Discuss longhaul
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Crabby Crew Blog <$BlogRSDURL$>

Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen... (Vita Sackville West).

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Post-massage at the temple
Khao San Road
Street origami

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Happy New Year blogees. The beginning of 2005 has found me stranded far from loved ones and home in Sydney Australia, after being called from standby on the 27th Dec to do a nine-day trip down-under via Bangkok. Luckily I was still riding high after a very cosy and festive-feeling Xmas with the family, Martin and Paul down in the land of cider and tractors. I stuffed my first turkey which came from the village butcher's and was born, led a fab life and was then slaughtered for a worthy cause just down the road in Taunton. My new cooker which was constructed in Taiwan I think, was dropped and kicked round the world until it reached a Comet warehouse somewhere in the west country whereupon it was delivered to my unwitting ownership just in the nick of time for Christmas and just ready to show us all how completely unsuitable it was for the job man intended it. We'd have got dinner sooner if we'd balanced the turk on the hearth and chucked on a bit more coal. Still, never mind, it was delicious once it thawed out a bit and the lesson learned is don't buy economy cookers from bloody Comet.

On Boxing Day Paul and I rejoined the rest of the family up at the Bee as well as some of Martin's relations to murder a few Christmas Carols in the ship's hold seated at the piano and round the newly-installed wood-burning stove. Stars of the show were Mart's niece and nephew, Athene-on-flute and Max-on-the-ceiling-most-of-the-time.

So what with having been lucky enough to experience all this fun and frolicking I took it philosophically when my dear employers decided to send me to a Tsunami-hit country for six days with a brief respite in Sydney over the New Year.

Bangkok is on the Gulf of Thailand, tucked out of reach from Tsunami waters luckily, but Thailand as a whole has of course been hit hard. I hoped our flights wouldn't be full of the grieving relatives of drowned tourists and so far they haven't been. Tomorrow might be a different story though on our flight home. I have met a few survivors of the Tsunami though, including an Australian family who were on Phuket and who ran for their lives up a hill into the jungle. Another young couple on board our Sydney flight were plainly still in the clothes they had fled in and looked ravaged and ill. I felt awful for them but they are of course the lucky ones.

Here in Bangkok you wouldn't know most of the time that we were in a country that disaster had struck, though poignantly I read in the local paper that they have got the prisoners here in the city constructing hundreds of extra-large coffins because the ones normally available for the dying Thai's are much too small for most westerner's corpses.

It is my first visit here and the whole city is bigger, uglier, busier and more polluted than I had imagined. Gone is the oriental charm of yesteryear. Present day Bangkok is a shrine to all the excesses of man but mostly shopping and sex with a bit of religion hanging on from former times. Lively and upbeat though it is, a few days of endless miles of streetside stalls selling mountains and mountains of plastic tat to thousands and thousands of tourists and Thais alike begins to tell on a person's nerves. You can buy pirate everything from perfumes to handbags to dvds to watches - but there is so much glittering stuff everywhere that it all becomes overwhelming, tawdry and sad.

In the red light district you glimpse through open doorways very bored-looking girls gyrating on bar-tops and others in long Thai dresses with numbers stitched onto their breasts to make it easy for the depraved punters to select them. Don't bother even giving them the respect of using a name - it really is a like a cattle mart. The sordid side of life, money, greed, poverty, exploitation, pollution - it is all here and most visitors buy into all of it - even the standard tourists will probably end up in a prostitute's bar at some point out of curiosity - I nearly did myself until another girl on my crew also made it clear she wasn't keen either so I had someone to opt out of it all with. I know what goes on inside - don't we all?

It is fun zooming round Bangkok's streets in a tut tut - like a motorized shed built round a small motorbike and of course there is culture to be had if you look for it with temples, museums and shrines to be seen, but the basic impression is not edifying. I did enjoy my first ever massage though at Wat Pho temple where as well as viewing the largest reclining Buddha in the world you can also have a traditional Thai massage with herbs wrapped in a hot wet towel rubbed all over you. Everyone lies in one big room and you are covered up with pyjama-type things so no embarrassing bare bits on show. It was mostly young women giving the massages which was a good thing as sometimes it hurt quite a lot when they pressed their thumbs into your pressure points or used their body weight to roll on your thigh. Mostly it was just very relaxing. This little Thai woman offered up a short prayer before she began and then used her whole body to stretch, poke, press amd knead mine with for the next hour. Lovely. I'd do it again.

So, New Year: Well, I should have been in Somerset with my Cardiff friends in their rented cottage had I been allowed to choose. From the texts I have had from them it seems a good time is being had by all. Paul-from-Devon, undefeated by the experience of Marsh-family-Christmas had also signed up as a willing participant of Cardiffian's New-Year-Madness, but sadly it was not to be. Supposedly one of the best places in the world to be on Ne Year's Eve, Sydney failed completely to live up to this reputation.

Unsurprisingly it was impossible to gain access to any kind of establishment selling food on NY's eve. We ended up supping from a hot-dog truck and were glad enough of that being half starved and very travel weary by then. All the best vantage points of the harbour and bridge had been cordoned off and only a ridiculously small number of people allowed inside these hallowed areas. To have attained this nirvana you would have had to be there from before 6pm at least - crazy. So the parts of Sydney we could colonize were also crowded to death with other disgruntled outcasts, also hungry, many of them booze-starved and a worrying number of them Brits who could be heard to utter phrases loaded with resentment, peppered with liberal use of the f and c words. I don't honestly blame them. It was a total shambles and it all goes to prove that it is who you are with not where you are that goes to make for a good time.

We ushered in 2005 looking like an outpost of Greenham common, spreadeagled on stolen economy-class blankets and large plastic waste sacks emblazoned with the airline's name, sipping cheap champagne from those nice little plastic beakers we inflict on the passengers -you know? Nobody could really get into the spirit of things as we were all secretly or openly wishing we were elsewhere with people who meant a bit more to us. Still, this is selfish attitude I know considering that the death toll from the Tsunami looks set to top 200,000, it is time to get things in persepctive and be thankful that everyone I love in the world has made it from one end of 2004 to the other and I know not all years are like that. On that rather gloomy note I'll sign off. The journey home starts tomorrow afternoon and not before time either.

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