I find myself, more often than not, looking at travel experiences through a writer’s lens. Every meal, every trek, every chance meeting has the potential to be material for a travel piece. On boat rides, I think about phrasing. On long bus rides, I scroll through pictures, looking for the right one to go with the idea in my head. In cars, I pass the time by writing down thoughts that pop into my head as potential pieces.
I want to share. I want others to know what this traveling life looks like- beautiful, challenging, freeing, and difficult.
So, I plot and plan and jot down ideas. I get excited when a new experience brings up images of perfectly worded paragraphs on a screen. When I snap just the right picture, I rejoice! It’s lovely when the ideas and the words come easily.
But sometimes they don’t.
Sometimes I feel as though I have reached the absolute corners of my mind and I have nothing left to write about. Nothing of value or interest. My world starts to look quite average and I wonder who could possibly care about my excitement over finding vegetarian food in Central America.
Those are the days I most need to stop writing. Those are the days I need to get back to enjoying each moment for what it is and not worry about how I will weave it into a well-crafted article. Perfect adjectives to describe the moments take a back seat to actually experiencing the moments, as they should.
It is nice to share tales from the road. Connecting with like-minded people through the written word is wonderful. But without a connection to and enjoyment of the actual moments that are behind those stories, it’s just empty talk.
Sometimes we need to put down the pen, the computer, the camera and focus on being present.
There is no test at the end of our journey. No judgement on whether we wrote enough words or took the right pictures. There is just our own perception of what we have experienced. We need to be present for those experiences.
How do you make sure you are engaged in the experience while on the road? Do you ever get the urge to put the pen and the camera down and get reconnected with the experience of living?
Veterans’ Day in the US and the UK is replete with ceremonies (concerts and parades in the US, red poppies in the UK) to commemorate those who served their country in uniform. Aside from a great opportunity to thank those that fought in foreign lands, it’s a great opportunity to remember some of the historic sites that can give testament to the events they witnessed.
While some sites are now little more than quiet fields that have been reclaimed by nature, many places can still pack an educational punch that leaves the visitor still give the visitor a sense of the enormity and ruthlessness of war.
Here are a couple of my recent favorites:
Duxford Airbase and Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England
Revered as a major Royal Air Force (RAF) base during the legendary “Battle of Britain”, RAF Duxford also boasts an Imperial War Museum. With more than 200 historic aircraft ranging from rickety World War I biplanes to the B-17 Flying Fortress to the SR-71 Blackbird, the collection is arguably the finest in Europe. Also on display is part of the Imperial War Museum’s vast trove of historic photographs, uniforms and documents.
RAF Duxford, situated in bucolic countryside outside Cambridge, was founded during World War I but earned its place in history during the darkest days of World War II. In preparation for his planned invasion of Britain, Hitler launched the full might of the Luftwaffe at England’s factories and cities in 1940.
The bombs killed indiscriminately. His aim was as psychological as it was practical; he sought to terrorize the population and break Britain’s will to fight. It fell to the undermanned RAF to defend the homeland.
As the sector station for Fighter Command’s No. 12 Group, Duxford Air Base was in the thick of the battle. Casualties were immense. The pilots who fought in the Battle were enshrined in lore as “The Few”.
In June 1944 the planes launched from the same runways would protect the Allied fleet as it steamed toward Normandy. It would also gain fame as one of the homes of the fighter escorts for the Allied bombers that pulverized Nazi Germany’s industrial might.
RAF Duxford continued as a fighter station after the war and was decommissioned in the 1970’s. With over thirty authentic buildings recognized by the British government for their historical significance, the base was granted to the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in 1976 and has been a world-class center of exhibits and education ever since.
Mulberry Harbors and Museum, Arromanches, France
The tiny French coastal town of Arromanches, perched on the sands of Normandy, holds another of my favorite war sites. Not far from the immaculate rows of gleaming marble headstones of the US cemetery at Omaha Beach, the beach village had its fate permanently altered when it was chosen to be the main port of the Allies.
One of the most vexing logistical challenges for D-Day planners was the issue of transferring the move millions of pounds of Allied soldiers, vehicles, weapons, and supplies from ship to shore once the troops had established a beachhead. At Churchill’s order, engineers were set to the monumental task of constructing giant ports nicknamed “Mulberry Harbors”, designed to accomplish the feat.
