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Cayman Islands

Jan 28, 2011

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Paradise: elusive and controversial

Recently, I contributed my first post to Back in a Bit. It was an introductory piece with the aim of establishing my voice as a contributor and giving a rough idea of my background as an Australian living in the Cayman Islands. Never had I imagined that it would be contentious. Never had I imagined that my normal life would be considered a hotbed of self-indulgence and conceit.

It seems paradise is not only elusive, it is also controversial.

westindiesRecently, I contributed my first post to Back in a Bit. It was an introductory piece with the aim of establishing my voice as a contributor and giving a rough idea of my background as an Australian living in the Cayman Islands. Never had I imagined that it would be contentious. Never had I imagined that my normal life would be considered a hotbed of self-indulgence and conceit.

To clarify, the Caribbean is an incredibly diverse part of the world. There are thousands of Caribbean islands; some are fully developed while others are all but deserted. Each island has its own personality, history, and culture. It is a region that brims with colour and life and energy, where the people will welcome you into their homes without a second thought.

It is a region of Bob Marley, cricket, Castro, and sunshine. It is a region of contrasts, in which obscene luxury co-exists with extreme poverty, and luxury liners share the shore with weathered fishing dinghies.

Despite the many superlatives that apply to the Caribbean, each island has its own set of problems, and Cayman is not immune. From the slums of Cuba to the utter devastation of Haiti, the Caribbean has experienced, and continues to experience, human suffering at its absolute purest. This is a region that has survived colonialism, exploitation, natural disaster, dictatorships and hurricane after hurricane. Continue reading “Paradise: elusive and controversial”

In transit

Jan 27, 2011

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For $20 more I could’ve flown direct from Doha to Colombo. But I’ve already got a bunch of flyer points with this other airline, you see, so I flew with them instead, saving myself the price of five lattes and copping a ten hour stopover in Dubai.

I’ve become a bit of an expert at the old transit stop in the past year or so. Eleven extended (over two hours) sit-ins at international airports in the fourteen months, if memory serves. This was number twelve. And I reckon I’ve come as close as possible to perfecting the art of transit zen. The first step is accepting that it’s going to suck, and nothing you do is going to make it unsuck, so the best you can do is try to make it bearably suck.

Continue reading “Transit zen and sensory recall”

Kyrgyzstan

Jan 24, 2011

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Editor’s Warning: some of the below photos are gruesome and show dead animals.

Robin O’Brien writes: For something different, I tagged along to an eagle hunting carnival. This event is held every year in Bokonbayevo, Kyrgyzstan and it was a big one, since eagle Oymok was making his return from injury, having been bitten by a wolf he was sicced on at the carnival. Really.

This is Oymok and his master:

and master

A rabbit, about 100 metres away:

nearrabbit

Punters watching on:

punters

Oymok saw the rabbit…

flyingcornerThe rabbit saw bushes on the hillside and Oymok quickly followed:

rabbitcornerOymok didn’t find the rabbit though. The two were carefully separated:

eagleseperate

And returned to their respective corners, ready for round two. Continue reading “Eagles fight rabbits at a Kyrgyzstani hunting carnival”

Snow criket 2I celebrated Australia Day 2010 in Warsaw, Poland, with our little bunch of Aussie expats  here, in pretty much the same way I do most years: some of our mates, in this instance Pete and Fiona, fired up the barbie, we got some cold beers, and we played a bit of backyard cricket. We certainly weren’t going to make any concessions for the fact that it was minus 25 outside and there was a metre of snow on the ground.

OK, so we made a few concessions. It turns out that when it’s minus 25 even the top-of-the-range Meat Master doesn’t actually get warm. So the boys took turns at standing by the BBQ until their fingers started to freeze, at which point they brought the snags inside and did them on the stove. And since all the snow and ice made it a bit hard to run for the ball, our cricket game was short and mainly symbolic. Although Pete, the host with the most, built a luge run for the kids in the snow around the backyard. That was cool.  And there was mulled wine as well as cold beer. Because, well, that just seemed sensible.

But it was still Australia Day. It was still a bunch of Aussies together devouring unevenly cooked meat, drinking a bit too much beer and arguing over the merits of the Triple J Hottest 100 finalists. It’s tradition, after all. And when you’re away from home, keeping your traditions alive feels very important. Luckily, it doesn’t really have to make sense. Continue reading “An Expat Opinion: Anyone for snow cricket?”

Asia

Jan 18, 2011

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I’d like to present a study of the sometimes misunderstood mammal that is the Young Expat.

The Young Expat is not, as first thought, aggressive towards humans. Many Expats actually feast upon a vegetarian diet due to high celiac rates. Scientists continue to investigate the cause of this baffling trend.

The Expat is a social creature. When in large groups Expats will express enjoyment in the form of a loud, coarse roar. Occasionally this will excite neighbouring Clans. Inquisitive individuals may treat the act as a threat and as such will cautiously investigate in search of clarification. Sunset sees numerous Expats Clans congregate at local watering holes not only to hydrate but to parade colourful robes and dance in the hope of attracting a mate.

