USA – The Grand Illusion

After Indonesia, I scrambled north to Ko Tao in Thailand and completed a PADI dive course. damn, great fun (though our stunning Swedish co-diver Charlotta wasnt). It just feels like flying in the water and is definitely something I will follow up in central America. But before that I called into Bangkok to see Tom and then flew over to the States for the first time in 9 years. I was genuinely excited to be there, to see San Francisco, the National Parks and see the hugeness that I´ve come to understand over the last few years. America seemed like a world unto it´s own and I wanted to see it. Where better than California and Nevada, homes to the rich and famous as well as San Fran and Vegas?

As mentioned I hadn´t been to the States for 9 years. Back then I knew little but thought I knew plenty. I imagined that in 9 years, i´d be settled somehow, house, job etc. Well I have had but have now moved on from that. I flew over to meet up with Jessie, an old student from my short spell in Korea last year. We went to a Mexican restaurant the first night, I said hello, they said Ola. Set the tone as did the doggy bag after the meal which competed with my rucksack. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge, walked the hills of San Fran and did the tour of Alcatraz, a perfect tourist trap, very little there except the cells and a former prisoner answering questions (I didn’t ask my question: so are you still in contact with your former fuck-buddy?). I saw my first lesbian couple on the tram; unfortunately the fat one was English. Keep her please. San Fra had it´s funny moments; man gets on the bus with his wife except it´s him wearing the dress, carrying a hangbag and sporting a wig.

Remember the Dutch I met in Indonesia? Well I hoped I´d meet them in San Fran and we did. I still don’t they believe what I do in my life, the seeming continuous holidays, working little etc but together we got wheels, a Toyota Corolla and sped through to the coast and then over to San Jose, a town seemingly full of bail-bond offices but I managed to catch up with an old professor from University, dressed only in my flip flops. The lack of shoes (in hindsight blamed on Lavin for being unable to find them in his apartment for three months) became an issue, as unlike the Baywatch shows, California was damn cold and snowed consistently inland while just staying windy on the coast. But that didn´t hinder our road trip, instead gave us unusual photo opportunities. We headed out to meet the great American public and we were overwhelmed by their niceness, and over-helpfulness. Christ they can talk. You just want a simple answer and they tell you about their lives and how it is minutely connected to yours. Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks were covered in snow and I got to hug a tree (well almost; those who know this theory, know how much I put on it) and my new $13 Champion shoes were holding up admirably.

We moved on through Death Valley National Park, taking pictures, earnest and stupid, stopping at a redneck diner for dinner before searching out the nightlights of Vegas, which glares so prominently into the dark. We wandered the streets, drinking a large cold Sapporo in the freezing, blustery street, taking in the lights and the noise. We ended up having a long debate in Hooters about nothing in particular. That’s kinda significant for me. The whole trip throughout the States started to lose my interest. Las Vegas was all lights and no substance and was an early indicator of LA. We all managed a Carl Jr Burger meal (that´s 1600 calories in total) to follow the Wendy´s and MacDonald’s, Taco Bell and others but missed out on the In N`Out Burger. God damn it. It`s pretty clear that Americans are so blubberous because of the size of the portions served and at such a cheap price. Competition is fierce with Double Cheeseburgers coming in at $1!!

LA was a disappoint. I grew tired of it 9 years ago too and this time I was weary as I arrived. We had neglected CDs and sought out the voices of American radios (though the music seemed very English).The best part of LA was entering, listening to the radio (not Jesus FM this time) and singing with John as happily and coherently as we could. We went round the basic sights of Hollywood, fumbled through St Patricks Day and I felt like a self-imposed outsider. The American Dream crashes and burns in LA. The vast open plain is a grid of ongoing poverty while the rich whites live in safety, shaded from the sky and the crime in the hills or on the coast. For LA is the true example of the extremes and complexities of American society. San Francisco defends itself against conservative God radio stations, people push trolleys of belongings to the stop lights crossing in front of SUVs and Mercedes; kids catch different buses home according to race: integration is as far removed as 50 years ago.

