Archive | Musings RSS feed for this section

From Hunter-Gatherers to Human Zoo

8 Aug View from a low-flying prop plane over Mulu National Park and the Mulu River. Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Leaving Mulu National Park on a little propeller plane, with rivers unspieling below us, a scattered handful of logging tracks carving their way across the hilltops, and merciful expanses of untouched forest before the gridded tracts of oil palms, it’s easy to see how remote the interior of Borneo once was.

In the days when the Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawak — even during the heady couple of years when Sarawak had an airforce (two seaplanes, one of which broke soon after arrival) — the trip would have taken weeks, if not months.

And nomadic tribes like the Penan could live their life untouched, as they had for untold centuries. Continue reading

10 Ways to Tell Your Child Has Been in Asia A Long Time

1 Aug Sign on Malaysian taxi door, reading "This is metered taxi. Haggling is prohibited. Request for your receipt."

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]
1: A desire for previously unknown accessories in routine consumables.
Eg? “I want that toothbrush, mum, definitely that one.” “Why?” “It has a built-in tongue scraper.” Continue reading

The 7 Link Challenge

31 Jul

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]The 7 Link Challenge is a piece of interweb genius that originates with Problogger. And, my lord, is it challenging.

The aim? To find six posts from your back catalogue, and one from someone else’s, in seven different categories, and expose to the light of day some of the good stuff that otherwise just lurks in your archives. Here goes…

Your first post? Continue reading

The Vanishing Forest

28 Jul Three platforms laden with forest timber plough their way down the Batang Rejang, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]
Some things, simply, look too big, too plentiful to ever be used up. The herds of bison that clouded the American plains; the trees of Easter Island; the ice sheets of the Arctic; the world’s great rainforests… Continue reading

Buddhism: the Planet’s Whipping Boy?

18 Jul

Yak dressed as Buddhist monk, from Dance Mat Typing programme.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It’s often said, generally by Christians of the scary-to-very-scary variety, that folk can be far ruder about Christianity than any of the world’s “great religions” and get away with it.

Now, when it comes to what my ma used to call “the People of the Book” but now terms “the Sky God religions”, this may well be true. When it comes to Buddhism, however, it seems that anything goes.

Even on the BBC! In fact, the nine year old has recently put fingers to keyboard and sent a stern email to the Director-General of the Beeb.

It reads, in its entirety: Continue reading

10 Lines that Say You’re Being Hustled

12 Jul

Poster warning of "non-Thai pickpockets", Wat Pho, Bangkok[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]This rather charming warning sign comes from Wat Pho, Bangkok, home of a 50m reclining Buddha and, it would appear, a gang of light-fingered Playmobil people.

Outside the nearby Royal Palace, however, the sign warns, succinctly and sweetly, “Beware of wily strangers.”

And wily, to be honest, is the perfect word. For ten lines that only wily strangers will use — with handy translation — read on. Continue reading

Imagine Peace

4 Jul

zip up shirt crafted from Thai flag, artwork on display at Bangkok centre for Art & Culture

Zip-up shirt crafted from Thai flag, Imagine Peace exhibition, Bangkok centre for Art & Culture.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Junior remarked the other day, “I do hope the shirt war doesn’t start again while we’re in Bangkok.”

And my mother asked me over the phone, “How is Bangkok right now?”

A reasonable enough question. Last time we were here, the red shirts were still in residence but the protests had yet to turn bloody.

One day a chunk of the city centre was shut down for marches, with shiny new black pick-ups heading into the financial district across traffic, their red-shirted occupants waving amiably, scarlet banners and bandanas waving in the breeze.

A few weeks later, and only a month or so ago, great chunks of the city were in flames. Not long ago a remarkably well-timed bomb was discovered inside a cart of pineapples outside the offices of the ruling coalition.

This time? Continue reading

“Mum! FEET!!!”

30 Jun

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It is amazing how fast children adapt to and internalise the conventions, taboos, the social norms and etiquette of another culture.

And not just by eating crickets, as the nine year old is doing in his charming self-portrait below.

Self-portrait of Z with cricket in hand, approaching mouth.

Shown not entirely to scale...

We are in Thailand right now. An etiquette minefield. One moment one is torn between sheer admiration for the enviable phsyique of the hot young thing who has popped into chat to the novice monks of Wat Suan Dok wearing tight white spaghetti vest top, denim hotpants and no bra (honestly, none required), and a sense of unappealing smugness at having remembered to cover one’s own, perhaps rather less, erm, enlightening, shoulders, legs, et al.

The next, one is innocuously sat in a tuk-tuk, those cutesy petrol-powered three-wheelers that are so emblematic of swathes of Asia that miniature versions sell in night markets from Chiang Mai to Kandy, when one’s spawn taps one irritably on the thigh and adjures, sternly, “Mum!!!! FEET!!!” Continue reading

Sweet Charity? On Volunteering

26 Jun

Z pretending to fly an Antonov cargo plane, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

When volunteering, it's good to have a handle on your capabilities.

I have an aversion to the idea of volunteering overseas which dates back to a hospital bed in small town Mali.

It wasn’t the extended families cooking on open fires in the grounds, the babies too weak to cry, or even the emaciated woman hawking bloody sputum onto the floor beside my bed that did it.

Nor was it an operating theatre that would have had Florence Nightingale reaching for the ether, through which I ventured on an all-too regular basis to the surgeons’ bathroom. (Kind of them to share. But still…)

It was the kid from the Peace Corps. And, of course, he was trying to help. Continue reading

Western-Thai Dating: A Driver’s Guide

21 Jun

One of the most consistently entertaining aspects of the courting ritual indulged in by ageing Western men and much younger South-East Asian women is the inaugural motorbike outing.

Now, as any fule who has spent time in South-East Asia kno, these ladies can handle a bike. Dirt roads in the monsoon? No problemo. Hairpins? They shit ’em. Big city traffic, eight vehicles across three “lanes”? Easy as…

So quite how they feel riding pillion — and sidesaddle, at that — to some absolute muppet, one can only imagine. Continue reading