a whole bunch of foreigners because it would have made the news around the world, so they handled things very delicately and I think we all really appreciated that.

    But they left thankfully and we all relaxed and joked and finished off the last of the booze. Things had quietened down by that time and the charcoal had run out and we’d cooked pretty much all of the food. It’d been a great bbq. At the start I remember so many people saying “God I’m so hungry” and by the end of the night everyone was saying “Oh I’m so full. That food was all so good”. Being a good host as I was I went around and cleaned up so that we didn’t have rubbish laying around outside the place so that Eddie’s landlord didn’t think he was a difficult tenant. I found some plastic bags and picked up all the rubbish outside and Lil, who was still there joined in and we cleaned the place up really well and left everything neatly bagged up inside. I joked to her “Really seems like my party doesn’t it ? I’ve been cooking all night, serving people food and now I’m cleaning up the place”.

    It was great fun playing host. I mean, I love doing that. Cooking and serving people snacks and offering them food. Noone was in a hurry to come and eat the salmon, but it looked delicious and one of the Vietnamese-Aussie guys said “We need more bread for all this food. You want me to go get some ?” and I said “Sure, if you want to”, so he disappeared and came back with a bag of bread rolls and I cut up the big salmon steaks and sliced the bread-rolls in half and I carried them around to everyone saying “Salmon rolls ? Tasty salmon rolls !” and a few people said “Sure, I’ll try that” and I remember afterwards them coming up and saying “Those salmon rolls you made were delicious. So well cooked and tender” and I chuckled and said “Thank you, but I’m not even sure who supplied the salmon. There was just heaps of there so I cooked it all up” and they were like “Well it was delicious. You’re a great BBQ chef” and I grinned happily.

    Maurixky and Lil were leaving and Maurixky said “Come on David, come out with us. We’re going to a bar. I haven’t seen you in ages. You HAVE to come with us”. She was very convincing. I must say, for someone who doesn’t drink, Lil is a real party animal and it seems she’s out late every single night partying with people. I can’t keep up with her, that’s for sure. Maurixky was being so nice and friendly and since I left with them and was walking in the same direction I sighed and said “Well, I can’t afford to drink, but I suppose I could come check it out. Where is it ?” “District 10″ she said and waved vaguely. I was like “Oh, that’s even further for my home I think. But oh well, I’m so far from home now that what difference is a few extra kilometers going to make ? I’ll come” and the three of us piled into a taxi and headed off.

    As it happened, it wasn’t District 10 at all. It was District 1, just near the Caravelle Hotel, only a couple of blocks from Apocalypse Now and Bar Number 5 in the opposite direction to where she had indicated, which was a big relief because it actually brought me within reasonable walking distance of my home. Well, not reasonable to most people, but I happen to enjoy walking home at night and while I could have caught a xe om, I knew I wasn’t going to. We turned up at this place and there were some guys from the party standing outside. They said the place was going to close soon and they were all debating where to go. This guy was like “Let’s go to Apocalypse” and I was like “Oh seriously ? Come on, that place is so shit. Unless you enjoy standing in darkness rubbing shoulders with prostitutes and listening to deafeningly loud top 40 garbage”. The look he gave me told me he sorta DID like that sort of thing, but he said “You know somewhere better ?” and I asked “What time is it ?” and he said “Midnight”.

    I said “Secret Bar is open for another two hours” and he said “What’s that ? Never heard of it” and I said “I dunno, maybe it’s not your thing. It’s quiet. Probably wouldn’t be a dozen people in there tonight drinking. It’s a quiet little bar”. He sorta looked disinterested so I didn’t push the matter, and frankly, I wasn’t ready to go in and see Hoa there yet. I do want to drop in and say goodbye before I leave, but I want to be mentally ready for it, and I wasn’t tonight. I was tired and a little sick and for some reason I was feeling a little depressed even though I’d had a great night. I decided to part ways with them all and head home. I’m an old man now, you know. I may be about the same age as Lil, but I don’t have her energy. Sometimes I do and I will drink until dawn, but I’ve done that to death and I’m a bit sick of it, so I just bid them all a good night and took off walking.

