Poor Stevie

Archive of ‘travel’ category

women seem wicked

Before I begin the second installment of Weird Things I’ve Noticed About Europe, I want to tell you that I just saw the Acropolis. THE ACROPOLIS, DUDES! It was seriously impressive and I got all girly about it.

Herewith Weird Things I’ve Noticed About Europe Part Deux

The venga bus is coming: On just about every bus we’ve caught, the driver puts on some kind of dated mix tape of vaguely nationalistic songs. On our bus ride from Bulgaria to Greece the driver’s music could hardly be heard over some kind of torturous malfunctioning alarm that buzzed endlessly. The poor dude had to pull over the clunky old wagon heaps of times to check something and eventually he fixed whatever was going on. And that’s when the partae really got goin’. As we crossed the border, Madonna’s Like A Prayer came on followed by Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U. But even better, he kept replaying one Greek party song with a chorus that went a little something like this: “I’ve waited for so long, can’t we do it now? (touch my body)”. Clearly, it wasn’t just the bus that needed a good fiddle under the bonnet.

Gone to the dogs: Something that’s really distracting in Europe is the presence of – how I can I put this politely? Nope, I can’t – dog’s nuts. I know, surely I could be spending time admiring ancient monuments, great art and nature, but of course I’m spending all my time checking out animal genitalia. Forgive me. It’s just hard not to notice because stray dogs are absolutely everywhere and, obviously, the two are related. You don’t desex dogs and they go and mate with each other, have babies and form gangs. Exactly like bogans.

Double Lines: Catching buses or riding in cars in Europe is absolutely terrifying because there are no road rules. Red lights mean nothing, double lines mean nothing, speed limits mean nothing, impending head-on collisions mean nothing. Overtaking in Greece, for example, is done wherever and whenever – the oncoming cars just calmly shift to the side of the road. It is actually a miracle I’m not blogging from beyond the grave.

Real men: Just about everywhere we went in Eastern Europe, there were men on the street pushing prams…with dogs in them. I don’t know if they just don’t sell leashes in that part of the world, but it just seemed to be the done thing and it was no laughing matter. The first time I saw it, a man was pushing two regal looking cocker spaniels around in a pink pram. Thinking he was just an eccentric dog lover I looked at him, then pointedly at the dog babies, and smiled. Nope, not funny you idiot western woman – practical.

Sunday Best: There are more sex shops in Europe than people, dog’s nuts, crazy bus drivers and cocker spaniels in prams combined. We’ve been to countries where we’ve been advised to cover up, dress modestly around churches and be ultra respectful to the older generation. It’s those same countries where everything will shut on a Sunday in the name of the sweet Lord. Everything except the sex shops on every corner. Need a latex dress last minute? No problem! How about some fluffy handcuffs? Done. What about a leash? Yeah, sure I’m tired of pushing my wife around in a pram, anyway.

hump day

Last night J-man and I were doing the typical Romanian thing and having a drink in an Irish pub in downtown Brasov, Transylvania.

“Happy three month anniversary,” I said, raising my glass.

“Happy anniversary – we’ve been married for three months!” he replied, then quizically looked at the date on his watch.

Yup, it’s been three months since we got on a jetplane to Thailand.  Here in freezing, beautiful, slightly scary Romania, it seems a century ago since we were sitting poolside,  sipping cocktails and gorging on seafood banquets. With countless sleeper trains, overnight buses and bouts of explosive weebum now firmly under my (tightening) belt, I would like to share with you a list of things travel has taught me about myself.

A list of things travel has taught me about myself:

– I am not normal.

