On Books

15 Jun

Back in Udomxay, the construction town in northern Laos where our two-day odyssey from Vietnam reached a natural close, we met a crazy Canadian chap with an Irish accent and a Beer Lao can seemingly stapled twixt thumb and forefinger. Not so much met as, perhaps, attracted.

Charming chap. Pushing 70. Thoroughly pickled 24-7. And found in me, yikes, a kindred spirit.

Having travelled extensively with his own nipper, when the boy (now my age) was eight (roughly junior’s age), he had uncharitable things to say about my backpack. Particularly, the size thereof.

Now, to a degree, I second that emotion. Although, in our defense, I will say that I have only one pack, which goes on my back, rather than the “pregnant” two-pack look (one front, one back) so popular among our Nordic friends.

But, yes, he had a point.

The size of my pack is ludicrous. Not so much the length. Nor the width. It’s more the way it extends out from my back, making me look like some malformed hermit crab, yet without the spangly decorations that make the critters such lucky pets in the Philippines. (It’s a 75 + 15l Thai take on the North Face equivalent, bought after my Mountain Warehouse cheapo version died the death about eight weeks in. The death rattle took four, but that’s another story.)

When I attach the daypack, with books and Mac in it, the thing weighs almost as much as the nine-year-old (he’s 27 kilos, last time he stood on a baggage weighing machine at the airport — the lady, along with every lady we’ve met in S-E Asia, thought he should eat more).

As a feminist, there is a plus. Guys wince when they take it from me and make as if to chuck it onto the roof of a bus, before thinking better of the instinct and adopting a gradual easing.

Rather similar, dare I say it, to the mode I was using when they took it off me.


From a less-feminist perspective, my arms have never been better toned.

Although, perhaps, a little more on the Geoff Capes side of things than the Sharon-Stone-in-Basic-Instinct slenderness one joins a gym for.

Actually, make that a lot more.

So, yep. It should definitely be smaller.

On the other hand, I am carrying everything we should need (bar sir’s books, toys and laptop) for another eighteen months or so. So… how light can one travel?

After a nasty shock in county-town Cambodia, where the resident pharmacist didn’t even have iodine and a small wound was beginning to suppurate, I’m carrying a medical kit fit for the most neurotic hypochondriac. I own, and I am not exaggerating, more medicaments than I have ever owned in my life.

Antihistamines. Antibiotics. Decongestants. Gut-stoppers. Three different types of anti-malarials. Steroid creams. Antihistamine creams. Antifungal creams. Syringes. For those rare occasions where they scrape you off the roadway and can save your life but can’t pull out a disposable syringe (writing this, I am thinking of junking these). Plasters. Bandages. Alcohol. Iodine. Painkillers. A working thermometer…

Our washbag, also, is surprisingly capacious. I’d like to buy small tubes of toothpaste, and pocket-sized shampoos, but most small towns in South-East Asia offer the choice twixt single-use-sachet and for-all-the-family-for-at-least-the-next-year, and I can’t control when stuff runs out.

I sent all our washing out to laundry today, after our mud-bath getting here, and can report that that weighs precisely five kilos. The rainproof/snowproof/mountainproof jackets add a little more, peut-etre, but the whole is not a lot.

Anywise, the obvious solution to our weight issues is, of course, to lose the books. We have a laptop each. And, as a one-parent one-child family, a laptop each is as essential as a pen and notepad each (which we also have).

But why do I say our weight issues?

Well, junior is carrying north of 10 kilos. (I read on t’interweb that carrying more than 25% of your bodyweight can make you ill. Newsflash. He’s fine.) He’s sent the last round of books to his best friend back home.

Here are three possible solutions to our woes. And my, rational or irrational, objections to them.

1: Buy a lighter laptop.
But THEY WORK. I can’t spend thousands of dollars on something just to lose a couple of kilos when what we have works just fine.

2: Ditch the jeans.
Here, you see, you are speaking to me. We have a pair of jeans each. They are heavy. They take up space. Mine require a belt, which takes up more space and weight. On the other hand, when in the wilderness, I like some legwear that means I can fall flat on my face and look like a twat without opening up my knees like the preliminary to a Southern barbecue. That is not, to be honest, trackie bottoms or hippie trews.

3: Buy a Kindle.
I spent my childhood reading ridiculously and going through many of Europe’s finest natural environments with a book firmly placed twixt me and them. To me, thousands of pages on a single device spells over-reading and missing out. For both of us. To him, it means unnecessary reliance on local electricity.

AKA: Yes! My spawn reads well. Isn’t it marvellous? Isn’t he quite the little genius? But, honestly, he doesn’t have to do it all the time…

This post was going to have pictures. But my camera is preparing for our trip into the wilds of Laos, where we will learn bird calls and animal sounds to attract the local critters. Your thoughts are, as always, very welcome. Particularly if you have ever used a Kindle.

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6 Responses to “On Books”

  1. soultravelers3 at 6:52 am #

    No kindle yet for us and we’re bookaholics with a voracious reading kid who have been on an open ended world tour since 2006. Why not just try the kindle app on your laptops?

