Category Archives: SE Asia 2012

The Wheelbarrow Lie.

Family Moment

Motorcycle storytelling in South East Asia is practically a competitive sport.

Family of Five: Points for mentioning the baby.
Impossible Objects: “I once saw a guy carrying a whole fridge…in front of him!”
Originals: Whole Bonsai tree nurseries, stepladders (carried horizontally), even other motorcycles, blah blah. It’s all about the flavor you choose to give it, and the timing of the story.

So I got one. There were two guys on the motorbike ahead of me. The passenger was facing backwards trailing a wheelbarrow behind them. The wheelbarrow was empty. Kinda cool. Kinda whatever.

It gets a few chuckles, but it’s just a runner-up, innit. There’s something missing. How about another man, sitting cross-legged in the wheelbarrow while it’s being towed, like a small child getting a ride in a supermarket trolley, except from his friend, backwards and on a highway? Fudgin’ A.

The problem is that it’s simply not true. I want it to be, because that would be funnier. But still the little red flag goes up.

But lying is this co-operative act. We prefer everyone to spice up their stories. It’s what we expect. In fact, we demand it. Shun the boring. Reward the exciting. Harmless fun, haha! (Until the storyteller begins to have a personal investment in others believing it, and entertainment becomes d-d-d-d-deception.

So if people start asking for story details, wave the third man goodbye. Rather be honest than desperate.

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Indonesia beach wizzdom


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This Is My Face

It’s a cigarette, mom.


Drawing at Dave’s Place

I was reading this book on graffiti art (read: birthday wishlist) when this pencil dude knocked on the door.

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5 Fears Of Going Home To South Africa

The brute truth about how I really feel coming down off a period of two and a half years working and travelling in Korea and South East Asia. Here are the situations I fear most about returning to Cape Town in four weeks.

1. Crime

A group of men threaten me with knives or guns as I’m leaving the building with my expensive music equipment. My life and everything I’ve worked for is now in their hands. My career takes a five year step back in time. I am surrounded by the heaviness of spirit of an angry nation. I don’t know how to fix this.

2. Commitment

The freedom of living life alone is gone as I return to my long-distance girlfriend. I can’t just decide to up and leave when I feel like it anymore. I have to now think for someone else, about someone else’s feelings. I have to sacrifice, negotiate. Although I have been faithful to her during our time apart, on some level there’s still a loss of freedom as I return to her.

3. Career

Opportunities in the creative arts are scarce. I can’t progress as an artist because there’s no work. I am surrounded by unambitious people who cannot gather the motivation to share my vision. I am creatively stagnant and forced to do a job unrelated to my passion, to split my life down the middle, yet again.

4. Convenience

From a life of ease and the luxury of backpacking, I plunge back into the reality of trying to get by, instead of getting ahead. It’s both the lack of convenience that I fear, and the abundance of it; more so that I’ll become coddled by unnecessary comforts and lose the creative edge.

5. Community

I have to return to the soap opera of society, of relationships with others. Forging ahead takes energy and travel can no longer be an excuse for not doing so. Of course, I love and miss my friends, but along with the joys of trusted companionship come certain obligations that I haven’t really had to fulfill while living surrounded by strangers.

So that’s it. I hereby give these fears license to be gone. These words are their catharsis. I understand that none of the scenarios are likely to play out as heavily as they often do in my mind. I am looking forward to going home, but first I need to drop these bags somewhere en route. Thanks for reading. More travel stuff.

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The Immortal Neck Chain

Travelers take great pride in their bangles, anklets, necklaces, armbands and trinkets to remind them of the cool places they’ve been. I once made a wooden beaded neck chain which lasted me through my first big trip and for years afterwards.

Every so often, the delicately threaded neck chain would catch a collar button as I was whipping off my shirt, or I’d remove it from a shower hook carelessly, and the leather cord would yank from the clasp, breaking the chain and scattering the little beads in all directions.

I’d always take care to collect every bead I could find, but inevitably I’d lose one or two every time. Then I’d begin re-threading them and complete the time-consuming repair job by re-fastening the cord with a pair of pliers.