Before the blood had washed away from the Normandy sand, the ports were unloaded from ships and attached by brave engineers under enemy fire. While bullets still flew the ports were operational and offloading tons of materiel per hour for the final push against Hitler’s Riech.
Today, a very well done museum perches above the coast and describes the incredible engineering task undertaken to build the ports. It gives even a layman like me a good idea of how this was pulled off, and of the massive challenges (storms, waves, German gunfire) that the Mulberry builders had to contend with.
But this isn’t the most moving part of the area; the really evocative sights are sitting just off the coast and demand no entrance fee. Still visible in the surf are the ghostly hulks of the prefabricated ports themselves. The skeletal iron beasts, now rusted and worn away by decades of tide and salt water, serve as a silent reminder of the world-changing event that came to Normandy’s shores. And they remind us of the ordinary people—most now passed away—who found themselves swept up in the gale force of history.
I just spend the last 3 and a half days trying to get from Rapid City to Bangkok. Due to the Polar Vortex (or whatever they’re calling it this year), massive storms blew through RC and Denver, dropping off a foot of snow and plummeting the temperatures. Flights were canceled, delayed and connections were missed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or venting. Matter of fact, I’m not upset about it – it’s just an experience that is fresh in my mind.
Then, while browsing through photos my photos from this summer, I came across the one above – of the Google Cardboard contraption. If you don’t know that that is – basically it’s a Oculus Rift headset built from a piece of cardboard, 2 lenses and your smartphone. Don’t know what an Oculus Rift is? It’s an advanced virtual reality headset that creates stereoscopic (3-D) images, extends beyond your field of vision (you can’t see the edges of the screen) and has sensors so everything moves as you move your head around. Do a search on YouTube – it’s amazing and hilarious to watch people wearing it react to their virtual environment (like these). This is the VR we were promised when we were kids.
That’s when it hit me – is this the future of travel? Soon it will be difficult to differentiate between real and virtual environments. Imagine being able to go anywhere and everywhere in seconds. Being able to intereact with people anywhere on the globe – and not being limited to a little Skype window. Co-existing in an environment – being able to look into each other’s eyes – key off of each other’s body language. Sharing the experience of seeing incredible wonders. Avoiding long, uncomfortable flights (not to mention the reduction in carbon footprint).
Yeah, it’s far from perfect. Much of the fun and experience of travel is just getting to where you’re going. Learning to deal with the issues you encounter and remaining flexible to overcome them. Plus, I can’t imagine breaking bread with people would be nearly as enjoyable in a digital environment. Unless they figure out some way to replicate smell, taste and texture. It would be like exploring the world via Google Images or YouTube, but totally immersive.
I’ll be clear – I believe I’d prefer “real” travel. Then again, much of my travel is driven by either adventure oriented (seeing if I’m capable of a journey) or breaking bread with friends. I’m less drawn to monuments, sites and structures. I can imagine using it to replace the other travel I do – business trips, collaboration, brainstorming.
I’m excited for where this technology will go – what it will enable. I don’t believe it would be a replacement for “real” experiences. It would leave more time for the travel that we enjoy most. More time to get lost and meander. More time to explore.
What do you think? Is this growing technology going to become a part of your travel experience, or is it blasphemy?
Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.
This book found me, not the other way around. Tucked between a hat from the Karen region in the north of Thailand, an Indian pashmina and a pile of silk and cotton shawls plucked from market stalls across Indonesia. I pulled a long, tie dyed piece from the depths of the cardboard box, draped it over my shoulder, and gently picked up the book: The Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India The treasures were selections made by my friend Chris on his last winter wander through Southeast Asia. We’d traded stories and laughs late into the night before and in the morning, he appeared with his trove of tangible memories and insisted I choose something as a souvenir of our friendship. I chose the scarf, and the book.
Rory MacLean is a magician. His story weaves past into present in a way that simultaneoulsy makes the reader long for the good ol’ days and celebrate the present journey. If the early days of hippie travel, overland between Istanbul and India sing to your soul, read this book. With an amazingly lucid eye he examines the often romanticized era and ties the strings between those first intrepid journeys into parts of the world that were relatively unexplored by western travelers and the resultant changes, for better or for worse. His stories made me long to camp in the caves near Cappadocia, and renewed my desire to walk, alone, across Iran. If you’re looking for a winter escape, may I suggest hopping on the Magic Bus and reliving a journey that defined a generation of travelers?
