Sunday, December 28, 2008

I win again

On the overnight flight home from Singapore I found it really difficult to get to sleep. The problem was that by the time I'd finished eating my delicious airline-food dinner, the guy behind me had already fallen asleep. In doing so, he'd drawn his knees up to his chest and propped his legs against the back of my seat so I couldn't recline my seat at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't have an orange bag to put my head into so my head jerked around violently every time I started to nod off. I very quickly became full of rage, which is why I didn't simply turn around and ask him to move his legs.

Instead, I embarked on a subtle yet devastating program of forcing my seat back against his legs in the hope of waking him up and making him realize that he was being very inconsiderate while at the same time maintaining plausible deniability. "Oh!", I would exclaim if he confronted me, "You had your legs up on my seat and I was hurting you? I am so sorry. I thought that my seat was defective and wouldn't recline so I was trying to move it."

After about half an hour of this something gave and I was able to recline my seat and finally caught a few hours of richly deserved sleep.

When I was collecting my luggage after landing I was bustling off trying to find a trolley for our luggage and I noticed the guy I had vanquished in the Midnight Seat War. He was in a wheelchair.

First I felt guilty because the poor guy must have had to put his legs up on my chair to get comfortable. Then I felt even more guilty because perhaps he was in a wheelchair because I'd dislocated his hips. But now I suspect it was just another power-play from him. He'd probably sprinted ahead of me at disembarkation and flung himself into someone else's wheelchair just to make me feel bad. Is there no depth he will not sink to?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


These are the ways in which the Singapore Zoo is superior to the Adelaide Zoo:
  1. Very few, if any, enclosures in the Singapore Zoo have placards in front of them announcing that the enclosure is currently empty because the animal is dead and will be for the foreseeable future.
  2. The orangutans in the Singapore Zoo do not look clinically depressed. Not only was the depressed orangutan in Adelaide depressing to watch, seeing him prompted my sister to execute some of her jazz ballet moves from childhood in an attempt to cheer him up. Aaargh, my eyes!!!
  3. The flamingoes in the Singapore Zoo are mercifully free from brutal morons who leap the fence and bash them senseless. Unfortunately, this happened in Adelaide.
  4. The Singapore Zoo had a jagular!
  5. When it rained at the Singapore Zoo I had an umbrella.
On the other hand, the Singapore Zoo is a pain in the arse to get to. We sat on a horrible creaky old bus getting carbon monoxide poisoning for about an hour.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Big Star

Haven't posted for a while because my Smaller Half and I have been busy little bees since we returned from Sapa.  We finally got the hang of Hanoi I think, since we no longer find it exhausting just walking around.  Now we find it exhausting because we seem to be eating six meals a day in a desperate attempt to try everything we can before we leave.  And we leave tomorrow (as I write this it is already tomorrow but I will sleep soon so you know what I mean).

We visited the Ho Chi Minh memorial complex today.  I was a bit surprised to find myself briefly roped into posing for souvenir photos with a group of local girls.  The most likely explanation for this is that they mistook me for a Hollywood star since I am quite a snappy and glamorous dresser.  Alternatively, they may have mistaken my blue eyes for the eyes of a ghost and assumed that the spirit of Uncle Ho was walking among them.  Either way, I was happy to oblige.  My Smaller Half was a bit surprised at all the fuss but managed to photograph me being photographed which seems suitably contemporary to be mentioned.

We'll miss Hanoi.  Australia is going to seem a bit quiet and dull after this.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Something strange happened yesterday.  We were in Lao Cai right up by the Chinese border waiting for the overnight train back to Hanoi.  We had a few hours to kill and we were keen to find a bathroom that wasn't hazardous, so we went to hang out in a fancy-pants hotel for a while.  It had only been open for a week so I think we were the only people in the building who weren't being paid.  There was a rooftop bar on the tenth floor that we sat in to chat while we sipped a lemon juice.  Party on!

On the way back down, we hit the 'B' button, forgetting that Vietnamese buildings have level 1 on the ground floor.  So 'B' took us to a subterranean lair straight from a 007 film.  The doors slid open, and in front of us was a sinister looking man in a suit, standing in front of a wall of aquariums that were full of exotic and deadly fish.  The man turned in surprise, looked at us, and he stuck his hand into his exquisitely tailored jacket ...

... and the doors slid closed again before he could riddle our bodies with bullets for daring to discover his secret fish-smuggling operation.  Phew!

I'm already writing up a full report for Interpol.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Get out of my holiday

I have realized that I am self-righteous tourist.

I'm the kind of guy that sees another tourist doing essentially the same thing as me, and thinks, Those western tourists, they are so pathetic.  I bet they think they're being really adventurous and having a real cultural experience.  Well they're not - but I am.  

I am incredibly judgmental of my fellow travellers.  For example, anyone with an iPod gets written off my list immediately.  Like last week when we went to Halong Bay and the Aussie couple next to me in the bus didn't look out the window once for the whole three hour bus ride there.  They watched some action flick on a postage-stamp screen instead.  Nice one.

Or the American girls on the boat in Halong Bay who connected their iPod to the ship's foghorn and belted out their appalling dance beats because, apparently, when you're at the "beach" you need "beach music".  