We caught a premiere at the Chinese theatre on Hollywood Boulevard which is mildly interesting though I am sure on TV it will look extravagant.And on the last day, before meeting Hak Soo for a delicious bit of Gal Bi in Korea town (thanks Hak Soo so much), we went to watch the making of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, a Scot who has made it big on his talent. But the show was merely more of the usual. We were told we were not the audience but show enhancers, not there to have fun but to seem like we´re having fun. They do this bullshit everyday, hyping the gullible, fame-hungry audience into a religious frenzy. The show and the pretence must go on.

I thought I´d have a lot to say about the States but I left feeling bored and disappointed. I wouldn´t go back to LA or Vegas, San Fran maybe, the national parks certainly. The vast majority of Americans were hospitable and helpful, service was excellent, Carl Jr’s had the best burgers (and largest), the divide between the rich and poor is painful but people seemed resigned to their fate, racial division is rampant and the image of California is as shallow as the comedies they send over. There seemed a void at the heart of it all; I expect more from New York next month and I know already Mexico is rocking.

As John and I sang along to in the car, I know I´ve got to take it to the Otherside.

>will post the US blog soon. alot to say.
nursing my hangover today. oh jesus.

The Craig Ferguson show was a really highlight. It´s like a religious exercise in people management. The audience are called show enhancers. The illusion is perfect. They built you up into a frenzy and when the credits roll ask you to leave quickly.

Now that’s the travelling I know.

Arrived in Mexico City 6  AM yesterday, 25 hours later I’m in a bar with the Mexican Under Secretary of Energy, his friends, two policemen, an American who said he worked for the CIA (BS) and two French surfers drinking tequila. now that´s a good start.

Have loved Mexico City so far, a buzzing place.

Baby its Cold Out!

Man it’s cold. snow everywhere but all cool. Been through Yosemite National Park and today we hitch hiked to the Redwoods and I got to hug a tree (LP will understand). The road trip is working out well and we’re all getting along nicely.
off to the warmer Death Valley tomorrow and then Vegas Baby Vegas YEAH!!!!
sleep well

The Road trips Begins

So the road trip begins. Inspired by my great mate Anna, Jessie, John, Sanne (remember the Dutch from Bromo?) and me are renting a car and heading out the great national parks of California, finishing off in LA. Bears beware as we’ll be cruising through Yosemite, the great Redwood Forests, Death Valley and maybe the Joshua Tree National Parks and arriving in LA before I have to head to San Diego and back to LA to meet a friend there.
Just been looking into flights to Mexico and flying out of Honduras (a great dive spot) to New York.
But tonight I’m off to see Frank Shamrock.

Indo Rocks

I was walking to a bar when I met her. An orange juice at 3.30am? Well I was off to watch Chelsea hopefully lose to Barcelona. I’d dropped Maria off at my room and went out along the darkened quiet allies of Kuta. Bali was a slightly stressful time for me. It shouldn’t be; no place as beautiful should be but the hassle gets to you after a while. I turned onto a main road, walking at pace, ignoring the taxi drivers and the old librarian-looking woman who sold all drugs in any quantities. And then she appeared. Riding a moto in a helmet, she spoke but I couldn’t’ make it out and anyway ignored it, assuming she was trying to sell me something. I was kinda right. She rode along next to me, repeating her muffled demands, but still I couldn’t understand and anyway I figured I had to turn right down a small alley soon so I’d lose her there. But she anticipated my move and drove down ahead of me. The alley was dark, damp and quiet. I turned into it to see my protagonist, off the moto and waiting for me, still helmetted. I continued apace and tried to walk past her but she blocked my way and immediately grabbed my uh ummms. I pushed her away but she wouldn’t let go and started saying in any language “free, gratuit.” I didn’t what to say but I knew what I wanted and it was Ronaldindo, not Ronaldo. I pushed her harder but this stocky number wouldn’t budge, so I decided I had to beat this Yokazuna with a bit of her own medicine. I lowered my centre of gravity, put one hand on her helmet, the other on her shoulder and pushed her off, freeing God’s own in the process. I walked on, ignoring her distressed calls of ‘free, free.’ Christ, time to leave Bali I thought. And I did, one day later.

