Sunday, 7 December 2008


Jiaxing always amazes:

^Taxi! China's funky answer to the tuktuk challenge.

^Out on the town with the JX crew... Ms Dong, the Doc, Maaaichael, and Yours.

^I'll take two.


^2% beer is better than 1%.

^We want to be eaten!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


When I think about it, I really like midday flights.

Early morning flights are terrible; I tend to get very little sleep the night before making it nigh on impossible to raise myself from slumber in time for the flight.

Evening flights are the worst, particularly long-haul ones. It's hard to sleep (perverse as it is, this is my experience), and there's always more work to do after hitting the tarmac. There's finding a taxi, driving a couple of hours to the next city, and helping the driver find the hotel in unfamiliar territory (this can take some time, the best plan is to change to a local taxi).

Midday flights on the other hand let you sleep in a little and enjoy the morning. I had a midday flight to Shanghai yesterday, which I was rather happy about. It's easy to get blase on a slow morning though, and getting sucked into Wikipedia can be dangerous. With 100 unread tabs open I realised I had about 10 minutes to pack, get breakfast, check out, and get to the airport by the recommended time. The airport wasn't far and traffic was light, so I arrived with plenty of time as it turned out.

I had a lighter in my carry-on bag (I don't smoke, but it was a cool lighter), and even though the bag was full of batteries, adapters, two phones, ipod, chargers, camera bits, etc - the x-ray image was a complete mess - the security suits found it. I guess the machine can identify and highlight certain density and/or chemical signatures - probably in the butane gas, I don't know. I had forgotten it was there, and they didn't tell me what they were looking for at first. I thought they would be satisfied after removing my camera lens, which is frequently mistaken for a bottle, but no. They told me what they were looking for and started digging around, it didn't take long to find. I got a rather unimpressed, yet unimpressive "you aren't allowed to take that onboard", and it was promptly confiscated. No questions, no warnings, nothing. I returned a dumb look, said ok, and was on my way.

With half an hour to spare I found a cafe and sat down with the Doc, my colleague and travel companion. 58 RMB for a coffee... A few months back the NZD was pushing 6 RMB. $10 for a coffee would have been steep, but agreeable considering this was the last stop after customs and immigration (anything for sale in an airport departure lounge is by default extortionately overpriced). Unfortunately the NZD has taken a battering of late, and it's currently down to about 3.6 RMB. That's $16 for a coffee. No.

We stumble upon a Star Alliance lounge, something neither of us were expecting a small town (with its mere 6 million pax) airport like this to have. Gold card in hand we slipped into a land of free coffee, biscuits, and blaring, tasteless elevator music.

The departure lounge resembled a local market more than anything, with a large fruit and vege stall and shops selling all manner of toys. Oh, and people everywhere. We board. I watch The Graduate on my laptop. The friendly Chinese man next to me watches some of it too, taking particular interest in the scene where Ben takes Elaine to a strip club. The lunch and service is surprisingly good. I doze off...

...Rough landing. Everyone gets up as soon as the plane pulls into the gate, still moving, seat belt sign positively still on. I go for my luggage in the overhead locker. People swarm past, pushing and shoving. I stand back and block the aisle, to little effect. So much for being 6" and wearing a leather jacket! Apparently, as long as I can't see who's pushing, they'll be ok. Even with nowhere to go, with plane doors still closed, immigration counters for Africa, plenty of luggage trolleys, etc, people are still running, pushing, and shoving. The mentality is odd, yet understandable when put in context. China is a harsh place, fear is pervasive and survival is key. I figure the thought process goes something like this: While I don't have any particular hurry, nor is there any immediate need to get ahead of everyone around me, I must try to gain an edge. If don't I will be disadvantaged in some way when unforeseen circumstances arise in the near future.

Taxi to Jiaxing. I doze, snap pictures of the setting sun through the thick smog. Check in. Dinner. Sleep.

Monday, 1 December 2008


TG-6169 from Chiang Mai to Kunming. Our waitlist came through (thank yooouuu, Star Alliance Gold! Priority waitlisting is a good friend), and we had a flight out of Chiang Mai, even destined for the right country. The flight was delayed several hours, and with each successive schedule delay I grew more suspicious it would eventually get cancelled, which it fortunately didn't. The pilot said it was Thai air's only flight out of Chiang Mai that day, presumably all their planes were stranded in Bangkok. The flight was full, many passengers had taken buses and trains from Bangkok to get there.

