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I Actually Enjoyed It – Sun, Misc. – Weds

Travel Blog 16; Australian Scams & What to Avoid

I’m hoping that just the title of this piece will land me a few clicks alone due to the fact that its on a travel blog, features the word ‘Scams’ and doesn’t feature the name ‘Asia’ or any of its interior nations.

You would be forgiven for thinking after 3 months of frolicking around Thailand and its neighbouring countries in search of cheap booze, cheap food and cheap women that Australia should be a doddle. Its First World, is part of the G8 and is run almost entirely by middle-class white people. Plus they welcomed you (and your credit card payment) into the country with open arms with the promise of sun, sea, adventure and work along the way.

Honestly all of the above is true for Australia. Its a beautiful country with some beautiful and welcoming people. The weathers great, the transport links are pretty decent and so far I’ve yet to feel unsafe but, unsurprisingly, its not all as it would seem. I’m not in the business of b*llshit, know body’s paying me to be, so I’ll cut right to the chase; living and working in Australia as a backpacker is no cake-walk and the terrain is littered with a lot more scams and under-handed tactics than you might expect. Due to this and due to the country having an incline to lean towards keeping its, even basic, amenities in the “Extortionately Expensive” region its easy as pie to go broke and fast and don’t even think that just because you’ve done New Zealand before hand that you know what your in for. You don’t have a clue Sports-Fan.

What follows are a few tricks to watch out for when your on your Working Holiday. I am in no way implying that these scams exist only in Aus or even that they were invented there but it does often appear that they’ve been invited in with open arms and given a nice car, a free ride and the kind of benefits that even a mother with as many kids in her house as years in her life could get.  Coming from a man that’s only been here two and a half months and only been to two major cities, neither of which were Sydney, this list is likely incomplete but here we go. Just as a side-note; if your a backpacker who gets caught in any of the following nets don’t bother complaining to any of the relevant authorities because if they answer with their left hand chances are at least one of their genitals is in their right and they wont do a damn thing….And we aren’t even going to talk about Farm Work yet…

Bank Account; Paying for the Pleasure

So your in Aus. You’ve landed safely, its your first day in your new home and you want to get the ball rolling on the job hunt because you just spent what would be a weeks budget in Cambodia on a Chicken Wrap that looked like it had an eating disorder of its own, a small (and I mean small) Fries and a can of some kind of soft drink that tasted like p*ss that somebody farted in. First things first; bank account!

So you just head into the first branch you see, I mean they’re all the same right? Standard Debit Account, Savings Account attached, $1 fee for using card on other ATM machines; the norm. WRONG! Some dumb f*ck however many years ago thought to himself that it would be a great idea to make bank customers pay for they’re bank accounts. Unfortunately this guy didn’t keep his thoughts in his head and wasn’t actually as much of a dumb f*ck as it seemed because now most of the banks in Aus are doing just that and the customers are eating the s*it and liking the taste.

Commonwealth Bank charge standard customers $5 a month, ANZ charge $10 and so do Westpac and many of their peers. Although this isn’t technically a scam as its government approved (not that this should really make any difference) what is flaky as that the person setting it up for you will make no mention of such stipulations as they will assume you were aware all along. The fact it exists is a joke. The fact its not promoted is plain devious. Go with NAB they are the only ones that don’t charge, to my knowledge.

Job Hunting; The Kangals of Kings Kross

 So now that your account is all set up and after reading the small print your safe in the knowledge that your charges wont apply as long as your earning $55,586 a month you figure its time to hit SEEK and see what’s popping on the job front.

What do you know? There’s loads here and they all sound like really good crack as well; “Are you hardworking, ambitious, driven and have the skills and tools necessary to be your own boss!?” Well I’ll bet you do, or at least that you think you do so you go right ahead and apply for these positions with no mention of salary, hourly pay or what you’ll be specifically doing.

Sure enough 2 maybe 3 hours later you get a call from an attractive sounding secretary named Daphne who invites you to an interview the next morning. Great and even better is that the office is conveniently located only 15 minutes away from your hostel! So the next day you iron that crumbled up work shirt that you’ve been keeping in the bottom of your backpack, borrow your room mates tie (probably get him to tie for you as well), spray some Diesel Bad and set off on your way.

When you arrive at the office your taken aback by how swanky it all looks. The floors are polished, the walls are covered in $2000 artwork with titles like “Inner Expression” and sure enough Daphne the secretary is a real knock-out. However, Its at this point that if you know what to watch out for that you’ll be pivoting as sharply as your flat black shoes will realistically allow you to and heading for the door.

The reason for the advertisement not mentioning money is for the same reason that leaflets for Saudi Arabia don’t mention political freedoms; their isn’t any. These “Companies” will attempt to hire you on a “Commission Basis” and whilst disguising it with wording such as “The Harder you work the more you earn”, “Limitless earning potential” and “Your only limit is yourself” the Skinny on this is that they pay you nothing. Peddling whatever s*ite it is they’re trying to push is purely a game of luck involving little to know skill and its realistically possible that you will be working for free.

These people are scammers who will attempt to counter this argument by telling you that you “Obviously don’t have a lot of faith in your talents and worth”. No mate, we do and that’s the f*cking problem. Give me a blank sheet of paper and 10 minutes in a bathroom cubicle and I’ll show you my “Inner Expressions” and I wont charge you $2000 for it, good looking women in Aus are a dime a dozen and your colleagues will be the sort of people that haven’t yet realised that The Wolf of Wall Street was a cautionary tale. Be careful.

Fund Raising; A Free Ticket to the Cells

 So the interview with Jordan Belfort didn’t go as well as hoped. So you head back to the hostel feeling slightly disheartened and dreading the inevitable barrage of phone calls that you’ll be receiving from the 7 other similarly worded vacancies that you applied for.

All is not lost though as when you walk through the lobby of your hostel your vision is directed toward the notice board and you notice a certain notice almost immediately. No, not the one about “No drinking after 11pm” dummy! That’s more of a guideline than a rule anyway. The sign in question printed on plain white paper and written in bold black font reads “Want extra cash, Backpackers needed, immediate start, average earnings $130 a day, contact Tim on 042XXXXXX, no time wasters.” Well, s*it $130 sounds like a good piece of the pie and you need the money so who cares what the job involves right? So you call the number on the Sheet and it turns out that all you have to do is stand outside some supermarket and collect money for a “Charity” and that at the end of the day you get 32% of the takings.

Sounds easy enough doesn’t it and, as it goes, your actually doing something nice for those less fortunate as well. WRONG! You’ll find these b*stards have plastered their advertisements all over every hostel in the city and the reality is far from charitable. Before being driven to your supermarket your boss who operates out of a crappy bungalow in one of the rougher city areas and who looks disturbingly like Kool Moe Dee’s Albino brother will hand you 4 buckets with a badly laminated sticker for the charity in question attached and a phone number to hand out if the store gives you any hassle (warning bells anyone?).

Okay, here’s how this is going to go down; within a maximum of 60 minutes the Store Manager will approach you saying you don’t have permission to be doing what your doing, that the number you told him to call is faker than your Ray Bans and that if you don’t hustle in the next 5 minutes he’s calling the police. At which point you’ll contact the boss who conveniently wont be near his phone and his answer phone message will sound strangely like another human being. When he does eventually text you back you’ll get either picked up and driven to another spot or told to make your own way where the story will restart itself and you’ll ping-pong around locations for around 10-12 hours with a final taking of $198, meaning that you get $63.36 to be precise and three near arrests. Oh and the boss will also demand a copy of your passport.

In case you haven’t sussed it out yet; this “man” does not have permission to fund raise, sends you out to do his dirty work for chump-change, scolds you when you get moved on and, shockingly enough, when you get in contact with the relevant charity you’ll soon discover that they’ve never even heard of him. Be careful.

