Saturday, July 26, 2003

After 10 days of living a life of air-conditioned comfort in singapore, it's finally time to head of into the unknown once again. Now the plan is to head to Indonesia, but having checked the US and UK foreign office web pages this seems like guaranteed suicide. Here's what they have to say:

basic summary: If your not there yet, don't go. If you're there already, leave.

So what should I do? Should I follow the advice of the western governments, or should I follow my instincts? Do the indonesians really want my head on a pole, or is that just stupid ignorant propoganda? Well there's only one way to find out... join me as I go to Indonesia in search of someone who wants me dead.....

24th July 03

I left my gf at the ferry termial in singapore. I had to say a very fast goodbye as my eyes were starting to leak. The ferry ride to batam was very unexceptional, except for my trying not to cry the whole way, but as soon as I reached batam and turned right out of the ferry terminal, things went crazy. All the singaporeans turned left towards their cheap brothel day trips, but turning right led me to the domestic ferry terminal. After about 6 metres I walked into another world! Suddenly I was hit by a barrage of noise as the ticket vendors competed to shout over one another. I went up to the first counter and was quoted 81,000 rupiah, 31,000 more than "the book" said, so I pressed on. I soon discovered that the book was full of shit, and paid up. As I wen't through to board, every single person smiled at me and said hello. After singapore it was quite surreal! Even the guy taking money for "seaport tax" looked at my ticket and said "Billy...mmm, that's a good name...mmm, yes, very good name", before handing me my tax coupon with a smile. Then the customs guy wanted me to stop and explain to him how my remote for my MD player worked. Then as I aproached the ferry an oldish guy came running up going "Hello! Hello! Show me your ticket!". Now, I'm naturally suspicious these days, so I showed it to him but held on to the corner firmly. "Ah ha!" he exclaimed breaking ito a huge grin, "seat 47!", as if this was just as he had suspected. For some reason he kept ruffling my hair like you would to a small child, which was quite an effort for him as he was at least 2 feet shorter than me!

He led me onto the ferry (I was starting to realise that this was rather special treatment) and to my seat. Then he anounced to me and anyone else who would listen, "Look, you white skin, everyone else brown skin! You the only one!". "Yes, that's right!", I agreed enthusiastically, and feeling obliged to live up to my newly given celebrity status, I said Hi and smiled and waved to the two guys sat behind me as I took my seat.

As the journey began I got chatting with the guy behind me, who's name turned out to be Doni (Dooney). He was a graduate and had been working for an oil company in Batam for 3 months before the company collapsed and he was laid off. Now he was on his way back to his hometown of pekanbaru for his friend's graduation ceremony. About 3 mins into the conversation (before i had found out any of this stuff about him), after he had found out that I was going to be stayig in pekanbaru for a night before heading to bukkittingi, he offered to let me stay at his place, and said he could be my guide, take care of me etc etc. Now as I have mentioned before, 6 months of travel have made me naturally wary of anyone who offers me anything for free, as it invariably ends with a sob story about some dire situation that can only be resovled by a generous donation of my cash! So I politely declined, saying that I needed a hotel as I was really tired and wated to sleep in the afternoon. Doni reluctantly agreed but then started arranging how he could help me find a hotel near his house! After he explained that his house was near the Bus Station I figured what the hell. I was starting to trust the guy!

He asked me if I was a christian or a muslim and then laughed in amazement when I told him niether. "But don't you want to go to heaven?!" he asked me in disbelief. I told him I figured if jesus was really as forgiving as he says he is, that he'd probably let me in anyway. He clearly saw this attitude as being a rather big gamble and looked at me with an almost admirable disbelief, as if I had just told him I was going to hike everest i my underwear on the off-chance that it wasn't cold.

Once the ferry arrived in Sumatra we all had to pile onto a small bus, and I was told that my bag would have to be put on the roof. Then, after I had got on the bus, reluctantly leaving my bag with the lads outside, one of them got on and told me I had to pay 5000 rupiah (about 60 cents) for my bag! I was used to this kind of thing from india and nepal, and I figured it was the same. In India (with some exceptions) they only ask the foreigners for money, and I found the easiest way to avoid an argument was just to put my own bag on the roof. So, I got up to go out and do this, and Doni came with me. He spoke to the boys in indonesian for a minute and then reached in his pocket, pulled out 5000, and paid them!! Before I had a chance to reach for my bag OR my money belt! I tried to give him the money back, but he wouldn't take it. When i tried to explain that they were just asking me for money because I was foreign, he said no, he had just asked them and everyone had to pay.... So, feeling stingy and a bit guilty for doubting his honesty, I got back on board.