Most people do the thing where they check for their passport and tickets a couple of times and arrive at the airport/train station with a little time to spare. I feel like I have cooled out a lot since J-man scolded me for dragging him to the bus stop in Amsterdam about four hours before our overnight bus to Berlin was due to leave, but I am still a total freak when it comes to pre-travel preparation. Here’s a little checklist I go through the night before moving onto a new city:

  • Check for tickets
  • Check time on tickets
  • Ask J-man to set alarm
  • Pack bag
  • Check tickets are still in bag
  • Make sure J-man has set the alarm
  • Have clothes, shoes and handbag ready next to bed
  • Make sure J-man is asleep before I check the tickets again
  • Tiptoe over to J-man’s bed to check he has set the alarm
  • Lie awake wondering what it will be like if we miss the train and have to spend the rest of our lives in a place called Cluj
  • Freak out about whereabouts of passport and rustle around trying to find passport
  • Locate passport in the place I always keep it
  • Dream about missing train/bus
  • Wake up 15 minutes before alarm goes off in order to “clear the decks”, even if not necessasry, to avoid using train/bus toilets
  • Wake up long-suffering, easy-going husband and force feed him breakfast at dawn so we can make our 1pm train/bus.

– I can read maps.

I first realised this when J-man and I were in Amsterdam trying to hunt down the Red Light District. J-man, who at this point had christened himself “Papa Compass” thanks in part to the compass on his Jason Bourne-style watch, snatched the map from me and led the way. Into surburbia we went and, upon passing several families with small children, I told him I suspected we were going in the opposite direction. “Trust Papa Compass,” he said. So I let him go, until finally he relented and I – the ever faithful wife – took us directly to where the girls in red boxes were trying to sell sex to drunk Poms.

– I DO have a bladder of steel.

There was a time in my life where I would have to stop to wizz at least twice between Lucknow and Orange. I remember once being so scared to tell my parents I needed to wee during a trip to Tuckerbag, that I snuck off to a neighbouring vacant building, thinking its “To Let” sign said “toilet”. Things have since improved, but suddenly I am the girl who can wait until I GET TO A WHOLE NEW COUNTRY before I wee.

– I am not afraid of germs aka my immune system is awesome!

Sometimes you have to do gross stuff overseas. Sometimes there’re no soap, old-looking sheets, three days of the same socks, two days of the same underpants, sharing train compartments with sickly old people, trusting fellow-hostelers to wash their dishes properly, buying food from dirty-looking bakeries and touching money so brown cavemen probably used it to buy their fur loin cloths. All of this and I haven’t even had so much as caught a sniffle (knocking on closest wood).  I rule!

Other things:

  • I am a massive baby and miss my family
  • I am a total cheapskate and will not hand over money for anything I do not have to (case in point, both the bras I packed have lost their underwire and my jeans shrunk to kid size in the wash. I scoff at suggestions of replacements)
  • I am not yet done with Sydney
  • I have the world’s biggest appetite
  • I am brave. Sort of.

peanut butters of the world: the sarajevo edition

I think I am swiftly becoming more qualified to write about toots of the world (hands down, Holland has the weirdest. They look normal until you open the lid to find a mysterious platform about half way up the bowl. Its all a bit too “in your face” for my toilet tastes) than I am peanut butters. The only foods readily available in Europe are pizza, pasta, ice-cream, and beer and beer and also beer. Sounds alright to everyone who doesn’t have a digestive system like a defective fire hose. But, all of those foods grant me the opportunity to get my PhD with honours in plumbing. For weeks, nay months, we have been trekking around Europe, with me wailing “FRESH food, J-man, FRESH food”. Occasionally I come across a fly-blown banana from Equador, but otherwise it’s been dairy, wheat and death carbs the whole time. Bloating has gotten so bad, I’ve been asked three times if I am pregnant and I swear a lady on a bus in Dubrovnik gave up her seat for me after looking at my belly.

The good news is that our surprise mini-break to Bosnia has provided some relief. The food is rich, yes, but the kebabs are overflowing with salad – tomato! hello lover – and their national dishes have been a vacation for my intestines. Even if the most famous dish here, ćevapi, looks like this:

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And then there’s the coffee. Oh my, my, the coffee. I’m not one of those coffee wankers, hells I practically lick Nescafe instant out of the jar, but I don’t think I can ever turn back after having Bosnian coffee. This is not me posing by the way. It’s me casually scoping out the nearest WC.

