Almost at Everest

This tale is about the time I almost saw Mount Everest…yes, that’s right…almost saw. It isn’t a story of how I felt when I finally laid eyes on the huge natural behemoth – instead it’s the story of how I tried and failed.

I should point out that I didn’t ever plan on climbing it – I am not a fool, although I may look, and act like one; I know my strengths as well as my weaknesses – and putting one frostbitten limb in front of another as I take desperate drags from an oxygen tank is not my idea of fun, and most certainly isn’t a field in which I would excel…in fact I would probably have so much to complain about up there I would talk myself into an early grave. Because of this I had arranged to take the Mountain Flight from Kathmandu airport up to Everest to catch a glimpse (without all of that walking and heavy breathing)…don’t judge, come on, I had one day left in Nepal and I wanted to use it wisely!

After all, I bet an actual climb up Mount Everest entails a whole lot of inhumane practices – such as surviving on a diet of weird toothpaste meat energy capsules as there is no space to cook…if that is true, which I have promised myself it is – I can’t do that, I need my food. So, it was the only option to be a lazy piece of work and fly up there. I’ll climb next time…maybe…probably…errr…LOOK RON WEASELY EATING A SAUSAGE!

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Phew!

So I had booked the short tour flight just the night before, despite still being horribly sick (heavy duty industrial strength diahorrea) – it’s unfortunate of course, but it is for that reason that I will probably never return to Nepal…you know for fear of all of my insides falling out of my anus in a burning rush of searing pain…no big deal or anything. It was with this self-instilled no return policy, that I decided whilst I remained in the country I should do everything I can (to get my life’s fill of it all)!

So I popped a bunch of pills, drank some water, wore two pairs of underpants, and hopped uneasily into a taxi to begin the trail to the largest mountain in the world.

Obviously the taxi driver took the bumpiest fucking route known to man, so I was forced to clench harder than a crab claw’s vice grip – there were a lot of touch and go moments, but I held on, justI mean I had to! I am sure we all agree that shitting myself whilst looking at Mount Everest, may have taken some of the fun out of the experience! Anyway, after some jumbled directions about which muddy path I should follow, I trampled down what appeared to be a flooded building site until I found some automatic doors that had been jammed open with chunks of cardboard – I sighed my deepest sigh, trying to put it to the back of my mind…these guys can’t even grasp the intricate mechanics of the door mechanism but I am trusting them to throw me up into the sky in a tin can…smart John, very smart.

It’ll be fine, you won’t die…it’ll be fine. No one dies. It’ll be fine. 

After being vigorously molested by security, I spotted the desk in the distance and slowly waddled my way up to it, occasionally flinching due to what can only be described as adult nappy rash: if for some reason that sounds fun in any way then know that it is not…I don’t want to give too much horrifying detail, but to say that it felt like someone sandpapering your butt-hole, would be an outrageous understatement. It is more like someone…I’ll stop.

Despite the mess that was going on in my lower section, the lady at the desk still smiled cordially, she didn’t judge my diseased penguin walk, she didn’t mind the vague smell of sewage that probably clung to me…good for her…I couldn’t have did it. As I beamed back at her, I began to reach for my passport as I –

“YEAH, WHEN DO I GO ON THE PLANE?!” a strange sweaty man burst from nowhere to shove me aside, and instantly shared a “what the fuck?!” look with the lady, who appeared just as bewildered as myself!

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The guy didn’t look at me once, I assumed out of sheer shame – I mean, know that if I was going on like an absolute prick I wouldn’t be mad keen on giving my victims eye contact, no, no – just do the crime and ignore those affected by it, that’s the code. I didn’t let this little incident get me down though and took perverse joy in listening in to the (pretty one sided) conversation…he kept demanding strange things, asking odd questions and becoming angry when the answers were not to his liking…to the point the lady looked altogether freaked out -he kept wagging his chubby finger and saying “YOU DO YOUR JOB – DO YOUR JOB WELL.” I mean who gets hot flaming mad about there  being no complimentary peanuts on the flight?! Who gets a little rage on because there aren’t two cushions on the seat?!

Well the answer to both of those questions is that guy. I thought I was having a shitty day, but I would take toilet woes to dealing with him any day of the week! The lady had to maintain the classic professional smile throughout the whole torment, I was half expecting her cheeks to spasm due to over use and peel off. She held on. 

