Winter Flashbacks

December 30th, 2012 – Salish Sea, British Columbia

It’s cold here. Tired and seeking warmth, I close my eyes and fade away into my mind for memories of the past year. Here’s a bit of what I uncovered in my head when I was listening to this song…

Inspired by Noah Cohen’s 2012 Innersection entry.

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Today

Friday, October 12th

Marrakech, Morocco

The most dangerous risk of all.

“Imagine… There is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. And every evening deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out ALL OF IT, of course!

Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME.

Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft.

Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.”

You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today.” ~Unknown

BanglaRant

“It probably seems like I’ve got a hate on for Bangladesh. I don’t. I enjoyed my stay, but to say I’m not excited to be leaving would be a lie.”

I’m currently chilling in the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I’ve been all day. It’s official: Bangladesh has the most unreliable airlines ever. My flight from Cox’s Bazar to Dhaka was delayed, then re-delayed countless times until we finally left 8 hours late. No real reason was given because frankly even the staff didn’t seem to know. Currently, my flight from Dhaka to Bangkok was set to leave at 9am. They’re now saying it should leave by 7pm (in fact none of the 6 flights I’ve taken here have been close to leaving on time). Nothing to do but sit and wait and people watch and get watched. In Bangladesh, you are the star; you’re not taking pictures of others so much as fending off photos of yourself. I tell myself I shouldn’t feel annoyed at the endless photos, after all, I take pictures of others while travelling all the time. How is it any different? It’s a good lesson when ‘the tables are turned so to speak.

Why are all these ppl standing around staring? If you guessed there’s a white guy in the middle doing nothing more exciting than picking his nose, you are correct!

I wish I could just sit in a quiet part of the airport. I’ve moved about 5 times now, always to an empty area of seats, but it seems my presence somehow draws people to sit around. Of course this is almost surely related to being a foreigner. After a month here I still can’t get fully comfortable with being an attraction. It’s not that you don’t get used to it, it’s just that it doesn’t fit my personality. I prefer to wander around unnoticed in the background, being more of a voyeur, observing others in their daily life, as opposed to being in the centre of a circle of gawkers. Oh well, comes with the territory. I’m greatly looking forward to Thailand, where foreigners aren’t a novelty, and where the food is varied and delicious. I don’t want to be an ass, but you gotta call it how it is: Bangladesh’s “local food” has been a bit of a disappointment. You think they’d take a tip from their neighbours in India who make some of the most delicious dishes on the planet. But no. In all the little local stalls, all they have are about 4 items at any time of day, nearly always deep fried and usually bland (plain naan, parattas, deep fried bread balls, shingaras which are like a low quality version of samosas and bland dhal lentils or chopzie chick peas). To compensate for this there is ubiquitous use of green chillis. If you can’t add flavour, make it spicy seems to be the motto. The best meal I had in Bangladesh was Indian food and it was fucking amazing. Why they don’t adopt more of this style of cooking baffles me.

Boys intrigued by the foreigner. The leftmost two have a white paste on their faces made from a ground up tree. It acts as sunblock and facial whitener. They lived in a slum area near some now-relatively rare Bhuddist stupas. They might be of Burmese heritage.

“Everywhere you go in Bangladesh is a giant sausagefest.”

I’ve probably already started to offend people with this rant, particularly Bengalis. It probably seems like I’ve got a big hate on for Bangladesh. I don’t. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay, but to say I’m not excited to be leaving would be a lie. Of course, there are many good things about Bangladesh: the people are uber nice but sometimes overly so and to a fault (once you make a true friend here, they’re loyal and giving like none other. The problem is everyonewants to be your friend); it’s super cheap (especially food, labour and textiles) and once they know you people will be nice by giving you the ‘local price’ aka not overcharging you. The sad thing is that not being grossly overcharged has to be considered a bonus, whereas in many countries it’s accepted that all are charged equally (of course, this can apply to many countries, but here it’s taken to a whole new level).

