Lombok


I’ve been distracted of late with women, under the protection of gorilla-like men called Blacky, on-the-money Jack White impersonations from Eddie and crashing the bike on newly tarmacked roads. But I will be back on this soon!

All cool though. In KL for a visa run and suit pick up followed by Aceh, Sulawesi and Sarawak!

West Timor

I have taken many wrong turns in my travels; getting lost, realising I had no cash, getting deported. But they have also always worked out for the better. Making basic plans is about as far as I go. I get tense when I have it all set down. It can only go wrong then and build a sense of frustration. Riding in the back of a truck from the Indonesian border seemed like a wonderful idea. I hadn’t done and had always wanted to. The driver agreed to take me 30km for $3 to the bus station from where I would get to Kupang, pick up a flight to Bali and start the adventure in Indonesia.

I started in the back which jolted me around somewhat but got moved to the cab when we dropped off some passengers. I was slightly concerned that I had no Indonesian rupees but thought I could get my way out of that one. Atambua, an non-descript town contained the bus station. The journey took longer than I envisaged. I explained to the driver how I needed to change money. He somehow understood and that got sorted. We pulled up at two bus stops, where buses were waiting to leave for Kupang but they were all full. A sense of foreboding came over me. It was now 5pm. The journey to Kupang was 9hours. I knew I would have to stay in this town tonight. The driver drove me to a hotel. I could tell he was getting annoyed with me. He dropped me off outside and I handed him $5 to keep. The hotel I wanted so no longer taking guests. It had closed two years ago. Thank you Lonely Planet.

I walked next door to a large complex but from the look of the place, a class A shithole. I was right but I was also tired and down-trodden. I took the room. It was ok. Simple and underwhelming. With a battalion of mosquitoes, I write these words. The killing fields started soon after checking in and 95% now lie fallen. But there will be more. There always is. I got some water and biscuits from the shop, stared at in wonderment as clearly one of the few foreigners to have graced this shitheap of a town. I’ll get an early night I thought and catch the first bus in the morning, hopefully arriving in time to go straight to the airport and get to Bali. Otherwise, that’s two days lost and when on a 30 day visa in a country this large and diverse, its wasteful indeed.

And then I decided to look up. The very camp guy on reception ordered the 7:30am bus for me the next day to come to the hotel. It could get me to Kupang in time for the 1700 flight to Bali. You never count your chickens in the 3rd world. I say camp. You could say it’s just a cultural misunderstanding but the little, tubby guy wiggles his arse as he walks, flails his arms when he runs and slavers over the desk when you are talking to him. He’s a camp one, but he’s useful one. Later, one of the twin lads who works here, knocked on the door and fumigated the whole place. Mosquitoes dropped like, well, flies.

I wandered over to the internet cafe to kill some time and check any plans. Sitting confused at the only other terminal, on a connection that takes us back to the mid-90s, was Joao Meco, a lawyer based in Jakarta who was having trouble with emailing his document to Dili, to the Secretary of State no less. I knew I was destined for this kind of work. Joao was busy arranging visas for many Indonesians to his home country of Timor. He needed to get this document away to the Secretary and we used my email to do it. Naturally he was thankful and paid for my internet access that evening as well as getting me a few cans of Coke. And then finally, I went to the market to get some food and sat amongst bewildered Indonesians who tried to talk to me after my pathetic attempts at Indonesian and wanted their picture taken with me. Food, barbecued pork, rice, soup and little extras cost $2.3 and was pretty tasty. Another winner eh? This town has a slight reputation for being anti-Western, particularly if you are Australian. But I didn’t notice anything of the sort.

I lie here, 4 hours after feeling lost and disappointed, generally very happy. I love it when no planning comes together. I had made an elementary mistake. I thought the West Timor was just a place to pass through, just a transit stop. I had loved the small chats I enjoyed in Indonesia the first time; unexpected, warm and open. And this time for some reason I had written off a place before I gave it a chance. Well I send my apologies to where ever I am. You may not be much but you have heart.

East Timor

So I made it to the end of the Indonesian Archipelago. I tried in 2000, again in 2006, both times thwarted by internal instability. I sit in a convent, in the high mountains of central Timor, tucked under some thick wool blankets, tapping away at my contentment about my contentment. I’m travelling with a middle-aged Portuguese guy whose Portuguese mother tongue has been a life-saver, for those random days in Brazil five years ago hadn’t revealed themselves in linguistic form.

