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Gentlemen of Leisure

May 28, 2010

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thisisenglandWhen you think about a particular country, you tend to think of particular things. For example France: Eifel Tower, men in stripy skivvies and berets riding bicycles and selling onions, dog poo. Or Australia: red deserts, life guards, kangaroos, deadly spiders, Border Security.

It’s called stereotyping I suppose. It’s lazy thinking and it definitely makes for lazy travel writing. After nine months of living in England, my impressions of the country should be slightly more nuanced. And they are. But the fact is, when I came to writing a list of all the things I will miss most about the UK, most of them fell pretty squarely into the cliché bracket.

The things that I love about this country — and for that matter the things that I hate — are all pretty much the things that you are supposed to love or hate about England.

Never the less, here they are, in no particular order:

Fish pie. Good fish pie, from a country pub. For lunch.

The way dogs are encouraged in pubs.

Country lanes.

Double decker buses. More specifically the view from the top level of the bus, through people’s windows and down at graffiti written on the top surface of bus shelters and visible only from this unique vantage point. Example: “If you are reading this you are sitting on the left hand side of a double decker bus.” Continue reading “Gentleman of Leisure: Leaving England”

Greece

May 27, 2010

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Welcome to Slide Night at Back in a Bit, where we pore over our favourite holiday photos and the little quirky stories behind them.

This week it’s Crikey intern Matt de Neef’s turn:

Santorini, Greece (click to enlarge)
Santorini, Greece (click to enlarge)

Matt writes: When you’ve spent nine weeks travelling Western Europe, it’s pretty hard to pick out a solitary highlight. But, if I had to pick one moment in two months of unabated awesomeness, my visit to the Greek island of Santorini would probably be it.

Keen to avoid the crowds and expenses that a summer visit to Europe would entail, my partner and I decided to begin our travels in late November. We flew into Athens and after a three day tour of the sites of ancient Greece, booked a berth on the ferry to Santorini.

For those that haven’t seen photos of the island, it is famous for its bright white houses clinging precariously to the edge of a sheer cliff. “Precariously” is precisely the right word too because the island is essentially a large volcano which, after several violent eruptions in the past, will almost certainly erupt again at some point. Continue reading “Slide Night: Winter on a Greek island”

China

May 25, 2010

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by Crikey intern Nicole Eckersleymao

For a nation accustomed to receiving blank looks when bargaining, and whose only haggling technique consists of asking “What’s your best on that?”, buying toothpaste in China can be a shock to the Australian system.

Before I landed in Beijing, I had been warned, but no mere warning could have prepared me for the blood sport that is haggling in China. My first bargaining experience, in an antique market, had me massively overestimating the value of a small clock. Having completed my purchase with the seller — who had a remarkable poker face — twenty or thirty other sellers descended on me, shoving similar items in my face. I was forced to cut short my browsing, and ended up running out of the place with my hands over my head.

If you haven’t experienced it, here’s a guide to how the transaction should go:

You, the shopper, look over the items with a callous eye, trying not to pause or look at any one item with more interest than the others. (Any lingering look will cause the item, once your eye slides onwards, to be picked up and thrust into your field of vision.) Once you have decided (covertly) which item or items you are interested in, you may pick them up. The game is now on.

Ask the price. It’s safer to let the vendor go first, since if you accidentally overestimate the item’s worth, game over. The price offered by the vendor will be grossly overinflated to a couple of orders of magnitude: if they say a thousand, you’re looking at around fifty. It’s about five yuan to the dollar; a good rule of thumb is to imagine the price of your item if it were gathering a layer of dust in a Hot Potatoe’s Everything’s Not Quite $2 shop, and then quarter that. Continue reading “A how-to guide for haggling in China”

The Insider

May 21, 2010

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Darrell Wade, co-founder and CEO of Intrepid Travel, writes: Does it piss you off when our domestic airlines charge you an extra $10 for checked luggage?

I know I’m putting myself in the firing line here but I actually think airlines should charge for every kilo of luggage we take with us.

I can hear the shouts of disapproval but hear me out; this is worth a closer look.

Granted, it does sound strange for a tour operator to support anything that makes travel more expensive, but I travel a heap and I feel guilty about every kilo. So I started thinking about it a bit…

How much fuel does it take to lift your luggage to 30,000 feet? It would take more than a mars a day to carry it on your back!

Here are the facts…

On a short haul flight (1,000 km), 1.32 kg of CO2 is emitted per kg carried.

On a long haul flight (5,000 km), 3.05 kg of CO2 is emitted per kg carried.

Expressed another way, UK Government data tells us that for every kilometre travelled on a UK domestic commercial flight, 1.9 kilos of CO2 per each tonne onboard is released into the atmosphere.

For a short haul flight from the UK, it is 1.32kg of CO2 per tonne and for a long haul flight, 61 kg of CO2 per tonne.

So what do you think?

Is our green rhetoric enough for us to be prepared to pay for every kilo of luggage we take with us?