The bus ride made my worst Indian or nepalese bus trips seem like a cruise down the Auto-Bahn in a new BMW. The "road" from the ferry terminal to Pekanbaru was made from a combination of dust and rocks. I still have a significant amount of the dust with me in my nose, throat and lungs. What was the most amazing was the speed at which the bus drove over this uneven, rocky terrain. It practically flew! What i found particulary ironic was that while the boat ride had been fast and smooth, the bus ride was making me decidedly sea-sick...

The high point of the bus rtide for me was when we came to a ferry river crossing. As the bus waited for the ferry, hoardes of food hawkers started climbing on the bus or shouting through the windows, trying to entice us to try their salted peanuts, or these small speckled blue eggs that looked decidedly endangered... Then, just as the bus pulled onto the ferry, a boy jumped on carrying a guitar. I assumed he was a passenger, but as the ferry pulled away, he lifted his guitar, jostled himself some space in the already crowded aisle, and began to play. At first he just seemed to be banging out some random chords and talking over them in Indonesian, but then the song began proper, and I have to say, it was pretty catchy! He sung us all the way to the other side and then pulled out a piece of magazine folded into a makeshift envelope and went around collecting money. Genius! I think the buskers in the london Underground could learn from this: why play to a mobile crowd in a rush when you could get ON the tube and have a captive audience!?

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

ok, I guess it's time to try and update my blog, so here goes...

After finishing my PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses in Ko Tao, I set about trying to figure out how to get to Singapore as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Being an idiot I left it until the day before I travelled to ask about booking tickets, and of course was told that the trains were all fully booked! The only other option... you've guessed it... the bus!! Not just the bus; actually the proposed route was 8 hours on a "night boat", follwed by 5 hours in a "mini-van" followed by 20 hours in a "VIP bus". That's a total of 33 hours continuous travelling!!...

So anyway, I set off in the evening for the night boat with fairly high expectations... The woman in the travel agents had told me that the night boat was very comfortable and I could get a good nights sleep on it, so when I arrived at the pier I was a bit surprised to find the only boat moored there was an old wooden fishing boat.... But I figured maybe it was like Dr Who's Tardis, small and dull on the outside, big and flashy on the inside. I was wrong. Inside, the deck was just like...well, a deck i suppose.. you know, bits of rope, boxes, barrels, anchors etc etc.... then I found out that the sleeping quarters were actually upstairs, and I stepped back from the brink of despair momentarily. Then I climbed the ladder to the top deck. Upstairs was an area about 5mx10m with hard sleeping mats layed down the 2 sides of the "room". The cieling was only about 1m high, and there was small hard pillows spread along the edges of each side of the floor. Each person had about 2 feet of space in which to sleep, and the heat was unbearable. Now all of this may sound a bit harsh, but actually none of what I have just described was really a problem. I mean all you really need is a piece of floor big anough to lie on and soft enough not to bruise... no, the problem wasn't the heat or the beds, the problem was to 10 foot swells that we were sailing through! As the storm raged outside, the boat rocked from side to side to 50 degree angles, causing everyone to slide out of their beds and across the floor. As well as this, the front of the boat (over which I was sleeping) kept lurching up a wave and then crashing down into the next trough. It was so bad it was almost funny. The floor didn't stop moving for at least 24 hours after I got off the boat!

Right, I'm trying to write this whilst ppl are watching "Sex and the City" in the same room and to be honest it's impossible not to listen to it, making it impossible to write anything worth reading, so i'm gonna give up.... maybe I'll continue later.... :)

Sunday, July 13, 2003

honeeey, i'm hoooome!!

Yep, that's right, I'm back in Singpore, the land of the free (gifts). I'll write up the events of the last few days a bit later, as i haven't slept for quite a long time, but if anyone want's to meet me for a coffee or a beer while I'm here, please feel free to drop me a mail... :)

Sunday, July 06, 2003

I had a very odd dream last night...