What if you could filter water in 15 seconds or less by simply pressing down? What if that motion also purified your water so it was delicious enough to drink?
Water’s a big deal when you’re traveling. In a matter of a few gulps, you could jeopardize your health. That’s why purifying water on the road is so important. But shaking, pumping, waiting, squeezing to purify your water can take a while.
Especially when you’re so thirsty even mud-water looks yummy.
What’s why Grayl cup was invented. It purifies water like working a French press. Push down. Clean water rises up in the inner cup. What’s even better? A clear, plastic cup that purifies your water, switches filters easily, and works like a mug so you can drink your freshly-pressed clean water.
Enter the new Grayl Quest cup.
Disclaimer: the nice folks at Grayl were generous enough to send me their newly launched Grayl Quest cup with some filters to test out.
Unlike it’s predecessor — the Legend — the Quest comes with a clear outside cup. So now you can fill up the outer cup with water and easily see the water line. The Legend is a hybrid design of stainless steel inner cup with a hard-plastic outer cup.
Plus, the Legend was all stainless steel and almost 4.5 ounces heavier than Quest. Fill that stainless steel up with water, and suddenly your cup adds some substantial weight to your bag.
With the Quest, that heavy-duty plastic takes weight off where it matters.
Not only did Grayl add another cup to their line, but they also added another filter. Now you have three filters to choose from:
Each one is designed for different uses.
The tap filter is designed for urban uses. It removes many chemicals and heavy metals that may affect flavor, odor and health. Filters water in 7 seconds. Best used for traveling in developed countries where the water doesn’t taste as lovely as bottled.
Hitting the back woods? Take this filter with. It’s crafted to fight the protozoan cysts and waterborne bacteria found in mountain streams. It removed 99.99% of bacteria like salmonella. Filters water in 15 seconds.
Specially suited for the uncertainty found in traveling the world. It removed 99.99% of viruses like Hepatitis A, bacteria and protozoan cysts like salmonella and Giardia. And the filter is derived from coconut husks to filter and absorb odors and flavors from the water. Filters water in 30 seconds. Call it your best friend in times of need.
There’s nothing big I don’t like about Grayl Quest.
Nothing that would prevent me from buying Grayl. Nothing that makes me hesitate. Even the prices and expected life (about 3 months) for the filters seem reasonable. In fact, I wish I had this cup while backpacking through Europe. It would have saved me hundreds of dollars on bottled water and filled up dozens of Nalgenes.
I can’t wait to take it on my next trip — whether it’s to a city, mountain, or misty lands far beyond. Well done, Grayl.
One afternoon late last year, I went out for lunch at a restaurant not far from the south Thailand guesthouse where I’d been staying. My landlady ran the place, and on this day she seemed particularly pleased to see me. “We have new English menu!” she exclaimed, presenting me with a glossy list of entrees.
I took a seat and scanned the menu, which listed the kinds of dishes I’d always eaten there—red curry, paad thai, tom yam. Then, amidst the standard delicacies, I noticed a dish I’d never before sampled in this part of the world: FRIED RICE WITH CRAP.
Concerned, I took the menu over to my landlady. “I think this dish is a mistake,” I told her.
“Oh, no!” she replied brightly. “We make seafood for you! Fresh from water!”
I gave my landlady a skeptical look. “But surely ‘crap’ is not what you meant to write.”
“Yes, crap! Very delicious!”
I considered this. “Do you by chance mean ‘carp’?”
“No!” she laughed. “Crap!” She splayed her hands and mimicked the scuttling movement of a crustacean.
“Oh, you mean crab. C-R-A-B. Not C-R-A-P.”
“Yes!” she said, handing the menu back to me. “Crab. Both sound same to me.” Then, almost as an afterthought, she asked: “What means ‘crap’?”
This was not the first time I’d chanced into such an awkwardly comical situation in Thailand. At the central market in Ranong, one could buy packets of “COCK CONDITIONING PILLS” (which I very much hope are for roosters), and the local supermarket did fast trade in a brand of toilet paper called “Sit and Smile.” Perhaps most notably, however, a toy vendor along the main street sold packs of tiny plastic animals that came with a sober warning for parents: “BE CAREFUL OF BEING EATEN BY SMALL CHILDREN.”