So why am I so content? Well, Timor, like Tibet, Cuba, Cambodia and the so many other places I have yet to be graced with, holds the fascination of having living history, trials and tribulations at the beholden of others. These bodies of people maintain their pride, language and cultures despite all the physical cruelties and psychological humiliation enforced on them by aggressors and a determinedly blind-eye world. I also wanted to be there before the backpacker/tourists merely see them as a cheap tourist destination, then with less smiles and more suitcases. It might seem snobbish to some but I believe those who know me, understand I am not so shallow.

I got up early today after a long sleepy first day trying to get over my Australian adventures. I spent this second day looking round Dili, with its heat, dusty and UN SUV and attempting to arrange a visa extension for Timor and an Indonesian visa for next week. The visa extension has proved troublesome and mildly frustrating. But its difficult to get stressed here. Everyone is so friendly even when unhelpful, desperately trying to help, negotiating unfamiliar red tape and sympathising with genuine, open smiles. I will know my answer on Friday. Hopefully Michele, my friend here I met in Kuala Lumpur will be able to help with his UN role. He reminds me of Jeroen, a big, domed guy with a passion for the world and a determination to do something with his skills. I enjoyed my evening though, talking with the hostel owner’s eldest daughter, who works for the Japanese ambassador but seen as unruely by her parents for her drinking, smoking and previously living with her Portuguese boyfriend in Lisbon.

But today was a magic day, the type that justifies my adventures. I met George, the Portuguese guy randomly at 630am as we both emerges from our rooms, ready to head into the interior. He had heard that an Australian had the same plan as myself and after brief discussion, we concluded that Australian was msyelf. We walked 2kms, up to the market and Anguna stop. An Anguna is a pick-up truck in which 18 of us piled into the back, along with a goat, 2 chickens and sackfuls of rice. Everyone else was local, mainly students or parts of families heading home. As the pick-up crawled up the hills backing over Dili, affording us a stunning coastal view, the discussion began.

The parental generation and the young kids have been studying Portuguese in school as part of the colonial era and a recent attempt to move away from the oppressive Indonesia era. The kids answer in stock phrases which still blush their brown cheeks and the parents happily discuss Timor and it’s various economic and political woes. The attempted assassination of President Ramos Horta in February 2008 is still fresh in the mind. (Ramos Horta was shot but recovered after a month in hospital in Darwin and was at a party at my very hostel last Saturday! Can’t believe I missed it!) Renaldo Alfredo, the plot leader and attempted assassin was killed by the police a few days later but a trial for the other co-conspirators starts in August. The young student called Renaldo next to me was busy practising his English and jokingly pointed out that he wasn’t ‘the’ Renaldo. We moved on in the traditional way and compared Portuguese Ronaldo with Brazilian Ronaldo. They have taste here.

As we pulled over the mountain range, twisting and turning alongside cliff edges, I sat back, talking and smiling. I couldn’t help it. The scenery was magnificent, the journey uncomfortable but joyous. Like in Laos, villages here are built on the edge of the road which itself lingers on the precipice! Why are they built there? Well, simply because it’s makes sense commercially. I took a few pictures and then showed how to a 10-year old girl who spent the rest of her journey, filming us all or taking pictures of the villages, Timorese faces and various parts of the animal infested floor. But she was excited by it, laughing and giggling at her new skill. The Timorese aren’t built for cold weather and struggled as we crossed ridges. I gave my hoodie to another girl who had sat shaking. While it may seem an unimportant or self-indulgent details, it’s those kind of acts that bring us together and I am very fortunate to have appreciated many such offers myself.

The journey took us 3 hours and to the small, mountain town called Maubisse recommended to me by Michele. The town was simple and displayed typical third-world disrepair. But it was surrounded by lush fauna and bear-like hills, rolling around the compass points. George had heard we could stay at the convent which seemed like a great idea rather than a guesthouse. We weren’t worried about finding accommodation though. There were no other guests in town! The church is vast and airy, painted white inside and outside. George said it reminded him of a South Portugal church which would be barely in use. Not so in England I replied. We’d be worshipping beer and Weatherspoons in such an environ. We visited the Possada on the hill for a panoramic view, then hiked 4km uphill to a church opened by Timorese freedom speaker and Nobel Pride winner Cardinal Belson in 1988, shortly before incorrectly ordained by Pope John Paul II in the presence of the despotic Indonesian President Suharto. The views were as stunning as the wind was punishing.

Earlier we walked to the cemetery, a ragtag plot revealing the despicable results of the Indonesian invasion in 1976. Approximately 60% of head stones referenced the poor person dying in September or October 1976 when the military ran massacres these areas to impose their will over the Timorese. It’s estimated 25% of Timorese died during the years of occupation. But something I noticed in Cambodia, Uganda and also here in Timor is the indomitable human spirit they maintain. Despite the horrors afflicted on these people by political power and uncontrolled military brutality and the subsequent economic harshships, they remain positive, enjoying the simple joys of family life and a giggle. It makes you wonder how westerners can have the nerve to wallow in our often self-inflicted narcissism and depression.

