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Thursday, January 28, 2016

MINI FRIDGES, HOSTAGES AND A PAINTER'S RADIO

MY ROOM

After looking at the currency conversion rates, I suddenly feel better about my 'luxury' room.  440 baht sounds like a lot but it comes out to $12 per night.  And it has a mini fridge.

I'd read the reviews of this place and people bitched.  In the bathroom, the area between the tiles is black!  (Nobody likes anything black, apparently).  My first thought was 'oh, tiles?'  The people that wrote these reviews are perhaps use to staying in $100 per night rooms.  Perhaps they are too fragile for SE Asia where you can stagger into your bathroom late at night to take a leak and find a gang of cockroaches.  Who have set up a card table and gambling hall.

Like this, but with cockroaches.



ON MINI FRIDGES

On mini fridges, have you ever noticed that the majority of them are sold to people who will never personally use them?  I can't help but think if this were not the case, they'd be better designed.  Get rid of the 'freezer' area.  You are never going to put anything in it.  Too small.  All it does it cause extra condensation and water leakage.  It's a silly design.  Just make it a cooler with a plug in that you open from the top.  You can fit more.

I'm sure someone already has the design and has made them.  However, it's not common knowledge or at least common to find in hotels.



WHY DON'T I BLOG MORE?

Money.  That's pretty much it.

Honestly, there isn't a lot going on in my life most of the time.  I wander aimlessly around towns that look surprisingly like other towns I've been to and play a lot of Farmville 2 while I try to save five or ten dollars a day to go into the 'do interesting shit later' fund.

If I had large piles of money (I'd probably get mugged) then I'd do more interesting stuff more often.  Since I don't, 'yall have to wait'.



DAY IN THE LIFE

Speaking of not blogging enough, a friend of mine (blame Derek) told me he wanted a day in the life written up for his personal amusement.  I told him I didn't think it was all that interesting.  He threatened me.  Here it is.

When I did a search on the internet for Derek (last name withheld) this guy came up.  This is not the Derek I know.  His picture is here because he has the same name and it's his own fault for having stuff on the internet.  So now, he is (sort of) famous.  Good job without even trying, other Derek!

Woke up around ten in the morning.  Unless you're a tourist trying to cram in as much as possible, there is no fecking reason to get up earlier in most of the world (aside from the USA which puts in too many hours) unless you like wandering around looking at closed shops.  These are less nifty to see than shops in many parts of the world because all you get to see is a metal flexible screen (think garage door) covering up the door and any windows.  Unless you can read the local lingo, you can't even tell what kind of store it is.  Totally useless - hence I stay up late into the evening and wake up later than most.  In places where I've paid further ahead I might not even get up until later than that but here I need to pay rent before noon so nobody gets overly excited and starts pounding on my door.

When you want to sleep late after a night of drinking, it can sound like this...

Like many people, I think a slow wake up is best.  I have enough water to take my handful of pills then sit and play on the computer.  Check the usual social media things (Facebook, Twitter) to see how my friends are and if I posted any inflammatory insensitive shyte while I was drunk the previous evening.

Then, I dick around with Farmville 2 for awhile.  Yeah, it's an old person game.  I know.  Don't have better that my computer can handle and they've not yet made anything better I can find.  So I fuck around with Farmville 2.  Sad, I know.  But it gives me something to do while my brain makes a dramatic comeback from the lands of Morpheus.   Not the one of Matrix fame...

No, not this guy.  And what would have happened if Neo had taken both the red and blue pill together?  He'd be a drug addict?

After sitting around quietly for an hour, I prepare to go out.

The exact nature of my preparations depends on the kind of room I've got.  Generally, it involves chaining up my computer.  Despite having painted on it (and it being woefully outdated), it is still the single most valuable thing I own.  Having already had one computer stolen, I take a bit of extra care.  Keep in mind that pretty much every door look I've come across can be defeated by a screwdriver (serving as a torque wrench) or just jimmying the door.  The place I'm at luckily has a place I can use my own lock to secure the door.  Although it is only a small padlock, it does make me feel better.  Have USA or Western European padlocks with you always.