 Bottle Shop Lucky Dip; Mystery Pricing

 Well what a few days its been! Like any backpacker in this situation, or out of it quite frankly, you’ve got beer on the brain and why not? Alcohol makes you sexier, more confident, better at pool, better at dancing and makes you feel like a big man. So you and your new cronies decide to hit the local bottle shop and have yourselves a sesh.

When you get to the bottle shop and hit the fridges everything seems to be present and correct with your favourite brand, or what you assume will be your favourite brand, except one thing; the price. In fact the whole stock has no pricing on it anywhere. So naturally you ask the, hopefully, friendly old lady behind the till and she barks at you with the extortionate fee of $28 for 6 bottles of p*ss and gravy that isn’t even cold. After returning with several other brands you get similar rates until one finally comes in at around $18; deal!

If this all seems a little strange then that’s good because it is. Especially when you come in a few days later and the lady is quoting completely different prices to you for the same items. Price rigging in Australia is very much illegal and even in everywhere I’ve been in Asia its non-existent when it comes to alcohol in shops. The prices are obviously rigged based on how much a brand is selling but you can bet that even at its lowest it’ll never hit the levels of any legit liquor store likely 5 minutes away so save yourself the hassle and avoid these spots.

“Working Hostels”; Journey to the Edge of the Earth

 Its not been the smoothest of first weeks for you has it? Money’s running low and legitimate work seems hard to find in this city so you and your new friends think it might be time to get out and try somewhere else.

So you start looking into nearby towns and smaller cities and you think you’ve hit the jackpot when you stumble upon a Working Hostel in a town just a train ride away from the smog then speak on the phone with the manager who tells you that not only is work in the town plentiful but that the hostel will also help you find it. Jackpot! So you book the tickets, hop on the train and head to the promise land. The promise land that comprises of a Coles, 2 pubs, a petrol station, a bottle shop and, sure enough, your new hostel that you, just the day before, booked a week long stay at and gave the manager your card details whilst you were at it. Oh s*it indeed.

I implore anyone when looking into such moves to do as much research as they can before hand. Some towns are just dead others change with the seasons but one thing that wont change is the sales pitch of whoever’s running the hostel. Truth is, whilst many aren’t, a good deal of these owners are greedy, dishonest b*llshitters with a bad attitude and a crappy establishment to boot.

Don’t even start me on the agencies; Peter Pan’s have the neck to charge you $79 just to look on their job searches and Job Shop only lets you apply for two at a time. BE CAREFUL!

In-short Aus has its share of snakes, in every sens. Its a great country that should be experienced and despite the above its actually home to people that can be as warm as the temperature but keep your wits about you as much as you can. Truth is these scams exist and they exist relatively unchallenged because either the people in charge don’t no or don’t care, either is quite embarrassing and if you do get caught you wont necessarily get a lot of help. In closing; be safe, have fun, watch your back and my God if anybody in the WA area wants to give me some legit work please pipe up now!

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Blog 15; Hostel Living

As someone who has been aboard the Travel Train for well over a year now its safe to say that I’ve stayed at my fair share of hostels. Just in case anybody reading is uninitiated; a hostel is a type of board accommodation. They are very rarely on par with a hotel but are usually better than sleeping outside…Usually. Shared dorms, kitchens and bathrooms are the order of the day and these places are frequently frequented by travellers of all shapes, sizes and ages.
The reason that I am writing this post, aside from currently being based in Berri aka The Arse-End of Nowhere knee deep into my riveting new occupation that involves pulling weeds out of the ground in 30 plus degree heat for 9 hours a day and having a ridiculously large amount of free time in-between (I mean come on, its only been about a fortnight since the last post!) is because my current hostel is particularly cliché. By this I mean that it possesses just about every positive and negative hostel trait that I have seen, heard or smelt in the last 14 months. So in light of the brashness of my new temporary home I have decided to compile a list of, what I believe, are the most common features of hostels that you can expect to encounter when your on your jollies.
Understocked Bathroom Facilities – Where diving in deep here people as this, despite being a fairly essential thing to get right, is very much wrong an astonishingly frequent amount of the time.
It is not at all uncommon to finish up a big, weight-shedding, triumphant *insert personal favourite noun* and find that the bathroom has no soap for afterwards. In fact before the issue of the soap arises its also not a rarity to turn to your left then your right and find that there’s not even toilet paper to deal with the first issue! Couple this with the embarrassment of not being able to flush away the evidence (broken flush) and the wet floor that you insist is from the shower but your just not sure and all of a sudden those train station toilets back home don’t seem so bad.
Ridiculously nice or ridiculously prick-ish staff –  Its true that first impressions are golden. So for this reason you’d think that hostel owners would be keen to make a good one. Sometimes they do; I’ve stayed at places where the staff have been ultra-helpful, sweet and funny greeting me with a smile,  when I wasn’t even staying at the place! Yet for every friendly Nomad there’s also a gangly, long-haired, shruggy, broody little s*it who’s still suffering from the night before, looks like his clothes have been slept in and huffs and puffs more than the Big Bad Wolf and Phil Mitchell combined whenever you ask him/her the simplest of questions.
Don’t get me wrong know body needs perfection but when the person can barely speak English, hurls your bedding at you like stale confetti, leaves 5 foot nothing Indian girls to carry 2 suitcases that they could (and probably should) sleep in alone up 4 stories and is so stone faced that, as far as you know, he/she doesn’t have any teeth then there could be a problem.
Then there’s when you try to check-in and there’s know body at the desk at all and nobody knows where he/she has gone or when they’ll  be back. Not like your paying to stay or anything is it?…
Crap Wifi – One router/modem, hostel slap-bang in the middle of Nowhere Avenue just left of East Bum-Ville and around 75 90’s babies all packing Smartphones and Netflix subscriptions; ‘nuff said.
Bed Bugs – Moving onto one of the more sinister features to look out for during your time away from home this one is actually far less common than the others but when you do inevitably encounter it its a f*cking nightmare! Bed Bugs, like Mosquito bites, are torturously itchy, make you look like an overused dartboard and have a nasty habit of appearing on your face.
What’s most scary about these little wankers is that they are actually very capable of thriving in clean environments, making them tough to pre-empt, and unless faced with extremely hot water, intense sun and humidity they’re tougher than Asian Steaks and can contaminate a whole backpack of clothing in hours. Be careful.
‘Spirituals’ and Guitars – Okay look; before we start I have no problem with people with long hair, who suck at playing guitar but love to do it in public, don’t wash, don’t shave, wear sandals when its zero degrees outside and dress how people who’ve never been to Asia imagine that Asian people dress. In fact I have actually made several friends who fit this description but MOST hostels have at least one of these stereotypes who posses a few more frustrating habits. Examples include hitting on girls that your seeing in front of you, judging people for using plastic bags and dropping cans in the wrong bin when he/she drives his car to the corner shop and insists on taking 25 minute showers and has to turn the slightest mention of Brexit, the Middle-East or America into a one-way pseudo-intellectual debate where he/she has no idea about the subject but hides this fact by using big words. A bit like Russell Brand.
On a good day there’s just one and you can exist harmoniously around each other. On a bad day its 80% of the hostel, you feel like even the walls are judging you and even a mere mention of Football, Lost or WWE will earn you a lecture about corruption, the deeper meanings of life and how its “All faaaaaake anywaaaaaaay.”; no s*it Sherlock.
Insane Heat or Cold – Now don’t get me wrong I don’t expect hostel owners to be able to manipulate weather conditions. That’s not work for non-Jedi folk. However checking into a hostel in SA where its 38 in the shade and your sharing a room with 7 other guys only to find that the fan is broken and the air con was doomed from the get-go, mainly because it never existed, is quite distressing.
Similarly; wafer thin blankets that are basically just second bed sheets, windows that don’t close properly and heating systems that sound like planes when they start taking off in zero and below are about as welcome as sandwich making jokes at feminist rallies.
Crowded Fridges and Walking food – Inevitably during peak periods hostels will become crowded. What’s not as inevitable however is a lack of storage space for food, luggage and other basic amenities. The solution to such a problem; create enough storage space for the amount of people you intend to be billing at the end of every week. Sadly this solution is not as obvious to every hostel owner on the circuit.
Due to this it is not uncommon to rock up to a hostel and find that every refrigerator and cupboard is at bursting point and when you do finally finish your game of Cooling Bag Tetris in order to negotiate yourself a tiny space you’ll likely return hours later to find your bag on the unit with your Mince Meat rotting into something that looks like Dog Food. This will be due to one of the ‘Long-Termers’ deciding that its actually his/her space leaving you back where you started. Yeah; ‘Long-Termers’ can occasionally forget that they don’t actually own every inch of the hostel, don’t pay anymore or carry anymore rights than anybody else and cant dictate the lives of ‘newcomers’ to them. Just be warned.
Your New Best Friend(s) – Seriously despite the sometimes cramped, awkward, dirty and confusing conditions you will make some awesome friends at these places. The brightest of the many bright sides of hostel living is that its almost impossible not to make friends. Just simply rock up and say ‘Hello’ to the first person you encounter. If he/she is worth knowing then they’ll talk back and more often than not you’ll end up drunk in some bar 4 hours later with them and several others talking about how your all going to go to the temples together tomorrow, how Die Hard is one of the greatest movies ever made and how Grime music isn’t a patch on how it used to be.
If they don’t then they’re probably p*icks and you can just move onto the next one.
No Sleep – S*it tonnes of travellers, bars as close as downstairs and across the hall, thin walls, thinner mattresses, creaky bedframes and more body heat than 6 Tony Soprano lookalikes in a steam room. You do the maths.
The Smelly Guy –  You know how every class in school had the smelly kid? Well it turns out most hostels do as well.
Feet like a Cheese Factory, armpits carrying more perspiration than a Fish Tank, breathe that could mould a wall and give the room Asbestos or just all of the above. Unfortunately during your time in one of the many hostels that you will likely frequent you will more than likely be gifted a roommate that possesses at least one of these traits.
Even more unfortunate is that they probably aren’t aware of it, probably do clean themselves thoroughly and regularly to no avail, probably snore in their sleep as well and are probably a really nice guy/girl to boot. Awkward. Maybe his/her Father was a Skunk or something…
So there you have it. Hostels are convenient, cheaper than alternative accommodation, are a great way of making friends and if the one you check into sucks you can always just leave and go somewhere else. The pitfalls are very real but don’t be put off by them and have fun!
I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 14; SE Asia Worst & Best Part 2

