Living the high life in low season SE Asia

From the get-go I would like to proudly proclaim, I am a flashpacker. My days of scrounging through the ‘free’ shelf of the communal fringe for dinner and having to share a bunk bed with rowdy, horny backpackers fondling each other on the lower bunk are over. But I still like to travel on the cheap. Travelling during low season in South East Asia certainly has some perks and drawbacks. First of all, the drawbacks:

The wet season is, err, wet – and hot, so incredibly hot

We can count on one hand the days that we have been ‘rained in’ during our two and a half month journey from southern Vietnam to the north, into Laos then through Cambodia.  It usually rains in the evening or afternoon, and only for a brief time. If you get out and about in the morning, you can kick back in the afternoon with a cheap draft beer (50 cents in Vietnam!) and watch the clouds roll in. The storms have such a force to them and can make the roads very challenging, for example the road outside our hut on the Mekong river, 4000 Islands in Laos (pictured).

imageWhat has really slowed us down is the heat. Most days are between 30-35C with 80% humidity. It means you are permanently juicy and have a shiny glow than amuses locals no end. The heat means that there is no wearing clothes a second time round, or getting away with a cheaper fan room. We went for the more expensive air con room most nights (so rather than a fan room for $10, we had air con for $15-22) otherwise the lack of sleep made us rather techie the next day.

Too many tuk tuks, not enough farang

In the low season business is tough and really competitive for locals trying to make a living. Some travellers see this as an advantage and I must admit I did like getting rooms a bit cheaper. But when you saw people haggling over a couple of dollars with a tuk tuk driver, they looked like total dicks. Just because you can get something cheaper, does it mean you should? We became good friends with our driver Ronny who showed us around Angkor Wat for 3 days. It’s a very unpredictable job, with people promising to go with him, then find another driver who undercuts him. With his wife pregnant with his first child, he is worried about the future. What’s a few dollars for us makes a huge difference in your tour guide/boat driver/tuk tuk’s life. Nor are the locals charity cases, pay a fair price and treat them with the respect you would show anyone else.image

The positives – less farang means more time with locals

Alex and I have had many long chats with locals and ex-pats over an iced coffee or Beer Laos (or whatever the local drop is). Often being the only person at the stall or roadside cafe, we’d have a little test run of the local words we learnt  and mangled them almost beyond recognition with our nasal Australian drawl. This amused people no end and then gave them the confidence with their English, which was infinitely better than our local vocabulary. The most important words are always hello, thank you and tasty/good. Less practical but more amusing is ‘I am a stinky wizard’ in Khmer ‘Khom chumor sa-oy taa-isay’.

Super amazing photos with no tour groups and lush greenery

Most of our photos look photoshopped with barely a sole visible and almost fluro green fields. The rice fields are incredible at this time of year and the moss on the ruin temples and derelict buildings add to the mystic. There are still people around the major sites, but you only need to stray a couple of metres from the main path to be totally alone in a tropical forest with nothing but your camera and a sense of awe.

imageSouth East Asia is awesome in the true meaning of the word. Not in the common day vernacular  of ‘this burger is awesome’, but the true meaning of the word. The limestone sheer cliff faces in Halong Bay, the mist over the mountain tops of Sapa, drifting down the Mekong seeing saffron robed young monks giggling. The everyday and the incredible. It’s awe-inspiring and freakin’ awesome.

Happiness is a Big Issue

I rarely write happy blog posts. Mainly because they are very hard to write and I’m too busy doing whatever is making me happy to write about it.

I am generally a positive person too, perhaps that’s why my blogging of late has been so intermittent. Too busy and happy: what a tragic combination for a writer.