Landing in Kunming we headed to the airport information counter in search of a place to stay. The 'Green Land' hotel, 5 stars according to the girl at the counter, had rooms available - excellent, just what we were looking for. Then it was off to the Shanghai Airlines counter for tickets the following morning (today, Monday). They didn't take visa, so I had to extract a wad of red chairman Maos from the hole in the wall. International credit cards are great.

Taxi to the hotel. Dump bags. Inspect the hotel restaurant. Decide to give it a miss since the lights are out and the only person there is a lone waitress. 'Bad hygiene' translates to 'Terrible hygiene' without turnover, you get the picture.

We trek to Maccas, after the Doctor goes back for his jacket. Thailand is warm; Kunming, although only 1 hour north, is cold. Maybe it's those westerly winds off the Himalayas. We pass several gangs of workers with mallets and hatchets pounding the road, apparently removing the white markings. Some stare back at us, then return lazily to their pounding.

We come to an intersection and wait for the green cross light. We take it, and get half way over when a taxi comes screaming around the corner (presumably through a red light), straight for us and showing no signs deceleration. We dodge. Two or three more follow, we dodge again. We walk along the footpath, which is irregular and attended by various obstacles. I stray onto the bike lane, wide enough for 1.5 cars, and almost get hit by a speeding cyclist approaching without warning from behind. Once more I'm reminded of the mayhem and utter chaos in China.

We pass a small collection of street vendors selling various poultry giblets, pig intestine, etc. Nostrils stinging, we push on toward those holy golden arches. Ah, a sanctuary in the midst of a gastric desert! Enter. Locals stare at us, foregoing subtlety. Order - Big Mac combo. Refuell. Return to hotel, fall asleep to the sound of metal clashing with stone 22 floors below. It sounds like rain on a tin roof.

Kunming skyline


Sunday, 30 November 2008

Dawn till Dusk

I'm glad to report riots have yet to break out in Chiang Mai and the airport remains open (I can see planes in transit from my hotel window).

The closest I got to the political clash was seeing red and yellow taxis in close company, and I must admit I don't know if taxi colour even denotes political alignment in these parts. Anyway, it was an interesting coincidence. Reds are Thaksin/government supporters, yellows are PAD (read: anarchy) supporters.

Word from my boss's girlfriend's friend's Thai army general father ('s flatmate's ex-hair stylist's postman's....) is that there might be a coup today, so I'm remaining vigilant... in fact, I'm taking the car and heading for the hills (with two colleagues, we've decided we need to celebrate our first Saturday not stuck in a factory).

We headed east towards San Kamphaeng, with no particular idea where we were going. We crossed some hills, and stumbled upon the Mae Takhrai National Park. We drove up to the visitors' centre, where we were greeted by a friendly Thai man, presumably a park ranger manning the headquarters, who apparently didn't speak a word of English. He gave me a large pile of pamphlets, mostly in Thai. I found one in English, the leaves crackling as I opened it. Apparently it had been there a while. There were cobwebs on the some of the others. I thanked him, and went to use the men's room before continuing our journey. There were cobwebs in the urinal, which smelt as fresh as a urinal unused for months. Brown water gushed from the faucet.

We encountered many cryptic signs along the way,

as we meandered along friendly rural backgroads.

We came to a lake, where a woman was angling for bite-sized fish.

She heard me step onto the rickety bamboo jetty; turned, smiled, said something in Thai, and went back to flipping her line. Her dog seemed disinterested in me, and the tiny fish being caught.

Zammo experimented with a trick to lighting a fire from little kindling, which involves opposing thumbs and index fingers pressed together to make a small hole, then blowing through the hole. Apparently it creates a concentrated jet of air, delivering oxygen to the fire. It didn't seem to work, but looked pretty funny.

Zammo up to no good:

Looking toward the setting sun through trees along the lakeside:

There was a hut with some facilities in dire need of attention. The door was stuck in soil, presumably after the last monsoon:

Sun setting over the lake:

We left the lake just before the sun went down, and drove 7km north to a lookout point. The road, although wide and sealed, was little used. Clumps of grass scattered the asphalt, which was covered in leaves and stones. Almost a ghost highway, it was quite strange. It transitioned abruptly into unsealed road.