When we got through to the main waiting gate area (it was all one large room) I made a sprint for the toilets for reasons which should be obvious by now. I was not disappointed, the smell was just as rank as I had come to expect, there were rusty brown splodges that were presumably a homage to the thousands of people who had entered and pissed on the floor rather than use the disease ridden cubicle. Bizarrely there was a mop in the corner of the room…which was weird…I thought that must be some kind of joke by the staff, like a funny thing which further exemplifies just how unnecessarily putrid the place is. But anyway, joke or not – I had assessed long ago that this wasn’t a place anyone could use for toilet time, so I washed my hands (probably making them even more dirty than before by turning the tap OFF) and then headed back to the main big room. The angry man was shuffling about, still irate, barking at people as he went on his way…I sat down in a far corner well out of his path…ah..no…he then performed an unexpected U-turn and…oh…oh, my…he was heading straight towards me…I tried to look a little bit strange, unhinged even – like the kind of guy you would just think hmmm, not sitting next to him…he may try to sell me cheese he keeps in his pockets, or ask if he can lick my gloves or…it’s not working, he is still coming – do something weird, why is it not working?!

“PLEASE DON’T SIT DOWN HERE – PLEASE DON’T SIT DOWN HERE – PLEASE DON’T SIT DOWN HERE!”

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Naturally he sat down right next to me despite there being ample space literally everywhere else – I felt the violent surges of red creep up my neck, past my cheeks and up to my ears…the anticipation of being put on the spot and screamed at about the lack of peanuts, or whatever other mad crusade he would crazily ramble on about this time. I sat there tensely, wishing I had put the second earphone in when I had the chance…now if I put the other in it would be too obvious a don’t fucking talk to me kinda tactic…which is just not socially allowed for some reason, so yeah – just had to sit there staring at my hands, hoping maybe they may fall off…so that I could have a decent enough excuse to return to the bathroom…but they didn’t, they just stayed there, shaking a little…I looked off into the distance, itching my neck over and over…I started to tell myself that maybe he would just leave…maybe he wouldn’t want to shout at me…maybe he –

“WHERE ARRR YOU FRUM?”

Argh, fuck. I turned slowly to face him – as much as I would have loved to ignore him, or just get up and shoot myself in the head,  for better or for worse – that isn’t me. Strangely, we ended up speaking for some time, at first I gave him limited responses, as it was the usual who, what, where kind of interview, it also irritated me that he kept referring to Korea as Japan…so much so that eventually I just shrugged and started doing it myself. Yeah, yeah – Korea do great sushi, don’t like Tokyo though, far too crowded…mhmm me too…

He asked me what I enjoyed doing, what my passion was – he assured me that you have to have passion in life or you may as well be dead. I said I loved to write funny stories, and make people laugh if I could – naturally, he immediately asked me to tell a joke, which is always horrible – I don’t really do one liners…but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, he just looked at me with these expectant eager eyes until I finally caved…what happens when you drink food colouring? You dye a little inside! It was a little bit like Slumdog Millionaire, as a random memory of a Penguin chocolate bar gag slipped from my memory vault, perfect for this occasion. There was an awkward pause…I was about to apologise for inflicting such a bad piece of cheap humour on him, but he then started raucously laughing, and slapping his thighs – “GOOD ONE! DYE LIKE DIE…DYE IS…AHHH!” 

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He was impressed that I had thought it up by myself…so was I. There was an announcement that the flight would be delayed, they needed to wait for a weather safety report. But we didn’t particularly care, we carried on chatting about this, and that. He asked me about my family, friends…you know, the usual introduction stuff – when I reciprocated he began telling me an unexpected tale of woe that really gripped me, and has been on my mind ever since…

He was originally from Syria, and had once been married…with one son. He was so proud of him, that much was obvious – he told me he had studied day and night without any pushing, easily passing all of his exams and becoming a doctor – which was the only path he was ever destined to be…he wanted to help people, and had been the same way even as a young boy, always fixing up animals and doing things for his Mother. He then spoke fondly of his wife…the most beautiful woman you will ever see, clever and witty – someone he could talk to deep into the night, never to tire of the conversation…it was the perfect life he said. Was. 

That’s when he told me…his son had been on a bus, on his way to start his first job since graduating, when a bomb blew up, causing the vehicle to fly off the road, and kill every person unfortunate enough to be inside. His wife, once the happiest lady you would ever meet, instantly stopped working and would lock herself in the bathroom every day…after a few agonizing weeks she was found dead, she had shot herself in the head – so as not to deal with the worst possible heartache imaginable. He gestured the gun shot to the head, and began to form tears in the wrinkled cracks of his eyelids.

But he didn’t want my sorrys…he didn’t want my sympathy – instead he made me promise I would live out everyday in as full a way as I could, he held on to my hand and squeezed tight – after all, he said – that is what he is doing. I wondered what he meant, and it was then that he revealed a tattered map, once owned by his son, and told me that he is visiting all of the places he once heard him speak of, all of the places he had promised his Father he would see one day.

