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Australia

Jul 30, 2010

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Digging the joys of Kakadu

Mining work is an interesting yet inconvenient way to see the country. I once received a phone call from a certain engineering firm, asking if I wanted to fly up to Darwin for a one-month shutdown in Kakadu. The pay was a bit less than what I’d become used to, but having never been to the Northern Territory I decided that it was a good opportunity to see the countryside.

DSC02987Crikey intern Ben Hagemann writes:

Mining work is an interesting yet inconvenient way to see the country. I once received a phone call from a certain engineering firm, asking if I wanted to fly up to Darwin for a one-month shutdown in Kakadu. The pay was a bit less than what I’d become used to, but having never been to the Northern Territory I decided that it was a good opportunity to see the countryside.

NT is a beautiful place. In the tropics the greens are greener, the smells are brighter and fresher, and the air hangs thick enough to feel heavy on your shoulders. Stepping out onto the tarmac in Darwin, the air will actually hit you like a punch in the face. Get used to it: it doesn’t stop.

Meeting up with my crew in the baggage collection area, we all shook hands and remembered names and filed into a couple of rented four-wheel-drives. The day was hot, sunny and sticky, but I relished the change in climate. Strangely though, on our way to Kakadu it began to rain. Quite heavily. And it got heavier, so heavy in fact that we could no longer see out of the windscreen. For all I knew we might have been 20,000 leagues under the sea.

The driver, a crusty old alcoholic veteran of the industry, merely passed his beer over to one of his cohorts so he could put both hands on the wheel and concentrate on maintaining his speed of 140 km/h.

Unfortunately the rest of the crew seemed quite nonchalant, so I did my best to appear the same way. The rain was so deafening I don’t think he would have heard me anyway. Just as quickly as the rain had started, it disappeared from the road, and we continued on as if nothing had happened. I was unnerved, and accepted the lukewarm tinny when it was offered.

But it was all okay, as I would be protected in the township of Jabiru, where live the workers of the Ranger Uranium Mine. What’s that, I hear you say? Uranium mine? Yes indeedy: All that protesting back in the 90s was about preventing a SECOND mine from opening up. Jabiluka is the area adjacent to the north of the Ranger Uranium Mine, so it is hard to see how opening it up would cause any further damage to the region. The place is already rotten with radioactive swamps, and two-headed crocodiles.

Actually, the filtration ponds from the mine are quite picturesque, and will hardly give you radiation poisoning at all. The deformed crocodiles are chopped up for dog meat, so the media don’t find out (whoops!). Continue reading “Digging the joys of Kakadu”

spainI once went to Sydney for a weekend with four male friends. We arrived around midday with tickets to a football double header that evening and an eye to heading out afterwards. Casually flicking through the TV channels, waiting for everyone to be ready, something unforseen happened. Somehow we landed on The World’s Strongest Man competition. For those of you who have fulfilling lives and are therefore in need of an explanation, this is a competition where enormous men with moustaches and names like Otto lift things. And sometimes push things. And that’s it. Next thing we know two hours had passed, we almost missed our train and that time had vanished forever into the ether.

Three valuable lessons can be taken from this situation. One, a staggeringly disproportionate number of the world’s strongest men come from Northern Europe. Two, all groups of men travelling together should bring a female chaperone along so that tragedies like this can be prevented. Three, my tolerance for utter trash on the TV could be described as heroic. Or pathetic, depending on your perspective.

Now typically I don’t have to worry about this because travelling with my partner means I have someone who has perfected the “you are NOT going to watch/eat/play that” look. Two minutes after copping one of those glares I can be showered and ready to go. But our current trip has seen the meeting of this immovable object with an irresistable force. I refer of course to The World Cup.

I’m the veteran of about four carefully observed World Cup campaigns now. The first two supporting Ireland, the homeland of both of my parents, and the latter two supporting Australia. Thankfully, the success trajectories of both these teams has developed into something of a double helix meaning I’m yet to have to pick a side, avoiding a painful Sophie’s Choice type scenario.

This has been my first World Cup watched from the view of, well, the world I guess. Some benefits were immediately obvious. No more getting up at 3am to see Zidane headbutt his way to defeat for one, with all the games happening pretty much in prime time. Continue reading “The ethics of watching sport on holiday”

New York

Jul 25, 2010

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I’ve been lucky enough to visit New York twice now, both times renting apartments on Craigslist from private owners, who have moved out of their homes for the few weeks that I’ve been there.

Meaning, I can stay in roomy and nicely decorated apartments, have a kitchen and pretend I’m a real New Yorker, all the while only paying a quarter of the price for a normal hotel room.

On my last trip my mate and I rented a very cool 2 bedroom apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It cost $100 nightly for the whole place and included a full kitchen, bathroom — with bath! — laundry, TV and dining room. A quick look at hostels in the neighbourhood see dorms at $39-$50 per person, per night.