To be sure, Thailand holds no monopoly on poorly translated English. Some years ago, a series of forwarded e-mails made the rounds, describing bizarre signs posted in Kenyan restaurants (“Customers who find our waitresses rude ought to see the manager”), Norwegian cocktail lounges (“Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar”), and Russian monasteries (“You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian artists and writers are buried daily except Thursday”). A similar round of emails celebrated the linguistic gaffes that resulted when American corporations introduced new slogans into foreign markets. In Mexico, for example, “Got Milk?” translated into the decidedly un-hip slogan, “Are You Lactating?”
No doubt this tradition of global mistranslation goes back to the days when Greek and Roman tourists frequented the sights of Anatolia and Egypt (one can imagine shaky Latin letters scrawled onto papyrus outside an Alexandria dry-cleaner: “Let us put happiness in your toga!”), but the modern practice of publicly butchering English can be traced back to the American occupation of post-war Japan in the 1940s and ‘50s. There, amidst the sudden rush to emulate all things Western, G.I.‘s were able to buy tubes of “Snot” brand toothpaste, and the Japanese brass band that played at General MacArthur’s election reputedly commissioned a banner that read: “We pray for General MacArthur’s erection.” To this day, Japan still leads the world in mistranslated English (see Engrish.com for a splendid collection).
Other societies are rapidly catching up to the Japanese example, however, mainly in proportion to how fast they modernize. Korea, where I lived for two years as an English teacher in the late ‘90s (“Praise the Load!” read posters for my school’s Bible club), boasts a fine tradition of mangling the English language. Indeed, as both a Koreaphile and a former EFL educator, I didn’t know whether to be inspired or horrified in 2002, when the red-clad South Korean World Cup team stormed into the semifinals, and (according to news reports) 5 million soccer-crazed Koreans went out and bought T-shirts that exulted: “BE THE REDS!”
If there is a growth market in dodgy English, however, look no further than China, where one billion increasingly globalized citizens will soon start translating area signage into English in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics. Brian Baker, a fellow Kansas émigré who spent a year teaching English in China, once found the following tourist information posted in a Wuhan statue park:
1. The tourists must care for the statues, consciously avoid carving, writing, climbing, and damnification. Trying to be a civilized citizen.
2. The tourists climbing the statues must be fined from 5-50 yuan.
3. The tourists carving or scratching the statues must be fined from 50-500 yuan.
4. The tourists making a breakage for the statues’ instruments must be fined 1000-5000 yuan.
5. The tourists making a breakage for the second half of the statue must be fined 2000-8000 yuan.
6. The tourists making a breakage for the first half of the statue (without the face) must be charged 3000-10000 yuan.
One can imagine tourists sizing up such vandalism options with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for fine wine lists (“Ooh look, honey, let’s make a breakage for the statues’ instruments—it’s totally within our price range!”).
Brian’s most vivid experience with Chinese English, however, came in a provincial grocery store. “There,” he reports, “between the Natural Powdered Jellyfish and the Yak Ham, I saw what looked, to my hungry eyes, to be a package of sliced turkey. Imagine my surprise when, upon closer inspection, the label clearly read: ‘CHOICE AROMATIC LION BUTT.’ I still can’t imagine what Chinese-English dictionary yielded that monstrosity of translation.”
The potential flip side to all this, of course, lies in the recent Western vogue for Chinese characters on clothing and skin art. As a case in point, I once bought a T-shirt that, according to the vendor, featured the Chinese symbol for “Lucky.” It wasn’t until months later that a Hong Kong friend informed me that it wasn’t even close to “Lucky”—that it really meant “Super.” Had it read “Dork,” or “Kick Me,” I would have been none the wiser. Similarly, all the hipsters who went out and got Chinese ideogram tattoos over the past decade could be in for a nasty surprise if they ever travel to China. After all, a “Crouching Tiger” buttock tattoo purchased in good faith in Seattle might eventually be revealed as provincial slang for “Impotent,” and a Melbourne tattoo artist who designs stylized “Freedom” ideograms might accidentally miss a stroke and send his clients off with a symbol that means, say, “Adult Diapers.”