We reached the top just after sunset as the crescent moon, stars, and town lights began to appear. The view down the valley was impressive; Zammo joked this was probably a popular make-out spot for the locals, just as I spotted an empty wrapper, eww!

We took some photos of the sunset, and lit a fire.

We drove back to Chiang Mai, half expecting to see tanks on the street. Much to our disappointment it seemed to be business as usual. I went to the night market and bought Christmas gifts for my manifold young nieces and nephews, and some t-shirts and Cuban cigars.

Friday, 28 November 2008


In 2006, when I visited Thailand for the first time, the country was dusting itself off from it's 18th military coup. As I write this in my hotel in Chiang Mai, I wonder if I'm about to witness the next episode in the series.

Bangkok is closed to commercial flights after PAD (Peoples' Alliance for Democracy) protesters took control and shut down both of the city's airports in a desperate attempt to blackmail the (democratically elected) government into resigning.

Many travelers have been stuck in Suvarnabhumi airport for days now, wondering what it all has do with them.

Thailand's economy and public image will take years to recover, if it ever does.

Several people have been killed in pro- and anti-government clashes. A taxi driver was pulled from his car and shot dead in Chiang Mai, where happen to reside.

I'm supposed to be in China on Monday, a place I usually dread visiting. But with increasing civil unrest and political instability in Thailand, the prospect of escaping to China is starting to look far more appealing.

The only problem is getting out. Bangkok is closed, and international flights out of CNX are full. And even if I got a seat, there might not be a plane as many are apparently stuck in Bangkok. With the Prime Minister in Chiang Mai there's also a chance rioters will storm and close CNX.

I hope not, but I'm starting to think it would be a good plan to get bus tickets to Vientiane and high-tail it outta here. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Loi Krathong, Chiang Mai

I've been coming to Chiang Mai for the last two years. The first year I came here (2006) I arrived in mid November, a few days after the Loi Krathong festival. The second year (2007), I arrived at the start of December.

This year I planned my flights better and arrived in time. It was worth it! This timelapse image shows lanterns going up all over the city.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

5 Easy Steps to a Horrible 48 Hours

1. Down a burger from No 1. Takeaways in Balmoral.
2. Get on a long-haul flight, and ensure you roll hoi polloi (failing this, somehow forsake all physical comforts).
3. Await symptoms of food poisoning from Step 1.
4. Hammer that bathroom over the next 10 hours.
5. Spend 9 hours at Changi waiting for connecting flight, ensure this is done in total agony.

This last step probably applies less to Singapore's airport than others; the ground staff noted I wasn't looking too well and put me in a wheel chair like the jolly good folks they are. I was a bit of sight stumbling around and they probably just wanted me to stop scaring people...

Alternatively, watch The X-Files: I want to believe as I did on the flight. It was an equally painful experience.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

A mellow monday morning.

It's 12.35am, I'm sitting in the lounge at Auckland airport waiting for a long flight to Singapore... It's very mellow indeed.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


Somewhere in Phnom Penh, something just got scorched.

I'm glad it wasn't me...

Meanwhile, back in Bangkok. Indra, Thor, and Zeus - gods of thunder, lightning, and all things that go boom in the night, unleashed 1,000 bolts of lightning onto the City of Angels, one for each of Thailand's military coups.

...but not all at once of course, I just made a really long exposure. The picture was taken out my hotel window. I contemplated standing on the roof to get a better view, but thought better of it...

Friday, 29 August 2008

"If you can read this, the family fell off."

Poor bike... Auckland cars are spoilt rotten!

This is a daily spectacle in Thailand, but just when you think you've seen it all... I was in Siem Reap and encountered the most comical scene: Middle-aged father (presumably) on bike holding toddler in arms while older kid (maybe 6 or 7 years) steers. The kid is standing on the step-through platform, and can just see over the handlebars. They're not wearing helmets, let alone holding onto anything solid!

Monday, 4 August 2008

OK la!

On my last night in Singapore I left the air-conditioned comfort of my hotel and wandered out onto Orchard Rd to see what was going on.