Alright! Now that we’ve got the negative points out of the way we can start to focus on the real fun stuff; the best things to do and see in SE Asia.

Now I must ask you to keep in mind that unfortunately I did not get a chance to experience Vietnam, Myanmar or Borneo (ones for the future) and that, again, this list is purely subjective. All of the items listed are in no particular order and I haven’t reserved one spot for each country as I feel that some countries were more deserving of more spots than others. It was a little tough to narrow it down to the final six and I had to make a few cuts here and there that I’m sure were achene to a Father having to cut his kid from the soccer team because, and although the wife will never forgive him for it, the kid just sucks! Not completely sure though as I don’t currently own a soccer team or a kid but you get what I mean when I say it was tough!

So here we go with Tha Bozz’s personal list of the six best things to do/see/experience in SE Asia. Why six? Because I have way too much time on my hands being stuck in this airport for five but seven would take me over my word count.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand – Its a day of hanging out with Elephants; what’s not to like right!? Now please be aware that there are a number of legit and not-so-legit equivalents of this dotted around Thailand and the rest of Asia for that matter. However this day with the majestic, big nosed beasts (that eat and s*it like there’s no tomorrow by the way) featured no riding, or ‘ridding’ as its referred to on many flyers but this isn’t a spelling bee, no painting, the Elephants were never tied, chained or forced to go anywhere or do anything that they didn’t want to at any point.

Whilst there you get to feed, bathe, walk with and, if there up for it, have a good old fashioned cuddle and a heart to heart with some of these amazing animals. I had a heart to heart with Stevie the Elephant about this girl I liked and he told me to relax and just be myself. Don’t get me wrong she dumped me the next day but at least we both knew where we stood.

Truthfully; this isn’t the cheapest attraction in town but as a truly unique, ethical and above all else fun day out I’d highly recommend it. Follow the link for info https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/.

Yi Peng Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand –  Its another one for Thailand and although this one is time of year specific I’d highly recommend catching it if you can. Granted the Lantern Fest isn’t as mental as Songkran (which I’m gutted that I didn’t get to experience personally but I’ve heard…) but the sight of so many people coming together to set off their lanterns at the same time and then seeing them literally coat the sky needs to be seen to be believed.

Now I’m not a superstitious person and I don’t believe that the lantern that me and my friends set off (complete with Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Sting quotes) is going to grant us good luck, help us win the lottery or get JLo to return my calls (don’t ask how I got the digits). However their is something oddly majestic, peaceful and uplifting about the whole scene and I’d personally recommend it over a p*ss up in the Old City. Or you can just go and have the p*ss up afterwards like I did and that would be good as well. More info including dates etc can be found here http://www.thaizer.com/festivals/yi-peng-lantern-festival-chiang-mai/.

 Boat Party, Anywhere in SE Asia that does them! – Okay; here comes the part where I feel like an uncultured British swine who only goes off on his holidays for a fore mentioned p*ss-up but it could be worse, I considered putting Khao San Road on the list…

Though on as serious a note as one can write when discussing such a subject the boat party that I attended in Siem Reap, Cambodia was epic! Rather hilariously it was advertised as a ‘Cultural Booze Cruise’. Truthfully the things in question exist together in about as much harmony as a full Bathtub and a plugged in Toaster but we did go through a few Floating Villages, got to hang out with some Crocodiles and took a dip inside as well. Not with the Crocodiles though; that’d be f*cking crazy.

Yes there was alcohol, excessive amounts of it in fact. We played drinking games, blasted loud music, enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and by God had an awesome time. Plus these events are a great way to meet people, make friends and then tell them about your near-escapades with a Transgender person in Bangkok…Not making that up folks, no reason to do so…

The party I went to was organised through Mad Monkey and you can get more info here if this sought of thing floats your boat…Sorry. http://www.madmonkeyhostels.com/

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum & Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Now this one doesn’t have a light-hearted tone surrounding it unfortunately. I’m sure many readers are familiar with the events that took place in Cambodia in the mid to late 1970’s and many people who are still with us are haunted by the memories.

The truth be told, and without going into too much detail, the Museum and the Fields are not easy going and leave little detail unexplained. Literally everybody present was either crying real tears or was damn close (myself included) and its for this reason that I would recommend making yourself experience these two sites. The fact that the events that took place in this lovely country happened relatively recently and the fact that despite these horrors the country still remains so welcoming and upbeat is a true credit to the people that live there.

I’m not generally one to put myself through too much heartache but in my personal opinion this is a massively important piece of history that you owe it to yourselves and the people affected by the events that proceeded it to visit and get to know the details of. They are truly shocking. More info can be found here as I would recommend a basic understanding before visiting to give yourself an idea of what it is that your going to see http://www.killingfieldsmuseum.com/.

The Borobudur Temple, Java, Indonesia – Well there was no way that I was missing this when in Java. If I’m honest the journey to get there consisting of a bumpier than bumpy bus ride and 4 human beings climbing into a wheelbarrow attached to a car less than the size of the average car boot was as much of a highlight as anything. All in p*ssing rain as well.