Beneath the dangers of dabbling in other languages, of course, lies an optimistic truth: that, regardless of syntactic differences, the basic human meanings behind our languages remain the same. After all, “Sit and Smile” is indeed a desirable activity after having used toilet paper, and even the most diabolical of restauranteurs wouldn’t literally serve you fried rice with crap.
To be on the safe side, however, I think I’ll stick to the red curry and tom yam
Originally published by World Hum, Dec. 3 2004
The other day a reader told me she had saved up for a gap-year of travel. She said that she hadn’t yet decided whether or not to do some remote contract work while traveling or not.
In my opinion, she was right to think decisively about the matter, because there are two very different types of travel she can experience. Traveling with a goal to work as you go is very different than taking a year off to collect incredible travel experiences.
Don’t get me wrong; one is not better and one is not worse…just different. Let’s look at how.
5 ways working-as-you-go travel is different than a gap year:
1.) You can move more quickly during a gap-year.
When you’re trying to work as you go, it’s very much like anyone else’s work life in that you’ll have work-days and off-days. Luckily, you can schedule the work days and off days according to your travel whims, but it often means doubling or even tripling the amount of time you would have ordinarily spent in a place, or just adopting a slow travel pattern in general. You don’t have to see less with the work-as-you-go travel pattern, but you will have to fit the sites into off-days, evenings, lunch-breaks, etc.
With a gap-year, you can let other travel preferences dictate how long you stay in any given destination. You can stay as long as it will take you to see all the sites you had your heart set to see, then move along!
2.) You need to pack more intentionally when working as you go.
When working as you go, you may need more technical supplies than a gap-year person might. If you’re working digitally, you’ll need a reliable laptop, possibly hard-drives. Perhaps you need a better or safer file-storage system. Not to mention if you appear for conference calls or Skype sessions, you may need work-appropriate attire.
For a gap-year, you might still want some sort of internet device, but it could be as simple as an iPod touch or an iPad. Not to mention your wardrobe will be more dictated by the weather than it is by professional expectations.
3.) Traveling with others is harder when you’re working as you go.
When working as you go, the need to spend time working can be hard for other travelers to understand. I can’t count how many times we’ve heard others say to us, “How often are you in [fill in the blank destination]? Just take the day off today and site-see with me!” It’s hard for other travelers to understand that working while you travel mostly requires as many, and sometimes more working hours as a stationary job would. Or it is hard for them to understand that your travel is sustained by the hours spent not site-seeing. So by saying no to the activities of the day, you are actually making it possible to say yes to the activities of another day.
Also the pace of a vacationer is different than the pace of a work-as-you-go-traveler, as mentioned in the first point. So when we have traveled with friends on their vacation time, we’ve gone at a faster pace than we’re used to and thus, we have needed to skip things. On our own time, we may spend 7 days in an area so that we can work for 5 of them and site-see for two. But with vacationing friends who only have so many vacation days, we may spend 3 days in a place, requiring us to fit site-seeing into evenings or lunch-breaks.
During a gap year, it is much easier to be flexible with your pace or site-seeing preferences. Therefore, it’s easier to travel with others and accommodate whatever pace they’re after. That is one of my favorite parts of gap-year styled travel. You can say yes to any excursion that suits your fancy or your budget without any kind of thought towards whether or not you should be working instead.
4.) How you choose a hotel changes.
When working as you go, your hotel decisions might need to include stricter preferences than gap-year travel. For instance we’ve talked about digital work a lot. Indeed, you may need to assure you’ve got a strong internet connection, free or affordable internet, and a space in which you can spend 8 hours working. Unfortunately this sometimes eliminates hostels as an option.
During a gap-year, you may be much more flexible when it comes to accommodation. In our gap-year travel we spent many more nights in hostels and homes-stays than we do now. We tried to find ways to access internet maybe once a week or so, but it was not something we felt we needed every day. Now, we fall behind in our work-load if we go more than a day without internet.
5.) During a gap-year that has a defined end, you may feel less pressure to stay connected with friends and family from home.
Working as you go often means that there is not necessarily an end in sight. For instance my husband and I are full-time travelers so there is no set-time for when we’ll “go back home.” Because of this, I feel a greater need to connect with home on a regular basis. I try to stay in touch with my family members ever week or two.