It all began so well. Arriving in Jakarta’s slightly worn airport, I met Peter, a young correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and he offered a free taxi into town; saved $10 there. He’d just done a visa run to Kuala Lumpur which gave me an opportunity to tell what happened there to me.

It’s funny how your mood or personal situation affects how you view a place and this proved true here. I first visited KL 6 years earlier and stayed two days, disliking the city, for it was a touch dry and lacking the ample opportunities to drink which at the time I needed to get through a messy relationship. (For those who remember that period, well done. It’s more than I remember). My mate Andy manfully accompanied me and the trip was an awesome orgy of alcohol, great sights, alcohol and great nights, full of stories public and private.

So I arrived in KL slightly apprehensive, contenting myself with a short stay. But as I arrived in the city which has substantially developed in the last 5 years, I started to feel a change coming over me. KL looked modern and forward looking, had less bullshit pricing, open, friendly people and an ability and desire to speak to foreigners. After the long bus from Bangkok (24hrs or so), I felt excited and curious.

I got a taxi with 2 Norwegian girls who fitted every male wish, blond, young, buxom and lost. I knew a place to stay nearby so we got there and found our rooms. I got a room to myself but with a double and a single, the girls got what they called a hot cupboard. Ever the gentleman, I offered my double to them which they took and we headed out to dinner. We drank vodka, beer, whiskey and continued drinking in the room. Victoria and Sona taught me drinking songs and showed me the age-old semi-mythical Scandinavian tendency for nudity, this time in our now near-sauna of a room while folk dancing. We all woke up, dying for water and breakfast, unembarrassed at the nights revelry. The girls left that day for Singapore and I got lost around KL which is some achievement. I blame day-dreaming. But I liked KL; the museums, and mix of modern architecture and differing cultures gives the city an interesting side. It’s not Bangkok but that;s why we love Bangkok. I’d go back to KL and Malaysia. It feels like it’s moving forward.

On the other hand, Jakarta, Indonesia is not a city to linger in; in a city of broken pavements, the traffic and pollution is just unbelievable and my throat began to hurt after a mere few hours. There is little to see too but I spent the afternoon talking in the central park with Indonesians and taking pictures. They were keen just to talk, chatty, polite and curious about the world and what the world thought of Indonesia. There was never any attempt to exhort money or favour. But I planned my escape from Jakarta for next day to Jogja, the old capital and huge student city. Being Friday night I sought out a beer nut only found a Man U bar, ahhh!!. Due to the political, economic and natural disasters that have battered Indonesia recently, tourism in down and backpacker Jakarta has a deserted, almost novel feel to it. Eventually I met two German landscape gardeners and brought over another German girl. This place got packed and 7 hours later, we were all drunk, talking with a bunch of Indonesians and having a cool time. I had lunch the next day with an Indonesian girl called Anna and she helped me out with transport out of the city.

I took the train out and the station waiting room has the novelty of three table tennis tables. As the only foreigner, I was invited to play. I hadn’t played in years and never considered table tennis a serious sport (Olympic Gold medal my arse), but I went to the bathroom and returned in my tight white shorts and headband. I proceeded to thrash everyone. I was as unstoppable as pornography until they brought I guy who introduced himself as Desmond Douglas. He gave me an orphan’s thrashing and left me reeling with my racket. The arriving train saved Douglas the comeback that was just around the corner and Douglas, he knew it.

I loved Yogyakarta, not for it’s palaces or numerous rickshaw drivers but for the temples of Borobudor, one of the great sights of Asia and the enormous Hindu complex of Prabaham. At both places I was consistently interviewed by school kids and had my photo taken but none of this took away from the awe of the preciseness and delicacy of temples 4x older than America. Jogja is also a massive student town; lively but naive political demostrations took place daily, and there were plenty of shops and street salesmen. I got a date on Valentines Day when I met the prettiest Indonesian girl I’d seen in a shopping centre. Her Mum, who definitely fitted into MILF territory was made up and we had a good time, eating Japanese and then going to a student festival about Japanese culture with live music, aikido demos and food counters.