Why so chipper? Well the day wasn’t off to the best start, I dreamt I had a fight with my manfriend then when I woke up I couldn’t work out if it was dream or reality. Being unable to differentiate between being awake and unconsciousness is not a great start to the day, and is probably a sign of early dementia, anywhooo…

I silenced the voices in my head, particularly the lazy, Bargarse one saying ‘catch the bus, don’t walk, catch the bus.’ Ignoring the boom-bah lard-arse voice in my head, I left at a cracking pace to Redfern station pumping my system with endorphins and a dash of carbon monoxide al la Parramatta Rd. Then I came across one of my favourite Big Issue vendors, Bill. Bill is often around Sydney Uni campus and Central station. He has a blinged-up cart and often has some sort of outfit or quirky sales gimmick going on. Today was no exception, he was in a Santa outfit and had Christmas cards and toffees.  

There is something so great about Bill. He has wild stories from times gone by, and clearly hasn’t had an easy life. But he always has a smile for his customers, there are a lot of people out there who could learn a thing or two about customer service from Bill (yes, I am talking to you waiters/waitresses of Glebe: pull those broomsticks out from your bot bots, I’m not paying for a steaming cup of your bitterness because you haven’t made it as a model/film director/arty-farty profession of the day). It’s so easy to slide into rant-mode, back to Bill.

Bill is a bloody legend, and clearly does things his way, doesn’t give a crap what other people think, and makes people happy. Whether you sell the Big Issue or some shiney bum suit in the city, um, like I am, doing shit your own way and making people smile I think is a fantastic quality. Big ups to Bill!

When was the last time you did something for the first time? If you have never bought one, grab a Big Issue – only $6, and $3 goes to the vendor. A long time purchaser? Set aside 3 minutes to chat to your vendor, fingers crossed you find Bill – then you’ll get a toffee as well!

It’s all about priorities #auspol

I’ve had the TISM song Big Fucking Whoopee ear-worming into my brain all day. And quite frankly I blame the Government, particularly Bishop and Pyne.

My care factor about this whole what happened to some cash 20 years ago with Gillard’s bf of the time – BFW! This is the last sitting day of Parliament, and the PM has introduced into Parliament legislation kicking off the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).  The bill sets out the structure and eligibility criteria for the scheme and will be voted on early 2013.

This is a big fucking deal people.

Did you have a shower this morning? Do you have two a day? None? But if you have a choice of when and if you shower, then you are most likely a fully able bodied person. You are very lucky then. There are thousands of people who need support for daily fundamentals like showering, going to the toilet and eating. And there are thousands of exhausted carers, family members and nurses – underpaid and under resourced and stretched to the limit.

I am lucky that my brother, although he has Cohen syndrome, is quite capable of looking after himself physically. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need any additional support to give him and my family respite care and that all important factor in anyone’s life, choice. The whole point of the NDIS is to give all Australian’s independence and opportunity, therefore people are not dependant and are given choice in their lives. This is brilliantly explained by Stella Young when she was on QandA recently, and from the ABC website

“Disability advocate Stella Young says the scheme will allow people with disabilities to more easily contribute to the economy. Ms Young used the example of her wheelchair, which costs $22,000, but would be provided for under a NDIS, to illustrate how the scheme would work. “If I have a functioning wheelchair I can work full time I can be a taxpayer, I don’t claim the disability support pension or any other government benefit,” she said. “If I didn’t have a functioning wheelchair I wouldn’t be able to leave my house, I wouldn’t be able to leave my bed, I’d require full time care, and I’d be very expensive [to the Australian taxpayer].””

In other news that no one in Government has mentioned at any point in question time this week is 35 yr old Omid Sorousheh, an Iranian asylum seeker  was hospitalised  after 47 days of hunger strike in Nauru. Also on Tuesday four other hunger-strikers collapsed and were given medical treatment in the camp. Nineteen asylum-seekers are currently on hunger-strike.

I’m so glad our elected officials are focussing on what really matters, areas of legislation which have massive quality of life and human dignity implications.