    I walked along, smiling and shaking my hand at the many offers of motorbikes, massages, marijuana, blow jobs, hand jobs, and whatever other bizarre things you get offered late at night on the streets of Saigon. One guy was really insistent and was following me up the street going “No, I can get you very, very pretty girl. Give you good massage. Good blow job” and I shook my hand and very firmly said “No. I don’t want that sorry” but he made a wanking motion with his hand and I burst out laughing and said “No, I don’t want that either thanks” and just kept walking and he eventually gave up.

    I was feeling really depressed and quite annoyed at this point and I couldn’t for the life of me work out why. I’d had a great time tonight and met some lovely people. I think I was pretty annoyed with myself for not getting Phuc’s number because she was really nice and I would have liked to hang out with her again because we seemed to get along well. When she left I had promised to catch up and asked her if I could contact her through Eddie and she said she didn’t really know him well but that she was sure he could track her down. I really should have asked for her number but I’m just a bit shy. I’ve never met a girl and then asked for her number the same night before and I would have been a bit embarrassed but looking back I wish I’d done it. Not because I thought that she would go out with me because she left with a guy who I think was probably her boyfriend but because she was nice and I would have at least invited her to meet up for drinks some time. But sadly my stupid shy nature didn’t allow me to do it, even though she seemed like she would have been happy to stay in contact. Oh well.

    Speaking of girls though, I hadn’t really intended to, but I somehow ended up in Hoa’s street, which is a hard task because her street is only about 300 meters long. Maybe my subconscious took me there on purpose. I figured I’d walk past and have a look, and as I did one of the guards outside recognised me even though I hadn’t been there in at least a month and said “Hello sir !” and leapt to his feet to open the door, but I shook my head and said “No thanks. Not tonight” and I just glanced in as I walked past. It was quite busy inside, and who should I see right inside, but Hoa with her back to me, running through the bar on ridiculously tall high heels, taking tiny steps due to her high shoes and tight dress. I wasn’t sure whether to be amused or sad. I must admit I felt a pang of longing.

    I mean, Hoa didn’t really scam me, but she was a gold digger and when I made it clear I wasn’t giving her any more money, she lost interest in me, but we did have a lot of fun in our time together. Going to the park was great and taking her out for coffee and dinner and the movies was always lovely, but I’ll never forget that time we had that pillow fight in the lounge of Secret Bar. That was such a great, fun experience and I’ll always remember that, and even though our relationship ended almost as quickly as it had begun, it was a lovely few weeks and she obviously had quite an impact on me for me to still feel this way about her. Even when she was whinging about being boring and broke all the time she was still funny somehow and the way she smiled and laughed was so charming. I doubt I even cross her mind these days but I think of her from time to time, and walking past her bar and seeing her awkwardly running around serving someone made me both want to laugh and cry. She wasn’t right for me, and it was a bit weird at times because of the way she would always whinge about how unhappy she was, but we had some great times and I’ll always think of her fondly.

    I kept walking home and a few other things happened but they weren’t particularly memorable. I think maybe seeing Hoa and reflecting on things cheered me up a tiny bit because I didn’t feel so annoyed after that. I was still feeling really depressed, but I worked out why it was. It was because I was leaving. I really, really don’t want to go home. I’m enjoying myself so much here and meeting such great people. I was really glad I invited Viet along because I remember one of the first things I overheard him saying shortly after we arrived at the party “This is the first time I’ve really been out and networked like this”. Maybe he doesn’t go to parties, especially ones with people from such mixed backgrounds and I think he was really happy that I’d invited him because he clearly had a great time and was very reluctant to leave.

    I love that I can sometimes bring people together like that. I mean, sure it was Eddie’s party and pretty much everyone brought a friend, but I’d only met Viet because I posted onto the PMHN forum and he had said “Hi, if things are a bit rough for you work-wise, maybe we could catch up and I’ll buy you dinner” and I said “Well, I’m not at the stage where I can’t eat, but sure, I love meeting new people” and now I feel we’re good friends and we’re going to parties together and he’s thankful to be invited along to mix with such a wide range of interesting people, and believe me, everyone there last night was very interesting.