I left the next day and flagged down a pick-up which took me north across the ranges and through the town called Alieo, a middle sized place with a bustling market and yet another monument to wars horrors, this time the Japanese massacring the Portuguese during World War Two. The memorial was restored by Portuguese peacekeepers during the UN occupation. The Timorese have mixed feelings about the Portuguese unlike the Australians who they seem to resent for reasons I can only put down to historical strewdity. The Australia’s role in Timor was cleanly cynical. Not only did they know about the 1976 invasion 12days before, they then also covered up this information to avoid the implications of 4 Australian journalists being marched out into the street by the Indonesian military and executed. This political disgrace was concluded in 1978 when Australia became the first country to recognise Indonesian control over East Timor in exchange for equal rights over the oil under the Timorese Strait. America and George Bush has no monopoly on this bull shit.

Politics is, therefore naturally a difficult subject here. The students were demostrating daily during my time over politician’s plans to buy 60 cars for each elected member so they could visit their districts. Walls are graffitied with questions over the Australia presence as well as some support for agriculture reform and even Renaldo Alfredo, the failed Presidential assassin. After a few hours in Alioeu, I returned by pick up to Dili, this time with only 22 companions (2 babies), 3 fish and sacks of cabbages and a pit-stop to change a burst tyre. The Dili hotel had Indonesian embassy contacts and was managing to get my passport processed in 1 day rather than the usual 3.

I decided to find the Santa Cruz Cemetery that afternoon, one of the back breakers of the Indonesian media spin operations. Sure they built roads (badly) and a few schools (forcing the kids to learn Indonesian) and they persuaded the Pope to visit, but in 1998, they massacred over 200 mourners at a funeral service at the cemetery. News immediately leaked out across the world and the pressure turned up on Suharto. As usual, of course it was mere rhetoric and the world moved on, probably to ignoring a humanitarian crisis in another part of the world or worshipping some celebrity wedding.

Before getting to the cemetery, I walked past Dili stadium and understood there was a game. I only got to see more than 5 minutes action before, a huge commotion started to the right of the crowd involved the away bench. Before I could see what was happening, the riot police arrived, an away player jumped the fence and the police chased. The player eventually clambered over and was taken away. That completely distracted the players and supporters and held up play for 10 minutes. 5 minutes after play resumed, the final whistle went to signal a penalty shoot-out won by the home team. Huge celebrations broke out, kids ran out to congratulate their heroes and a little kid wearing a Cristano Ronaldo shirt, like his hero, missed the point and cried at the noise.

The cemetery would have been a quiet, contemplative affair place except for the kids playing in an empty allotment, bare-foot, with makeshift goals, some skilled but selfish players and those little lads who just chase the ball and never get a touch. I couldn’t help smiling at our universal childhoods. Some of the younger kids sat with me as the elder kids played and generally messed around, trying to get me to beat up one of them and then proceeded to bundle him. He fought back strongly though and they were all friends again. Finally two engineering students sat next to me on the monument. Its your duty as one of the ‘lucky’ people to talk to curious, open minds. What we talk for granted is dreamlike to these kids. We talked about their future and what they planned to do and I asked about the Indonesian military and we generally agreed what The sun had gone down by this point. I didn’t want to leave but I had a dinner date with the hotel owners daughter!

Dili is overrun by the UN and other NGOs. The UN’s work is easier to evaluate. They keep the peace, help form the government ministries and generally give the world’s newest country some structure and self-belief. Due to the sometime precarious position here in Timor, the NGOs work under the protection of their governments and thereby a lot of the well-known organisations aren’t here due to the interference. It also means the organisations here seem very interested in driving around in their air-con SUVs, meeting like-minded Timorese rather than the ‘man in the street’. They seem fearful, maybe even suspicious. The amount of times I have almost been hit by a speeding NGO SUV is incredible.

In Maubisse, George and I went to the Possada to have a late tea. An NGO vehicle was there, presumably staying. After all, it’s only $60 a night when we were staying for $5 in a church convent. Don’t let my tone deceive you. $60 is an incredible amount of money here in Timor but for the NGOs, it’s no problem. They aren’t paying. And when George went near the restaurant bathroom, one of the western staff got up and locked their bedroom. George is about 50, a international businessman and dressed as a man of money. With that kind of human mistrust, you have to wonder how they manage to look the poor-stricken Timorese in the eye.