Once we arrived the real fun kicked in when we realised what a money-making opportunity we’d missed out on when every kid and their parents wanted a photo. Seriously, we couldn’t take two steps without it. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. I had been asked the odd time in Cambodia and Fiji in the past but nothing to this extent. Honestly though; it was a blast. The people were so polite, chatty and kind that it felt more like a privilege than anything else. Many groups of kids learning English were asking to interview us for school projects as well; I swear to God if I ever have a daughter who’s half as cute and charming as some of those kids then I’m getting a gun and she’s not going out without a chaperone.

Oh and The Borobudur? Yes its cool and looks amazing up close but honestly it wasn’t the highlight of this very special day. Indonesians are great it must be said…

Eat, Eat, Drink, Drink!, All over the Place – It goes without saying that the food in SE Asia is phenomenal and as a self-confessed foody myself this for me is a particular highlight. The noodles, the rice, the chicken, the beef, the pork, the eggs, the fruit I could go on forever!

If I absolutely had to pick a favourite country in this department I THINK I would have to go with Thailand but its a close one and it changes by the day.

Whether its the small restaurants or the street food its never expensive unless you really want it to be and its never unsatisfying, again, unless you really want it to be. I would actually make a habit of ordering something I’d never eaten at least once a day or sometimes something that was literally written in the local language because I was that confident that it would rock my world. Just as a side note though; some of it might also rock your belly the first time you try it so take it slow and no your levels as things can get insane, as I learnt the hard way once or twice.

There you have it folks my completely un-definitive guide. Well, no actually, its just a list of some cool s*it that I’d recommend doing whilst in SE Asia. There’s loads of other stuff that I did and didn’t do that is equally awesome. In all honesty the best experiences are often the smallest and most inconspicuous anyway; jumping out of moving Buses, sneaking into 5 star Hotels, snorkelling in the Sea, pulling all-nighters on party roads and just meeting awesome people and having a laugh and a good time with them.

I’m still at the airport and I still kind of miss SE Asia but I’m optimistic about Australia and I’m sure there’s more good times ahead. Shame that I’ll have to get a job though!…

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 13; SE Asia Worst & Best Part 1

I left Asia today. Well actually I left it yesterday but due to yesterday being a day of minivans, buses, aeroplanes and layovers it all went by in such a haze that it feels like it was part of today. Plus I haven’t slept and am writing this here piece from Terminal 3 of Perth International.

You don’t need anybody to tell you that SE Asia is a gem worth uncovering, probably because these days so many 18-100 year olds (and maybe beyond) have done it that there isn’t much left to actually uncover but still do so! During my 3 month trip I spent time in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos. Just to get the basics out of the way; barely anybody in any of these countries knows any Kung Fu/Muay Thai/Shaolin Soccer/has Jedi powers, the levels of English in all except Singapore are not a fraction as advanced as you may be lead to believe but you can still get by, food and booze are mostly cheap, the first time you use the ‘Bum-Gun’ is an unforgettable experience and if a bus ride is advertised as 3 hours long its best to assume its actually 6. Oh and they’re getting taller, seriously they really are.

So I’ve landed in Perth and I’m waiting for my flight to Adelaide (the lay-over is around 11 hours!). I’ve left Asia with an extension on the old gut, an impressive array of Mosquito bites that if you join together with dots almost spell the word ‘Dengue’, a valiant but ultimately un-earth-shattering sun tan and a t-shirt or singlet advertising a beer brand from each country; that’s Chang, Tiger (both Malaysia and Singapore as Malaysia don’t have any!), Cambodia Beer, Bintang and Beer Lao for those keeping score.

Although I’m quite literally buzzing like the aforementioned Mosquitos for Australia I will miss the cheapness of Asia, how easy it is to make snap decisions, how you can remedy the rudeness of the locals by just being rude back because they cant understand you anyway and how despite the way that most barely tip the scales at 5,4 most of the women have such phenomenal legs! Seriously its f*cking crazy!

Everybody’s travel experience is going to be different and by writing that I’ve just rattled off another traveller clique, still working on the dreads and the beard and the love I have for my morning shower hasn’t quite waned enough for me to give it up entirely just yet folks. However with that said I’m going to quickly get the Negative Nigel s*ite out of the way and then move onto what were my personal favourite things/activities in and about the countries I touched down in.

Here we go; Thais cant speak any English by and large, their obsession with their King seems sweet at first but is bizarre, overbearing, perverse and borderline unhealthy; they call him ‘Dad’, think he still lives in the ground and the water (you know, like a God), had magical powers and you can go to jail for 15 years for saying otherwise. You know less time than you get for Rape or Manslaughter. Also the traffic is a nightmare.

Malaysians have an incredible penchant for rudeness, will intentionally give you false directions, have WAY more of an incline to scam you than any other country listed (only one that I legitimately got done over in actually!), the men have a thing for spitting and the women have a thing for cracking their knuckles, they refuse to serve you anything on their menus that they cant nuke in 2 minutes but then serve it to someone who looks more like they do minutes later after telling you ‘No have’ and pretend they cant understand you when your asking them to be helpful.

Singaporeans live in a far more expensive place than the other countries listed but still take the same lackadaisical approach to customer service; Me and a friend were charged the full rate for a hostel that was only actually half finished (like getting a donut with a bite taken out of it) and when I handed my money over to a barman he disappeared with it for over 30 minutes before I had to physically stop him (as he ignored me several times) at which point he informed me, with a smile no less, that he ‘forgot’. Wouldn’t have been quite so hard to swallow if the bed wasn’t $40 and the drink almost $20; both are amounts that I’m currently willing to do things you wouldn’t normally do in order to possess by the way.

Cambodians; I really don’t have much negative to say about. They’re mostly polite, have a good sense of humour and they look phenomenal. I guess if I had to I’d say the touting (that’s lingo for ‘Tuk-Tuk! Tuk-Tuk! and ‘Cheap Price! Cheap Price!’ by the way) can get a little long in the tooth but ultimately they’re just trying to make a living and when the coffee stand owners at Angkor Watt are telling me their names are David Beckham, Mike Tyson and Darth Vader I cant help but smile.

Similar thing with Indonesia to be honest. In fact out of all the countries I had the pleasure to visit I’d say the people of Indonesia were my favourite, especially in Java. Although I did lose a perfectly good debit card to a perfectly sinister ATM whilst on Gilli T this could have happened anywhere. I guess at a push I could say that the touting folk of Bali can get a little sinister, though one did return our bike key to us that we’d dropped nearby earlier in the day and didn’t ask for anything in return. Speaking of bikes though; the roads are insane, like Gus off Breaking Bad insane.

As for Laos? Again, the language barrier is insane but frankly I didn’t even no the meaning of the word poverty or undeveloped until I touched down in this country so I feel like that needs to be kept in mind and the locals are largely pretty sweet. There is touting but not as much as Cambodia or Bali and I got particularly p*ssed off when I almost missed my flight out of Vientiane because when I asked the guy at the hostel to book my taxi for 11am he basically just…didn’t. Despite saying that he would and despite it being a 2 minute job that you can do whilst sitting down he simply didn’t. I’m basically saying the people aren’t exactly the most efficient and most of the hostels look like halfway houses and their still working on soap. So when I checked into my first hostel hoping to catch some winks the only thing I was actually in danger of catching was Pink Eye.

Okay so that’s the worst bits out of the way. To be honest they’re probably all part of the experience anyway and now we can get onto the fun stuff. Part 2 is coming later today so keep it locked!