I was finger painting with Eminem (as you do) and his painting was really colourful, but on mine all the colours were mixing together and making a big brown mess. Not content to be better than me at rapping he has to be better than me at finger painting as well! Smug bastard. And while we're there finger painting I'm desperately trying to turn the conversation towards MC'ing so I can try and show him my skills and get a record deal! At some point we aquired brushes, but the style of the painting remained the same: splodge paint on and make pretty colours (or in my case, brown). Then we went for a walk, and all the time I'm thinking "I can't believe I've just been finger painting with Eminem! This is insane! I must try to get his phone number so I can call and pester him!". Being in dreamworld I don't think I quite apprciated just how bizzare the situaton really was......

When I told Duncan, one of the guys at my dive school, about my dream, he commented that even if he was trying to come up with something surreal he wouldn't be able to concieve of something quite so ludicrous. I think he was trying to suggest that my brain is a little fucked up, but I think it shows I have a vivid imagination... :)

I did my PADI Open Water exam today. I passed with flying colours, so now I just have to do the Open Water Dives.... Still worried about my ears, but now I have some special de-congestant for diving which will hopefully help. But if the next time you see me and shout and I don't respond, it's not because I've decided your a dick after all, it's because I've burst both my ear drums.....

it's a funny old world isn't it. Just thought I'd share that with you.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

My god I'm tired!

For the first time since my GCSE's at the age of 16, I find myself studying from a fat text book for an exam tommorow!! Not only that, but I'm spending all day watching training videos and swimming about in heavy scuba gear, and then being told that I have to read 100 pages in the evening! Needless to say i haven't been. I mean I TRIED! But as soon as I lie in my hammock and start to read, my eyes just close and I'm asleep! It's amazing! If the writer's of these books were to shift their market to insomniacs, they could put a lot of phamecutical companies out of business overnight (maybe a week, to give the insomniacs time to sleep before calling the doctor to cancel their prescriptions).

I went down to 3 metres today and sat on the bottom and performed lots of suicdal tricks like throwing your air away and then trying steal your friend's (it's part of the course! honest!) Anyway, I'm not entirely sure how my ears are gonna cope with the 18 metres tommorow,as they were giving me some shit today..little fuckers... giving me a right earful they were....

KO Tao is a majorly beautiful island tho. The water's crystal clear ( the sea water that is, the stuff that comes out of the tap is brown and murky), and the sun was shining like a big ball of firey gas... I say "was", as today it cloudy and shit. The water I was diving in had about a 6 foot swell, which may not sound like much, but when your floating in it trying to remove your scuba gear and put it back on again without swallowing too many endangered aquatic species in the process, it seems pretty high I can tell you.

So yeah anyway, unless you want to hear about nitrogen bubbles in the blood, oxygen toxicity, rip tides, or eqipment that is available in a variety of colours and styles, then I've not really got a lot to say.....

oh well, I'd better go and revise... :(

Thursday, July 03, 2003

In Ko Tao starting PADI Open Water course tomorrow. Can't wait!!

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Cheap Internet!!!! :)

ok, no more excuses now. I shall endevour to write something interesting. The problem is that when you're lying on a beach getting a tan very little of interest actually happens. I guess I could rustle up a couple of fairly decent little anecdotes.....

So, when I arrived in Ko Chang, I have to say I was pretty dissapointed. The beach I ended up at, White Sands, was just one long stretch of upmarket resort type bungalows with air-con and all the rest. I managed to find myself a cheapie hut at the far end of the beach but it just didn't feel right. I went out to have a drink and maybe meet some ppl, but it seemed that I was the only lone traveller there. Everyone else was in a couple, either of the traditional variety, or (more commonly) of the 1000 baht a night variety. I didn't really fancy chatting to some fat middle aged german who would keep informing me that the pre-pubescant looking thai girl sat on his beer belly was a "real cracker", so I headed home feeling a bit displaced and pining for India.

The second day was better. I went to the bar next door to my hut and made friends with the owner, a thai guy called Sonor. The bar was empty apart from a couple of fat eoropeans with thai girls, so we chatted until everyone had left, and then Sonor Invited my out to go have some drinks with him. I accepted greatfully and we set off in his pick-up to find a "karaoke bar". Unfortunately, Sonor told me wistfully, the police had closed down all the Karaoke bars pending further bribes, and thus deprived the thai men of the favourite form of entertainment. However, there was one place still open. A huge lump of concrete sticking out of the middle of no where with an enormous neon sign proclaiming it the "Sky Bar". Sonor said he had to make a phone call and told me to go ahead. I walked thru the doors past a few hopefull looking hookers and found myself the only human being in a large concert hall filled with tables. There was a band on the stage knocking out english and thai pop songs to a fairly unresponsive audience: me.