The foreign presence, while welcome in many ways has had the effect of driving up prices considerably. The currency is the US dollar which meant everything from biscuits to coca-cola became $1. Rooms in Dili start at around $25 and as the Western staff here aren’t paying, the price rises continue. This not only creates diffiuclties for the Timorese in Dili but also a huge income gap between the capital city dwellers and the folks in the countryside. This kind of divide helped fermented the uprisings in 2006 and 2008. Both times brought Western soldiers and the UN back into Timor. When they can leave is unclear.

So dinner tonight consisted of Western fair at relatively expensive prices. I have tried desperately to find some Timorese food but it seems tough. I also mean that as a joke. Every meal consists of rice, some sliced carrots and cabbage and tough meat. There is no East Timorese beer but the UN staff seem to have no issue drinking Bintang, the beer brought here by the Indonesian military back in the days. Lia, the daughter is a funny girl. She giggles at the right time which every man knows is disturbing attractive. But she is also rounded and enjoys a chat. It’s not easy to talk here unless you are fluent in Portuguese and then only in Dili or tourists areas. It also gives you a bit of insider knowledge in under unreported country.

I wandered along the seafront the next morning until I found my bus stop. It was hot and I was late. The sun was already high, the skies were clear. I debated within myself whether I just stay an extra day in Dili. The bustle of Dili was markedly fervent compared to Maubisse and my destination this day of the second city of Bauacu didn’t overwhelm me with expectation. I thought I could see more of life in Dili. But I wanted to see some more of real Timor and a journey is the only way. The bus stop was the usual drinks stall, all ubiquitous timber shack. I was ushered on; a malai,(foreigner) whispered round. I sat next to the window and was immediately joined by the ‘English speaker.’ Its a common moment. A local wants to practice his English, test himself or simply show off to the rest of the bus. Still, he was wearing a suit so I doubted he was a shark.

It turned out he worked for the UN soldier in Baucau as a translator and he listed the various nationalities he worked with. Quite an impressive list from Bangladesh to Turkey to America. He also knew the art of timing; nodding off for significant periods to allow me to finish The Blind Watchmaker by Richards Dawkins. A long, intense, scientific read but worth the time to increase your understanding Darwinism.

The journey took us along the north coast, hugging the coast, bumbling around blind cape corners, hung over sheer drops. Many third world journeys are like this; the scenery blases the mind to the near imminent danger. The ocean mirrored out blue, the long stretches of sand overlooked by sheer ochre cliffs with schools of dolphins off the coast from the fishing nets. We had the usual pit stop to change a tyre in a roadside village and finally reached our destination only an hour late. I found a cheap guesthouse on the advice of my translator (sadly I can’t remember his name). $15 a night with an ensuite. C’est bon, non?

I searched the town camera in hand and realised how little there was to it. As usual the mercado (market) was a burnt out shell, the usual work of the retreating Indonsian troops. A shame too as it’s an impressive baroque structure. One sidenote to point out in mild defence of the Indonesians. It’s very easy to look at destroyed buildings and assume it was the work of the Indonesian military. My translator friend laughingly pointed out as we left Dili that these ruined buildings beside the road were the work of the Timorese in 2006 and not the Indonesians as I suggested.

Baucau is a Fretelin town. The flag is everywhere. Fretelin were the resistance fighters in the time of the occupation and Xanana Gusamo’s, the present Prime Minister and former fighter and prisoner image is often found painted up in the classic image of Che Guevara. The further east you head, the more overt political images become. There is a general feeling the more rural areas have missed out on the UN boom and this has contributed to the various uprisings over the past few years.

Baucau isn’t much to talk about. The beach is 7km away and the town is divided by a cliff. The town centre takes about 20mins to walk around. Back in the hostel I met an Irish lass travelling right now with an English guy who’d be on the road for 6 years now. Because he is not particularly going anywhere, has no overt goal, I wonder what his story. What caused his disperate movements? My experience is it’s often linked to a broken past or relationship, followed by a need to move on, a need to escape that past, prove yourself elsewhere and do what you feel you now can. Dinner involved swapping stories. His decency implied to me something had broken in his life and he’s has moved on this way. It’s certainly far more constructive than getting drunk and having a restraining order put on him! My last night was a disappointment in some ways but an affirmation in many.