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 12; In Need of a Second Wind

Although it might not be The Ritz, more like The Nits, I must say that my last hostel had some surprisingly strong Wi-Fi going for it. So strong in fact that I was able to use it to catch up on the previous weekends card of boxing. Predictably enough Anthony Joshua did away with Eric ‘ Upper Mid-Card At Best’ Molina in efficient fashion but it was Whyte vs Chisora that was the real highlight. Two very good but not quite great British heavyweights trading blows for 12 straight rounds and although they may have been gassed after 5 of them and neither would have stood a chance in a title bout you cant deny that it was exciting and both guys showed more guts than a Romero marathon.

Now my mind works in mysterious ways and as one of my few readers you may wonder how and why it managed to draw a comparison between the sight of these two pugilists scraping all the way back in Manchester and my current mind state and stage of my journey. It did though and I felt inclined to write about it, that’s kind of how it works for me. The main reason for this being that, like the once mighty but ultimately underachieving Dereck Chisora at the sound of the fifth bell, I am frankly gassed and although I have the urge to keep moving forward I feel like I could use a second wind.

Now don’t get me wrong my travels are nothing like a boxing match. I don’t get paid to do it and only 3 people in the last 13 months have tried to punch me and only one of them succeeded (and that chicks hands were so dainty and soft it could hardly be considered a punch) but mainly due to some culture shocks, serious jumps in temperature, a bout of illness and the fact that I’m not a massive fan of my current location a few days ago I seriously contemplated packing up, saying ‘f*ck it!’ and heading home. I mean just because Australia have accepted me doesn’t mean I have to go.

Its true though, this writer is not a big fan of Malaysia. Thailand was great; the weather was pleasantly hot, the booze was cold and readily available. The locals ,although basic at best when it came to English, were still relatively warm and helpful and it was impossible not to meet other travellers and despite what some will tell you the country is well organised and the locals play a fair game. Singaporeans are also cool and having my own local guide and friend at hand made the country a particular highlight for me. Alternatively and I must stress that this is PURELY my own opinion derived from my own experiences but Malaysia feels like a direct paradox. The weather is sticky and suffocating, drinking is frowned upon and expensive and perhaps most distressing of all; the locals I have interacted with are flippant, rude, unhelpful and, dare I say, rather prejudice and incredibly dishonest. Oh and they spit, by God they love a good hawk and even more so when it almost hits your shoes and the sight of some 5,3 local Malay-Indian lass in KL with a pair of the fastest, hardest and most dangerously accurate fists I’ve ever seen literally giving some poor European girl the Floyd Mayweather treatment (complete with head movements, foot-work and taunting!) outside a restaurant nearly had me packing there and then. Swear to God despite the predictable size difference Whitey didn’t stand a chance and it took 3 guys to eventually pull the local girl away, one of those ‘you know its bad but you just cant stop watching’ type of scenarios! That along with the way that they pretend they cant understand you when you ask them questions, allow others to be served before you despite you being ahead in the lines, tut at you in the street and purposely block your way on pavements to try and force you onto the road all leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Oh and I once caught one guy in a hostel trying to go through my trousers (no I wasn’t wearing them!) thankfully a fellow traveller dived in as well meaning that he won’t be trying that again anytime soon and some jelly-brained chick at a bus station purposely sold me a ticket to Singapore for the wrong date forcing me to pay twice because, you know, white privilege and stuff right?

Don’t get me wrong its nothing I cant handle. Having people stare disapprovingly at me as I walk down the street and trying to block my path is eerily like what walking down the school corridors was like back in Corpus Christi High and for all the flaws the women in this country are often incredibly striking, when they aren’t Mohammed Ali reincarnated and trying to do the striking, but it does zap the soul a little. Making friends in Malaysia is more difficult as there are generally less travellers, they seem less inclined to socialise (with the exception of Penang) and as mentioned the locals just don’t want to know meaning it can even get a little lonely.

Couple this with the aforementioned intense heat of Asia, the different food and the fact that a lot of local people give off a ‘We want your cash but make no mistake you aren’t welcome here’ vibe and treat and speak to you in a manner that would have the socialists and liberals of the UK up in arms if we did it to our visitors and the whole thing has got me feeling a little disheartened.

I’m finding it harder to get up in the mornings, I walk around in directionless dazes, partly due to my British-ness but also down to past experiences I hate asking for directions or help and, for the first time in years, I’m struggling to socialise. I’ve also developed a greater sense of paranoia towards strangers and although I’ve secretly known this all along its still tough having to witness first hand that double standards and the judging of people before you know them based alone on their appearance or race is not an exclusively western thing. In fact if anything and for a number of reasons they’re worse for it here. Who would have guessed?

Now please don’t get this twisted I am not trying to discourage people from visiting SE Asia, or even Malaysia, rather just exposing a few home truths that are not going to be exposed in the brochures, on the websites or by the travel agents. You will get heat stroke, you will get sick, you will get scammed and quite a few of the people there perceive you as a millionaire who has never worked a day in his or her life (when ironically their job consists of sleeping on a desk and telling people ‘no have’ or ‘don’t know’ in response to simple questions) so in their eyes you deserve such treatment and aren’t really a human being like they are. Not always the case but often enough to make it worth mentioning. Fact is that as rewarding as it is long term travel can become oddly stressful and can tire you out and you’ll certainly find yourself going through peaks and troughs. Mainly because when things do go tits up there’s nothing you can do about it. Most times its small things that are worth just laughing about but occasionally it can throw things into chaos and the lack of empathy from the people at fault can be enraging and believe me they are usually at fault.

Metaphorically I guess I could say that this stage of my journey is like that 6th round in the fight where exhaustion is starting to set in and I need to land something good to spur me on. However as mentioned, the situation isn’t nearly that desperate or strenuous and its important to keep that mentality in mind as even through the tough times being able to travel is a privilege. It is however a personal challenge at times and like our old boys Dereck and Dillian I plan to power through and go the distance. I just hope that Cambodia is bringing a different vibe to the party. Just calling it how I see it and have experienced it as always so I sincerely hope none of the opinions in this piece have caused any offense and as previously mentioned I am not judging entire races, religions, groups or genders; just the ones I’ve met.

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 11; The Quest for the Train Ticket

So yeah I’m in Thailand now. Have been for over a week in fact. In very much the same way as James Buckley’s character in the first Inbetweeners movie greeted the shores of Malia (which was actually Magaluff but, you know, logistics) my initial reaction was as follows;

“F*ck me its hot. Might be too hot…”

It still is an all, hot I mean. It doesn’t matter if the sky is full of sunshine, cloud or even torrential (and I do mean torrential) rainfall it is sweltering over here. Don’t get me wrong I fully expected it but the first few times you feel it are a shock to the core and all points in-between. Luckily, as mentioned in a previous post, I was met by a good friend of the family at the airport which certainly took the sting off things a bit but after an initial run-down of the ‘hood, so to speak, I was left to my own devices. In a city the size of Bangkok this is somewhat daunting but not quite as much so as you may imagine.

The reason for this? Firstly the transport links are good, like really good. Buses run regularly and often, the underground and BTS systems if anything are more reliable than the London Underground has ever been to my knowledge and even though the traffic is a slog, even on Sundays, you will get where you’re going with a little bit of patience and it won’t cost you much either. Secondly the people. Now before I go into this I want to do away with a false and shockingly common misconception that I think has probably been created by travel brochures and other marketing ploys and it kills me to do this but here goes; Thais DO NOT speak good English. Many speak non at all and although some are, many signposts and street names have not been translated. Yet despite this, by and large, the people are often still helpful. Hop on a bus and 9 times out of 10 if you tell the money collector where you want to go they’ll give you a shout when its time to get off. Ask for directions in the street and more often than not they will try and direct you and if you do happen to get on the wrong bus, minivan or boat then they’ll let you jump out and redirect you without a charge; least that’s what happened to me.