Expat communication is complicated compared to that of their nearest relative: the Homo sapiens. Known to scientists as ‘Facebook’ or ’email’ the complex communication system allows Expats to arrange mass gatherings known as ‘Events’. ‘Events’ can either be intimate or large gatherings containing up to several hundred members from various Clans. ‘Events’ can sometimes last for days. Continue reading “A study of the Young Expat”

Caribbean

Jan 17, 2011

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Back in a Bit - India Lloyd 1India Lloyd writes: Mention the words “tropical island” and most people conjure images of towering palms, sugar-white sands and sapphire waters. Most imagine a tranquil way of life, with picturesque huts on the beach, hammocks swaying in the breeze, perpetual sunshine, and endless cocktails. In short, an idyllic existence.

That is the impression I had in mind when I moved to the Cayman Islands, a tiny British territory in the Caribbean. In hindsight, it was a crazy notion. I could not find my new home on a map, nor could I tell you the first thing about the Cayman Islands. But I was ready for adventure and a tropical island sounded like the ideal place to start.

My friends and family had reacted to the move with a mix of amazement and envy. The idea of having a place to stay in the Caribbean added to their excitement. I spent an inordinate amount of time correcting people about exactly where I was going. “No, not Hayman Island. The Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean,” I said sagely, although, in reality, I wasn’t quite sure I knew where I was going either.

From the moment I stepped off the tarmac, into the oppressive August heat, I realised I was in no way prepared for my island experience. Traffic? Work? Hurricanes? Where was my tropical paradise? Where was I?

That was more than four years ago now and, needless to say, that initial, rose-tinted vision of life on a tropical island has been shattered. Continue reading “Shattering the rose-tinted vision of tropical island life”

mainstoryHere is a hot tip. If you must have your passport stolen, try and do it in a country where you have consular representation.

And if your passport does happen to be stolen in a vaguely obscure location — Kampala, let’s say — don’t let it happen on a weekend or the day after New Years Eve. The weekend after NYE would be an especially bad choice. Because if you do you may just find yourself cooling your heels for a week or two. You may just find yourself stranded in Uganda.

Last Sunday morning my wife and I were about to get on a bus to head home from Kampala to Nairobi. And then some guy on a boda — or motorcycle taxi — came driving past and knocked over my wife. She was fine — a grazed hand, some bruises — but she was swearing like a sailor. The boda driver had snatched her bag.

Kampala isn’t especially known for this sort of thing. Other than the occasional terrorism attack it is a very friendly town. There are bastards everywhere I guess. In any case after a quick inventory was made the only thing of real value lost was our passports. Then again, when you are about to get on an international bus your passports are pretty important.

So not home to Nairobi then. Most of Sunday was spent at the Kampala central police station. And other than the smashed windows and strong smell of stale urine the police station was actually pretty good. There was someone there at least. The Australian embassy in Nairobi was shut, as was the Canadian consulate in Kampala.

Australia does not have any consular representation in Uganda. Actually there is virtually no representation in any African countries at all. Not to worry though because when you are in trouble the Canadians will sort you out. We have a reciprocal relationship. In countries where Australia is not represented Canada plays mother, and where Canada is not represented the Australians provide the maple syrup. Where neither has a consul it is the British that protect our interests. Which is all fantastic until everyone goes on holiday. Continue reading “Up the Nile without a passport”

Uncategorized

Jan 7, 2011

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Sure, sure, it’s a week since we nursed New Years Eve hangovers and I’ve been back at work for several days and most blogs did their look back at 2010 last week and all the rest of it, but I’m finally ready to take a look back at 2010 in Back in a Bit and examine the year in travel that was.

It’s been quite a year for this little blog, with a significant increase in readership and new voices being heard. This blog started thanks to Scott Bridges and while his trip got cut short, Scott still managed to blog his fascinating trips through India and Iran. While he has penned numerous great posts, my favourite is probably the brilliant Pongal fluorescent cow Festival:pongal

“As Spykey and I toured the Mysore Maharajah’s Palace the other day our guide told us that it was illuminated by an insane 90,000 light globes every Sunday evening. Spewing that we were not going to be here on a Sunday we asked if it was ever lit up at any other time. “Only at Pongal,” he said; “but hang on – Pongal is this week!”

Sitting down later at an Internet cafe to do some Googling I discovered that Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated by Tamils around the world, and with South India being prime Tamil territory there was going to be a Pongal celebration in Mysore. And it seems that cows are a central feature of Pongal, with fluoro yellow cows popping up all over town as 14 January approached.

And once we saw our first specimen the fluoro cow floodgates seemed to open, with yellow cows suddenly appearing everywhere, nonchalantly blocking traffic all over town. Most of them were yellow but now and again we saw green and blue varieties; some of them also had horns painted bright primary colours to match their fetching coats.”

Closely followed by The Christopher Pyne Unicorn Hunt.

IMG_5377

While our Slide Night series has dropped off lately (what, you seriously don’t have an amazing little travel photo and story you’d like to share?), we have checked out the madness of Marrakech’s market and how pretty it looks when a volcano melts your runners.