Everest had been on the top of the list.

There was an announcement that the flight would be cancelled, and a full refund would be available. You’d think I would be disappointed, as unlike my new friend – I didn’t have the option to try again tomorrow – as I would be returning home the next day. It seems like I had just wasted three hours of my life in an airport for seemingly no reason whatsoever…but the truth is I had learned a lot from this strange rude man, that had barged into me just earlier that day…at the risk of sounding cheesy let me just say this – I walked out with a different appreciation for what life is that day, it’s a flickering flame that can go out at any moment. So you have to make the most of it.

Go on…

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Don’t EVER Travel!

We all have our own custom-made worries, responsibilities, musings, and quandaries…things we must do, things we dream of doing, and a whole bunch of things we don’t ever even want to think about doing. And it’s because of this that the weight of the world can, at times, get on top of us…and if we’re not careful – overwhelm us completely…

I’m having one of those times at the moment,  I mean I’m fine for the most part – but not fine-fine…like if someone was to ask “how are you?” – I’d still reply with “I’m fine” – but it wouldn’t be entirely truthful, I’d just be sort of going through the usual motions, you know?

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I’m a better liar than Ross though, I think…

That’s what they don’t tell you about leaving home for some far-flung country; the way you feel so feckless, helpless, useless, and a whole load other things with ‘less’ at the end. Apart from bless of course, as it’s no blessing to be away from family in times of need – in fact I’d argue the exact opposite; it’s a fucking curse. 

You feel guilty for not being there, particularly during the more miserable occasions; deaths, illnesses, surgeries – all that fun stuff. But when you do return you realise that everyone is…well…everyone is fine – and that life has been rolling on without you, as it inevitably always will.

That’s the irony, I suppose – you feel selfish for being away from loved ones, and yet when you come back you feel selfish for believing you were so necessary to people’s daily survival that your homecoming should have been on a Jesus level…that the very sight of you should have cured all of the woes people had been suffering in your absence…that you were the missing piece, and now you’ve been found again – so let’s rejoice and have a thousand wines, or you know, whatever Jesus did*…

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Artist’s rendition*

Either way, life’s not like that. It would be great if it was – but it isn’t, and that is hard to deal with. We have to make our decisions, and live with the consequences; “happily ever after” is just a narrow and simple-minded fallacy that seeks to act as a blanket statement to cover over all of life’s hidden intricacies and complexities…all of the pain, and suffering…all of the worry, and remorse…basically all of the things that mean you truly care, all of the things that make you a living, breathing, and feeling human.

Sucks to be you, sorry mate…I’m sure you’ll be fine.

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Broke? Travel Anyway!

I often get emails, and messages from people – asking the same question – “how do you afford travel? Are you from a rich family? Do you have connections? Did you get some crazy compensation deal – and have decided to blow it all on roaming the world rather than making sound investments?!” 

Well, no. No to all of those. I wish it was something as easy as being in a car accident – and getting free money, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz…it looks like a spectacular vision until you see the cogs turning behind the curtain. Yes, the actual facts of the matter are a lot less glossy – and  whilst this may be hard to take for some…I actually work. 

Take my first major trip on my own, for example. My year abroad studying in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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For two years before that I worked at an electrical store, moving televisions around, and trying to sell people outdated SCART cables they didn’t want…taking overtime whenever I could, whilst also taking shifts at my Aunt’s pub on the weekend…all the while squirreling away money whenever possible. With no disrespect intended, I wasn’t like the others that were accepted on to the study abroad programme (Newcastle UK – Atlanta USA) there would be no money from my Mother, or Father…I’m one of five children, I would feel rude even asking.

But I made it – and before I knew it I was in the midst of my own travel scrapbook! Carving out new memories for myself…whether it be visa worries at passport control, attempting to make the transition to the different pace of American life, or dancing insane jigs with Waka Flocka, I had flew from the ordinary day-to-day, and was living out these once impossible fantasies!

Sounds dreamy, dreamy – I’m sure? But the truth was my budgeted money soon ran out, and there were a couple of very hairy months – I recall that after weeks of eating next to nothing I sent my parents a whimpering email explaining the situation…and I received something along the lines of – “you’ll figure it out.” And I felt it was harsh, but the fact is…you will…if you want it that badly – you will. (And I’m still alive, so I guess I did!)

Study abroad programmes can be a great way to get away, and experience a different culture first hand – there are often great schemes, and incentives – with mine I was actually reimbursed for any costs throughout the year. Which meant I had thousands to play with at the end of it all – long story short, two weeks in Greece with some of my best friends from back home. 