The food is awesome, as I knew it would be but not going to lie after almost 12 days of eating it I have had a mild touch of the ‘Thailand-Tummy’ and the ‘Changovers’ can get a little rough but there’s usually a lavatory near by oh and by the way, the whole low toilet with a shower spray thing is very much in around these parts. Just thought you might want to know. The nightlife in Bangkok is pretty live as well and there’s plenty of sites to see. Even with the country currently being in mourning all these aspects are still very much alive and the grand palace at night when the Royal’s come driving through is quite an amazing scene and one that you can’t help but join the locals in unison with, even though you technically don’t have to. I don’t know it just feels respectful and like the right thing to do if you know what I mean.

Only been in Bangkok so far and just got into Chiang Mai via a night train and what a mission to get that ticket it was. As I said before; getting around Bangkok may not be too difficult but it can certainly take a while. Rising early (ish) I headed to my usual market place to see if I could grab a minivan heading there, they usually take me to Victory Monument so I figured why not? No, that’s why! So that idea went begging but the guy holding down the station gave me a number of a bus that goes to an underground station that I can THEN use to get to the main train station to book my ticket.

So I dash across the street, not literally people, with traffic like Bangkok’s its just not worth the risk, to catch this bus and after a pretty tolerable wait it turns up. So in I hop instinctively. The bus gets halfway up the street before the lady giving out the tickets reveals that THIS particular bus isn’t going to the station I need to get to and that the ones that are carry the same number but are in-fact Yellow in colour. Rather than any other colour under the sun.

 What followed would not have been out of place in one of those Hangover movies. Hearing this news I was in a hurry to get off but the driver didn’t seem to into my request and the previously mentioned lady didn’t seem to understand it whilst all the while this bus was getting further and further from the stop I needed to be back at by the second. The door was open, the pavement was in leaping distance, due to the build-up the bus was slowing down a little and…yeah. Not going to lie I didn’t land as elegantly as I had envisioned and had a couple of grazes on my elbow and leg to show for it but I was out of the bus and knew now to get on the right one. Actually, as it goes, the Yellow’s stopped at a different stop just ahead of the original one but it didn’t take long for that to get pointed out so no harm done. Ten minutes later I was on-board.

This journey went on, like ridiculously, to the point where I thought we heading for the end of the earth, clearly I had forgotten about how big these ‘big’ cities really get. Honestly, I was starting to think that I’d missed the stop but every time I asked the lady she insisted that all was good. Seriously, I’d been on this thing for a while though but out of the blue when I was just about ready to consider getting off and risking it on foot the lady who gave me the ticket all of a sudden pops up behind two other standing passengers and tells me that we’d reached my destination. Seriously though I was sweating bullets at that point; I’d never been in that part of the city before and all I knew was it was a long way back to familiar territory!

So having hit the underground I got my ticket from an attendant who actually spoke very good English and was offering a lot of help. The underground, as I said is very simple though so didn’t need it but the gesture was nice. Once I got to the main station purchasing the ticket was a piece of p*ss and after all that I had beer and food on the brain; off to Khao San it was but not in the way I had envisioned.

Outside the station, shockingly enough, were a slew of taxi drivers and I had every intention of trying to flag one (meter only though, mind you) but was instead advised by a security guard that I could get there for free or at least as far as The Palace, which was close enough, using a free Shuttle Bus. So your damn right I did and once I got there I happened to witness a few members of the Royal Family passing through (kind of a big deal or it was at least for me!), got given free food and water by some volunteers and was directed the rest of the way to Khao San where, predictably, I got steaming drunk, ate more food and didn’t get back until gone 9:30am the next morning. Sweet!  

So that was my Quest for the Train Ticket and I’m happy to say that with some help from some lovely locals and a few mighty bounds of my own (literally) it was a success. Not going to lie I am not used to countries like Thailand and this whole thing is being run on a strictly day-to-day basis at the moment. Its hot, it kind of stinks in places, I’ve seen more rats than I care to count and this place has got more Thai’s than The Godfather (yeah I know, not my best but couldn’t resist). Still, its exciting and whilst still keeping my guard up I am starting to feel more comfortable.

Who knows what’s next and how long it’ll be before I hit Australia for the next main leg of Tha Bozz on Tour. All I know is I’m in Chiang Mai, I want Elephants, Muay Thai (watching not playing!) and maybe a few more sneaky bevvies.

I’m Tha Bozz & that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 10; Goodbye New Zealand

I can hardly believe that these next words are about to be typed by the fingers attached to my not-Donald-Trump-small-but-still-surprisingly-small hands but here goes; tomorrow afternoon I will be leaving New Zealand. For good, or at least for the foreseeable. Even more unbelievable is what comes next; give or take a week or 2 I have been travelling this side of the world for a year. Between Fiji and New Zealand its been about a year and a major chapter in my metaphorical book (maybe one day but don’t pressure me!) is coming to an end and I guess a new one is about to begin.

Where to next you may ask, well not home that’s for sure. I miss the people I left behind and I even miss Britain itself for everything wrong with it its still bloody good but I’m not ready to see it again yet and having just had my Working Holiday Visa for Australia signed off on I now have a perfect excuse not to. However, before heading down under there’s a certain other part of the world that I’ve had my apprehensive but still excited eye on for some time; South-East Asia.

I know, I know:

“Its the typical ‘Backpacker’ route, its sooooo clique and spoilt now not like it was 20 years ago…..”.

Well I was watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, sleeping with Pooki The Teddy Bear and believing that every 24th December a fat guy slid down the chimney of my house (that actually didn’t have a fireplace or a chimney now that I think about it) to deliver me and my older brother presidents if we behaved 20 years ago. So you can see why boozing on Khao San Road in Bangkok, Scuba Diving in Ko Tao and Tubing in Vang Vieng weren’t on the cards. Also, you try going to these places after almost a year in a country where they ID bearded 30-somethings for cigarettes, the police voluntarily walk you back to your accommodation when you’ve had a skin-full, neighbourhood watches are a thing and the most dangerous creature in the forest is a Possum and telling me that its not a change of pace or a shock to the system!

Alas though its happening. Tomorrow afternoon I will board a plane from Christchurch to Bangkok and feelings that I haven’t quite felt for, funnily enough, about a year are creeping back in. Excitement, confusion, intrigue and if I’m being totally honest fear. Luckily a friend of the family has agreed to put me up for a few days whilst I find my feet (metaphorically not literally; I know where my feet are and I can hardly stand them) which will hopefully take the initial sting off a little bit but still, s*its getting real.

As jittery and anxious as I may come across in this post its actually nothing compared to how I was this time last year. In fact at this precise moment I’m sat back in a comfy chair in a hostel lounge, sipping my drink and listening to Oasis, perhaps its partly down to so much time in such relaxed countries as Fiji and indeed New Zealand or just that I now actually have some travel experience, limited as it is.

On that subject though I feel I need to say something in this post; New Zealand, I am going to miss the hell out of you! I have had my loves and my hates and my ups and my downs with this place like I would have in any place that I called home for almost a year but by God NZ you varied, laid-back, easy-to-travel, over-priced, lazy, beautiful, friendly, pedantic, ridiculously safe, nanny-stated, surprisingly historical, boring, proud, exciting, multi-cultural, fun and loveable pair of rocks in the middle of the water I’m going to miss the f*ck out of you and everything you do!

Since getting here I’ve practically top-to-bottomed both islands, been hundreds of feet in the air and several feet under the water, been in boiling and freezing temperatures and been on-top of a mountain of snow and a mountain of sand (traversing both with an equal lack of grace). I’ve met people that I absolutely adore and would love to see again outside of my travels and I’ve met people that I absolutely despise and would also love to see again with matches. I’ve worked as everything from a Salesman at a crappy Call Centre selling online diplomas because why not? All the way to a Kitchen Hand at an Indian Restaurant and a Scaffold Assistant on a building site; both are positions that I was fortunate to walk away from with my limbs not to mention dignity intact.