The question then becomes "Were you smart enough to carry good locks with you?"

Another thing I make sure to do is to put on my security pouch as faithfully as a cop wears his sidearm.  Maybe more so.  The computer, documents and credit cards are hugely important.  The tourists that have their passports and such stolen from their hotel rooms get to spend days on the phone and going to embassies.  Fuck that.

Make sure I'm wearing pants.

No, still not this guy...And 'disturbing'.

I then prepare my wallet (see Traveler's Tip, below) and head downstairs to pay for the night.

"One more night" I always say.  Even if pressed, I will commit to nothing else.  Unless there is more than a nominal discount for paying multiple nights they get to take my money and I get the receipt (Thai it is 'bin').  No receipt, no money.  Receipt means no 'you never paid' bullshit later - and I am all about avoiding the bullshit.  I also follow the advice of my travel mentor (Adam) and do not discuss plans with anyone.  Unless I need information, they don't need to know my plans and nothing good will come of it.  "Will you be staying another night?"  "If I do, I will pay you before noon tomorrow, same as today."  By committing to nothing, you are committed to nothing.  If pressed, I always shrug and say maybe.  In some countries, if you say you will be staying and don't, they will try to hold you to it, simply for the purpose of attempting to extort more money.  Nooope!


As to the clothing I wear, it is pretty much the same every day.  I own about eight shirts and three pairs of shorts.  One of the shorts is a bit small so those are my 'while I'm lounging around at home' ones.  That means the other shorts are worn daily.  The last pair of shorts is a material that doesn't do well with sweat and sometimes gets used when the daily shorts are away getting washed.  Same clothing every day.  Much of my clothing is patched or has some small holes in it.  This is the disadvantage of both being poor and in a land where I am a huge fat giant compared to the locals.  Rare to find things that fit.  My sneakers are rarely worn in hot climates and my sandals usually look as though they need to be replaced soon.  Generally, they last half a year or less and yes, finding my size is a bitch.

As always, I take my satchel (or 'man purse') full of various goodies with me.

Most tourists don't respect the sun enough.

The sun.  Often mistaken for the Eye of Sauron by Americans.

They think it is like it is back home.  Or that sunblock will save them.  In the heat and humidity of SE Asia, you'll sweat off most of the sunblock in an hour or two and forget to reapply it.  Then, you end up sitting around burned for a few days of happy pain.  For English people this is regarded as a 'good thing'.  Really.  For the rest of the world, it is a painful way to waste their precious vacation time.  Before I go out onto the streets, I will put on sunglasses, a bandanna and over that a boonie style hat.

Generic boonie hat.

Lots of people (tourists) generally love the straw fedoras and such but quickly discover why these sort of hats have generally gone out of style.  You can't easily store it when you don't want it.  The boonie cap, while not as fashionable, can be rolled up and stuffed into your bag.  Better.  It keeps the sun off my head and the rain off my glasses.  Highly durable.  I've got two and one of them is older than a lot of the tourists I've hung out with.

It is then time for breakfast.  In Thailand, there is no place cheaper than 7-11.  You might think of 7-11 as an American (USA) store but in Thailand they are fucking everywhere.  Sometimes, you can see the next one from the one you're at.  When I was in Cambodia, I'd go have an excellent 'English breakfast' every day but Thais don't eat anything I want for breakfast.  Much of the Asian world seems to favor soup.  I've always been suspicious of soup.  It's not quite a drink, not quite a meal but somewhere between.  Suspicious.  Plus, you can hide a lot of crap within.  So I go to 7-11.

Here they often call it "Seven".  No, I don't know why.  Reading words is hard?

At 7-11, they have little sandwiches you can buy.  Some tourists have told me they taste like shit but they apparently didn't know you are suppose to get them cooked.  You take the plastic wrapped sandwich to one of the counter girls (or boys or here in Thailand, ladyboys - lots of them work retail) and they put them into a sandwich press cooker thing.  Then you go back to shopping.  In a couple minutes it is cooked.  You get that and your other stuff rung up, pay and leave.  Generally, this breakfast is about two dollars.  Sandwich and two small boxes of coffee.