During our gap-year on the other hand, I had an idea of when we would be returning to our friends and family. This made me feel a little less discouraged by long gaps without communication. At that time Skype was our only option for calling home for free, but we rarely had strong enough internet connection for a good Skype call. But I was reassured by the thought that I could tell my family and friends all about my travel when we returned home at the end of the year.
Now we’ve discussed 5 ways in which gap-year travel and work-as-you-go travel are very different. But in the end, either style of travel is going to require money. Either money you’ve saved, or money you make as you go. How much money depends on how you want to travel and is going to be a little bit different for everyone. But if you want a ball-park figure of what your travel budget can be using miles and points to help buffer that cost, I recommend jumping over to my stats page to see exactly how much it costs for us to live nomadically.
Planes, trains, buses and more. We’ve gotten good at waiting over the years. Our secret weapon? Games. We play games while we wait. We always have.
When the kids were little we played “I spy” and sang nursery rhymes and told jokes while we waited. We counted things and looked for patterns and we read stories and made shadows with our fingers.
When they got a little older we went nowhere without our chapter book. We plowed through Ben Hur and Watership Down, the Narnia series and the Jungle Books while we rode in the car and waited at doctor’s offices.
Since we’ve been traveling full time we’ve elevated waiting to an art form. If you’re looking for a few activities to fill the long minutes that stretch into hours with kids as you wait, we have a few suggestions:
We play a lot of cards in our family and we have for generations. I remember learning the fine art of bluffing over the euchre table from my grandfather and uncles as a small child. We play Five Crowns, War and even travel with a little fold up cribbage board. The kids learned a little Poker from their cousins last time we were in Indiana. I much prefer euchre. Last month we spent a few minutes between pick-up truck rides explaining the finer points of the game on a dirt floor patio on the banks of the Mekong in Laos.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that our family reads aloud a lot. Since the kids were little we’ve read aloud over meals, sneaking in much of their history and literature study while they chewed. Tony always has a “fun” book going, and he’s the kids’ favourite reader, because he does voices. We’ve had whole train cars full of enthralled listeners as Daddy plows through the next chapter of The Princess Bride on a train in the Czech. Carrying books and reading individually can be a great way to pass the time, but reading aloud to, and with, your kids is a great way to bond as a family and to pass on a rich culture of literacy from generation to generation.
Charlotte Mason introduced me to the concept of Nature Notebooking when my kids were small. I loved the idea of studying science in the early years by drawing things from the natural world that interested each of us individually. We’ve long made a practice of finding something small to draw: an acorn, a slug, paying particular attention to it’s breathing pore, a squirrel. It doesn’t really matter. I carry a pad of tiny blank papers, 3.5 X 5 inches, and water colour pencil crayons at all times. The best nature drawing we’ve done recently: painting the sunrise over the main temple complex at Angkor Wat last month. Stunning.
My kids are big now. A 14 hour bus ride doesn’t phase them. No one asks when the bus is coming or if we’re there yet. They just ride and find ways to pass the time. But they were little once, and they remember what it’s like to feel tired and bored to tears. Time always passes more quickly with friends and we learned early to pack a few things with “share potential” in our bags: marbles, cars, an inflatable ball, balloons, and plastic animal toys are all examples. Our kids still do this. Then, they look for little children who are struggling with the wait and they offer to play and share with them. Everybody wins! Elisha is the best at this, he is never without a pocketful of treasures for newfound friends!
Do you have strategies for passing the time? What do you do while you wait?
Travelling might be all about discovery and abandoning our comfort zones. But at times, when your comfort zone is a club with some loud music, well, it’s nice to know where to find it when you are abroad.
As a resident of Malaysia, I feel it is time to give justice to my acquired home talking about two places that host a plethora of local and international touring bands. They are both prominent Malaysian homes for the loudest kinds of music, and as such might not be ideal for everybody. But again, if it’s about going in and out of “comfort zones”, it might as well be great to get out of yours and discover some Malaysian loudness, after all.