Orchard Rd is an enclave of diversion. By day it's brimming with shoppers who like to try on designer clothing, apparently by night with those more concerned with removing it.

I wandered into Harry's bar. It was full of expats, plus this soul wailin' some blues (equivocal gender, but unquestionable determination!). It was a bit crowded so I ventured back out into the night and found a quieter spot across the street.

A Texan fellow sitting next to me at the bar recommended a Singapore Sling, pointing out where I was after all. I went along despite a lingering recollection of the toxic crimson red syrup I once tried in Thailand, after all such things are usually better in their country of origin (except pizza, which is now best left to the Japanese). It was good - although still too sweet for my tastes. I prefer the tongue-twisting astringence of a good G&T (it fends off malaria, as well as the blues!). Had I tried one from Raffles bar (where it was invented early last century) it might have been great, I can't be certain. Either way, if wikipedia has any clue I would have been $24.70 poorer.

A comedy act came on stage, and I had another uneasy moment thinking something was a bit off. The pretty lady on stage kicked off with some jokes about Malaysians - in a deep husky voice - and suddenly it all made sense. The Texan chap downed his drink and split, mumbling something about stomach pains.

There were a few good gags to start with, but it all made less and less sense with each language introduced to the mix. I can handle English with a sprinkling of Singlish and Mandarin, but once they start chopping into Malay, Hakka, and Cantonese I'm lost.

I was ready to hit the sack for my 6am start back to Chiang Mai so went on my way, doing my best to walk with purpose and avoid eye contact with anyone who looked like they might try to proposition me with a commercial transaction.

I walked back toward my hotel through the overbearing heat, sweating profusely in the thick evening air. A shiny lambourghini glided past, and I thought how painful it must be to own a magnificent toy like that in a country with an 80km/h speed limit you can drive across in half an hour.

Singapore is an interesting place, don't be fooled by it's diminutive size.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Wrong Hotel, Giant Crustaceans, etc

Asked by a friend if I had a busy day, I replied: Yes.

I woke at 5am, deposited my less frequently used posessions at the hotel storage room, checked out (including some time wasted arguing the unusually excessive room rate - yeah the company pays, but what's good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Besides, a bit of early morning argument is good for the soul), flight to Bangkok, breakfast, flight to Singapore, contend with grumpy airport types, taxi, factory, set up machine, out to dinner at "Singapore's largest seafood restaurant"* with industry people, go to hotel, find it's the wrong hotel (Sorry Sir, you need the Other Holiday Inn), wait 10 minutes for taxi during Singapore's taxi happy hour, taxi to correct hotel, check in, then out to catch up with boss who's also here by chance).
Somewhere in there I also realised I lost an hour going forward one time zone, d'oh.

*The Ah Yat Seafood Restaurant. Their live catch section was impressive, they even had New Zealand lobster ($179/kilo, anyone?) and huge mutant crabs.

I asked my boss earlier if he was going to join us for dinner - he replied with this text message, which I found amusing: "I hate going to seafood places here, they love feeding you poisonous shite and you can't escape". I liked it anyway, particularly the aquarium bit.

Lest There Be Any Confusion

I encountered a rather inexplicable sight the other day. A great lumbering beast, of epic proportions - like none I'd ever seen before (or so I thought!) - plodding down the highway as cars and trucks flew by. As I drew nearer, my imagination struggling to identify it, running through all the possible creatures it could be, I spotted a small red sign posted to its rear. It was....

An elephant!

Thanks for the heads up, guys... Pure legend.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Chiang Mai

Home away from home again... The hotel breakfast got boring several months ago, but I still like the view from my room on the 22nd floor:

Over to the right you can see the base of Doi Suthep, and the airport is somewhere in the middle of the picture a few clicks away. At night I can see planes coming in to land.

I took this shot from the top of the building (I snuck out the fire escape) at dusk. The small light on the side of the mountain is the Wat - a large, and locally famous, Buddhist temple.

Look up 18°47'1.58"N, 98°59'56.63"E in Google Earth/maps to see where I'm writing this from.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

China Haze-O-Meter, Thursday July 24

Today's Haze-O-Meter report is from a special guest location! I overnighted at Shanghai Pudong airport - that way I only had to get up at 5am for my 8am flight back to Thailand.