    So going home is going to be so awful. Not because Australia is going to suck, although it sort of is, but it’s just that I’m going to be imagining all my friends here having so much fun without me. It’s like having a great circle of friends that you have lots of fun with and then being told “Ok, you’re now being forcibly relocated to the Antarctic for work for four months” and you’re like “Awwww, but everyone else is going to be having fun without me and they’re going to forget all about me”. But I have to go home sooner or later. I didn’t come here well prepared, and I have things I have to do at home, like seeing Suki and my family, and sorting out my divorce and getting my certificate of single status just in case I DO want to get married again. I’m not going to fuck around about that this time either.

    I’ve given Jo chance after fucking chance to sort that shit out and she just fucking lies and makes excuses and refuses to sort it out. I can’t even understand why she’s doing that and what she has to gain by not doing it, but I don’t care. I’m going to locate Michael and tell him. Once he knows she’s still married he’ll be on her back constantly to sort it out. It would be horribly embarrassing for him to realise that he’s sleeping with a married woman who’s carrying his illegitimate child and that his engagement to her is invalid. But I’m not doing it out of spite. I’m doing it because I just genuinely need to sort this out, and after I leave Australia I won’t have another chance so it absolutely HAS to be done during the small timeframe that I’ll be there and I know that Jo will fuck me around over it so I have little choice but to go to Michael and tell him what’s going on, and I’m positive he will get on her back and insist that she resolve it.

    So if you’re reading this Jo (which you probably are), look out. I’m not fucking around this time. You blew chance after chance to sort this out and you’ve lied to me, your boyfriend, the government, my parents, your aunt. You’ve lied to everyone when all you’re being asked to do is sign a simple piece of paper without fuss and without filling it with the lies and bullshit that caused it to be rejected last time. I know you’re a bitter hag that just wants to fucking accuse everyone around you of fucking up your life but it’s utter garbage and if you won’t be reasonable and stop this shit, I’m not going to just lay down and put up with it anymore. You ARE going to finalise this divorce WITHOUT the bullshit and drama and you ARE going to let me see Suki, and you AREN’T going to pull any of this “Oh I have conditions and I want you to go see a psychologist and get a psychological evaluation” shit on me.

    Fuck you Jo. You’re the one with the fucking mental problems you nutcase and I am not going to jump through these absurd hoops and go and get psychological evaluations and shit before I see Suki. If you try and fuck with me, believe me, I can fuck you back ten times worse. How do you think Michael would feel if he knew that you were an ex-heroin addict and that that scar on your arm is from shooting up drugs until your veins collapsed ? I don’t WANT to do that because I don’t hold grudges and I would like for you to be happy, but if you’re going to pull any more bullshit on me and try and put these absurd fucking conditions on me seeing Suki, I will seriously fuck your happy little life over.

    You have a lot to lose right now. You’ve got two kids and a boyfriend who wants you to go out and earn a living. If your police officer boyfriend finds out you’re a junkie and that you’re still addicted to painkillers and he decides to leave you or something, your life will be FUCKED, so don’t try and fuck with me, ok ? I would prefer to play nice and be friends, but you’ve already indicated you don’t want to be friends and that you refuse to let me see Suki until she’s old enough to decide for herself, but frankly, I’m not going to put up with that shit. You’re going to let me see or I will seriously rock your pathetic little world. I’ll hack your Facebook account and burn your virtual homestead in Frontierville to the ground. I’ll poison all your Farmville crops with Agent Orange. See if I don’t. You don’t want to piss me off.

    Oh shit. I didn’t mean for this post to end up like that. It was supposed to be a happy post about a great party. Tell you what, that shit was all just for her. For you other readers, let’s have some photos of people being happy and having a great time ! Wow and I only wrote 9,000 words ! Enjoy !

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