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And Bosnia, sweet, sweet Bosnia. Unlike its neighbours, it stocks peanut butter. Crunchy peanut butter. My life blood.

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***

On a blog I mostly dedicate to my bowels, public humiliations and love of breakfast spreads, I didn’t feel like I could even attempt to tell you about how much I have loved Sarajevo. It is a wonderful city, with incredibly friendly people, a buzzing atmosphere, amazing cuisine and a content, easygoing vibe. All of this just over a decade since it was completely surrounded and devastated by regular bombings and brutal shootings. I have been moved and changed by meeting people who lived through that time. The locals are passionate about people discovering their city, and the rest of Bosnia, not because of its bloody history but because of its inherent beauty and everything it has to offer. A destination that will stay with me.

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Best in Pula

Pula had given us a beating. It was hot, we got lost, we took the wrong bus to a depressing shopping centre in the boondocks. So to reward ourselves, J-man and I did what any other couple in their 20s would do. Yep, we gots ourselves tickets to a dog show.

I think a dog show in the carpark is exactly what the Romans had in mind when they built the amphitheatre here. Gladiators, triumph, bloodshed, courage and prancing poodles.

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Over cold beers and plate full of suspicious-looking sausages, I appointed myself Queen Lady Judge of the People of the Pula Pedigree Dog Show (QLJOTPOTPPDS, for short).

Below is the list of the blue ribbon winners in the most coveted categories:

Blokes with top bitches:

First prize goes to these dudes for their obvious dedication. They spent so long making sure their dogs matched, they forget to pay attention to the fact that fanny packs went out of fashion about two decades ago.

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Special mention goes to these guys and their pedigree bitches.

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Dog and breeder with the best sense of humour:

With a dog that big, she would know.

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Dog and breeder with the greatest likeness:

Jesus did it, so why can’t she create something in her own image?

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Breeder who covets his dogs the most:

Once these little puppies are past their dog show prime, their manes should come in very handy.

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Best in show:

This couple didn’t have their dog on show, but I would have loved to have put a leash on them and trot around the showground. I imagine her name is Ivanika and his is Gerhardt. They don’t have a surname, just a mansion by the seaside, a giant yacht, a tanning bed,  a golden retriever, a mirrors on their bedroom ceiling and a neverending bottle of Botox.  They truly were a vision – a prime example of high class breeding.

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peanut butters of the world: the salzburg edition

In Austria souvenir shops sell a sign that would look great on the mantelpiece in the good room, right next to your beloved yard glass and the portrait of  your sadly departed blue ribbon greyhound . The little yellow sign has a picture of a kangaroo, subtitled “Austria – No Kangaroos”.

It really is just as well Austria doesn’t have any kangaroos because they would charge your €50 just to approach the ticket booth to the marsupial show, another €50 to talk to the salesman, who would then cavity search you and charge you €100 for your back row seat.

J-man and I should have fled the country after our first morning here. After arriving early in Vienna, a girl at our hostel recommended we go to a nearby traditional Viennese coffee shop for breakfast. After eating three croissants that magically appeared – unordered – with our coffees and all five (5) bread rolls that came with Joel’s plate of eggs, we felt fat and triumphant. Until we got our bill for €35  ($AUD1,000) which charged us for each roll we ate, each of the croissants we didn’t order, the milk in the tea and just a little extra to cover the waiter’s child support payments. Since then we’ve paid 40 cents for whipped cream that came with a slice of cake, €4 each for a breakfast made up of cold bread rolls and warm milk and we are fighting for a €26 refund from the Austrian rail system after we bought the wrong type of Vienna Card, an all-included transport and sightseeing pass, which has several different types all conveniently titled “The Vienna Card”. Well done, Austria, well done.