I took this shot from my hotel window at 5.43 this morning looking west toward terminal 2, about 1km away, just visible in the top left corner.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

China Haze-O-Meter, Wednesday July 23

Well well, what's this then? Skyscrapers in the distance? Should be a good day!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

China Haze-O-Meter, Tuesday, July 22

A small town in the indistrial backwaters of the east-coast mainland China megalopolis, about an hour south of Shanghai.

Low: 27C
Humidity: 84%
Dewpoint: 24C
Windspeed: 3km/h, SE

And so on.

The best way I've found to determine whether to stay inside or not is to gauge how far I can see into the distance from my apartment balcony in the morning.

I can't see the skyscrapers behind the white apartment blocks in the distance, so I think I'll stay inside today.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Shopping Shenannigans

Our little town's western culinary delights are are limited to KFC (kendegi) and Macca's (maidanglau - can I get a hanbaobao?), both of which are getting dull.

Flatmates and I headed for RT-Mart, the local supermarket, in search of western produce (hah! How naive). We'd just come from work and had our bags with, so held them low and went in with a crowd so the pesky security girls at the door wouldn't force us to leave them at the information counter for the staff to rummage through.

Made it, whew. Shopping trolley. Traffic jam up ahead, quick - swing it 180. Too late, gridlock. Wait for the old lady up ahead to finish picking out suitable chicken feet. Ok, moving again - slowly - RT Mart is THE place to be on a Monday night.

Live turtles in the fish section caught my eye - only 40RMB per kg! I'm pretty sure they were meant for eating (along with the bullfrogs) but I'm never quite certain.

Sometimes I make the mistake of engaging the staff for help with only my limited mandarin - where to find niche products like milk and cornflakes, for example. The problem is I know just enough to ask, but too little to understand the response (this is the fundamental flaw behind the concept of travel phrasebooks too - don't get suckered!). Invariably there's a word or five I don't understand in the answer. Now here's the thing. When it emerges I don't understand? The kindly soul jots it all down in Chinese for me, neglecting to consider that if I can't speak the language, I probably have little hope of reading it.

I dropped into the convenciance store on the way home to pick up some Red Bull (it doesn't taste like Red Bull, and comes in a strange can, but hey). Next to the cashier was a stand dedicated entirely to prophylactics - some 49 varieties - quite a few for a convenience store in conservative lands.

A combo pack of Trojans will set you back a meagre 38 RMB (about $9). Hehe, Trojan...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

So Long, Sucky Weather! Part Deux

I made it, hooray! I've never had my carry-on bags checked before, but I hold no delusions the airlines will eventually get around to enforcing the weight and number restrictions (1 piece, 7kg + laptop/camera/handbag etc). Walking past the scales on my way to the departure gate always dredges up recollections of a particularly unlucky soul denied entry to an Air NZ flight because his carry-on suitcase was too big (he might have just left it there, or had to pay more - I don't know). That's usually about the point my palms get sweaty and palpitations arrive (or perhaps it's because I'm dragging twice my bodyweight in luggage onto the plane).

Why do I take so much luggage? Well, for starters, it's actually not much of a challenge to use up the 20kg checked allowance. M plastic suitcase alone weighs at least 5kgs. It's also wiser to take more than you need than too little if going for more than a couple of weeks. I never know how long I'll be away (6 months, 1 week last time) so plan for a month or two at least. That means camera+lenses, tripod, laptop, DVDs, books, and other stuff I don't want to buy all come for the ride.

So anyway, the title. Yup, this is what Shanghai looked like when I arrived.

At least it was warmer than Auckland. In fairness though, it was a sunny day for Shangers. It was snowing when I was here in February.

Those disappearing vertical features turned out to be part of a rather spectacular suspension bridge (spectacular from from my 10mm super wide angle lens at least).

Righto, the tin can awaits again. At least this time I can rest easy, my carry-on is well within spec (can't push my luck!).

Thursday, 26 June 2008

So Long, Sucky Weather!

Listen here, Auckland. I've had quite enough of your mood swings, your windy tantrums and wintery personality. I'm leaving you for warmer shores. Maybe with some time apart we'll find a way to reconcile our differences, but until then.... bring on the tropics!