My second major trip came just after I graduated university- although I was recruited before I had even been given my degree…and a month after I flew out to Beijing, China.

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Again I had saved, and saved working some terrible job – this time around it was a sportswear store, selling people trainers, and trying not to touch their sweaty feet as I assisted them with trying on their shoes. Not ideal – but a means to an end. This was just so I had some initial spends, as the programme actually flew me out at no cost, and many of the site-seeing trips, and other interesting adventures were paid for, or massively subsidised.

Either way, there I was again – in a totally foreign, and unknown environment…forced out of my comfort zone…but that’s what it’s all about…I was experiencing all of the weirdness, that was so different to anything the 9 to 5 version of myself would be encountering…whether it be bizarre disputes over taxi fares, relaxed views to public pooping, or trying to sample local dishes without being sick (such as dog) – I knew these were memories that would last a lifetime.

And thanks to the cheap day-to-day living China affords, I was able to save a little for the NEXT trip…you see, that is important – always have the next trip in mind. 

My third major trip to Scandinavia came unexpectedly…but was well worth it…

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My sister – someone who has worked all over the world with nothing more than a can-do attitude, and flexibility – found a two month long  job in the Arctic Circle at a remote lodge…it was placed right between Sweden, and Finland. Did I fancy it? Well…OF COURSE I DID! There was a catch though, we had to fly out (again at their expense, so no worries) the following day! You see, sometimes the opportunity comes abruptly, and if you ponder over it too much, it will go to someone else – you sometimes just have to grab it, and say YES! 

And I certainly did. Before I knew it I was crashing snowmobiles in Sweden, experiencing The Shining effect first hand in Finland, and after I finished my contract – experiencing the raw natural beauty of the Norwegian Fjords first hand.

The work was often not pretty; six day weeks, with long hours – and if my boss was ever pissed off he would make me scrub toilets for an ungodly amount of time…but still…huski racing? The Northern Lights? Spending a night in an igloo? You can’t tell me that wasn’t worth it. 

For my next major trip, I was off to South Korea! I scraped together the last of my meager savings – put up with the horrendous visa process…and then went on my way!

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And I couldn’t have asked for more! Yet again I was flown out at my employer’s expense, provided with a cosy home to stay in for free, and continue to live very comfortably – whilst also having an amazing time, with some amazing kids, in a truly amazing country! And, using Korea as a base, I have been able to save very efficiently, which allows for a great many adventures; including a  Christmas trip to Vietnam,  an interesting excursion to North Korea’s border, a heat-stricken jaunt to Nepal…back home to England, and Scotland – then on to Italy, Hungary, and Austriathen…well, you get the picture – the world suddenly doesn’t seem as hugely inaccessible as it once did!

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You see it’s not difficult, you just make it difficult. If you really want to travel, like really, really want to…then be willing to work, and be willing to take every opportunity. Rich, or not – you’ll get there – so stop just posting random sunset photographs, with “W A N D E R L U S T” etched over them, and start planning that next trip…and start filling up your passport, and with it your little book of memories. 

~

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The Land of Confusion (Japan)

Japan ~ Osaka – 2015

What do you think of when you hear Japan? Probably a lot of things flash by in an instant…from the deep rooted cultural elements, to the checkered history, the strange and bizarre…all the way to Pokémon and Dragonball Z (as well as so much more) – it’s safe to say that Japan has always painted a colorful tapestry for themselves, one unlike any other place on earth.

Like most western folks I confess I have a rather bare knowledge regarding the so-called land of the rising sun…but that’s alright – as it’s always more exciting and rewarding to go into a place totally unprepared! Every sense is more receptive – your eyes wide like a newborn baby…not wanting to blink so as not to miss anything as you stare up and around at all the newness in front of you. Like being unplugged from The Matrix – all of the preconceptions and travel guides can go out of the window, as you are witnessing it all first hand…you are truly living it in real time. And if you are lucky, nothing will be like it seemed from your armchair back home.

Exhilarating right? RIGHT! So how would all of these aesthetic commodities manage to impossibly mesh together then ? I didn’t have the foggiest idea – but of course I was still beyond curious! I mean…what would I find behind Japan’s veil of mystery?

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Well my friends I will say this…Japan is weird and wonderful – no actually, wait – let me rephrase that…Japan is weirdly wonderful. You see many things in Japan are weird; very very weird – but the weirdness often makes them wonderful…and the things that are wonderful, wellllll they still often cling to a certain sense of weirdness. Sorry…I know I’m sounding like some sort of deranged Willy Wonka right now…but this is the best way I can think to sum it up! 