But here’s my favourite screw of all: On our first night here in lovely Salzburg we found a cheap Japanese restaurant for dinner. Once inside, the waiter took our drink orders then handed us a menu, which was completely different to the one displayed downstairs and much more expensive. The cheaper one was allegedly the lunch menu. As an act of revenge, we ordered only spring rolls and Miso soup. When our bill came we were pleasantly surprised to find that, with a glass of Coke and a wine, we owed close to €30. Ah, the waiter explained, that glass of wine I poured you? That was a double. It might be different in America, he said, but that’s how we do it here. Oh yeah? Go check if there’s kangaroos in Texas, jerk face.

So, I’ve taken solace in tasting some of the cheaper local delights:

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Mmmm, sweet, sweet €2.50 erdnuss creme.

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when you’re a stranger

It’s 11.26am in Krakow, Poland and I have been up since 4am after a 12-hour train ride. I’m seedy, sleepy and have furry teeth, but this is travel baby and it feels real good! Last night, as I was rocked to sleep in the arms of the country’s efficient rail system, I thought about writing a list of the weird things I’ve noticed about Europe.

A list of the weird things I’ve noticed about Europe:

No-one cares if you die: I first noticed this when I made eye contact with a lion at Berlin Zoo. A lion kept in an unfenced enclosure, with a deep moat the only thing protecting me from its powerful jaws and sharp claws. It’s like dudes, have you not seen Born Free? Lions can leap! Then after climbing a massive church tower in Dresden and up into a giant fortress in Konigstein, I noticed the Europeans care not for protective fencing. Jump off if you want and take your enthusiastic, ice-cream-eating husband with you, for all the Germans care. In Poland I also saw someone reverse their car within mere millimetres of an unfenced train platform just as a train sped by. I actually quite like this about Europe. It’s kind of saying if you’re stupid enough to tempt a lion, test gravity or screw up a simple driving manoeuvre, you deserve to die.

Sit where you want, losers: The numbering on train seats across Europe is incredibly confusing. A few times J-man and I have been assured we’ll be sitting next to each other, only to find we’ve been placed in seat 23 and 78. But yep, seat 78 is the window and 23 is the aisle. Well, that just makes perfect sense!

Peron!? Peroff! Same goes for train platform numbering. Sure, your train leaves from platform two but which side of platform two? It’s a game of chance, skill and dumb luck. I’m just glad we didn’t get on that train headed to Elblag, like Joel suggested.

Leopard print is slimming: Many older European ladies like to wear their clothes two sizes too small in the least flattering patterns and materials possible.  So what if you’ve had eight children? Treat those animal print tights like sausage skin and squeeze it all in. Then match it with some blonde, teased hair and coral pink lipstick and you are ready to scoff a truckload of Lody or Bacon Butty with all your gal pals.

Dames? Pretty much everywhere in Europe you have to pay to use public toilets, or the good old WC. It’s kind of a cool system because you can mostly be assured the toilets will be clean and fully stocked with paper, soap and the latest edition of Hello! The weird thing is the attendants who take your money are often old men in white lab coats who grunt as you walk in and then watch your every filthy move with a suspicious eye.  A few times it’s been a kindly old woman, including one in Gdansk, who had her little table set up with pictures of the grandkids and Jesus and Mary. Why she still believes in god, I don’t know.

Until next time I see something weird…

free for the moment

One of the most exciting nights  of our trip so far was catching an overnight ferry from Harwich in the UK to the Hook of Holland. When I say “ferry” I actually mean liner, complete with restaurants, a casino and an elderly Dutch bartender who cheerfully congratulated me on my pregnancy (gas).  J-man and I got all squeal-y when we went into our little cabin with its bunk bed and faux port window. It was a first-time experience and the beginning of a new adventure, so we celebrated on deck – in true Dutch style – with a Heineken. Before our ship even set sail on the mighty seas J-man decided he wanted to do something drastic – shave his head. It was something he’d been considering for a while. So while on international waters, the J-man became a cueball.