I have also learnt what we all secretly have always known but occasionally forget until we get lovingly reminded and that’s that the best things that usually happen are unplanned. Just recently I hit Paihia intending to stay for 3 days and low and behold after 6 I was still there. Long story but an awesome hostel, an out of the blue road trip to Cape Reinga (one of my favourite spots in the country) an excessive amount of beer and some wonderful humans and hot girls played a massive part. The amount of times that one has checked into hostels with an early night on the cards and ended up steaming at 4am, stumbling through clubs, house parties and karaoke bars with people who 7 hours earlier were complete strangers is overwhelming. The hangovers were to.

The levels of kindness and generosity displayed by the people that I’ve met has been overwhelming as well. I’ve had everything from beer and homemade pizza all the way to rides and floors and couches to crash on offered to me and its my full intention to pay these warm souls back whenever I can.

Its funny, I’ve just read those last paragraphs back and they’re written as if its all coming to an end when its not. I can do all the research, ask all the forum members and friends in the world but truth is I don’t know what to expect from SE Asia, Australia or anywhere else this wily-Welshman, with a bit of Italian, may end up. All I know is there will be other people and although this can sometimes be a f*cking nightmare it does also ensure that similar good times are eventually certain to role.

Going from a place like New Zealand to a place like Thailand is like going into a fight with Anthony Joshua when your last opponent was Audley Harrison (Google him if you need to.) and Fiji wasn’t exactly the most intimidating environment you’ll ever see either. We have to step up one day though and part of the travel experience, as they say, is about stepping out of the comfort zone so that’s exactly what I’m doing. So next on the cards is hot food, hot weather, hot water, hot women (hopefully) and a lot of time spent feeling like the tallest man in the room.

NZ I love you, I’m going to miss you and I’m going to see you again I’d wager. So its haere rā New Zealand and Kia Ora SE Asia. Be safe!

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 9; Vipassana: The Verdict

So it happened; as planned on the 29th September I entered the Dhamma Medini Vipassana Meditation Centre and until around 9:30am yesterday that’s where I stayed. Entirely. I did not set foot outside of the course boundary walls, I only entered 4 different rooms (my bunk, the meditation hall, the dining area and the shower and s*itting room) and perhaps most surprisingly of all; I played by the rules. From the 29th September at 7pm until around 11am yesterday I did not speak a full sentence, eat meat, drink booze, smoke cigarettes or anything else, have any physical contact with another living thing, read any literature, write anything down, listen to any music, watch any TV/movies/internet material or engage in any sexual activity (including the single player game).
I was under the impression going into this that such circumstances were either going to lead me to a major psychological breakthrough or to a major psychotic episode. So which was it? Truth be told; neither. This is no bad thing as breakthroughs can be stressful and although psychotic episodes might get you some TV time initially they do hurt your momentum in the long-run. The truth is that this course was one of the most mentally and, believe it or not, physically draining experiences I can bring to recent memory and despite your almost sedated state so many emotions hit you so quickly. Thoughtfulness, impatience, determination, focus, absent mindedness, boredom, hunger, thirst, horny-ness (no, its not a real word before you start), restlessness, restfulness, anger and a burning desire for a B.M.T Sub, a pint of lager and a joint. Perhaps the evening prior to the evening before the course consisting of excessive helpings of house lager, a trip to a karaoke bar that Toto and The Gallagher Brothers would never forgive me for if they’d witnessed, a bucket load of Macky D’s and a 4am bedtime wasn’t adequate mental and physical preparation after all. Who’d of known!?
Now before I go any further I want to make one point completely clear; I would recommend this course, wholeheartedly in-fact. I genuinely believe that anyone that is even remotely curious about it and its potential effects after doing their research should try it, providing that they are willing and able to take it seriously. I cannot stress that last point enough because, trust me, the rules are far easier said than followed. Ten days is a lot longer than it sounds, especially for jittery, meat-eating, western-raised, impatient and angst-ridden white boys who stand around 6,2 and are told to sit straight in the same position for 2 hour stretches on a thin floor with nothing but a warn out cushion for relief; the back, knee, feet and arse pains are chronic! On the subject of pains mention needs to be made of your stomach and more-over what goes into it during the course. You are fed and you are fed well, the food provided is vegetarian and is actually pretty good (you were expecting a rant then weren’t you!?). Now don’t get me wrong its not exactly gourmet and its described on the leaflets as being ‘wholesome’ which, like when used to describe TV, film and women, is insider terminology for boring but it does get the job done and considering that its provided free of charge its bloody generous of them and I do have to tip my hat to the serving staff and all the other volunteers who work on the site; they’re doing a good thing. What does provide difficulty though is the eating schedule which is set out in a way that dictates that your last full meal is at 11am and apart from a small piece of fruit at 5pm you don’t eat again until 6:30 the next morning. Maintaining focus in these circumstances is difficult, especially when your not used to such a schedule.
I’m going to try and avoid going into details about the meditation technique itself as it is a tad difficult to do it justice within my personal word limit but let me just say its mentally and physically demanding, takes a good few days to even pull off correctly for more than 10-15 seconds and after the second or third day you’ll probably feel like quitting; don’t! It doesn’t get any easier but you will get better at it and your tolerances will naturally get stronger.
What I do want to bring more attention to though is the beliefs and fundamentals that surround Vipassana as, for me personally, some of them make perfect sense whilst others come across as frankly outdated, idealistic and dare-I-say even a little bit judgemental.
Starting with the good is of course the basics such as how we should not harm other living things, should speak only truth and for God-sake don’t go sleeping with your best friends fiancé. Quite self explanatory and all things that I can get on-board with. However there are some more slightly off-the-track ideas that I also found myself agreeing and identifying with. One of these was the idea that the source of all our misery is based around our cravings for things and feelings. As soon as one develops a craving for an object, sensation or personal feeling they are not happy as they want it again and then become unhappy all over again as soon as the thing in question inevitably disappears like it did the fist time around. This could be money, clothes, cars, food or just a really great evening of extravagant pleasure with the chick who works in the food court across the street from your hostel; the sensations created by these things will always pass and enough will never be enough. The concept of true selflessness being far more difficult than it appears on surface levels was also interesting with the idea being that many seemingly selfless acts are often committed with a desire to create pleasant sensations within ourselves and gain recognition for our deeds if only on a subliminal level. Hell, I’m honest enough to admit that I’ve been guilty of this in the past and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.
Like I said though some of the ideas expressed just did not quite sit right with me. Of these the most prominent was the idea that we should not mourn or even feel sadness when a person in our life is taken from us at whatever time for whatever reason. The reason for this being that we are apparently not really ‘whole’ as beings; meaning that we must get rid of the concept of ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘I’ and instead think of our bodies and insides as being individual body parts that are simply attached to each other in order to function. For this reason we should also never view another person as being ‘beautiful’, either inside or out. An actually rather humorous example was used whereby when a man finds a woman attractive he may be drawn to her beautiful long hair but if a small strand of it were to fall into his dinner he wouldn’t view that individual piece of hair as beautiful and would certainly be put off the dinner, appetising as it may have once been.
I had a problem with this. I mean firstly because, as anyone who knows me will tell you; I don’t give a s*it if the girls whole scalp ends up on the plate. If the meals appetising to begin with I’ll make it work. Seriously though the idea of feeling nothing for other people and not loving to me does not sound like a step on the path of happiness but more like a step towards losing your humanity and what truly makes you who you are. Yes, I care about the health of my grandparents, how well my little sister is doing in school and if my older brother will ever get to grips with the concept of adulthood and these things stress me out. They might seem trivial and unimportant to somebody who has achieved ‘enlightenment’ and who now works towards a higher calling but, and with all due respect, I do feel that whilst reading into these philosophies we should stay aware of the fact that they were established during a time when sharp, pointy sticks were considered a dental breakthrough and the premier thinkers of the world didn’t know where the Sun was going at night. As for the whole beauty thing? Well a strand of braided hair from the head of that gorgeous German girl with the dazzling smile and personality that frankly knocked me bandy that I really quite regret not making a move on might not look great on its own and sitting on my pizza but everything left on the person in question still looks pretty amazing. Personality to boot. S.N. Goenka says that we must learn to tame the mind and likens it to a wild Bull or Elephant. Well I’ve got news for you Sir; Bulls and Elephants are not meant to be tamed, maybe the mind isn’t either?
I sound like I’m dishing on the course in these last few paragraphs and that’s honest-to-God not my intention. During my time at the centre, whether by design or not, I found myself stumbling across a number of self realisations regarding both events from my past and possible events of the future. Some were quite small and easy to face up to whilst others ran a little deeper and had to be taken with a king-sized slice of Humble Pie and washed down with a tall-head worth of pride in order to face up to. Whether the course intended for this to happen or not they made it all the more worthwhile and I feel that it could potentially be something beneficial. If I can find a way of putting these thoughts into words I may look into sharing these realisations in the future.
In closing; I would like to once again reiterate that Vipassana is a technique of meditation that deserves a fair shot. Whether or not I carry on practising the technique remains to be seen and some of that will depend on circumstances permitting but it was a worthwhile experience regardless. Ten days may seem like an eternity but in truth it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the techniques apparent potential so keep this in mind and don’t expect a miracle but you might just take your first baby steps towards one. Oh and as an added bonus; the site is beautiful, the air ridiculously clean and you’ll probably end up seeing Rabbits, Possums and even Glow Worms! How good is that!?
I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

