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Machete Lessons for Beginners

3 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It would be fair to say that watching one’s nine-year-old son improve his machete skills while 8-12 hours from *any* form of medical care, however basic, is not a relaxing activity.

And indeed, a perhaps unnecessarily large number of utterances such as, “Christ, Z, AWAY from your fingers, not towards them,” and, “F***sake, darling, do you really need to take such a big swing? Remember when the blade flew off in Laos?” have echoed through the jungles of Halmahera of late. Continue reading

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Who You Gonna Call?

21 Sep

bunch of plastic pink and white flowers
[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]The following episode takes place between 9am and 10am on the day we were hoping to leave Manado.

INT: A surprisingly posh hotel room. Z is lying on the bed, contentedly re-reading his latest Da-Vinci-Code-ripoff for about the fifteenth time. I am shouting into a Mac in the corner, where a nurse from the travel insurance helpline is trying to understand me. Continue reading

#theglamoroftravel

18 Sep scarlet hibiscus covered in dew, pulau kadidiri, indonesia

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It was on the golden sands of Pulau Kadidiri, in the Togian Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, as a wave of what I would dearly like to call “social diseases” spread along the beach like glandular fever in a boys’ boarding school that just took girls for Sixth Form, that I began contemplating a new hashtag.

And, after our social disease non-drama culminated in a small hospital, several hundred miles up north, yesterday, I cannot think of a saga more ripe for the Twitter tag #theglamoroftravel than this. Continue reading

Slik Insults: Lost in Translation

1 Sep

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As a language, Bahasa Indonesia, the lingua franca of Indonesia’s many different peoples, is famously easy to learn.

It is not tonal, has sweet FA by way of grammar and syntax, a generally regular stress pattern and a word order and pronunciation not wildly dissimilar to English.

So, having bought a dictionary in Makassar, I figured I’d cope OK as we head east across this vast nation. At our cheap hotel in the little silk town of Sengkang, however, it became abundantly clear that not all dictionaries are created equal. Continue reading

Welcome to Indonesia!

19 Aug

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We left Tawau, the port in north-eastern (Malaysian) Borneo, this morning. For Tarakan, on the Indonesian side of Borneo.

The boat was late. Terminally late. Clearly an hour or more late, rather than a few minutes late.

So I was relaxed when I got off it to buy snacks at the port side, leaving Z perusing 1066 and All That in the cabin.

Rather less relaxed when I turned round, in the throes of making change, to see the boat pulling out to sea. Continue reading

Sign Language

17 Jul

Closeup of Z and Solene drawing at a table.One of my spawn’s many endearing qualities is that he generally, as here with his new friend Solène, looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

So you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to have created his own – hem! – innovative variations on the standard divers’ sign language.

Now, as you’d expect in a branch of the teaching profession so rarefied that students quite often attempt to kill not only themselves but their tutors, diving instructors already have quite a few obscene variations on this theme.

Such as: “You! Look. At me! Your FACE. Makes me SICK!” Or: “You! Look. At me! YOU are f***ed. You are TOTALLY f***ed.” Continue reading

Cab Journey from Hell #1

27 May

Z riding a xe om, or motorbike taxi, Vietnam

Cooler, in every sense, than a metered taxi...

I really thought, by now, after over four months in Asia and experience with virtually every taxi scam permutation known to man, my naïve London belief that anyone in a metered taxi with a light-up sign will know where they are going, own a map, and not take the piss too badly would have disappeared.

Apparently, however, this is still not the case.

We arrived in Hanoi on the Reunification Express and fended off the first wave of touts, who boarded the train brandishing offers of motorbikes and taxis.

Z, who, like any small boy, likes nothing better than hopping on the back of a motorbike and whizzing through city traffic, wanted to take a xe om (motorbike taxi). I said I couldn’t be arsed to haggle, and as we were only going a kilometre or so we might as well take a metered taxi. This was not my best idea… Continue reading

The Inflatable Waterpark

16 May

Ek biki inflatable waterpark, Santa Rosa, Philippines

The magic of childhood. Or something.


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This technicolour dream palace is indisputably special. Possibly a little “special needs” too.

What is it?

You may well ask. For this, my friend, is an inflatable waterpark.

Occupying 5000 square metres of apple-green Astroturf in the middle of nowheresville, Luzon, EK Biki comes complete with dangling sharks, inflatable dragon slides, slightly forlorn clownfish and, weirdly, an Olympic-sized paddling pool.

All, like the giant hamster’s wheel and spinning top on which Z spent many happy minutes scrambling, entirely blow-up.

To add a further note of the bizarre, it caters entirely for non-swimmers. Continue reading

Assertiveness Training?

14 May

In most of South-East Asia, haggling, in its various shapes and forms, is part of everyday life. And I’m really impressed by how Z has mastered this vital skill. If a little unnerved by the implication that he feels himself now the man of the family.

When it comes to bargaining, Z has a number of disadvantages to overcome. His age. His size. His voice, which is still rather piping, with a slight, cute lisp. And his hair, which he is growing. Not for the first time. But certainly for the longest: he’s at curly-headed moppet status at the moment. (I give the look five minutes once his dad arrives in Hanoi with the clippers, but that’s by the by.)

But here in the Philippines folk tend to take it in good heart. Back in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, he halved the price of a tricycle ride to the proper fare instantly, and got a nod of respect and recognition from the amiable driver, by saying loudly and clearly, “That seems VERY expensive to me.”

So too, yesterday in Manila. Show me a city in the world where a metered taxi won’t take the piss when they think they can get away with it, and I’ll show you a police state. Continue reading

Maritime Woes

29 Apr

Fishing bangka with extra outrigging, off Palawan, the Philippines

You can find the bloody fish, though, can't you, chaps?

There are many things unique and wonderful about the Philippines. But the boatmen here are phenomenal in many of the wrong ways.

Right now, sat in utter serenity on a perfect crescent of a beach (me) and scaling a coconut palm (Z), the various unpleasantnesses of the morning feel like serendipity in action.

All the same, Filipino mariners are quite the phenomenon. I’ve traveled in heading for forty countries. This is the only nation I have ever visited where boats routinely deposit one in the wrong bloody place. Continue reading