Literally hidden at the second floor of a tattered building along Pengkalan Weld, about half a mile down the road from the main Jetty and facing the entrance of the Lee Jetty, this is the place to rock in Northern Malaysia. Check their show listings before you go because although they have a bar, it is not open every day. It’s a real, do it yourself underground venue, where heavy metal, punk, death metal, alternative rock and heavy derivates spray the walls with sweat. The show room is decently sized and the PA quite OK for an underground enterprise: consider that in Malaysia, a country who forced a ban on black metal music in 2001, and whose Islamic party has given a hard time even to Elton John because he is openly gay, you cannot really get much better than this. Soundmaker is the place to rock away your early nights, as shows usually end by 12 am.
Soundmaker is also a recording studio and jam room, and recently opened a small hostel room. The novelty is, it welcomes travelling bands and musicians to stay and record their music at a fraction of western prices.
Rumah Api – Kuala Lumpur
In a place called the “fire house”, you may only expect amplifiers to burst out sparks of white heat, and set your own eardrums on fire. If you know what a real punk house is, and I mean an independent space where DIY is the law, the ceiling is about to cave in, and sitting on torn car backseats slung on the floor a common practice, well, welcome to Rumah Api then. The only place in Kuala Lumpur that dares to object the city’s rampant, over-constructed technological wealth and high-class-loving youth. A stone throw away from the Ampang LRT station in the northeastern part of the city, Rumah Api stands to KL as the CBGB’s stood to early New York punk. Catch a dose of local and international punk, hardcore, crust, thrash and grindcore bands sweating – literally, as the only wall fan provided resembles a World War II airplane’s engine – on the low stage, and mingle with the most alternative youth in the capital. This place has plenty of character, but you gotta have some too to enjoy it. Otherwise, this could come as kind of a shock.
MARCO FERRARESE is a metalpunk guitarist who travelled extensively and lived in Italy, the United States, China, Australia and Malaysia. Since 2009 he’s been based in Southeast Asia as a writer, hardcore punk musician and researcher. He travelled from Mongolia to Australia in 2009, and hitchhiked from Singapore to Milano through Silk Road routes and the Middle East in 2012. He blogs at monkeyrockworld.com. Marco’s first Asian pulp novel Nazi Goreng was published in November 2013 on Monsoon Books. Follow him @monkeyrockworld
“Look,” he whispers, pointing outside. “Beautiful!”
I look out the window to see a red sun streaking the sky with bands of pink and yellow. Beyond the train tracks, the mighty Nile glitters with orange spangles of light. It truly is beautiful.
As I soak in the colors, I wonder why the boy has taken the trouble to show me such a simple moment.
It’s not long before I get my answer.
“Please,” he says giving me a solemn look. “Baksheesh.”
For a moment, I’m not sure how to react. After all, baksheesh may be an accepted Eastern form of tipping — but this is the first time I’ve been asked to pay for a sunset.
When Mark Twain visited the Pyramids in 1866, he reportedly suffered “torture that no pen can describe” from the various Egyptian pleas for baksheesh. One hundred years before that, a French visitor complained bitterly about the amounts of baksheesh it took just to dig up and steal a decent mummy.
These days — while its no longer legal to climb the Pyramids or rifle through mummy pits — baksheesh is still a thriving racket wherever tourists are found.
Take my recent visit to Luxor. Whenever I took out my map, some enterprising soul would hustle over and offer me directions. Whenever I entered a tomb, children would fight over who got to fan me with a piece of cardboard. Had I been eating corn on the cob, I’m sure one of them would have produced some dental floss.
If there is any saving grace about baksheesh, it’s that Egyptians use it among themselves as well as on tourists. Most Egyptians earn low wages, so tips and payoffs are seen as a way to provide incentive and supplement an income. Nobody in Cairo, it is said, can get basic services such as mail or electricity without slipping a little baksheesh to the right people.
So, as with any local custom, the best way to get the hang of baksheesh is to watch how the natives do it. Thus, I no longer hesitate to plunk down a few piasters when I get fast and friendly service in a coffee shop, or when the baggage-handler climbs on top of the bus to fetch my bag.
In the end, the baksheesh ritual becomes a matter of trusting your instincts and acting like you know what you’re doing.
And this is why I reach into my pocket and give the boy in the blue jacket 50 piasters.
After all, 15 cents isn’t such a bad price to pay for a sunset — and I might have missed it otherwise.
To hear the audio version, read by Rolf, visit Savvy Traveler