Kevin O’Fairchellaigh wrote his way around the world, in a series of wonderful posts, including a heated attack against travellers who love their cameras and a lovely look at the Passive Aggressive Book Club being conducted between him and his travel partner.

But it was his examination on The Many Wankers of the Backpacker Rainbow that was the most viewed post on Back in a Bit all year by a couple of hundred clicks. And if you’re a regular in hostels, it will ring very true for you:

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. Continue reading “A belated best of Back in a Bit”

Japan

Jan 5, 2011

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engrish2Paul Johannessen writes: Only one more day to go of my part-time gig teaching English to Japanese people. I’m heading home for a month and decided to also give up the teaching gig and look for employment in a field I am both more interested in, and qualified to be working in. I’ve never worked as a teacher before, and it seems not many of my colleagues have either. This once highly-paid and desirable mode of employment for any wandering, somewhat geeky, not particularly skilled Westerner (all too often with a taste for the fairer Japanese sex), no longer lives up to the hype of what it was, pre-bubble.

Legend tells of $50-100 per hour wages and bored housewives eager for some extra-curricular activities, in short, the high life for any young, single, traveling man.

Now, that life no longer seems to exist.

Two of the major chain-store language schools have gone bust in the past few years, leaving thousands of teachers unemployed. The hourly rate is as low as $10 in some places, and between 25 and 30 at most. That’s a livable wage for Tokyo these days, no doubt, but nothing like it was back in the good old days of Japanese economic dominance.

My soon to be ex-employer is a small family-owned business managed by a very competent Australian with over a decade’s experience teaching English in Japan. It was a pleasant enough place to work, but I just don’t feel like I fit the bill as a teacher.

One day to go.

11am. Four girls, all aged seven or eight, and one seven year old boy. The eldest girl, and smartest in the class, spends most of the lesson lying across the table. It’s clearly some kind of power play, as she often also exerts her dominance over the other younger girls in the class. When I try to get them writing (none of their previous teachers seem to have focused much on writing before), the girls all studiously comply, whilst the boy switches off completely.

His body remains, head lying on arms on the table, but his consciousness takes a leave of absence. He is completely unreachable. So, after a few minutes of pen to paper we go back to some other vocabulary exercises featuring some flash cards and chance for silliness, so the boy suddenly wakes up and rejoins the class. Only now, he is off his chair running around the incredibly cramped room, messing with my teaching materials, re-ordering pictures on the wall, yet also seemingly paying attention, as he occasionally pipes in with the correct answer to my questions.

“What is it?”

“Pen!” they all shout.

“How old are you?” I ask one of the girls.

“I’m fine thank you,” she replies. But they are kids — lively, cheeky, fun and playful.

11:45am. A generic salary-man in his early sixties enters for his lesson. He originally joined a class with two other long-time students who were already using a level two textbook. We continue to use the same book, even though his two classmates stopped coming a few months ago. (Was it my teaching? Who knows?)

Now he is essentially a level above where he should be, but he already bought the book so we take it week for week. He does copious preparation before each lesson, scribbling translations into Japanese all over the pages. I imagine he does this at work, seeing as he is nearing his retirement, and that his management position most likely no longer involves much actual work.

He simply has to maintain the status quo from an economic age that has passed, that has been rendered redundant by changing demographics, is in desperate need of reform, but is being maintained by men just like him, for simplicity, or traditions sake. Or because Japanese society avoids change at all costs — no one wants to rock the boat.

“How are you today?” I ask.

“How are you today.” He replies with lightning speed, as a statement, and then realises that he has answered incorrectly.

He chuckles at himself. He makes the same mistake every week, without fail. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It is in his blood, Japanese education has only ever relied on repetition and regurgitation. Continue reading “Teaching Engrish: one day in a Japanese English school”

United Kingdom

Jan 4, 2011

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Crikey intern Alexandra Patrikios writes: Sure, Frodo and Sam may have trekked all the way from The Shire to Mount Doom, but as far as epic journeys go, I can go one better. As a young girl I made the journey from Melbourne to Oxford, by way of Wellington, all to catch a glimpse of a real-life hobbit.

The year was 2003: Pluto was still a planet, Howard was prime minister, and Tatu were in the charts. It was an exciting time to be alive.

Mere months before the beginning of the New Year, I’d lined up for two hours just to score good seats for a little independent arthouse flick known as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Captivated by the mythological lore of Middle Earth (as well as, I very reluctantly confess, the satiny skin of Orlando Bloom), I fell in love with a film franchise shot just a quick hop, skip and jump across the pond. Over the proceeding weeks, I made it my sole undertaking to nag and pester my dad so we could go to the Land of the Long White Cloud and try to spot Gandalf’s pointy hat poking through the mist.

Miraculously, my plan worked. But when I arrived in Wellington, brimming with youthful enthusiasm, things took a turn for the worse. We’d traversed the city all morning — itself not unlike a slightly bedraggled, less well-groomed San Francisco — searching for the exhibition centre, and when we eventually found it, the delay had only trebled my excitement.

That’s when it all went horribly wrong. Continue reading “Hobbit-hunting in New Zealand, stalking Tolkien in Oxford: tales of a Fangirl”