You see there’s battles on every single street corner! And by “battles” I don’t mean Pokémon battles (to my great disappointment), but battles between juxtaposing cultural elements…it’s bizarre, it’s crazy…but they manage to meld together in the strangest of ways…it shouldn’t work…they shouldn’t be able to coexistbut somehow they do in a way only Japan can manage. 

Think the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that form together in perfect unison…well yeah it’s like that except rather than good/evil, or light/dark it’s Buddhist temples and pornographic manga characters…to give just one of many examples…

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There’s also a perfect fusion between the old and the new which I found rather fascinating. On the one hand you are ordering your food through a machine in a restaurant rather than dealing with humans…very Bladerunner-ish…but then on the other side of things you are paying in coins to get a paper ticket stub to ride a rather dated subway!  I like this idea though…not everything has to be updated, smooth, and futuristic – then again I’m biased as I still dream of living in a castle with a moat in the next ten years, so perhaps you shouldn’t pay attention to silly old me!

Mind one thing I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the confusing nature of the transport system…it actually seemed intentionally difficult. The lines criss-cross in the most nonsensical ways imaginable – I would assume because they were just built one after another, and so the map took shape without forward-planning…either that or the architect dropped a bowl of noodles and thought “mehhhh, good enough!”

Anyway, what that means for the user is that they are sure to pull their hair out attempting to understand that which cannot be understood! I’m not even talking about the fact that it is all strictly in Japanese; which sure is frustrating but as I was in Japan I felt was fair enough! I’m really just raving at the layout of the tracks, and routes…my advice is this; attempt to be constantly partially intoxicated on Japan’s surprisingly good, and cheap selection of beers – that way you won’t mind as much, and will just go with the flow!

“Oh, we went the wrong way by 20 minutes? Never mind…these things happen! Let’s go!” as opposed to: “FUCCCCK! WHY DOES THAT LINE GO THAT WAY?! WHY DOES IT HAVE THE EXACT SAME STATION NAME MINUS ONE NUMBER! WHY AM I NOT DRINKING BEER RIGHT NOW?!” – it’s really your decision, but I feel comfortable with my choice.

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I came to the end of my trip seriously wanting more…which has to be a positive? Sure there had been some lows – losing on Tekken to a young Japanese kid which basically destroyed my entire belief that I was a master of that game…continually relying on body language rather than spoken words, so much so that I now feel like a professional body-popper…and finding out there are so few vegetables in the Japanese diet that I may have scurvy, BUT – despite all of this it has piqued my interest massively as both a country, and as a culture – due to that I want to return very soon…next time Tokyo I reckon, so I can experience a change of pace – mind, I’ll still be going in as a rather clueless and ignorant tourist; and you know what?

That suits me just fine. 

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Pee, and Pornography

I was chatting with a friend just the other day over dinner, when she told me a story of how she had endured a horrendous flight littered with visa complications – and vigorous crosschecks! Just my kinda story, right?! Anyway this led me to tell her of my last flight…which I think I didn’t share with you at the time!

…the tale takes place some time in January of this year – as I was on route from a lovely Christmas spent in England, back to the land of the morning calm: South Korea. The flight is a monster, but a necessary evil…I can’t sleep on flights at all, so it’s basically just a day of watching movies…oh and looking around at everyone else who is well and truly conked out as if in a witch’s spell…

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Which I suppose is kind of amusing at first, but 12 hours later…six movies in…not so much. Anyway the flight in question was pretty normal in that respect – I had the distinct honour of being nestled in between two people; a hefty Chinese chap, and a young very smiley Chinese lady. For obvious reasons there wasn’t going to be much conversation, a few head nods here and there perhaps…pointing to the food, and giving a thumbs up (maybe), but no actual words. Which is fine with me ordinarily. But as you may already know…messages don’t always have to be sent by a flexing of your vocal chords alone…no, no – a picture is worth a thousand words…

…you see I was already a little uncomfortable thanks to the chunky overzealous arms of my new friend to the left – but he had finally fallen asleep watching an Adam Sandler movie so I had a bit of respite! But I was far from off the hook, as to my right there was still some rather odd activity going on…the young lady was on her phone which I wasn’t paying attention to – until she was sitting there holding it at a strange angle – the kind of angle you would use if you said “hey, check out this video of a cat punching a dog!” or “look at this picture of my Dad eating a pie!” …or – okay the list is endless, and I think you get it. So naturally I looked, what was she even trying to show m-