Not exactly destroying the joint, just keying up the side in frustration

It seems that I have fallen asleep at the public discourse wheel. One moment the internet seemed to reflect our offline lives: some joy, some rudeness, light and dark, pictures of kittens in teacups. Then I had my micro-sleep and the world becomes rank with vitriolic misogynists who have no respect for women. Were they always around, or have some men decided to ditch the sensitive side crap and get in touch with their inner Bulldog player instead?

Did John Howard ever have some ask him about the colour of his pubes? Was Kevin Rudd ever told to get back in the kitchen? Julia Gillard was subjected to this and more on her recent Facebook chat on education. Since when was it ok to speak to the Prime Minister like that? Or any woman for that matter?

I have a confession to make. Although I got the odd pizza-face or surfboard remark at school, I was by in large dishing out more dirt than I got. I was a small-time bully. Nothing violent, just smart arse quips and made the odd substitute teacher cry and the odd note passed around that may have caused permanent mental health issues. But, like tie dyed petticoats, ripped tights and hideous beige oversized cardigans, I saw the error of my ways and grew out of it. I was 14.

Alan Jones is not 14. The people who have ‘trolled’ Julia are not 14. The Bulldogs team are not 14. Surely it takes a lot out of you being so negative and angry with the world. If you have your health, family and friends you are on a pretty good run and life can be shitty, why go out of your way to make someone else’s life more miserable – it doesn’t make sense.  Physical threats of violence towards women or any person is not ok, and it’s certainly not ok if you are in the media or public spotlight.

To quote the Doug Anthony All Stars, ‘Can’t we all just love each other, even Oedipus had a mother.’

My birthday present this year? A break

I recently celebrated my 32nd birthday. Or more to the point triggered my annual downward spiral of introspection and self flagellation.

I should exercise more, eat less cheese, have a career plan, hem the one curtain that doesn’t have a hem and is done up with safety pins, get light fittings, practice bellydancing with my zills on and hang what the neighbours think, save money, blog more often …  trust me, that is the tip of a very murky iceberg.

It didn’t help matters when I went to the doctors this week with tonsillitis when my GP, for her own sadistic pleasure, went into my family history. Quote unquote “Thirty two is the right age to change your life style to reduce your risk of breast cancer, heart attack, diabetes … “ there were some other diseases in there too but I tuned out with a glazed look of horror. “And make sure you make an appointment for a pap smear soon”

Happy birthday Jen.

My first present to myself is finding a new doctor. One who doesn’t seem to get off on my family’s medical history and have fake sympathy about my brother. If you want to know about Cohen syndrome, Google it woman, don’t ask me 20 questions. Furnish me with the appropriate drugs and let me go be snotty and gross in the privacy of my own home. I have downloaded a whole bunch of Doctor Who and I prefer David Tennant’s bedside manner to yours any day. I need a GP that isn’t emaciated and self righteous, but certainly someone slightly more inspirational than dad’s (previous) cardiologist who smoked constantly and ate a pie for lunch every day.

Present number two: it’s time to stem the tide of self doubt and ease up a little. I’m doin’ just fine and dandy.  Should save up the stress for big deals in life. I have a good job, great friends, a loving partner and weird and wonderful family. And I’m not too bad either. Breathe, and have the odd sneaky piece of camembert, it won’t kill me.

Now keep calm and carry on, it’s just the carbon tax

Today reminds me of those ubiquitous ‘Keep Calm’ posters, mugs, toilet seat warmers.

Carbon pricing for the top 500 biggest emitters/ polluting scumbags begins today, 1 July.  Freak out! Stuff your mattresses with money and head into your war bunker, you do have one, right?

While Abbott is clutching at straws, or more specifically butchers, non for profits and the plight of baby animals in his attacks against putting a price on carbon, this is the reality: households and small businesses are not directly affected by the carbon price.

But we will see price increases in our electricity costs and some goods.  If you are in Sydney like I am, one of the most expensive cities in the world, I doubt most households will notice an extra two cents for a loaf of bread and a litre of milk, 11 cents for a leg of lamb (which are already too expensive to buy) and 14 cents weekly on fruit and vegetables.