Odds that all five persons in this picture are male?
Finding a female is like playing where’s Waldo…

Equality. This is another sticking point for me. Let’s face it: women are often not treated as equals here. They rarely run shops. You never see them in the local food stands. Everywhere you go it’s a giant sausagefest. They’re kept covered up, or cooped up. Wtf. And yet Bengalese men like to look at women. They like soft core porn, though they’ll never admit it. Yet they repress women, and disrespect them if dressed ‘unmodestly’. There’s a lot of sexual repression and tension here… and for obvious reasons. You can’t have sex until marriage (well legally you can but morally it’s a no-no). Teenage boys don’t really seem to date girls like in other places. In fact, boys don’t seem to even hang out with girls unless they’re still like 7 year olds playing in the street. Men spend most of their waking hours with other men. And surprise surprise, does this lead to males discreetly having relationships with other males? You bet it does, though they will never admit it.

Traffic on the main street of Cox’s Bazar.

Alcohol is rare and hard to find, and yet Bengalese men want to drink, in fact in my experience some are desperate to drink. We had a waiter come up to us in a fancy restaurant and ask if he could drink our wine (that we brought because obviously they don’t serve it anywhere). We had people we considered friends steal a full bottle of gin at a party we invited them to. It’s conservative here, but many people don’t want to be conservative. They’ll say they do, but their actions speak otherwise. Why don’t people here just give-up the charade, stop being hypocritical, and allow themselves to enjoy the things they want to in life? Accept the fact humans are still animals who like to have sex for pleasure, that being attracted to girls is ok, that sometimes men want to love and fuck each other in the bum and that women are capable and strong individuals? You know why? Religion.

Of course I’ve painted broad brush strokes here. There are many, many Bengalis I met who do not fit the above descriptions. But the majority determines the rules, or so they say.

You’d be le tired too if you had to bust your ass biking all day in this heat/humidity.

I’ve never seen a greater disparity between rich and poor than here. You want to see poverty? Come on down! People drinking sewage water, bruising their teeth with it, working their asses off for pennies, combing thru street garbage with the cows and chickens. Bangladesh could greatly improve its lot in life, and on its own even, it seems. But the government is so corrupt and inept. It’s like they don’t really care about their own people. Most foreigners I met work for some sort of NGO or international humanitarian organisation. Ask them about their interactions with the government. Southern Bangladesh is home to hundreds of thousands of Myanmar refugees living in two camps. Many organizations work to improve living conditions for these displaced people. But when they do too good of a job, the Bangladesh government steps in and bans/prevents them from continuing the good work, or kicks them out completely. The gov’t is also unwilling to let these Bhuddist peoples integrate into society, even though they’re historically the same in terms of customs, religion, language and ethnicity as those of southern Bangladesh. How crazy is that, they are the same people!!, but are not allowed to actually be the same anymore. In other words, the Bengali gov’t purposely wants them to have a shitty life, and takes actions towards this. It’s amazing to see such intolerance from a country populated by a people whom many were themselves refugees in the 1970’s during their war for independence. What are some of the factors could contribute to this? I’ll give you a hint. Starts with ‘R’, ends with ‘eligion’. Here’s a cool story I heard ‘through the grapevine’: Government to NGO: “If we find out you have a Jew working for you we are going to shut you down.” Wow.

Dhaka defines the term ‘rat-race’.  An overwhelming maze of traffic, pollution, urbanization and daily struggle.  18 million and counting as peeps continue to flood in from the countryside. Some die in the streets, their bodies picked up unceremoniously by a cart, medieval-style. This place’ll make you desensitized to child labour and poverty.

And of course why would they want to effectively deal with health issues? If they effectively solved problems like AIDS then there would be no more need for aid organizations to be there and the money would stop flowing. It’s much better to halfheartedly try to solve health problems (aka ignore advice and do things ‘your way’) and therefore continue to live off the relatively ‘big money’ that these foreign aid groups bring in. That is corruption, and that is how they roll here. Don’t believe it? Talk to the foreigners working with the aid groups trying to help people here and see what they have to say about their experiences.

But fuck me, it appears I’ve just made one of the longest, most negative posts ever. I apologize. It’s not like me to be like this. But after a month of these blatant things staring me in the face (literally at times) I guess I just had to rant.