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OH, WAIT. Erm, I see…at the end of her outstretched hand was a rather lurid mobile phone screensaver – to say it caught my eye is an understatement! I’ll stop skirting the issue, and just come out with it – It was a picture of a caucasian gentleman and his Asian lady friend getting rather  fond of each other in a kitchen. I didn’t know where to look, and didn’t want to make it obvious I had just caught sight of it…so allowed my gaze to continue to the window, thinking that perhaps I could pretend that’s where I was looking all along…just staring blankly out of the glass, like the school days…

…but that wasn’t enough for her, she propped her arm up in my way, and opened the lock screen of the phone, to reveal a second wallpaper, with a similar kind of theme. I nodded, and gave one of those “ahh, I see!” forehead raising movements, before desperately busying myself with the movie menu screen in front of me ~

Whilst she flicked through her gallery of pictures.

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We got over that little hump, and back to our polite manners when eating together – eventually I couldn’t hold it any longer, and needed to pee. I hate asking people to stand up, but I had been forcing it to the back of my mind for so long! So I gently nudged the guy, and asked if I could get past – “hmmm, NO.” He retorted, before pulling his sleeping mask over his sweaty face, and crossing his arms. Well I certainly hadn’t expected that…I asked again, but got no answer – so told myself I could probably wait another movie, after which I would probably violently stamp over him to urinate . Something to look forward to if you will! How long can you last John, let’s find out!

But you see great minds think alike! So the girl needed to go too…she did a similar nudge to me to get past – to which I explained about the immovable force blocking the way, she tried to get his attention by flicking him which I thought was odd, and even spoke in Chinese – but nothing. So she opted to climb over everyone instead. Perhaps it was all part of a master scheme, an amazing rouse that the guy was in on, but she suddenly became oh so clumsy…tripping over in some mad slapstick routine which always ended with her sitting on me. Like actually sitting on me – I’ll let you visualise it I’m not going to describe, you have imaginations, use them. However after this little bit, she slid majestically past sleeping beauty with no problem at all!

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Strange that, huh? 

Anyway, there is a happy ending to all of this – she woke him up coming back, so I was able to use this window of opportunity to use the bathroom myself. And it will go down as one of the best pees of my life. Waiting makes things more special my friends, remember that. 

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Mc Donald’s Head.

I’ve noticed something since I started travelling the world, and it has only been strengthened during my time writing this blog, and putting together my stories! 

Humour is something that brings people together – it’s a very HUMAN experience…and isn’t limited by race, culture, or whatever else!

l meet new people when travelling from all over the world, and what is the first thing we do? Usually make each other laugh! A stupid joke…a silly observation, a ridiculous suggestion…whatever it is. It’s something we can all share in, and is a terrific way to bond – and become new best buds for life.

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It also isn’t limited by language – my new kindergarten class can barely say “hello, how are you?” never mind anything more complex – but they have already came up with ways to make jokes, and get laughs! (at my expense!) 

“Teacher teacher! You like a McDonald?”

“Erm. Yes I do – of course! Why?” 

“Uhh-uhhh!” 

(Points frantically in the general direction of my face, incapable of getting out any more words)

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“Huh? What do you mean?” 

(Taps the unfortunate  wrinkle creases on my forehead)

“Teacher is a McDonald!” 

And in that moment I understood – and I was naturally shocked, but couldn’t help but guffaw like some madly intoxicated hyena…along with the rest of the class. We laughed about it for the rest of the day actually, and I still giggle (and cry a little) when it pops into my head at random times in the day!

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Clever little bas**rds!

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Birthday Blues

Well I have just returned from a few days in the coastal city of Busan, in South Korea – couldn’t have wished for a better holiday to celebrate my birthday! Unfortunately there was to be one final hiccup – and I am still scratching my head wondering how it happened (while eating some birthday toffee, so not all bad I guess!)…

You see, I lost my bank card! But not in the usual fun way a person does during a heavy week…something like taking 1,000 flaming shots, then getting in a fight where you are punched so hard you’re physically sick, and somewhere within the throws of all that madness your card is gone, never to be found again…no. You see instead of a fun story I simply lost mine at a rest stop…on the way back home in broad daylight! Like how does that even happen?! 

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The coach pulled in to the stop, and the fella said we had ten minutes. So I scrabbled around for all my necessities…which were only two items; my phone, and my bank card. I then made my way to the scruffy bathroom, that had blatantly never seen a wash – and then continued on to the little store they had there. I was suddenly very excited about the fact that I would soon be scoffing down delicious cheese flavoured snacks! My tongue was salivating at the selection, as I grabbed bags of cheesy doritos, and eagerly joined the line. But when it got to my turn, I went through a pathetic mime routine…touching my pockets, and shaking my head, without uttering a word – as if the loss had stupefied me into a dumb silence against my will.