No sooner had I entered than the entire staff of waiters started closing in on me from all angles, desperate for a moment of work to relieve the boredom of job with no purpose.

"Hello Sir! You alone?"

said the guy who arrived first, somehow managing to offer me a range of sexual services simply using his eyebrows.

"No No, I'm with a friend... I'll have 2 beers please"

" Two beers?"

"Yes please"

"Not one?"

"No No, I really have a friend, he's just using the phone!"

So they bring me two beers and I sit there with the entire staff watching me as i sit and wait.... and wait..... and wait..... After 30 mins Sonor still hasn't arrived. The staff have started giving me knowing glances, once again coveying huge amounts of sub-text with their eyebrows: "You don't need to be embaressed sir, many single men come here looking for a good time... Let me intoduce you to Noi, she can be your companion for the night..."

Finally Sonor walked in and I had a moment of triumph, throwing my best "I told you so" stares at the staff. Later a group of thais who Sonor knew arrived and we joined them. I should say that by this point I had already drunk about 5 litres of Beer Chang, which is 6.5%, and was feeling considerably tipsy.... Then one of the new group offered me a drink. I accepted without thinking and suddenly had a whiskey and coke in front of me. That's ok, I thought, one whiskey and coke will be ok. How wrong i was. What i didn't realise is that every time I drank half of my glass, one of the waiters would reach over while I wasn't looking and top it up from the bottles on the table behind us! So a few hours later and god knows how many whiskey and cokes, the time finally arrived for the club to close. At this point I suddenly realised thru my drunken haze that Sonor was no longer with us! My new friends were going the wrong way and couldn't give me a lift, so i decided to go and see if his car was still there.

Outside I managed to spot his car and stagger towards it, realising on the way that he was actually sat in the drivers seat. Assuming he was waiting for me I flung open the door and slumped into the passenger seat. Then I looked across and was surprised to find Sonor getting his dick sucked by a whore leaning in the driver's door! I think I then mumbled something and slumped back out of the car before retreating to what seemed like a polite distance. I waited until I saw the crouched figure leave and then stagged back. At this point my memory kind of blacks out, but I vaguely remember Sonor dropping me off and me wondering why he was dropping me in the middle of nowhere before realising it was my guesthouse...... Needless to say the next day i felt like a huge pile of warm shit.

Then I got ill. Dioreah, sore throat etc.... So I decided not to go out, and ended up going to sonor's place for some food. This was a mistake, as he introduced me to another group of thais who once again made me drink whiskey. Despite the fact that I don't like whiskey, I have to say it was really great to have thais giving things to me rather than the other way round. They really are a generous lot once you get away from the tourists.

On about my 4th day in Ko Chang, I decided to rent a scooter and head off into the great unknown to find a beautiful beach to move to. I found a great beach and then decided to visit the waterfall in the middle of the island. After an hour or so of swimming around and generally feeling like a bit of a sad git (everyone else was in groups) I decoded to leave. On my way out I passed a big group of school kids on a day trip with their teacher. He stopped me as I passed with the obligatory "Hey! where you from?". We got chatting and he ended up darwing a characature of me, which I have to say was pretty good. He then told me his name was "tiger" and did a little "grrr" to emphasise his point... I noticed he was a little camp, so the "tiger" thing seemed fairly apt. Later on when I got back home, I showed the drawing to some friends I'd made. It was only then that i realised he's written a little note at the bottom..... "For Mr Billy, from your friend Tiger (hp 976 3574)" !!!! It hadn't really even ocurred to me at the time that he was chatting me up, as he was with all his students who were listening to our conversation, but I think it was pretty clear from the note that he wanted my butt! Cant blame him tho.... :)

Right, I've had enough of writing and you've had enough of reading, so I'll finish just by saying that my new plan (it changes every day) is to skip most of SE Asia and head straight for singapore before spending a month or so in Indonesia. So if all goes well I should be in singapore in less than 2 weeks!! So prepare yourself singapore.... the undercover hippy approaches........