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peanut butters of the world: the cambridge edition

Hanging out in Cambridge was like all my travel dreams rolled into one. J-man, my friend T and I wandered through the cobbled, narrow streets catching glimpses of historic, ivy-covered colleges with luscious grounds. We marvelled at all the people riding retro bikes. We went punting on the River Cam with a charming tour guide who cracked jokes about Australia’s convict past (“You Aussies keep your fingers to yourselves”), recent sporting failures (“Cricket…something something … Rugby something, also”) and tourist attractions (“You know that scene in Harry Potter where he learns to fly? That wasn’t filmed here”). We reclined on the narrow wooden boat sipping ciders, looking at the classic English landscapes and feeling alive.

But all of that was shattered by something I shall now refer to as King Intef’s curse on the flesh-coloured underpants.  I wore those beauties again on my trip to Cambridge because I was wearing a vaguely sheerish dress and thought I might distract the scholars from their studies if I wore my fetching neon green ones. Anyway, the day went very smoothly until I went to the gals’ room in an old pub. Just after I sat down a woman burst in on me and screamed. The toilet stall was very long and wide and there was nothing I could do to slam the door, so we just kind of looked at each other in sheer terror – me with my flesh-coloured underpants around my knees, her dignified in a matching linen outfit. After she shut the door, I tried desperately to secure the lock, pants down,  only to be burst in on seconds later by a teenage girl, who also screamed.

After urgently ushering T and J-man out of the pub I told them that was it. The Cambridge dream was over. Luckily T knew exactly how to mend my broken spirit – with fudge! Peanut butter and chocolate fudge! I haven’t actually had any peanut butter while in the UK because it seems the Brits love berry jams and Marmite on their toast and the spread of the gods is reserved solely for sweets and fudge.

Observe:

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I’ll admit this looks like something you might find if you were a plumber. But actually, it was a delicious specimen from The Fudge Kitchen in Cambridge. Also known as the happiest place on Earth, second to bed.

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Peanut butter fudge cures all ills. Except travel hair and face disease.

(Hello! I’m actually writing this from Germany (see: öööäää), weeks after leaving the UK. I’ve also since been to Holland, where internet was mostly nonexistent. Hopefully now I’m in the land of the schnitzel I’ll be able to update more. Sheesh!)

a fella lookin’ dapper and he’s sittin’ with a slapper

I’m sitting writing this mere hours after exposing myself before the coffin of King Intef. As I admired the intricate gold decorations on his ancient tomb at the British Museum this morning, I saw a little London school boy glance at my crotch in horror. My fly was completely undone and because I’m wearing freshly washed, skinny tight black jeans it meant the zip was gaping like a laughing mouth, revealing my sensible flesh-coloured underpants. Flesh-coloured underpants which have lost a little of their elasticity and opaqueness. Excellent. That kid was more scarred by me than by dudes who have been dead for thousands of years. And poor King Intef! Although, he did live during an age where women used cow poop contraceptives, so he’s probably experienced worse.

I couldn’t let that one go to the keeper before doing a wrap up of our time in Thailand. So, Thailand! The one country where there were signs reminding me to keep my modesty in check. Here are some highlights of our adventures in Koh Samui, July 2010.

Partying like it’s 1979

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As you can tell, J-man was quite popular with the locals. I really admired him, he learnt lots of Thai phrases and delighted everyone. It would be mean of me to mention that he accidentally inserted the word “curry” into many phrases which didn’t actually include that word, so I won’t say anything about that. This photo was taken on our last night, which was probably our best night on Koh Samui. 

After a pretty quiet day relaxing by the pool, we walked up the beach to find somewhere to eat and saw that our resort was hosting a beach barbecue, complete with live entertainment. We gorged ourselves at a buffet which included crayfish, crab, lobster, massive prawns, Asian salads and kebabs. Just as I was pulling the head off a giant prawn after going back for thirds (yep, you read that right), some of the lovely ladies pictured pulled J-man and I up to dance. J-man attempted a white man hula dance with one of the girls, while my pretty partner avoided looking at my face and touching my hands which I know were both covered in a thick film of seafood debris.

But I did manage to find myself a new husband. One with fire-twirling skills! Here’s our wedding photo (check out those abber dabbers!):

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We also enjoyed the smooth sounds of the resident musicians – two middle-aged dudes named Val and Candi who played covers of old people’s songs, much to the delight of the resort’s guests who were all … super old.