“I did nothing to deserve such a radically better life than these people. I was simply born in the right place at the right time.”

At the end of the day, I can sit up here in my high horse and preach, but what do I really know. I’m just a transient wanderer passing through. In one month I can’t really understand any place or its people’s lives that fully. My viewpoint is extremely one-sided at best, but it’s my viewpoint nonetheless. I will say one thing with surety however: that visiting here, more than anywhere, has made me more grateful than words can describe about my lot in life. The word lucky doesn’t even come close. I did NOTHING to deserve such a radically better life than some of these people. I was simply born in the right place at the right time, and because of this was afforded opportunities, as well as exposure to ways of thinking and ideas that most here are not. By far the greatest gift travel has given me is gratitude.

Palpable magic

Bangladesh is beautiful and quite magical in it’s own way. There’s always a big, round, orange to blood-red sun setting each day over the Bay of Bengal, or over the flat, flooded rice fields. It fills the dusty air with a golden-bronze hue. I love it and I love the feeling it gives me. There really is a magical feeling to the place here, it’s palpable. But let’s be honest: there’s a reason it’s not an international tourist destination. I’ve seen a few tropical paradises by now, and as enthusiastic as the locals are for Cox’s Bazar, by no stretch of the imagination does it come even close to the beauty of the beaches of the Mentawais, Lombok or Sumbawa, Australia, or even other South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Vietnam. Compare them for yourself.

A lot of people here are asking me when I’m coming back. I polltely say ‘I don’t know’ when the real answer might be closer to ‘probably never’. It might seem like I hate it here, but that’s not the case at all. It’s just that, after being to 16 different countries, I know there are soo many amazing places that B-desh just doesn’t match up to, and if I’m gonna choose to spend my finite time and money somewhere, I’d rather go someplace more beautiful, cleaner, less crowded and more relaxing. Wouldn’t you?


For a great photojournalistic piece on child labour in Bangladesh/Dhaka circa 2009, see the following:
Child Labour 1
Child Labour 2

Post Script

Oh ya, and that plane I was waiting for? It got cancelled. But only after we waited until 6pm  (i.e. 9 hours after it was originally supposed to depart). Did they think of announcing this cancellation? Nope. It took some passengers to walk up to the desk and ask WTF to find out. So they rescheduled us to the next day’s flight, leaving at the same time, 9am. Then they said it would be instead leaving at 5pm. I triple check my facts with several airline employees who assure me showing up at 2pm is more than ok. Fast-forward to the next day, 12:30 pm: I get a frantic call saying I need to be at the airport ASAP as my flight is now boarding. Apparently they changed the departure time AGAIN, now to 1pm. You gotta be fucking kidding me! I’m at best 30 min away. I bust ass there, and in a rare and unlikely moment of efficiency I’m whisked thru check-in by a waiting employee, only get caught up in super slow customs with the tail end of the passengers from the previous day (our VISA situation complicated by the technical leaving of the country the day before). According to the latest ephemeral departure time the flight leaves only 30 min late… I just laugh.

Arrival in Bangkok

(this video is also a tribute to this one)

Bangkok. Haven’t been here since I was a wide-eyed teenager 7 years ago. Back then, my friends and I barely strayed from Khao San Road. This time, I’ve got maps. The city of 8 million is coming of age, newer, brighter, flashier, with new mass transit systems and plenty more skyscrapers. After the gawking stares of Bangladesh, the warm smiles of the Thai people are refreshing. They accept me and countless other farangs for all that we are.

There’s so much to see and do here:  temples and tailors, clothing and cockfights, markets and muay thai, monks and motorbikes, khao san and kathoeys, grand palace and golden wats, chinatown and little india. Historic neighbourhoods to get lost wandering in, canals to cruise along during sunset, the list goes on…

From pad thai to ping pong shows, welcome to Bangkok.

Coming Unstuck – Today’s Travel Inspiration

Image

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world. He took the wind for a map. He took the sky for a clock and he set off with no destination. He was never lost.” -Castles in the Sky

One of the greatest things about surfing is that it so naturally goes hand in hand with travel.