Which is why recent news that a new law is being made to stop this process being allowed, with apartments being banned for sub-letting for less than 30 days, saddens me deeply. Continue reading “Concrete jungle now with even more expensive dreams”

yogiBinoy Kampmark writes from San Francisco:

Yoga stretched bodies, taunt and in various shades of exercise, in a mocking show of entertainment, seeing how far their litheness would take them.  Then, bottles of tart California Sauvignon Blanc gazing at their projected derrieres, ready to be opened to the thirsty clientele after their ritual bodily purge.  A salute to the sun, and then, a salute to the remarkable qualities of the grape in the W hotel in San Francisco.

There is surely something paradoxical about tantalizing one’s purest essences and attaining a life free of pollutants such as the ‘evil’ alcohol while still enlisting the valuable services of a winery.  But these people, be they members of a curious, San Francisco based leisure class who seem eternally sponsored by some private source, or professionals who need some avenue of release, happily consume yoga and alcohol in equal measures.  The philosophy of abstinence has been conveniently discarded.  Everything is there to be had. Continue reading “Vino and Vinyasa: an orgasm of life in San Francisco”

Iran

Jul 21, 2010

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On my third day in Esfahan I was sitting in the hotel courtyard with the Lonely Planet trying to map out the rest of my trip. My rough plan after Esfahan was Shiraz, Kerman, Yazd, Mashhad, Kashan, and then back to Tehran for my flight out of Iran. However, this left me with a few days to spare so I was looking for some side trips to take from this basic path around the country.

While flicking through the book I stumbled across a tiny desert town in between Esfahan and Yazd called Toudeshk. Toudeshk’s sole tourist attraction is a man called Mohammed who runs a small homestay and conducts tours around the local area. It sounded like a nice experience and when I met two other travellers (Welsh and Swedish) who were going to Toudeshk the next day my decision was sealed.

Continue reading “A day in the desert”

Iran

Jul 18, 2010

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Zam Zam Slam

So, I got the hell out of Tehran. There's still loads more there I'd like to see but I needed to get out of the big city and get somewhere calmer, and I've scheduled two days to finish

So, I got the hell out of Tehran. There’s still loads more there I’d like to see but I needed to get out of the big city and get somewhere calmer, and I’ve scheduled two days to finish off the capital at the end of the trip. One overnight bus later I was in the north-west town of Tabriz, once upon a time the capital of Iran/Persia (along with at least three other non-Tehran cities).

Tabriz was really nice – smaller, more manageable. I wandered around and visited the Blue Mosque which was destroyed by earthquake centuries ago but is only now being rebuilt, checked out the Poet’s Monument which is a study in concrete, and trekked out to the village of Kandawar in which houses are carved out of these bizarre stone outcrops in the mountains. I also discovered a street-snack called “potato egg” which is literally a boiled potato and a boiled egg mashed into a large flat piece of lavash-style bread, generously seasoned with butter, salt, paprika and oregano. With such a sensational starch bomb costing only 60 cents a pop I never wanted to leave.

At regular periods throughout my three days in Tabriz I was stopped by locals who wondered where I was from, welcomed me to Iran, and generally wanted to chat. This beautiful aspect of Iran was quickly becoming a dominant theme of the country.

Another overnight bus later I was in the central-Iranian city of Esfahan and after only one morning here I decided to create a drinking game. However, with Iran being a dry country the game can’t be played with alcohol so it’s instead played with Zam Zam Cola (Iran’s local Coca Cola). The game is called Zam Zam Slam and the rules are very simple: every time a local stops you and asks where you’re from you have to drink a Zam Zam; every time a local welcomes you to Iran you have a drink a Zam Zam; and every time a local wishes you a pleasant stay in [insert town here] you have to drink a Zam Zam. First one to pass out in a diabetic coma wins.

Continue reading “Zam Zam Slam”

Asia

Jul 16, 2010

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japanCrikey reader Paul Johannessen — an Australian who has a home in Norway and is currently living in Japan — writes part two of a two part series (part one here) into living in the whaling nations:

Japan.

A country very familiar to Australians but still so very alien… so weird. A country so synonymous with technology which in fact is still run on paper trails, ink seals, fax machines and ledgers. Internet banking anybody? Online government services? Are you kidding?

Since we moved here, the meandering no-one-really-cares bureaucratic machine that runs Norway, where the person you need to talk to is always on sick-leave the day you go to see them, now seems to us to be a trail blazing, world leading example in simplicity, efficiency and convenience. Here in Japan, every department has a sub-department, another desk in another cranny of another level possibly in another building. In Norway I have one number for my tax, my health care, my registered life — both government and private –and I like it. It makes life easier. And the system has existed for decades. Japan has just started exploring the possibility for establishing some kind of national registry database to possibly be used for taxes, or social benefits, or health-care or all of the above — they haven´t really decided yet. It will no doubt take some years to legislate. Then we can all wish this bastion of technology a belated welcome to the 21st century!

