Thursday, June 24, 2004

I took a plane from Sydney on Tuesday to Byron Bay. To my relative delight I discovered I would be flying by a propeller-driven aircraft which meant low altitude and another (albeit not amazing) first for this blogger. It was a fifty seater - there were about 35 passengers. And the flight was a fantastic experience. The start of the flight was over Sydney and the harbor looked terrific from the air. I saw the northern beach town of Manly where I spent much of my time and I proceeded to followed my map as the plane flew up the East Coast towards Byron Bay - a gorgeous town half way up the coast and the most easterly point of mainland Oz.

Byron Bay - at least a tiny bit of it; with a stupid tree in the foreground.

It's quite touristy here but very pleasant nevertheless. It does seem that the traveling scene is quite different here than it is in South East Asia. For a start there are a damn sight more English people here (although there were still many in Asia) and the travelers seem to be younger and more inclined to drink beer and attempt to have sex with members of the opposite sex. Here you'll meet far more horny eighteen year old boys looking for some sexual adventure than anywhere else in the known world (except Ibiza probably).

So I've got to grips with Australian culture. It took me about three minutes. Shit, shit, shit television; meaty foods; beer; sport; and a love of life - which all the previous things in the list point to. Bad television is a sign that the population are actually doing things rather than watching the box, so that's good. It's easy to travel here, the most difficult thing is that there is too much to choose from. Everywhere can be found countless brochures, magazines, books and leaflets advertising methods of travel and things to do. Everybody has tips on where I should go. I just want to see a bloody kangaroo and a koala. That's it.

And the football. I must see all the football...

Hero's come in all shapes and sizes...

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Australia really is a strange country. Because it is an island continent that has been seperated from the rest of the world for millions of years, it has spawned its own branches of evolution that have created plants and animals that are alien to the rest of the world. European colonisation has bought with it much foreign life (and therefore familiar to me); but merely strolling around even a major metropolis like Sydney has caused me much nature-related consternation. The plants are weird, the trees even odder, and there seems to be a completely different animal hierarchy than what I am used to. There are these huge and fat long beaked birds waddling around the city called White Ibis'...

The Australian White Ibis

....and odd odd odd looking trees....
The Queensland Bottle Tree. Stupid tree.

Sydney is a very beautiful city, although the traffic lights have ridiculous sounding pedestrian crossings, pubs are called 'Hotels' although few actually rent out rooms and the prices here are extremely expensive . So much so that I wonder how much time I dare spend here before flying back to the cheapy cheap south-east Asia. The meat pie looms large here and nationalism is strong. I have to say the "100% Australian Owned and Managed" signs on some shops are disturbing to say the least but in general Ausralians are extremely friendly and approachable.

One of my last nights in bangkok was an interesting one. A Canadian chap I was travelling with from Cambodia for a couple of weeks idioticaly accepted the invitation to smoke a joint whilst in the Khao San Road area. Which is an idea even more stupid than Australia's animals and fauna. The Thai government has really been cracking down hard on drugs (overdoing it in fact, much to the consternation of the world's civil rights groups) and being caught in posession of even a trace of narcotics of any kind brings with it a long spell in a dark and unpleasant prison, followed by deportation and a criminal record. And so Brandon (for that is his name) was inevitably arrested with spliff in hand and marched down to the local police station. I saw the police surrounding Brandon and I followed them as he got taken to the station along with a couple of other concerned friends. But Brandon was a fortunate boy as members of the International Red Cross happened to be drinking at the pub and witnessed the whole thing. One of them came down to ensure things were conducted properly and to help Brandon say the right things. In the end I had to run off to a local 7-11 (great places - air conditioning and massive Squishys for only 20 bhat) to buy a bottle of whisky for the coppers. Classic SE Asian bribary.

Lucky Canadian git.

Thinking about going to Byron Bay next - but must be careful regarding the Euro 2004 fixture list.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I don't have access to Photoshop, nor do I have any of the patience or time required to change the banner at the top of this page. Which is a bit of a bummer because I'm leaving to fly to Australia tomorrow and that is not, strictly speaking, or actually in any sense whatsoever, in the tropics.

I have departed from Cambodia now and I am currently writing from Bangkok. My last stop before entering Thailand again was at the town of Siem Reap, situated near the Temples of Angkor which is easily the most amazing place I have ever visited. My second World Heritage Site, the Temples are situated in a beautiful forested archeological park about 400 square kilometers in size. The temples are the remains of structures built between the 9th and the 15th century and include Angkor Wat - the world's largest religious building:

A rather fetching picture of Angkor Wat

Some temples are in a better state than others, but all are covered with exquisite carvings and intricate patterns. I spent three days exploring the temples - and I felt like Indiana Jones. In fact the Indiana Jones inspired film Tomb Raider used most people's favourite temple Ta Phrom. Why should this be so?

Here's an example:

Small bit of Ta Phrom

The archaeologists discovered the site of the temples in the first half of the twentieth century and since then have undertaken a massive clearance and restoration project. However they decided to leave Ta Phrom of an example of what the jungle had done to the temples over the many centuries. So they half cleared it and left some amazing examples of wood clasping stone. I wondered around this site open mouthed.

During my time in Siem Reap I also visited the Aki Ra Landmine Museum which was the most fascinating museum I have ever been to. Please, please, please take some time to read Aki Ra's story. I have used a lot of what might appear to be hyperbole in this entry but I assure you I have chosen my words very carefully. And without exaggeration I also tell you that his story will leave you in utter amazement:

My Story - Aki Ra

Aki Ra still clears mines and uses them to fill his museum, but since his website was written the Cambodian government has confiscated his metal detectorand has tried various times to shut him down. Not being an NGO (although trying to secure NGO status), Aki Ra is not permitted by law to clear mines - he currently uses a spade tied to the end of a long stick. Whilst NGO's clear mines at an agonisingly slow pace and at the cost of $500 per mine, Aki Ra has been clearing mines quickly and very cheaply. His museum is filled with various mines he has recovered and made safe, plus bombs dropped by US planes on Cambodia (very, very heavy) and various other miscellany.

The museum survives on donations and Aki Ra uses the money to educate local farmers about the dangers of mines and to look after orphan children who have been the victims of mines themselves. What is most striking about the issue of mines is that both sides laid them and victims would be as likely to get injured by mines laid by their own side as those placed by the other - although the Americans also laid many mines in Eastern Cambodia when they secretly bought the Vietnam War west over the Vietnamese border. The US' actions during this period and their indifference to anything except their own ends is largely, if not entirely, responsible for the horrors that Cambodia suffered after the US withdrawl from the region. The American's called Cambodia their 'sideshow' - yet their interference with the country's entire infrastructure had direct consequences that are still being felt to this day. I'm currently reading a history book regarding Cambodia and the US' involvement there. I'm almost ripping my hair out with anger at what I have been learning. I promised myself I wouldn't write about this until I finished reading the whole book, so more about this next time....