I had got back to Dili on an uneventful bus apart from the endless crying baby and the guy with two two sitting next to me who seemed fascinated with the malai. I went out drinking with the hotel owner’s daughter. We went a busy bar round the corner full of UN and NGO staff. I had never seen more mustaches in my life. The bar had tight, live music but the sights of 40 dads and mums have a boogie reminded me of family weddings or new years I’d been forced to go in the 1980s. I got introduced to Brahim who hails from Afghanistan and was by far the youngest member of the mission aged 24. The guy is pretty cool and chatty, informing me of his childhood involving never playing outside for fear of bombings and land mines and one of the greatest names, Thor, the only Icelandic guy in Timor. The nightclub Amigos wasn’t much bigger than my room and tended to get full of Portuguese policemen who did nothing for the action except sway like retards. I left by 2, walking Lia back, knowing I had to get up early in the morning.

My bus to the border took us along the coast, a pretty ride though as usual, it took far too many hours to cover a little over 100kms. The border was a stunner, the best I had ever seen. Waves lapping up to a white sand beach, dotting with coconuts trees and dunes. While customs had lunch, I entertained an Indonesian girl with my pathetic attempts at her language, one I will need to try and speak for about a month. Eventually I passed through unconcerned and Timor, sadly, was part of my past.

It’s worrying to wonder where East Timor will be in 10 years. Without the UN aiding in developing political structures and inputting financially into a subsistence economy, it’s difficult to see the country getting onto it’s feet. It simply has no industry and very few exports. The efficiency isn’t there, the sense of patience is lacking to build a civil society which normalises negotiation and debate rather than protest and civil unrest. Families are still huge with an average of 7.4 children per mother, keeping them in poverty and reliant on the land. When the UN leaves, I expect a lot of NGOs will too, citing security issues, leaving a vast economic and knowledge gap. The country is simply years from being ready to be independently viable. Like the roads I have so happily travelled along, I unfortunately predict a very bumpy road for East Timor.

Back to myself. I may have returned to a land of cockroaches, street dogs, pigs next to the road and mosquitoes, 6 hours electricity a day, cold showers, kids’ requests for a dollar and patchy internet but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. My trip here has been short by necessity but my experience hasn’t. I have felt overwhelming humbled here, greeted constantly with smiles and hellos from the poorest people, asked to be in pictures and felt the pride of the unbowed Timorese people who refused to capitulate as had we turned our backs. It makes me reflect on your own travels and experiences and what you have achieved while these people were fighting for their freedoms. And the fact I was carrying a laptop and SLR, worth more than twice the GDP per capita made me gulp somewhat. As in the ‘no mas?’ blog, it’s time to put back and do so from a position of influence. This blog has come so easily. The monologue just flowed. For everything, Thank You Timor.

"It makes no difference to me what a man does for a living, understand."


…I’m not really fussed that Dimbo really isn’t what we need and that him & Roons will be tripping over each other when they inevitably drop deep, because this Sir, is a dude. Exactly the calibre of coolness I want in my team. Almost Eric-like in it’s execution.

 

Imagine him waiting for a corner to be swung in, casually leaning on the back stick with a cig in his trap. All we need now is Pacino at right back.

Si.

Word-for-word from Don Forster.

Timor

I have a long blog which I wrote over my time in East Timor. It all came so easily as it does still now when I sit here in West Timor. I’ll post it when I can get on my laptop. I had a blessed day yesterday, very funny. I am in Kupang tonight at the western end of Timor. Tomorrow I fly to Bali for a few days and then back East to the end of the archipelago and work my way back. Komodo dragons, volcano climbs, a few national parks, diving and hopefully get up to Aceh province.

I am really trying my best to learn Indonesian right now. been talking all day. naturally they understand what I am saying but what comes back could be anything. I am here for a month so thought it worth it.

I’ll get some pictures up asap too.

Just read

The Blindwatcher Maker by Richard Dawkins

For those that have read The God Delusion, this is the science book written 20 years earlier where Dawkins writes passionately about the adaptive complexity and slow, gradual natural selection that makes Darwinism the accepted theory amongst scientists. It’s biologically intense but generally written through metaphor and analogy to highlight his various points. His biology is obviously sound and his arguments conclusive. Only in the final chapter does he address different theories of evolution and he gives creationism sparse account. And that’s what he should do. I didn’t like The God Delusion for the simple reason that Dawkins is too smart and useful a man to get involved in that kind of debate. I appreciate he was arguing for atheism and rightly so and I guess it’s sad that he feels the need to get pulled into a philosophical debate which is harming kids but this is his rightful place. The dude knows his stuff and lets us understand in plain language.