Now I was born in the late 70s, but the government offices and corporate structures of Japan somehow take me back to the 60s. And I think I understand why. In Japan, you don’t get promoted to any upper levels of management until you are closer to 50. By the time you get there, you have been bowing to your superiors and sharpening pencils for so long that you just want to sit at your desk and do as little as possible to alter the status-quo. All the ways of doing business you learnt 20 years ago, from an older generation. Hell, you just waited 30 years for your dues — why would anyone want to reform anything that may cost them their own job?

Just keep that paper work turning over, and everything will be sweet until you retire and can start traveling like you always wanted to. Because in Japan no one ever gets fired, at least not from the older generation. I heard from a fellow Norwegian who was involved with a Japanese car-maker on a project, that old men litter the offices, sleeping at their computers, drawing circles with a mouse on the computer screen whilst sleeping, trying to look busy. They have nothing to do anymore, but can´t bring themselves to go anywhere else. Their job is their world. And nobody goes home until everyone is finished working, even if there is nothing to do. Holidays? One week a year — if you´re lucky.

But there is enormous change taking place, however slowly, which makes it a very interesting place to live. Continue reading “Living in the whaling nations: White lies, whale-meat and weirdness”

Iran

Jul 15, 2010

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Day three in Tehran and I was starting to get my groove. A bit. Over the past two days I’d managed to get my head around fundamentals like money and food, grappled with the basics of the language, worked out a couple of bus lines and the metro, and discovered how utterly exhausting it is to do stuff in a city like Tehran – especially with 40-degree weather like Tehran’s. The day before I’d gone too hard, spending most of the day out and about trying to do too much, too quickly; I had blisters on my toes, aching leg muscles, and pretty decent dehydration. So, this day I planned for only one activity, starting later in the morning and running for about four hours, allowing time for a rest and a shower before my night bus to Tabriz.

Catching a bus from my hotel in the extreme south of Tehran to the northern tip of the city nestled in the foothills of the great mountains was easy enough, and so should have been what came next. But the one-and-a-half kilometre uphill walk from the bus terminal to the Sa’d Abad Museum Complex was anything but easy. The Lonely Planet offers no enlarged map of this part of town so I had to rely upon the tiny-scale version with only main roads shown. I walked for ages in what I thought was the right direction, and followed the pointed hands offered with a smile by Tehranis in response to my, “Salam, Sa’d Abad?”, but still I could not find it. I can only guess how many kilometres I walked in the baking heat, mostly uphill, but by the time I stumbled across the complex over an hour after I started walking I was already wasted. Nursing feet that felt like they were bleeding inside my shoes, and cultivating what felt to be a nice dose of sunstroke, I bought my tickets and entered the museum grounds.

Continue reading “Just an ordinary Tehran day”

Asia

Jul 14, 2010

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asiaIn honour of the hard working scientists at the Large Hadron Collider, trying to prove God’s existence, or disprove God’s existence, or develop a new flavour of ice cream, I have decided to develop a grand unifying theory of Asia.

There are a few obstacles to overcome in developing this theory. I’ve probably only been to about a tenth of the countries in Asia. I’ve almost certainly only met about one billionth of the people. My total time spent on the continent is actually only about seven months. Also, my partner has helpfully pointed out I lack the intellectual faculties to handle such a task.

I however have never felt that ignorance and gross stupidity should ever be a hindrance to judging people you don’t know, and places you haven’t been. I’m looking for a short phrase, or even just a word that can sum up my Asian experience. If this were Lonely Planet, I would just say “Land of contrasts”. But that’s cheap. It’s pejorative, and I believe all three of my devoted readers deserve more. Especially mum.

I’ve been having difficulties though. In the final episode of Curb Your Enthusiam’s most recent season, Jerry and Larry discuss the modern habit people have of proclaiming something, inserting the phrase “having said that”, and then proceeding to completely contradict their initial statement. My brain kept doing this to me every time I thought I was on to a winner. Continue reading “A Grand Unifying Theory Of Asia”

Iran

Jul 13, 2010

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Eight days ago I left Australia and immediately spent a most enjoyable five days in Ubud, Bali, with Lisa. We relaxed, ate way too much food, did a cooking course, ate more food, made some silver jewellery (hippies), swam in the pool, ate food, and slept in. Very nice, indeed. We headed down to Kuta on Tuesday afternoon so I could catch my early flight on Wednesday morning and so Lisa could head off to the Gili islands.

At 3:30am the next morning, after barely two hours’ sleep, I rolled out of bed in Kuta only to find that I had gastro, presumably as karma for having stayed in Kuta. Awesome. Gingerly, I flew to Kuala Lumpur where I endured an eleven-hour stopover, punctuated by dosages of stoppers, before flying to Tehran via Doha.

On the flight to Doha I had a chat to an Iranian woman who was flying home to Tehran after a holiday in Malaysia. She was a little shocked at the idea that I wanted to go to Iran for a holiday because it wasn’t very nice and there was nothing in Tehran or the other cities that she could imagine I would want to see and the hotels aren’t very nice and it’s dirty and polluted. I explained that a lot of travellers wanted to experience places and cultures different to their own even if it’s not a luxury holiday, and she understood this to a point but said that there are surely nicer places to experience.

Continue reading “First Iran-pressions”