Travel Blog 8; Mentally Checking Out

As I write this post I’m sitting in the communal area of a hostel that I wasn’t originally supposed to be in, in a town that I was, today, supposed to be leaving on a bus that was supposed to turn up at a certain time but neglected to do so. The town in question is called Taupo and the town I planned to be in any minute now (as of writing this) is Rotorua. Its p*ssing down outside, I had a full sized travel pack strapped to my back, a piece of hand luggage strapped to my front and a cooling bag draped over my left arm during my stroll to the bus station only to find once I got there that the bus in question had left minutes prior and all the alternatives for the day were fully booked; wicked!

Not to be deterred I decided to walk a little further up and onto the main road between the two towns, throw my thumb up to the heavens and see if any good Samaritans were doing the rounds today. In a country that’s usually pretty good for that sort of thing I was surprised to find that after over an hour of standing in the downpour with a thumb in the air, more luggage on my back than a camel in the dessert and a look on my face that said “I’m smiling but make no mistake I’d be gleaming if you would just pull over!” no cars pulled over. Not one. After getting on the blower to the bus company I managed to talk them into booking me a ticket for the next day with no cost attached, which was actually kind of cool because I used to be a ‘lose my s*it’ kind of guy but I was pretty calm.

The walk back to the hostel that I was previously staying at almost felt a little like a walk of shame as after saying all of my goodbyes (something that I personally hate especially when its with people I genuinely like, which it was) I was heading back with my tail set firmly between my legs and the material on my embarrassingly crappy backpacker clothes ready to wilt and evaporate leaving me with nothing but my trainers on my feet and a pair of boxers around my nether-regions that look like they previously belonged to Tarzan to show for my experience.

Needless to say; today has not been the favourite of my approximately 306 days away from home as I sit wrapped in another one of my s*itty hoodies with a bottle of council pop at my side, laptop on my lap and a vending machine across the room stocked to the brim with horribly tempting microwave noodles. In fact its probably not in the top 50 and hasn’t been helped by the fact that I’ve been recently struck down with a surprisingly vicious bout of hostel flu, my favourite shoes recently fell apart in front of my eyes in a more spectacular fashion than my music career and I haven’t had anything even approaching a decent nights sleep in 2 weeks due to a roommate who’s snoring habits are so unethically bad that I initially mistook him for the 7.0 tremor that hit the area a few weeks back. These things happen though and its far from the end of the world, especially as I’ve just recently managed to, somehow, hustle the hostel in Rotorua into allowing me to push my booking back with no additional charges despite the terms stating that the booking was non-refundable but this and a few other things recently have bought something to light. Now this thing is nothing for me to panic about but it is something that I feel I must address; I have started to mentally check-out of New Zealand.

This has only been my general feeling for a short time (like as short as the last couple of weeks) but its becoming steadily more prominent. By check-out I don’t mean dislike but more become somewhat less-interested than I had been months before. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my minor quibbles with NZ since day one but after a few months, particularly in Wellington, Queenstown, New Plymouth and until recently Taupo the country started to majorly grow on me and I was pretty much in love with it warts an all; just like real relationships I guess. However after getting fired from a work-for-accommodation gig for reasons I didn’t entirely agree with and recently stepping down from my 3000th job where I was spoken to like s*it, paid late, messed around with hours and made to do the work of at least 2 people for a minimum wage that’s just a little too ‘minimal’ for a country as expensive as this is I’ve felt my passion fade a little. *Edit* an informative and (hopefully) entertaining post aimed specifically at this subject will be coming soon.

Since this my days have comprised of struggling to get out of bed before 10am for free hostel breakfasts, chilling in the local hot pools (how’s that for a contradiction), promising myself I’m going to exercise, not exercising, eating the large amounts of Indian food that I amassed from my job at an Indian Restaurant with a particularly sound and generous group of chefs, watching British Hood Movies (Attack the Block, Bullet Boy, Adulthood, SKET etc) which constantly remind me of how much safer that a lot of NZ is compared to a lot of back home and occasionally getting totally smashed. At first this was all good but the lifestyle has caused me to become alarmingly complacent and, dare I say, lazy and indifferent. I also seem to be going through a more anti-social and introverted phase with less desire to meet people. Finding motivation has become like finding coins in the couch; always worth checking for but never any guarantees of success and everything from how impossible an even mildly healthy diet is on my budget to the way that people round here seem to have this thing about walking around in public places with no shoes on despite the fact that they are clearly people who possess pairs of shoes seems to stress and perplex me. Along with the new awkwardness, complexity and overall unintuitive un-user friendly nature of WordPress’ editing and posting system; come on lads, you used to make this so easy for me!

Don’t get me wrong there are still places in this country that I want to visit before I leave and people that I most certainly want to see again and I’m hoping that the Vipassana Course mentioned in my previous post will help start me on a bit of a clearer path. However, I just feel like after almost 10 months of being here I’m starting to get itchy feet to move onto something new and for the first time really since I left home almost a year ago I’ve recently found myself missing it a bit. Truthfully I  feel like this is more to be attributed to my current lifestyle previously described than an actual desire to return to Blighty any time too soon. I Would love to teleport some of its residents here mind you.

I’m not 100% sure but I get the feeling that such feelings are natural and common when travelling for extended periods of time. To be honest, I can’t imagine myself living anywhere for longer than a year at a time at the moment and I don’t think my recent ill-health, lack of sleep and relative boredom have helped. Its just that I feel like I’ve seen most of what where I am can offer and as a result have found myself counting down the days to when I see somewhere new and when you start feeling this way whilst travelling I guess its probably time to head for other pastures, which I soon will be. After a few weeks of living the ‘Wasteman’ lifestyle I am now preparing for new experiences and could not be more excited and a little nervous for it but for now; I must make sure that I get to the bus stop tomorrow in plenty of time as I am not doing this again!

I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.

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