Generally, they speak to me either in extremely broken (shattered?) English or Thai when I am in the 7-11.  If I was in a tourist area, the English is better but I'm not.  So, I watch the computer screen and it tells me what to pay.  Taking my purchases and hot sandwich, I wander out to the street and find some bench (or stairs or slab of concrete) to sit on and eat.  Here, I've scouted out several benches a block away from the 7-11 and generally eat there.  Then smoke.  Yeah, I shouldn't be smoking but I am a dysfunctional person held together by a string of bad habits and strange beliefs.

 After my breakfast, it's walking time.

There is an app called My Tracks.

My Tracks logo.

This is a very valuable free app on my phone.  Not only does it complain to my fat ass that I've not walked far enough but tells me how to get back home.  Just this app makes the phone worthwhile.

So, I wander around for a couple hours.  Sometimes, I'll confine myself to the bigger roads but often (like today) I'll head down smaller roads where the people react as though they've never seen a fat white guy before.  Or are confused as to where I could have come from.  I've been down a lot of strange twisting paths.

During my journey, I'll often buy a drink sit and smoke.  I'm old and crippled so endurance isn't really my friend.  Then, more wandering.  The best wanderings are when I have some sort of goal.  Buy eye drops.  Look for medicine.  Find new shoes.  When I'm doing this sort of thing I tend to walk a lot further than when I'm just listening to my audio book (fuck music) and walking for exercise.

Often, while I'm walking around, people like to ask "Where you go?"

In the USA, the responses to this are much different.  At the low end of the aggression scale is "What's it to you?"  People don't like being asked where they are going.  They might also respond with something like "You're not my mother!" or "You're not the boss of me!"  For the more aggressive, they may respond with "Fuck you!" or give the New York salute.

Or the Presidential bird.

On the extremely high end of the aggression scale they may respond with "I'm going to make your mother look like a painter's radio!"

A painter's radio.

I would like to apologize to my female readers for this one.  Not because of the mental picture it paints (pun!) but because for them it is not really a good insult to hurl at people.  They will just look confused.  Damn misogynistic world.  Worse, some will want a description.  A slow, sexy description.  Avoid these people.

However, in Eastern Europe and SE Asia, this is a common greeting.  Don't even think about saying "How you doing?" to people - it just confuses them.  I will usually say "I hope you are happy today" or ask "Today good?"  Still a bit confusing but they get it.

Now some of the people who ask "Where you go?" are taxi or tuk tuk drivers who are just wanting to get money from you.  A surprising number of friendly people though may just ask, out of the blue "Where you go?"

I have no idea why the hell this is a good greeting, relevant or not considered personal.  Since I either don't know where I'm going or don't feel like sharing that information, I have come up with an easy response that is always met with a nod and a smile.

"Exercise!"

Though in most 'third world' nations, being a tubby bitch really isn't an option for most people, exercise has been heard of.  It's rare to find people jogging.  This could be because working out at fashionable gyms where you can flirt with other in shape people is better.  Or the fact that most roads either don't have clear sidewalks or any at all and jogging is a lot like playing Frogger.

Hopefully, you don't go splat.  If you'd actually like to play this amazingly old video game, here is a link.  It should give you an idea of many of the roads in SE Asia.

I love the answer 'exercise' because it covers everything.  You're not looking for anything, you're wandering randomly, you don't need help, you won't be getting into their tuk tuk and when they look at me they think "Yeah, he could use some."  And no information at all is given out.

Does that sound a bit paranoid?  It could be but why be stupid about it?

Eventually, I'll get tired or bored.  Return home (home is where the backpack is) sweaty and stinking.  Shower and change clothing.

Mess around on my computer.  Depending on how much time I've got left, I may do some heavy research into the next location.  Today I'm writing the blog.  More Farmville 2.  If I'm tired (or my back hurts) lie down.  Maybe take a nap for an hour or two depending on if I pushed myself.  Sometimes I just need to lie down because my back hurts a lot.

Once say six PM rolls around, the temperature is starting to go down and the street food vendors begin to come out.  Now, I can get fed.