I’ve just emerged from a month in Bangladesh, where we surfed nearly every single day. And while Bangla’s waves can hardly compare to the world-class breaks of Indonesia where I spent the previous 2 months, it has consistent swell and the beach breaks can get as fun as anywhere. But here it wasn’t about the quality of waves but the adventure: walking through villages where the locals were dumbfounded at never having seen this ‘surfboard’ thing before, exploring the coastline, finding and surfing unnamed breaks near the Burmese border, just you and your friend, the first and only people to ever have surfed these breaks. This is what made it so memorable. Surfers are adventurous, DIY types – it’s always been a part of the culture since the days of The Endless SummerMorning of the Earth and The Forgotten of Santosha. You have to be. The search for waves has led me to places off the beaten path that I never would have ended up otherwise. But whether you’re a surfer or not, I recommend the surf-travel movies Sipping Jetstreams and Castles in the Sky. I hope they’ll stir the wanderer in your soul and inspire you to walk out the door on that next unexpected, unforeseen adventure.

Happy trails:)

Song: The Summer We Raised You by Years around the Sun

Gearing up for a mission in Cox’s Bazaar. Destination: St Martin’s Island, Bangladesh’s southernmost point, next to Burma.

Boarding the ferry at Teknaf, stoked for exploration and uncharted waves.

Bengali boats in the hazy-bronze light of the late afternoon.

Commandeering a fishing boat to access distant reef breaks. The locals were amazed and confused.

Late sun and traditional fishing boats on an inlet near the Burmese (Myanmar) border.

I dreamt of a leap year.


It’s as if I closed my eyes and had a year-long dream.  The only thing indicating the passage of time is an extra foot of hair on my head.

I just had the craziest dream.

Upon waking, I found myself standing on the street in front of PODs backpackers in KL.

Here I am standing exactly where I was one year ago. It’s as if I closed my eyes and had a really long, crazy dream. And when I awoke, you guys were gone. The only thing indicating the passage of time is a foot of extra hair on my head. Wearing the same shirt, with the same bag on my back, eating at the same restaurant.

What is the point of travel? It sometimes feels like a pretty useless form of escapism. A lazy hazy permanent vacation. Does it serve others than yourself? I like to tell myself it makes the world a better place by increasing one human’s understanding and awareness of the lives and situations of humans of different lands. The way of living you are exposed to in the bubble of your life isn’t the only way of living and being. Humans are diverse and the more you experience the more you become a more complete being, a more rounded consciousness. Hopefully this will spill over into your decision making. Wiser, broader view-pointed decisions. I think it’s made me more compassionate.

When is the right time to go home? It sometimes feels like a pretty selfish form of escapism. There are others back at home that miss you. You have removed yourself from their lives. Distance-covering communications will never replace being there for them. Is it when someone gets sick? Someone dies? Do you stick to your plans and keep on wandering the earth in spite of this? Will you only go home when you miss them too much, and not the other way around?

Whether the dream was real or not, the question is does it matter?

Lately I haven’t been seeing as many ‘sights’. Oh, I’ve been seeing a lot. Just not running around like a recent grad on their first 4-month trip around SEA (aka like a chicken with it’s head cut off). I’ve been seeing the stuff you only see when you stop trying so hard to see things.

I feel tired. I’m tired because I have no home. I’ve been living out of a bag for 425 days now. Humans need a home, and home will never be the road. Those who travel forever are running from something they won’t face, or searching for something they’ll never find, or just plain lazy beyond salvation.

Sometimes these days, I just feel like I want to go home.

http://youtu.be/DHEOF_rcND8


Snapshots from the year-long dream that was:

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Land of the Lines

Video and words by a friend, Georgie TTT whom I met at the end of his annual 6-month stay on Bali/Sumbawa. Really sums up how we all feel upon leaving this place.

The Luckiest Boys In the World

We come from everywhere; Brazil, Hawaii, Australia, Tahiti, France, England, Spain, Africa, you name it. Like the lost boys of Peter Pan we live on an enchanted island surrounded by magic, steeped in the mystical at every turn.