Research by the CSIRO and engineering company AECOM has found that if 100 per cent of costs were passed on to households, the average weekly impacts would be around $9.10 per week with a $3.20 increase in energy bills being the largest component.  That’s less than three coffees around where I work.

It is reported that six out of 10 households will be compensated for the increases through government tax cuts, household assistance payments and pension increases amounting to $10.10 for the average household. Carbon pricing is not the only thing impacting on price, there will be increases in electricity costs because of investments in poles and wires.

Estimates show many households could be another $12.75 better off per week ($663 per year) by making small changes in the home including water-saving showerheads, cold wash and reducing standby power consumption.

As a single lass in the city I am not the average household. And as an eco nerd I already wash my clothes in cold water and have a water-saving shower head. But with the cooler wintery months I am saving electricity around my studio by:

  • Making draft snakes! I’m going to sew rather stylish snakes in muted, retro fabrics, resisting the urge to make actual snakes with forked tongues and googly eyes. Heating and cooling the home accounts for around a quarter of an average household’s energy use.
  • Bake more cakes and roast dinners. The oven warms my petite mason very quickly and what is better than your home smelling of apple tea cake on a Saturday afternoon or a roast on a Sunday?
  • Harry high pants pyjama time! Alex has been giving me a lot of flak for my ghetto granny look I’ve been sporting around my place of late. It’s not steaming hot – but it is toasty warm.

Channel your inner granny, don your flannels and uggies and cook up storm. You’ll be saving your pennies, the environment and showing Abbott who’s boss. 

To calculate the costs, compensation and savings from some simple energy efficiency actions visit: Keep calm and bake on!

Alex and I’s steampunk love child

I received the most delightful Christmas gift from my darling man chum, Steampunk Softies: 8 Scientifically Minded Dolls From a Past That Never Was. Sarah Skeate and Nicola Tedman offer craftster a full cast of charmingly raffish and whimsical characters to dedicate hours of your life to making, this little chap is the first of many more to come. Don’t worry Geronimo Bore, we’ll make you more friends soon.

Nobody wins a Pulitzer for being happy

Most writers and artist I admire and respect are very tortured souls. So I’m not too sure why I think I can be a writer being such a privileged middle class princess. Particularly at the moment.

I have a super-dooper awesome man friend whom I adore, a job where I am respected and valued and a house full of wild, eccentric women. Life is good. No wonder I am in a creative lull.

Pain is an irreducible neuro-physiological phenomenon that can be experienced in a myriad of ways. How pain is expressed and therefore lessened is strongly influenced by language, culture and articulated in art. I’m not an alcoholic who marries their 13 year old cousin, I don’t have cholera or syphilis, I don’t have an addiction to ether or opium. I’m just too darn perky and well-adjusted to be an artist.

Sure there are still things that rile me up inside, the death of award-winning photographer and film-maker Tim Hetherington and photojournalist Chris Hondros while covering the Libya conflict is one such event; the saturation and the inane coverage of the Royal Wedding (who cares?); constant discussion on our Prime Minister’s fashion (I’m more concerned about her policies); and the list could go on. Since I no longer work for a NGO I don’t have to be submerged in the media daily. I can pick and choose when I get angry, and for the most part I have tuned out and seem to be better for it.

I felt a tremendous sense of guilt leaving NGO land, but I have been a hell of a lot happier. I think this cannot be underestimated. Recently the UK has started measuring the health of the population not just in economic terms, but also in their sense of wellbeing. My levels of tolerance, positivity and understanding that were usually dried up before the coffee van arrived are now huge reservoirs. I feel like what I can really contribute to the world is a happy individual; they are in scarce supply these days.

So my apologies for the stillness of the Wordatorium of late, I’ve been busy doing nothing and being happy. Hardly Pulitzer prize-winning stuff. I’m sure I’ll get my rant on about something soon enough.