    The longer you travel the less you need. Backpackers are always amazed at how light we pack. Even when we go off for months at a time in 3 seasons of weather, we just carry 3 small day pack/ carry on sized bags.

    Oh yeah, can the jeans, pick a versatile travel pair of pants that fold up to nothing instead. We have 3 full sized laptops so I wouldn’t worry about that.

    We’ve thought about the Kindle, nook etc but the more I learn, the less I think we will do it as we have become use to doing lots of reading online on our laptops. We don’t have ipod, ipad, iphone, nintendo DS etc either.

    Good luck deciding.

    • MummyT at 8:27 pm #

      I think the problem with us, where we are now, is charge. There’s also a part of me that finds it a bit ethically iffy reading off a laptop, at least if it’s a book i might have bought, rather than a fraction of one which I would have looked at and never owned. Although, to lose the weight, I might consider sacrificing that.

      But in the parts of Asia we’re in at the moment, we can’t rely on regular charge-ups, and for a long journey, I think you need a real book. There’s also something about the feeling of snuggling up with a book that you can’t replicate with a laptop…

      Do you have spare batteries? Or just a lot of battery life?

      Z owns a Nintendo DS. It is with his dad, as there was no way I was taking him around the world with SuperMario winning out over the environment for attention…

  2. Benjamin Sands at 5:41 pm #

    We embark on our RTW July 18, 2010. One concern I have had is, in fact, the issue of electronics. In order to keep our 14 and 12 year olds up to par at school we will be home schooling on the 6 month trip mirroring the sylabi from their school, 9th and 7th grade respectively. That means text books. We’ve decided to bring 1 laptop, 1 netbook ($300) and 2 kindles. Many of the textbooks are available on CD rom so that cuts out a lot of weigtht. The kids love the kindles so that takes care of finding a good selection of books for them to read. We can put their reading lists on the kindle plus a wide selection of books to fill any other wants they might have.

    The last time I traveled for an extended period of time like this was in 1970. I had a backpack, an SLR camera, a notebook, and maybe 5 books in my pack at any one time. Like you, I really prefer to have a paper book. I also really regret spoiling much of the introspective nature of traveling by bringing along so much electronic gear. Having said that, much as the kids love to read, they have never commented about the tactile, visceral aspects of one venue or the other. To them content trumps medium. They curl up with the kindle the same way they curl up with a paper book. I think that my own preferences are rooted in experience. Both kids are voracious readers but books as a tactile expeirence hasn’t gelled yet.

    One suggestion to us was to combile the kindle and laptop by purchasing an ipad. However, the kindle is smaller and uses less juice so lasts longer between recharging.

    • MummyT at 9:33 am #

      I think to have one device each is pretty ideal. So that sounds a good solution. We’re on a netbook (him, which he carries), Macbook (me), and paper. Odd that he should feel the nostalgia for paper books that I do. I think he’s also concerned about screen reading and charge. What will really change my life is when I finally finish the epic history of South-East Asia I’ve brought with me… I sort of read and re-read chapters, but haven’t completed it.

  3. Crystal at 2:46 pm #

    When we moved to Singapore, knowing we could only transport so many pounds (or KGs, if you like) in our suitcases and that it would be close to two months before we saw the rest of our belongings again, the very first thing we did was to purchase Kindles for my husband and myself.

    I also purchased cases for each of us, but my 1.5 year old came across my kindle when I had it in a plastic baggie (so I could read in the tub) and had laid it down on the floor. She stepped on it (and she only weighed 16 pounds at the time…she’s super small for her age), and broke it.

    On the plus side, you get a phenomenal number of books. We went with the more expensive version to get 2500 books per Kindle (and have nowhere near that, but it’s a long term plan).

    It ONLY charges via a usb cable to your laptop or with the attachment at the end of the usb cable which can plug into the wall. In Asia, we always charge off the laptops. A full charge can last up to a week depending on useage and if you’re leaving it on or not. If you forget to turn it off, it will die in a day or so.

    But it can be surprisingly breakable as my story illustrated.

    Finally, you can’t use any of the wireless download features in many of the countries here…Singapore for certain. You have to have a non SE Asia address (a British one, I’d assume for you) and a non SE Asia CC to purchase the books on Amazon. Then you download to your laptop and transfer the books to the Kindle. I can send you sites that walk you through the process but I can say that once you’ve done it a few times, it’s not that big a deal. If you’re downloading wirelessly in countries not your own that DOES allow it, there are surcharges.

    I think a Kindle is a highly valuable travel tool, especially for the voracious reader. But it may not be as compatible with your type of travel.

    • MummyT at 7:53 pm #

      I think the breakability factor makes it a problem for us: I never knew that…. If a little toddler (is 16 pounds really that tiny?) can break it, then it will last a matter of minutes being slung on top of buses. But we may have to transition over when we need to carry cool-climate clothing… Hopefully they’ll have made it less destructible by then.

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