I retraced my steps, which inevitably led back to the piss trail of the horrendous public bathroom. Which was not a welcome discovery…the hot dog brine type smell that lingered there, greeted my nostrils with a horrible flare, so strong that I could taste it. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, so looked frantically at the floor – faintly hoping (kind of) that I would find it somewhere in, and around the sporadic clumps of men’s stray pubic hairs.

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But it wasn’t to be. 

As I got back on the coach defeated, I was obviously a little bit annoyed. But I can now say that I have extracted a few positives from the situation – which I would like to share with you all…

Firstly I was relieved that I had lost my card right at the tail-end of the trip, as it really only hindered me getting snacks – which is a huge deal to me, but I know not literally the end of the world! Anyway people offered me things, and another friend paid for my taxi home once we arrived. I then let a Korean friend know I had lost my card, and he was immediately on the phone to call up the bank. and cancel it! Then the day after I was invited out for dinner, and drinks by a Nigerian friend I don’t even know so well – so of course I declined, explaining my situation – my friend was there with a card he had loaded with 100 dollars, and told me that “brothers always have each other’s back…” I was touched, but desperately tried to jam it back into his pocket – he wasn’t having any of it. Then the next day a work friend greeted me in the morning with a McDonald’s breakfast (some of you will know how much I love those bad boys!) as she knew I wouldn’t have been able to buy myself breakfast…my point is, there are some truly good, honest, and kind people out there – and I am lucky to know a handful of them!

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Oh, and special shout out to the lady at the bank for getting me a new card on the same day! She’s a miracle worker!

Well I’ve rambled on a bit, hope you don’t mind me sharing these little tales – I just thought they served as a reminder that the world isn’t all doom, and gloom – egos, and selfish ambitions. Have a great day my friends, and perhaps try and be the best part of someone else’s too! 

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I ATE A DOG.

I ate a dog in China, and it has haunted me ever since…I mean you really don’t forget that kinda’ thing! Arghhhhhhhhh! 

Oh, and by the way – while I am here…the WordPress suspension has been lifted, they sent me this message “You may have seen our earlier notice that some social features had been disabled in your account. We have now reversed this block and hope the disruption to your use of our service was minimal.” Thank you so much to each, and every person who expressed concern over the misunderstanding. It was great to see the community come together in that way, and I am beyond appreciative. Honestly, thank you so much. 

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Chinese Burn

What is a Chinese burn? Maybe you know, maybe you don’t…well, let me refresh your memory – a Chinese burn, is a childhood game/trick/prank thing, which is achieved by putting two hands on a victim’s forearm, and then twisting in opposing directions. It fucking hurts – and leaves a red mark…a “Chinese burn” as it is known.  

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After those early school years it features very little in your everyday life. It’s juvenile I suppose, and is probably at least a little bit politically incorrect, or even racist perhaps. Well, whatever it is – I had well and truly forgotten about it by the time I actually visited China many years later…

 Never in a million years, did I think this mythical childhood creature would actually be a reality.

Despite a long day at the Beijing summer school, and an early start the next day – a couple of us decided it would be a great idea to head further into the city, and out of the dusty suburbs…I can’t really remember much of what we did there, drink probably? Hmmm…not sure, all I really remember is the taxi ride back. Three of us fell into a car, and spent ages trying to get the pronunciation correct when we told him where we wanted to go…

“Shoonyee?” Nothing…blank stares – so someone else tagged in –

“Shun-ee?” Nothing again, possibly a shake of the head – someone else’s go –

“SHOONYEE, SHOONYEE?!” Nothing again.

“Come on…please…shoon-yee, SHOON-YEE!”

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(After many attempts) “Ahhhh! SHUNYEE!”

(Everyone on in chorus together) “SHUNYEE!! SHUNYEE!!”

“Yes, yes! I know! SHUNYEE!” he said with a smirk of accomplishment, as the population of his car began in a huge high-five-fest. And why wouldn’t we? At last we were off! That’s always a great feeling, especially when in a foreign land – that moment that you know you don’t have to worry anymore, as you will be brought to the door of wherever you want to be…you can say goodbye to any hassle (and hello to overpaying on the fare, but hey-ho!)