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Turns out ol’ Val and Candi were also world-class salesmen and we ended up with a copy of their 2005 smash-hit album. Seriously the best Thai souvenir we could have asked for.

2. Tracing the footsteps of Leonardo DiCaprio:

Pretty much everywhere I’ve been in Asia (which sounds like I’m a seasoned traveller. I’ve only spent two weeks in Vietnam and ten days in Thailand), someone has told me it’s exactly where The Beach was filmed. You know, that awesome movie where Leo kills things with his own hands. Or, as I’ll always remember it, the movie with the mild sex scene I silently endured with my mum and our timid Japanese exchange student. Anyway, we were told we were visiting the Lagoon featured in The Beach, which upon further research turned out to be the inspiration for the lagoon in the book. But I still liked to think I had a slight chance of making out with Leo on our trip to neighbouring island Ko Toa.

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This was one stop on a boat tour of Ang Thong National Marine Park. We leisurely snorkeled and swam, but to get to the lagoon we had to climb a million stairs in crazy-stupid humidity and I almost died. No really, look at my face here. Hello, sweaty:

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3. Doing semi-Thai things:

I say “semi” because it was hard to do anything really authentic on Koh Samui, which mostly caters to cashed-up bogans on their holiday of a lifetime. And it’s not like we did our bit, staying in a resort and all, but we tried.

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We visited food markets, ate from street stalls, ate at places that made real stomach-busting Thai food, rode around in the famous no-meter metered taxis and watched an impromptu soccer match between some local men and tourists.

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Weirdest sign: “No weapon, no food, no pets, no smoking, no sex” – displayed in our bus to the airport.

Cutest Thai to English translation:J-man and I were constantly reminded of how lame we are only being able to speak English and getting by on the hope everyone else does as well. We admired Thai people for their ability to speak not only English, but French, Dutch and German as well. We did, however, come across some awesome signs and notes in our hotel. The list of DVDs we perused some nights listed movies starring actors “Hilaly Swank”, “Kate Wensak” and “Lewanwado Dicaprio”. But by far, the best was the description of the movie Up In the Air as “relationship felike”.

Funniest quote: “The Jackfruit is like a nice lady, the durian is like a yuck man” – A local recommending fruits we should and shouldn’t try.

Holler!

holy phut, bo phut!

J-man and I have ended up at a resort where many people seem to be taking their second honeymoon or celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. If I were any other person, I’m sure I’d be disappointed. But hanging with old people means quiet sleeping time, polite greetings in the hallways and feeling superior because my body is not yet on the great journey south. I get to do a lot of the latter because the old women staying here – they seem to be mostly European – still rock out poolside in their high cut, sometimes even string, bikinis.

It’s our second real day on Koh Samui and it feels a lot better than it did yesterday. We were in for a small rude shock when we realised it was a little more expensive here than we anticipated. We choked on our second rate food from the pool bar after handing over $30 for a burger, which came with a weird stale bread stick, and some beers. I mean $30! C’mon Third World let me take advantage of you, isn’t that the sole reason you exist? Luckily, my fat Western expectations were met once we left the compound and went across the road for $1 beers. That’s more like it! Now, fan me with your life savings, peel me a bunch of grapes with your eyelashes and hire a tame elephant to mix my cocktails.

The best part of Thailand so far is doing it with J-man. That came out wrong. Yes, there was that key party with the German family, which I won’t write about here, but I mean travelling with J-man. Having spent a very small amount of time in Asia, I know that smiling politely and saying “no thanks” is the best way to get rid of hawkers. But Joel, being the kind soul he is, will talk to them, hear what they have to say, consider their offer carefully before telling them a lie, like “we are late to meet friends” or “we’re just off to get some bottled water!”

While we’re here I’d like to: snorkel, see the Big Bhudda, look at the lude Grandmother and Grandfather rocks, ride a scooter, adopt a gibbon and get my nails done ghetto fabulous style.