Fortunately, on that same trip there were three other people who objected enough to the music to get the crew to pull the plug.  Hooray!  Now these are my kind of people.  And by the way, if you're reading this, hello!  We loved meeting you and had a lot of fun - please stay in touch.  Very few people escape the secret tribunal of my mind unscathed, but you did.

Other types of tourists that I despise are:
  • Tourists that buy souvenirs (I buy souvenirs, but as gifts for my family - I know they are lame, I am being ironic or postmodern or something.  You, on the other hand, have no taste at all.)
  • Tourists that eat at the same food stalls as local people (I do this too but my experience is much more authentic, whereas you are only after cheap thrills.)
  • Tourists who go on tours (I do this only because it reduces the administrative load for me, you do it because you are unimaginative and fearful.)
  • Tourists who photograph anything unusual or quirky (I do this but I have a fine eye for Statements.  You are just crass and culturally insensitive.)

I think you probably get the picture now.  If you're ever on holiday anywhere and I walk in - run for your life.  Soon you will be ridiculed and caricatured for daring to be on holiday.

You have been warned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Motorcycle diaries

The things I have seen transported on the backs of motorcycles here range from the bizarre (an upright fully decorated Christmas tree, a wardrobe) to the hazardous (a glass coffee-table, 4 metre-long iron rods) and the disturbing (a wire cage filled with layer upon layer of live dogs).

It's these sort of things that remind you that you really are in a foreign country.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good times

These things have happened to me recently:

While walking down the street here in Hanoi I felt a goodly portion of liquid splat against my head and shoulder from the sky.  I didn't put my hand up and wipe it from my head because I was too afraid to find out what it was.  There's a fairly popular local habit of clearing the sinuses and lungs vigorously and aerially, and many times I have seen people empty large bowls of filthy looking water by slinging them back over their shoulder without looking.  So I decided that ignorance was preferable to horror and just let it trickle down the back of my neck and dry up.

While we were waiting in the airport in Adelaide, my Smaller Half and I were watching planes take off.  Just as one left the ground she sang out, "Thar she blows!", which, apart from being irrelevantly (though poetically) nautical, strikes me as an unwise thing to be saying in an airport.

While flying to Singapore (ON A HOLIDAY), my Smaller Half pulled out a book of clinical cases and started quizzing me on what drugs would be standard immediate treatment for a patient presenting with acute coronary syndrome.  Did I mention that I was ON A HOLIDAY???

While disembarking the plane in Singapore, the chap in front of me bent over to pick up his bag, revealing a patch of fuzzy hair in the small of his back.  "Aha!", I thought, "spina bifida occulta!"  No wonder my Smaller Half was quizzing me earlier - I'm a total loser.

After hours of hard bargaining in a fabric market here in Hanoi for some linen (I think I bargained them down from $Laughable to $Outrageous), the saleswomen suddenly turned out to speak English after all.  Whoops!  It seems they were listening to us discuss between ourselves the prices we were prepared to pay and were adjusting their prices accordingly.  To top it all off, they then said to me, "This your wife? She so young! Ha ha ha!"

Ha ha ha.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Hey there!  We're in Hanoi!

This is an incredibly full-on and confronting place to be, at least compared to the other places I've been.  It's got the energy of Kenya, the crowding of Japan, the conditions of backwater Malaysia, and the food of (not surprisingly) a Vietnamese restaurant.

I'm taking notes as I go, as I intend to post up some of the more interesting happenings for your reading pleasure, but the actual posting of them may be extremely irregular.

For now, I just wanted to go off on a complete tangent and say that if I wasn't Australian, with all the super-dooperness that goes along with it, I'd like to be Scottish.  We sat next to a Scottish guy on the plane from Singapore to Hanoi.  He was really nice.  And because he's Scottish, the mildest witticism sounds absolutely hilarious.

I'm not sure why this is.  Perhaps it's because the only Scottish people allowed on TV when I was young were comedians.  My brain must have a hard-wired connection between Scottishness and funniness.  Oh well, I'm not complaining about it.  We had a great flight.

See you bye!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I may not be posting much for the next little while. Try to live your lives to the fullest nonetheless.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bright Spark

I just watched The Howard Years again (did I mention what a great show it is?) and Helen Coonan unleashed the best mixed metaphor I have ever heard when she was asked a question about Mark Latham:

Helen Coonan
We knew that if we just gave him enough rope he'd blow himself up.

First class stuff Helen, well done. So glad you were the Minister for Communications.

Law and Order

I am relieved to note that law and order has been re-established in the suburb where I live.

Today the Neighborhood Watch newsletter arrived, and I noticed that this month there were no chicken burgers flung at vegetarian pedestrians from passing vehicles - a 100% reduction from last month when there was one.

Man dies of tedium

One down, one to go.

Wasn't that exam this morning fun? No, not really. The one good thing I can say about it was that it was predictable. No surprises = happy PTR.

I was greatly relieved that the embryology question was mostly about body folding and stuff like that. I was dreading a question on formation of the face and cleft palates and so forth, but it didn't come up. Of course, the wonderful thing about embryology is that because everything blurs into everything else, you could keep writing for hours (as long as you knew enough). But since the question was only worth 8 marks, there comes a time (fairly quickly actually) when you need to turn the page and move on.

The exam tomorrow is going to be a whole lot of kablooey. As you can tell I am underwhelmed with enthusiasm about it. Sigh. It's gotta be done...