Does this additional airline charge make you think twice about what you’re packing? Because your hip pocket is hurting or because you care about the environment?

Should overweight people pay more for an airline seat than skinny ones? (There IS talk of this!)

Can you really travel around Europe with one pair of underpants and a toothbrush?

What do you think the answer is?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

On travel

May 19, 2010

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toplesstravelleresThe owner of the China Box hostel in Beijing is probably the greatest human being alive. He makes the Dalai Lama look like Hitler. And it’s not just because he’s friendly and helpful and funny. He also takes care of loads of cats, including a runt kitten we nicknamed ‘Frailsy’.

I trust men who have a fondness for cats. In my experience men who don’t like cats are typically bogans. And possibly sex offenders, though to be fair that is largely speculation. The only annoying thing about this God amongst men, posing as a mild mannered hostel manager, is that he has put a kink in my prejudice forming habits.

If it hasn’t become obvious yet, I’m the tiniest bit misanthropic. My approach to friendships is stolen directly from Daniel Kitson, the comedian who in my opinion is what Jesus would be like if he existed. Beard inclusive. His feelings are essentially “I have a maximum of 3 friends at any given time on principle. And even then, Chris is a c*nt.”

So forging lifelong friendships isn’t a strong point, and the types of people I’ve met traveling have given me little reason to work on this. They have however displayed similar enough characteristics for me to lump them into grossly generalized groups, under the umbrella of ‘travel wankers’.

Now it would be remiss of me to suggest that only foreign travelers are wankers. In fact, if I’ve learned nothing else from travel it’s that wankerism is a worldwide problem in need of a worldwide solution. Like global warming. Or hipsters.

But while being a ‘nothing as a second language’ traveller has probably left me experience and money poorer, it’s also provided me with an excellent invisible wanker forcefield, enabling me to pass off any local wankerism as merely ‘cultural misunderstanding’. But back to the wankers at hand (pun intended).

The first group I like to call Matthew McCoughnabees, largely because of their penchant for shirtlessness. I’m ok with shirtless near a body of water. I’m even ok with shirtless on an outdoor excursion if things get a bit hot (though I reserve the right to laugh when you get malaria). I’m NOT ok with shirtless when you’re hanging out in the communal lounge where I’m forced to eat my breakfast. They also tend to climb around temples and ruins like they’re Dr Livingstone rather than just waiting for the elderly Korean tour group to each get an individual photo in front of the smiling Buddha like the rest of us.

Next up is the CSM, or creepy single male traveler. These come in two forms. Continue reading “The many wankers of the backpacker rainbow”

Indonesia

May 18, 2010

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Welcome to Slide Night, where we flick back through our travel photos and reminisce on the stories behind them.

Former Crikey intern Patrick Tombola has returned to Slide Night.

Cilacap, Java, Indonesia (click to enlarge)
Cilacap, Java, Indonesia (click to enlarge)

Patrick writes: Parents across most of the Western world take for granted that their child will be born and raised in a healthy environment. Families in Indonesia don’t have the same luxury, especially those living next one to one of the many coal-powered electric stations popping up along the archipelago. People in Cilacap, on the coast of the main island of Java, have witnessed a devastating rise in lung cancer, emphysema and other lung diseases. It hits everyone and threatens in particular young children and elderly people.

The contrast between the group of teenagers playing football in the foreground and the cloud-spitting coal station in the background well exemplifies the struggle Indonesia is currently living, caught as it is between a fast growing population and an increasing inability to provide basic utilities for them, like electricity. Continue reading “Slide Night: Scoring a coal in football”

On travel

May 13, 2010

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airportby Crikey intern Matt de Neef

The travel bug is kind of like the herpes virus. Once you get it, it never really goes away and certain things can cause it to flair up.

For me, it can be something as simple as a trip to the airport. There’s just something about being surrounded by travellers that seems to bring on the worst cold sores.

In all seriousness, a visit to the airport rekindles the desire to travel like little else. The massive departure boards with their spinning letters, the anxious tourists scrambling desperately to find their check-in gates, the retail outlets that open ludicrously early, it all makes me just want to pack the ol’ suitcase and go.

Unfortunately, most of my airport visits are the result of dropping family members off as they begin their adventures abroad. Not only do these visits see me heading home rather than through the departure gates, they also cost me a fortune in outrageously priced airport parking.

Actually, it’s a bit of a surprise that airports are a source of inspiration for me at all, given that my previous airport experiences have been far from positive.

At the start of a two-month Europe holiday back in ’08, I did my utmost to lose my wallet (which was full of foreign currency at the time), before I’d even left Tullamarine airport. Continue reading “The link between airports and herpes”

On travel

May 11, 2010

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Holidays are a BIG DEAL in my family. My parents ran their own successful and stressful business for many years and therefore holidays were looked forward to for months in advance and now my dad says he can usually only remember the years by the holiday we went on that year. 1993? No, that wasn’t the year my little brother was born, it was when we went to New Zealand. 2002? Not my sister’s first year of university, but the year we went to Vanuatu.