I’d always find replacement beads at bead shops, or consolidate other broken bracelets to mend my prize neck chain. Over time, it contained more replacement beads than original ones. Eventually, all the beads from the original chain were completely replaced.

The day came that the weather-beaten cord was yanked for the last time, broke, and had to be replaced by a new one. By this time, the tiny little screw clasp was glued and clamped to the original cord, so that was also replaced.

Eventually not a single piece of the original neck chain remained. But the chain that hung around my neck was unmistakably the same one as the one I’d made years earlier.

I sometimes wonder where those atoms are now.

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Heaven Is A Private Dorm

Everyone told me to go to the West coast of Malaysia, because the East is shut for monsoon.

So, East it was.

Google “Kuantan Backpackers” and you’ll find a place called Kuantan Backpackers. It’s a backpacker spot in Kuantan.

Actually, it’s the backpacker spot in Kuantan, and it’s only 6 weeks old.

The dynamic local owner Jessin runs a spotless, secure dorm hostel on the second floor with her mom.

I was the only guest. Heaven is a private dorm.

To my surprise, at around 7pm, they checked out, reminding me to just switch stuff off if I went anywhere, leaving me completely alone in an empty place. Often in hostels, it’s just you and the night manager but this was the first time ever that I’d had free run of a place without being employed there.

I began by painting some of the large, inviting swaths of blank white wall, as I was encouraged to by the artistic Jessin. By 8pm, I’d found the box of red wine on the fridge. Next thing, I’d gone shopping at the late night supermarket across the street and cooked up a chili & lime dinner in the well-equipped communal kitchen; cooking for the first time in months! Then I practiced violin for an hour, as loud as I wanted to, followed by Family Guy on the flatscreen. Not a soul, not a phonecall, not a message. The. Whole. Night. That kinda thing goes without a price.

In a nothing town somewhere rainy, who knew?

Today I’m going surfing 30kms up the coast, and after that a highland nature park which charges $3 a night.

I have no guidebook. Jessin helped me plan this.

This stay has been one of the unforgettable highlights of my trip.

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Death Story

(A new short story. Here’s other stuff.)

Death sits across the table from me, grinning madly.

“Whatcha reading?” he ventures.
“Nothing,” I reply, too quickly. I don’t look up.

I feel the conspicuous glare tighten. Just sockets. And teeth. And silence. I concentrate on the story before me, but his glare is heavy. I can feel his skull boring into mine.

“Is it good?” he continues, carefully and slowly, intoning the question deliberately, painfully. I take another deep breath and exhale forcefully, turning it into an audibly frustrated sigh. It whistles out my nostrils like a pinched plastic bag at first, and ends with a little jiggle, betraying my subtle anxiety. He’s still there. My brow dampens and tightens. Death grins on for another small eternity.

“Who’s it by?” he almost chuckles.
“Nobody.” I turn my chair away from the table, merely shifting the angle of his mirthful stare by 45 degrees. Somehow it feels less like I’ve moved my chair and more like my whole world has rotated around the persistent mystery across the table.

Now I feel the next question building. The pause becomes infinite. The page before me blurs and my knuckles whiten around the corner of the hard cover.

Anticipation. Endless.

“Can I see…?”

A loud squawk erupts as I launch out of the chair, interrupting the question. I spin and turn my back on him in one motion, facing the wall. My lower eyelids glisten and drops form on my temples. I stand, frozen, facing the wall, preparing myself for the next onslaught. Rage builds inside me. He’s teasing me. Holding my hands back, pinning me down, pretending to dribble spit on my face. Why won’t he stop? Why won’t he go away?

Confused and angry, I glance up at the wall momentarily and look in the mirror. I’m there, but the reflection is clear behind me. Two hardback chairs stand empty. I gasp. He’s gone! I spin around, slack-jawed and eyes wide to see if it’s really true.

He is calmly sitting in the same chair and this time, our eyes meet. He grins.

I exhale deeply, this time in resignation, ending with the quietest of whimpers.

“OK,” I confess, looking directly into his sockets. I pull up my chair and sit down sadly. “It’s a love story set in the 50s…”

He grins.

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