See this picture of Thai street food?  Yeah.  There is nothing that looks a quarter that good within this town.  Seriously, WTF.

Generally, I try to stay away from any vendors that serve seafood.

DIE, FLIPPER!

Once you serve seafood, everything at a small stand tends to get a bit of that flavor and it's the kind of thing that smells appetizing only when I'm starving to death.  Given my girth, that time is not close.  So, wander around, look at food and eventually eat something.  I've noticed that - unless more than one thing looks really good and it rarely does with street vendors - I tend to eat the same thing over and over until I get tired of it.  For the last two or three nights I've been eating at some Muslim place that serves a chicken leg with rice covered by sauce.  There is also a place that makes strawberry shakes using actual strawberries.  Both things are about a dollar each.  I'll end up spending around three or four dollars on the meal and drinks unless KFC (or McDonalds if I was in a town that had one - which I'm not) calls too loudly to me.  Then, my price doubles.  But after you eat street food long enough you begin to want something else.  Given that the local restaurants in this town and the street food are pretty much the same thing - and there aren't any (?) foreign places around it is a choice of local or fast food.

"I'll feed yer tubby ass!  Waddle on in here!"

After that, stop by some stores to get refreshments and snacks for the night and return home to play computer games, watch movies and maybe drink.

Somewhere between midnight and five in the morning - depending on fatigue, drunkenness or boredom, go to sleep.  Repeat the next day.

I call days like this my 'holding pattern' days.  These are the ones where I am not really doing much - just working on saving five or ten bucks a day to do something interesting later.

Personally, I don't consider it all that amazing or interesting but - at Derek's request - I've put it all up.  Now, Derek, please release my family.




TRAVELER'S TIP

Small bills vs large bills.


Before dealing with a place that should have change for large bills (large chain store, hotel, etc) I will often remove small bills from my daily wallet.  Just leave in the large bills.  Otherwise, when you attempt to pay, they will demand you pay with small bills.  This is due to a combination of laziness and incompetency - they don't like to stock up on the small bills as a business should.  Hence, they want yours.  If later you go to a place that can't really be expected to have change (street food vendor, etc) if you only have large bills you will have to wait several minutes as they run off to try to find change.



BOOK REVIEWS

The longer you travel, the more downtime you have.  This isn't a case for most people.  They have somewhere between two weeks and two months to try to fit as much 'life' in as possible.  They go to extraordinary lengths to see 'as much as possible'.  It is easy to understand why they do this but yet many talk of how 'they've seen everything yet nothing'.  Regardless, I would say that when you have loads of time (and little money) you have a lot of time to read (listen to) books and such.  Hence, you get more book reviews.


ALEX VERUS SERIES

If a title is taken by one other book, it is not that great of title.  If it is taken by many other books, it is a lousy title - if you're going for any sort of creativity.  Assuming authors want to write about different sorts of things, they are.  These are not great titles.

The books themselves are OK.   This review encompasses books one through six.  The reader is very good - the characters come out in his voice.  Despite this, I almost didn't make it through the first book.  It was just 'meh'.  However, it was decent enough that I stuck with it.  Besides, it's not every day you can stumble across a six book urban fantasy set.

These six books should be considered 'one long book'.  Don't try to read them out of order or skip any.

A bit of non-spoiler material.

The book is about mages and the various machinations they get up to.  Essentially, one hero (Alex) and his entourage.   The strong points of the books include the magic system (bit different, I'd like to see the stats on it if they existed), the politics and some of the NPC's.  The weak points include the lack of diversity in the creatures in the world (mostly all dead or fled, little bio-diversity on the magical side).  The world just feels a bit simplistic.  Dark and light.  True that within the dark and light there is a lot going on but in this world apparently all of the other power groups have been snuffed out.  Maybe it is just to try to keep the story from becoming so horribly convoluted that nobody can follow it and you could never get to 'the end'.

One thing I really liked is that the lead character isn't 'stupid' or 'slow'.  He gets things before others.  He plans ahead.  I'd put him as 'above average intelligence' though he's not really Machiavellian enough to do well in the world.  Pity for him but I suppose it creates drama and some suspense.

5/10

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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