Shame – Salman Rushdie

Rushdie is one of the top guys out there. This follow-up to Midnight’s Children shows it plainly. A story about the dynasties of Pakistan but in reality, a parable on the malicious use of shame in Islam to control people especially women. Rushdie has an imagination like few others and its highlighted in the creative ways the various characters are killed from ancient elevator death traps to strangulation by a crazed four year old, turned Satanic avenger. It’s imaginative, following and damn funny. If you haven’t read Rushdie, you haven’t read great, modern literature.

Now reading

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Paradise Lost by John Milton

On Second Thoughts: Faustino Asprilla

Tagline: The Colombian is blamed for costing Newcastle the title in 1995-96, but that’s far too simplistic a view

Danny sent me this article. I like the Guardian for its news, comment and blogs but Jesus, sometime when there is no real news, journalists shouldn’t bother writing anything or certainly not regurgitating old pieces.

As a Newcastle fan, I dont really understand the point of this article. We lost the league for so many reasons and I barely heard Tino be mentioned at the forefront. Sure he was a luxury signing but that night against Barcelona, with Gillespie skinning that short, fat Barca left back (can’t remember his name) time and time again, then delivering great crosses and Tino hammering them home, still leaves me smiling as some of the most exciting moments any Newcastle fan has experienced.

For The Love of….Minowa?

It may seem very post-modern of me to write this piece and you could conceive that but hear me out. Post-modernism is marked by its irreverence and some say irrelevance, overwhelmed by pointless ridicule. In our MMA, we sometimes revel, joke or mock fighters, feeling let down by inexplicit losses, poor tactics or the ‘Kalib Starnes’ moments. But do we lean back in our oh-so-comfortable chairs, inappropriately giggling and jiggling our bellies as our heroes sweat, give and receive punishment that lingers for days after.

MMA can trace its history back to a same Greek era of intellectual enlightenment in democracy and philosophy paving the way for modern liberalism and thought. The Greeks idolised their Gods, high up on Mt Olympus and sought to emulate their endeavours and please Zeus and Co through sport and physical competition. Athletics and skilled events such as the javelin, born of war but pursued in peace gave celebrity and favour to ordinary supermen. An example of favoured athletic pre-eminence is highlighted in the fact the Greeks kept no record of who finished second. The martial art of Pankration and the bravery of gladiators could never be categorised as an irrelevance in any era. These were mortally dangerous arenas to enter and only the skilled, determined, brave and athletic won out. MMA can never be sullied in irreverent, post-modern terms. Whether it be deemed as entertainment or sport, the ethos of MMA are always relevant to mankind and it’s instincts to prevail.

But we are in a period of irrelevance. Everyone wants for heroes. Our dads grew up admiring Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford wanting to adventure, fight and win. I wanted to be Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Adventurers who took ‘orders only one person Princess. Me!’  Since the Eighties it’s been an awful period for simple, male heroes Vin Deisel or Jason Statham anyone? But Jason Bourne excepted. Heroes suddenly had to be complex, emotional beings. The line between heroic and the complex was no longer clean.

With this dearth of modern heroes, we started to look back and ironically embrace retro stars in a post-modern way. Faux heroes such as Chuck Norris, the A-Team and David Hasselhoff were resurrected from their 1980s naffness. The bad special effects, 80s fashion and silly plotlines enchanted us as kids. Now we celebrate in a mildly mocking manner. In reality, it’s a commentary on ourselves, our cheap cheerfulness and lack of cultural base.

So in MMA, who we are our post-modern heroes? It couldn’t be Ken Shamrock for he takes himself seriously when few others do. Despite Dan Severn’s dogged, Magnum moustache, his persona, fighting style and lack of exposure limit his appeal. Alternatively another old-schooler Don Frye also carries a thunderous moustache yet most MMA fans welcome his appearances as much as we wince as he takes punishment he now takes.

Frye has an important trait needed for cult status; balls of cast steel. Frye always arrives ready to fight even when the odds are clearly stacked against him. Was his stand-up war with Tank the right idea? Should he have agreed to fight Le Banner in K1? Have you seen the fight? Frye also understands the need to entertain before, after and during the fight. It may be a legacy of his pro-wrestling career in Japan but deeper down, Frye has persona.

In Japanese MMA, career and showmanship has always been important. The Gracie Hunter, Kazushi Sakuraba always knew the value of entertainment, entering the arena in masks, school uniforms or on a bike. Akihiro Gono took it further, taking a full part in long, elaborate, ring entrance dance routines. Everyone loves this or you have the sense of humour of a donkey. Both Gono and Sakuraba have added showmanship and in-ring success to their repertoires and we appreciate it.