And now there’s a lovely tradition I’ve picked up from both my parents to make your computer desktop background somewhere nice that you have been on holiday. So therefore, whenever you’re busy at work and doing late nights and have sore shoulders from typing, you can have a little look at your background, remember the nice times and start dreaming about where your next holiday will be.

My dad loves sailing, so his is of his boat on the Whitsundays:

Whitsundays 2008 071

For a long time after I lived in Spain, I had this beautiful picture of the view from my favourite tea house in Granada as my background:

granada

Then, in anticipation (and afterwards, for the fun of remembering) of a holiday to the Big Apple, I have had this picture — which I took several years ago — taken at the Rockefeller Centre in New York as my background.

new york

But that holiday was way back in November, and I need a new image to get inspired by. I’m hoping to do a relaxed South East Asia beach and a dash of adventure holiday this year. Anyone got suggestions of beautiful holiday images or care to share their own method of getting some travel inspiration while sitting at the desk banging out their work?

China

May 6, 2010

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shanghaiShanghai has been one of the destinations I’ve been most looking forward to on our Asia itinerary. It’s supposed to be the more modern and progressive of the Chinese mega cities, and I was eager to get a glimpse of the country which, according to many, owns the next century. Couple this with the fact that almost everyone we’ve met has told us we HAVE to go to Shanghai, including the manager of our hostel in Kuala Lumpur who said “what are you still doing in this shit hole if you could be in Shanghai!?!” (those weren’t his words obviously, but I’m an excellent reader of subtext), and we boarded the train in Hong Kong giddy with excitement.

The train ride itself was far more enjoyable than usual, with the cabins being embarrassingly nicer than some of the hotels we’ve stayed in. The landscape can be a little depressing, but having made the drive through the anti-abortion sign minefield that is the road between Brisbane and Toowoomba, I was disinclined to start judging.

Things got a little hairy when we arrived. Firstly, they didn’t open the train doors for about half an hour after we pulled in, and the mother and son team who shared the cabin next to us began screaming at each other so loud I thought we’d see a rare case of full grown filicide. Then came the walk to the customs desk, where we first became aware of the Chinese habit of creating bottle necks in public transport hubs. What seems to have been a one off was the fact that all the lights were out so the walk was made with a horrible sort of Flight from Terror vibe.

After passing through the first of what would be a million security points throughout Shanghai we were approached by a uniformed young man with a video camera who asked us a curious question: “Are you here for the Formula One?” Now I’ve been mistakenly accused of being some truly horrible things since I’ve been overseas. A habitual drug user. The whitest terrorist since Richard Reid. German. None of these however, prepared me for the heartbreaking shame of someone thinking I was a motor sports enthusiast. Continue reading “Shanghai is for jerks”

Bhutan

May 3, 2010

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maggotsXochitl (pronounced So-chi-tl, with the ‘tl’ almost like a light choke, in her words) and I have been working with a group of 10 young people for a month now at the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF). In the first class we had four recovering drug addicts and several other unemployed youth come along, but nearly all of them have left. Many of our participants are from Happy Valley Youth Theatre Group. The ‘Happy’ stands for ‘Helping Advocate Productive and Progressive Youth’. They have set themselves up as a profit-share cooperative with a social advocacy agenda, though alas there’s not too much profit to be shared at present.

Some members work as performers in ‘drayang’ (entertainment) bars. Although strip clubs are illegal and dancers in the bars wear the Kira (the national dress), sexual exploitation still occurs at times in these professions. If the co-operative made enough money to support its members, the dancers said they would gladly quit their bar work, but for the moment they have to keep on doing both. Some members were previously in gangs, some were alcoholics. Some are still alcoholics. Some are amazing singers, most can perform multiple traditional and foreign dances and are very quick at learning new dances. One member can paint traditional images such as the eight lucky signs of Buddhism with exquisite skill — the same member is a video game addict. The co-operative structure of Happy Valley keeps all its members accountable — every member vigorously demands to know where money has been spent. It’s participatory democracy operating in a theatrical ensemble form: there’s little chance for corruption with every member demanding evidence of receipts for every purchase made.

If there is an overriding philosophy emerging out of the workshops, it would perhaps be called Maggotism. As performers, our ensemble think as maggots, devouring the corpse of corporate culture to convert it into mulch for the seeds of living culture. After this our performers shall sprout wings, growing into flies to sting the lumbering beast of mass opinion into action- then once they are done they can plant their eggs in more corporate corpses, to breed further maggot ensembles!

By this I mean that the performers are drawing from the bipolar culture they have grown up in, where traditional dances mix with Disney channel, hip hop, salsa and Bollywood, to create exciting, living breathing performances. Continue reading “Bhutan: where theatre meets hip hop, maggots and Buddhism”