And danger, yes. The corrupt Cops our Captain Hook; the massive swells, the sharp reefs, sweeping currents, tropical disease, relentless heat and deadly animals. Our lives a mélange of languages, mixed blood, exotic scents, monsoons and perfect swell.

We breathe in the belonging of a place that will never belong to us. This has been our home and the magic has been imprinted on our souls. Can we ever go back to normal life?

Version 1:

Version 2:


2011 by the numbers

  • Countries Visited: 10
  • Passports used: 3
  • Flights taken: 44
  • Flights missed: 3
  • Flights almost missed: 6
  • Days spent surfing: 27 (2 in Canada, 15 in Indonesia, 2 in Perth, 5 in Byron Bay, 3 in New Zealand).
  • Hospital visits: 2
  • Types of antibiotics taken: 4
  • Dollars paid in taxes: $15,842
  • Interest charged on Student Loan: 5.5%
  • Interest earned in savings account: 5.9%
  • Silver price range: low $26.80, high $48.58
  • Gold price range: low $1318, high $1890
  • Number of consecutive years gold has increased in price: 11
  • Size of barracuda caught: 115 cm/10 lbs
  • Distance driven from Darwin to Cairns: 2,700 km
  • Number of roadkill kangaroos counted in one day whilst driving Darwin to Cairns: 70
  • Number of roadkill kangaroos counted in total whilst driving Darwin to Cairns: 185
  • Amount of Karaoke sung: 5 times in 4 countries
  • PLL: ∞
  • PGF: 0
  • New friends made: too many to count!

Happy New Years, good luck, have fun and make 2012 the best year of your life!


Far from Home.

“We’re far from St. Bruno right now…”

If the scene isn’t forever etched in my memory, then the feeling sure will be.

We avoid the garbage and puddles, before stepping out into the oncoming traffic. It’s something I’ve learnt to do without hesitation by now: the crossing of a busy asian street. The trick is to just walk slowly and confidently and let the river of smoky, puttering scooters and bemos flow around you.

We dodge the traffic mêlée without incident. The smells of the central market hang in the hot, humid air, overpowering the smell of street garbage and exhaust fumes that is ever-present in SouthEastAsia. The haunting sound of the dhuhr adhan (the muslim midday call for prayer) drifts from some unseen loudspeakers high above the scene; it adds a sort of calmness and timelessness that blankets the car horns and bustling activity below. Buildings built in the traditional Minangkabao (West Sumatran) style of rumah gadang (upsweeping roofs symbolizing bull horns) dominate the low skyline at the market entrance, some still damaged from a shattering 7.6 magnitude earthquake 2 years ago.

We’re in Padang: a port city on the South-West coast of Sumatra. We’ve come to the central market – a place where you can find just about anything – to buy a machète (to be used for cutting open coconuts… but we’ll get to that another time) and other assorted supplies. There’s nothing out on the islands, everything we’ll need to bring.

“I’m filled with a familiar feeling – a feeling I’ll never forget…  It is the true feeling of adventure – that anything is possible – and it never ceases to excite me to the point of bursting.”

The colourful stalls of the market appear and we are swallowed by the bustle of activity – vendors, horse-drawn carriages, fruit stalls, fake watches…

I soak it all in. I’m filled with a familiar feeling – a feeling I’ll never forget. It’s the same feeling I had 6 years ago when I first stepped off the rickety tin plane into Laos. The feeling that returned when I stepped off the plane in Kuala Lumpur this past May, and the humidity and smells of Asia first hit you. It is the true feeling of adventure – that anything is possible – and it never ceases to excite me to the point of bursting.

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The dugout boat is tippy: it’s full of all our gear, construction supplies and 8 people (us, a local family and our new Indo friend Sironi). The puttery outboard steers off the muddy river into a narrow side channel. As we glide through the muddy backwaters of the Mentawai jungle, Phil turns to me: “Dude, we’re out there…”

My heart is filled with excitement.

venturing to Nyang Nyang in the Mentawai Islands, Indian Ocean


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