The Lockout

*gentle breeze*


“insert four letter word of your choice”

Recently Jen did a very stupid thing (I’m talking about myself in the third person in a desperate attempt to distance myself from the stupidity). On a glorious sunny day I raced to do some laundry before heading to the beach and our deadlock door slammed shut behind me. Leaving me wearing swimmers, a scruffy dress and egg on my face.

After looking at the impenetrable fortress that is my terrace home (which only drunk and randy boyfriends seem to be able to scale) I borrowed some sandals a flatmate had left by the door (small miracles!) and tried to find one of my flatemates at the local cafe. Unfortunately she didn’t start her shift til 4.30pm. The current time – 10.15am – ####.

So the beach was out, so was anything to do with money and talking to people I knew until my flatmates returned home from work.

I gathered all the free street press I could find and read in the park, lovely. I pretended that I intended to do gardening all along so weeded like crazy between all the pavers.

I’m bored


I’m getting hungry

I would give my firstborn child for a coffee

Then I started thinking about all the homeless people I pass everyday. Not just homeless for a couple of hours because they locked themselves out like a total idiot, I mean proper homeless. Being exposed to the heat/cold, the uncertainty, the hunger pains but also the tedium. I could entertain myself for a while with reading, but by 3.30pm I was going a little weird in the head, similar to the isolation I experienced with no electricity in the Philippines.

An RMIT study suggests a “chicken and egg” relationship between homelessness and mental illness – in some cases mental illness contributed to a person becoming homelessness; in others homelessness caused a mental illness. The lack of certainty, control and general hopelessness I would think would lead many down the path to depression and including the circumstances of their homelessness involving domestic abuse, addiction, gambling issues and a whole host of complex social issues.

Eventually my flatmates came home, we had a glass of wine and had a good old laugh at my expense. However the experience made me really appreciate the fact that I do have a home to go to, several in fact, where I can have food, shelter and friends. I am a very lucky person.

Worst job interview ever

Any day when I have a job interview is a toughie, sort of like a date, I put on uncomfortable high heels and am scrutinised by at least one stranger. But there is no wine and maybe they will want to pay me money to work for the man. So it’s more like prostitution. Which is a profession Bill Hicks respects far more than marketing, a fair call.

The job interview was in a house in the not too distant Western Suburbs. Upon arrival I am given an odd questionnaire, “What would you do with $70,000?”, “write 5 of your positive and negative qualities”, “tell us your ideal working hours and why” etc etc.

Is this a dating service?

Then to add insult to injury, I am given a typing test. My score is spectacularly low, mainly because I waste half my time listening to the Lady Gaga song blasting from the call centre/kitchen and also sitting in a state of exasperation, “I’m doing a typing test for a manager role?”

Is this a secretary position?

My delightful and amazingly intimidating blonde size 8 incumbent asks if she could take my photo for their records.

Is this a prostitute/ secretary/ dating service position?

She informs me she is moving to New York. “Great, what a fabulous opportunity,” I reply insipidity. I lived in a swamp/tropical paradise in the Philippines, come on Jen, say something cool! Final the manager arrives 30 mins late due to a plumbing emergency (euphemism? code?), looks me up and down then looks at my typing score on the monitor.

“You didn’t do very well.”

“I’m use to writing my own words, not copying paragraphs about astronauts.”

I clearly don’t have this job, but I still have my pride. Damn, should have put “easily distracted by Lady Gaga pop songs while copying inane passages about astronauts” as one of my weaknesses.

After an agonising hour I finally slip away, and do what a lot of people in my position would do; call my mum, best friend and boyfriend to whinge. The last call was the best, as my lovely man friend was with his also lovely and conservative parents and I drop a very naughty four letter word on speaker-phone. No, not that bad, but not good either. Well done me. I then come home to vent and our internet is down.

But I am slowly reclaimed the day with lattes, QOTSA, craft time and knowing that applying for jobs is a two-way street. I wouldn’t want to work there in a million suns.

Please share your appalling job interview stories with me and help shoulder the burden.