I left town and headed with a Dane, a Mongolian, 3 Dutch (everywhere in Indonesia) and a Kiwi to the volcanoes of Bromo in East Java. We hiked up to the rim through the darkness for sunrise and were rewarded with a magnificent view as well as coughing bouts from the sulphur. changing lights of the dawn were amazing and I got some great shots. We ate breakfast, gazing at the erupting volcanoes nearby and played cards until it was time to head to Bali.

Bali, Bali, Bali. A place that promises so much but delivered so little though personally I never expected much. The taxi drivers put on Aussie accents, the hassle is non-stop, the drunk Aussies girls have their own song and even the British trash are starting to make an appearance. I managed a bit of fishing on an island where the guesthouse owner initially confused me with a question. “Playboy?” he asked. I replied no, slightly confused, and he repeated the question “do you have a Playboy? I am a single man.” My night out with Darryl was an awesome night, full of bars, nightclubs with swimming pools and a Portuguese girl called Maria who will live long in the memory; Jennifer Love Hewitt in hot pants as Darryl described her. I am sure there is much else to see but the weather turned and I was too tired to bother. Overall Indonesia rocked and I’d definitely come back bar Bali.

Then I met Alan. “I am practically bankrupt'” he said. “But I think I am in love here. Met this girl. She lets me watch football. Watch Liverpool. My wife pretended she liked football but after we married, she showed she was lying. Cleaned me out.” Alan was an honest soul. He came out with the usual Liverpool statements, ‘we’ll talk to anyone, we’re socialist, we’re anti-establishment.’ The usual phrases used by many Liverpudlians to explain away economic and social strife. While the rest of the North moves on and develops itself, Liverpool seems to wallow in self-pity and excuse making. Alan didn’t have a job. But that wasn’t his fault, he said.

Indonesia made me optimistic about Asia again. The people are proud of their country and dont seek to flee it to richer shores. A country of 17,000 islands, 100 languages and multiple religions, all bound together because they know it’s better than being driven apart. A lesson in the time of Iraq. Gone are the thoughts of deadend, isolated countries. The future is positive in much of Asia and deserves to be for so deserving, honest people. If I am to enjoy Asia, I have to go where i enjoy and not worry about other considerations. And Indonesia is up there.

Off diving

Song of the week

Masterplan by Oasis

Police defend shooting strategy

Yes that’s right. Shooting a man 7 times in the head and once to the body, pinning him down to the floor on a busy train because the man made aggressive moves (which all witnesses deny), then lying to the public that he had fled police (when CCTV footage showed that he stopped to get a newspaper; man those terrorists are taking the piss these days), especially when he was identified and sent to his death by a dedicated policeman who was hiding behind a tree, sorry i mean taking a piss behind a tree. I wonder if he would still be alive if he had blond hair? Yeah, that’s a policy worth defending.

RIP Jean Charles de Menezes

Weapons of Ass Destruction

Well the butts got wider, the airport immigration questions got sillier and I haven’t been shot yet. Its been 12 hours and I might just quit while ahead and leave now.

Why weapons of Ass Destruction? Well that’s the flyer on the desk next to me because I’m in San Francisco. That’s cool but it’s cold. Met another girl at the airport. a pretty Mexican girl who told me to give her a call when I get to Mexico City. hmmm. She told me it was good to meet an Englishmen as the Frenchmen just want to sleep with her. Needs an English gentlemen I thought. met my friend Jessie here too.

The first restaurant we tried, a classic diner called Santana; I said hello, they said Ola. Hahaha. It’s America or more precisely California. The food was so big, the doggy bag was heavier than my rucksack. $20 too.
Off to alcatraz today and a wandering round San Francisco (sing it with me).