After a little while, it began to become clear that we were going a different way than the one we came…it was dark, so quite a challenge to see things, especially in our condition – but there certainly wasn’t a motorway on the way out, or was there? Maybe we hadn’t paid attention? Hmm…

We drove for a long time, we should have been back by now – but we were still not seeing anything that looked even vaguely familiar, we began to enunciate “SHUNYEE – SHUNYEE!” once more….“DWAY! DWAY! SHUNYEE!” He said he knew the way, but it was quite clear he didn’t – in a strange and non-nonsensical turn of events we began to give him directions…on what basis I don’t know. This served to only annoy the driver (not surprising) and get us even more lost in this dark unknown wilderness. Where would we even end up…maybe he was going to lead us out into the bleak wasteland, and just shoot us in the back of the head one by one…it happens…in movies…but still…IT HAPPENS!

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Some time passed, and whoever was in the front passenger seat was the only one still trying to converse – the rest of us had given up. We took a sharp-ish right which shook us out of our drunken backseat snooze – before we knew it we were outside of a building. “Shunyee.” the taxi driver pointed, whilst also avoiding all eye contact. 

We looked out of the window in unison. It was a huge flashy hotel, nothing like the one we were staying in. And around it…errr…well, nothing…at all, just a lot of grass…roads…and more grass, possibly some more road…then grass. Short version: this was the middle of nowhere. We tried to tell him that this was not Shunyi…but he insisted…we were drunk sure, but we weren’t that drunk! After some heated words we decided to cut our losses, handed over the money that it read on the taxi-meter and started to head into the hotel…maybe at the reception we could order another taxi, or get directions or something.

“ARRRRGHHH – GERRROFFFIZMAN!”

I spun around, there was my friend battling with the taxi driver, trying to pull away from his grasp – he had two hands clasped around his forearm and wouldn’t relinquish his hold…anytime my friend would try to prize him off he would hold on even tighter…anytime he tried to move, he would just follow right along with him…there was one weird moment where they walked along as if part of a wedding procession – would have been romantic in the right setting I am sure, but in this one it was down-right terrifying!

“COME IN THE HOTEL!” my other friend screamed,  “JUST GET HIM OFF, AND COME IN THE HOTEL!”

“I CAN’T…HE WON’T GET OFF MAN! HE’S HOLDING ME!?”

“GET TO THE HOTEL!” I started to imitate the suggestion loudly, despite being only a few feet away from him – I was scared that if I got too close he would somehow grab my forearm, and have us both!

“HE CAN’T GO IN THE HOTEL – JUST GET TO THE HOTEL, AND HE ISN’T ABLE TO ENTER! IT’S A LAW! 

My friend seemed pretty certain of this, I had no idea why a taxi driver would be banned from entering a building…but at the time it made sense to me. So I repeated these words, over and over – finally he managed to break free…and we all ran the last couple of steps – desperately pushed through the revolving doors and fell into the hotel reception, panting hard. We all stared out at him on the other side of the glass, as he stared right back at us…we were safe…it seems my friend was right…oh…wait…NO, NO, NO! WHAT?! WHAT IS HE DOING?!

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He started advancing, and began pushing the revolving doors, edging closer and closer – what was he doing…how? HOW?!

“I THOUGHT YOU SAID HE COULDN’T GET IN?!”

“HE…HE’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO!!!”

“WHAT?! HE’S NOT ABLE TO PUSH A DOOR OPEN…WHY WOULD THAT BE A THING?!”

No one waited for an answer to that ridiculous question, we simply picked ourselves up, and sprinted to the reception…he was still following, not running – but following, at a weird horror movie killer pace…you know, where they don’t seem to go fast but are always around the corner? Yeah, that! We had limited time we knew that – so we explained the situation as fast as possible – but alas, the lady at the desk didn’t speak any English, and soon our nightmarish friend was back with us – grasping arms, and twisting hard.

Another guy was called over, who managed to speak to the irate taxi driver – he translated that the man was upset, because we had ran off without paying…even though the money we had handed over was still in his pocket – once we pointed this out, he changed tactic and said that it hadn’t been enough – when quizzed about his meter and how that could be so – he gave up, and went off in a huff. Phew, as you can imagine we already LOVED the translator guy – he was our hero, our savior. Our new best friend, for life.

He went even further than the call of duty, and called us a taxi with a trustworthy company, he even looked up where we were staying – and gave the exact address to the driver once he arrived, as well as making sure we paid FIRST, to avoid the same issue happening again…people’s arms were sore, we couldn’t cope with more of those shenanigans!

On the ride back home we were absolutely exhausted…the friend who had got the worst of the wrestling hold was complaining about how much it hurt, I thought he was just joking, or perhaps even over-exaggerating…but when I looked it was bright red – “wait…that’s a bit like a…Chinese burn, remember those?” My friend nodded solemnly. “So that’s a real thing…haha…hmph…well there you go! You learn something new everyday!”

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We slept soundly that night, I can tell you that for sure. Too much drama, and excitement for one night.

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