Ikuhisa ‘the Punk’ Minowa understands this showmanship legacy and too, has balls of steel. And while he does only occasionally ports some fur under his chin, his battles are looked forward to by his legions of supporters who curl behind a cushion with nervous grins. For unlike BA Baracus, Minowa is real and is a man. Just maybe not a super one.

As we know, the style of the match-up is crucial and Minowa simply doesn’t deal with strikers at all. He has been brutally ko’d by the likes of Wanderlei Silva and Crocop and painfully sliced apart by Kiyoshi Tamura in last year. That said, he submitted the dangerous Gilbert Yvel, a striker so fearsome Wanderlei Silva still wears an ice pack to bed. And who can forgot the Butterbean bout with the dropkick. No one saw that coming and no one can say it didn’t improve your day.

It can’t be said though that Minowa has no talent. He has competed well with BJJers, attempting to submit his former master Murilo Bustamente (who failed to sub him) and getting a dog of a split points decision against Ryan Gracie. 24 of Minowa’s 39 wins come via submission. He has clearly learnt. Minowa is most comfortable with wrestlers, handling the likes of Baroni and Frye with relative ease.

Similar to the recent ‘love’ of Chuck Norris, Minowa has developed a following which blurs the boundaries between kitsch and MMA. Could it be his antics in the ring from the drop kicks to the rolling takedowns; the eccentric training regimes chasing planes along the beach or trekking up Mt Fuji; his flag and mullet-shaking ring entrances? Of course it is. Who doesn’t like this showmanship, this form of MMA slapstick but with such honest class? What do we have left? Jason Miller? Chris Leben? Sakuraba has sowed these days and Gono is UFC-contracted.

Minowa is undoubtedly kitsch but is that all it amounts to? The facts say no. His MMA record doesn’t seem much to paw over. 39 wins, a massive 28 losses and 8 draws from his Pancrase days. That is impressive activity for a fighter in his early thirties, leaving little time for training especially considering some of the brutal losses Minowa has endured. But a closer look at his record indicates he didn’t win an amazing 11 out his first 13 fights (2 draws, 9 losses). Since then he has lost only 19 of his next 63 fights. It may not be Rickson Gracie but at least Minowa does his fighting in the ring. He won almost 70% of his fights. That’s better than many, including Phil Baroni, a guy he beat. Some may say lay on.

Unfortunately the Punk is often most famously remembered on the end of tough beatings, facing up to some of the biggest names in the sport such as former Pride 205lbs Champion Wanderlei Silva, current UFC LHW Champion Quinton Jackson and Pride 2006 Open Weight Champion Mirko ‘Crocop’ Filipovic. Minowa has never weighed more than 183lbs. All the names above weigh at least 25lbs more, come fight time. It’s an issue fight fans have never felt comfortable with. Yet some of Minowa’s greatest wins have come against larger opponents. His greater mobility creates room for his submission game, particularly the effective leg locks or heel hooks.

These mismatches have blighted Minowa’s career and opened up him to scorn. You may ask why does Minowa accept such fights but the politics of Japanese MMA and the close connections with pro-wrestling leave the waters very murky. Like Scorsese forced to remake Cape Fear to get the finance for An Age of Innocence, you often have to scratch backs in MMA to get continuing work. But Minowa is worthy of his place for his bravery alone. While champions like Tito Ortiz have famously avoided opponents, Minowa has put his body on the line, time and time again.

Don’t let Ikuhsia Minowa’s beatings detract from his place in the ring. He is no world beater and will never grace in the ring as he does our hearts. Say what you like, Minowa has got in the ring and fought against some of the top fighters in the world for more than a decade. And I still look forward to seeing him fight like I do with many fighters who aren’t P4P greats. So is it his showmanship, his wins and losses, his heart and determination or unpredictability? Well, it’s all of them, together as a package. And the mullet. Got to remember the mullet.

No Mas?


Beyond the Panama Canal, a huge engineering feat started by the French and finished by the Americans, little is known about that little causeway country linking the two American continents. I have never met a Panamanian. Their football team don’t cover the backpage. John Le Carre wrote a book set there.

You may have heard of General Noriega, mass drug dealer and the CIA’s man in Panama who holed up in a nunnery when US hypocrisy struck. Rather than storming the place, the US military thought up a better plan and hounded out Noriega with Metallica at high decibels for 48hours.

Other little known facts include Panama was to be a Scottish colony in the late sixteen hundreds but the expedition was a disaster, near bankrupting Scotland and forcing then to sign a union treaty with England in 1714, a partnership that continues to this day. The disastrous mission had literally got bogged down in mildly famous area called the Darian Gap, a notorious treacherous 400km3 swamp land stretching over to Colombia that very few people cross. The is no real road through it but it’s used to militia gangs and drug dealers to transport cocaine from Colombia. It’s a dangerous area but I will cross it in the next few years.

But there is one man who stands out on the world stage, a man who is considered a great in his field. In 1980, Sugar Ray Leonard was at the top of his game. Fresh from winning a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, Leonard became a world champion after two years as a pro at Welterweight. He was considered a great already, maybe good enough to challenge the record of his namesake, Sugar Ray Robinson, considered the greatest boxer in history. But then he cleanly lost a 15 round decision. And he lost to a Panamanian, the Hands of Stone.

Roberto Duran wasn’t a star except in his homeland. He didn’t appear on chatshows. But boxing enthusiasts knew Duran. He has reigned for 7 years as lightweight champion of the world, winning the title at 21 from Scotsman, Ken Buchanan. He defeated all-comers soundly and then moved up to face Leonard. He won and deservedly won in a battle known as The Brawl in Montreal. The boxing world was shocked. While Duran was considered a great fighter, he wasn’t thought to be in Leonard league. It was thought no one could keep up with Leonard’s speed and precise combinations. But Duran did and he out-worked and out-boxed him in a legendary performance.

A rematch was arranged 5 months later. The fight was even going into round 8. Leonard had upped his game, working tirelessly to counter Duran’s workrate. But the fight was still even. And then, during round 9, Duran stopped fighting, turned to his corner and uttered the words ‘no mas’ to his trainers. They looked shocked but Duran had made his decision. He repeated ‘no mas’ and the fight was called off. Duran had quit on his stool. No one could believe it including Leonard.

Boxing is an unbelievably tough sport. The hours of training and dedication, the intensity of the competition produces tough men. Proud men. Duran left the boxing world bewildered by his decision. He has been questioned and criticised by commentators but to make such a decision takes a brave man. A hero in his own country, a man who carried the nation’s hopes doesn’t make such a decision lightly. He had had enough, couldn’t do it anymore and took such a monumental step. I congratulate him. I wish I had that courage.

And so to myself for this is a blog. The phrase ‘no mas’ resonates with me. I love my life but it’s a motivational battle. I have been lucky and feel it. At some point, indulgence becomes obscene and I feel gluttonous. The great Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami lived in Rome for over 15 years before the nagging in his mind started to draw him back. The Aum Cult sarine gas attacks had just occurred and he felt now was the time to return to Japan. His words were ‘he felt guilty and selfish. it’s time to do something for Japan.’

I can understand those words. I am sitting now on a bus heading north along the Queensland coast, going somewhere. I could be going anywhere but that’s not really true. The bus is rattling along, the sky is dark but I see no stars. I’m tired physically and mentally. It’s my fault of course. I made the choices, I take the responsibility. That’s the rules I set myself. People often ask how I do so much that I do. They envy the carefreeness of it all. It seems like a holiday going on and on.

Talking with fellow backpackers and friends, I am coming to the conclusion that what I’ve learnt could now be put to more use than sitting out on a deck drinking wine and talking. It may sound arrogant but people listen. My carefree yet intellectual nature is infectious for some people. I am no prophet, believing I have found some well of inner knowledge. But I am no charlatan either. I believe in my way. It’s been an amazingly fun yet growing experience. At least 5 people have told me this year I have changed their life, their thinking on what they can do. Lauren is now out in Laos using her academia and she told me that move came from talking with me in Japan. Os wants to work abroad now. Kristen wants to get back to Seville and get her life moving on and that electrician guy in the Social Club is moving to London soon. He came over one night and told me I had changed his life!

Spending with LP was as always hugely entertaining, informative and confirmatory. We are approaching the same issues from different angles, LP through psychology and myself through writing but we seek the same goals. We always see more out there and it’s time I went looking for the solutions and did something for myself and my family.

I finished a Soviet-style 5 year plan last year. I begun it in 2002 after Japan, feeling the need to pursue greater goals of self-improvement and knowing I lacked the discipline to grit it out. That plan was a success, if not always for the results but just for setting the discipline in place. I thought I’d pass on the next plan, believing it undesirable. I was wrong. There is still much to do.

I will always be restless but searching, optimistic and smiling. I have my inner doubts but I am beating them. There is nothing else to do. I know I am right and with the friends that I have, broad, funny and genuine (ref; the man Si), I have started out well. Time to consolidate and make it work. As so many say, I’ll keep the faith, keep asking questions, searching for answers, demanding equality and seeking solutions. I’ll probably keep drinking too. But I’ll be playing music, running, training and supporting the greatest team in the land too. You gotta smile.