I'm in the airport departure lounge, at gate 3 in fact. Sitting by the boarding gate in front of a long line of screaming kids, middle-age businessmen, mothers, grandfathers....

I have two bags, one more than the carry-on allowance. The combined weight is about 15 kg. I really hope they let me on, there was a huge hoo-haa checking in with a 28kg suitcase, it wasn't fun. Update when (if) I land!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Going Home

I've been away for just over 6 months, so I'm rather stoked about finally coming home. I left Auckland last November, and I've been traveling since. If I thought living in a hotel (hotels) for 6 months sounded like fun when I left, I certainly don't think that any more. I had fun, but it's time to go home.

My travels look something like this from memory:New Zealand-Hong Kong-Thailand-Finland-Thailand-China-Thailand-China-Taiwan-China-
Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore-Thailand-China-New Zealand (I'm about to embark on the final leg).

I have a plane to catch, so I'll fill in the gaps later.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Merry Xmax!

March 2008. Somewhere in Taipei. Friday night, the sky is dark, it's raining a little. I cross the street, to be greeted by a giant electronic sign:

Saturday, 8 March 2008

I Love Love Hotels

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my host company for their excellent choice in accommodating me. The hotel they put me up in is conveniently located in Dansui, just 10 minutes from the company's office. This means I can sleep in a little. That's fortunate, because I rarely get to sleep very early. Work is partly to blame, I'm regularly still tapping away on my laptop at 1am. But I think it's mostly because my neighbors usually start getting it on around the time I'm thinking about looking at the back of my eyelids.

The walls are either very thin, or said neighbours are making sure their 1,800 New Taiwan Dollars (some NZ$70) is well-spent. Last night (Friday night), guests in both adjacent rooms were making sure they got their money's worth until well after 2am. I felt like such a 5th wheel.

Despite the hotel's proximity to headquarters and R&D centres of some of the world's most prominent computer manufacturers, I seem to be the only one here on, er, conventional business. The cafe is always full of young couples in the morning. Bags under their eyes, clutching cups of coffee, casually reading the Taipei Times. I've been wondering about these people since I arrived a few days ago. Dansui is hardly on the way to anywhere. But then again, it's Dansui, the most romantic spot in these parts I'm told. I guess hotels like The China T(h)rust are the natural choice for lusty local couples, since many young (and not so young) Chinese still live with their parents.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Bad Planning.

I thought last week at work was hectic, on deck from 8am till midnight most nights, and one night until about 2.30 covering some design work that needed to be ready for the team at base camp (Auckland) to pick up and order as when they got into the office (they're 5 hours ahead).

Naturally, I got sick. Slept most of the weekend. That messed up my sleeping patterns, so Sunday and Monday nights I couldn't get to sleep.

I'm now recovering, but I just found out half an hour ago I need to be in Taipei tonight. That means I have to pack and get to Pudong by taxi this evening (a menacing trip in it's own right), fly to Hong Kong, then dogleg back up to Taipei.

Taipei is only a couple of hours away from Shanghai as the crow flies, but the crow has to land in an intermediate country (S. Korea also works if you can't get a flight through HK) for reasons outside the scope of this blog... I am going to be a wreck by tomorrow. All in a night's work, fun fun fun.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Ah, what a great country Thailand is....

...I think to myself, as I sit in my cold hotel room in China remembering where I was two weeks ago. Somewhere warm, with fresh air, spicy food, and the odd passing sawngtaew.

I went white-water rafting in the hills just out of Chiang Mai the weekend before I flew back to China, with some friends from the factory I was visiting. We took a sawngtaew ('two-seat' taxi). It's a utility/pickup with two parallel benches (with padding, if you roll high) and a canopy fitted. It's great, because it only has open windows, so you get a good view around the town/countryside. You get pretty dusty, but that's just Chiang Mai for you. You get in from the back, and there are steps and handles to help you in. You can also just stand out the back and hold onto the rails for a better view, if you're keen.

Anyway, it looked something like this:

Most of the locals don't bother with tourist transport, preferring the comfort of the unadulterated pickup.

One day, when my hair is graying and free, I might just feel like wearing a pink shirt with 'Modern Punk' on the back too. But not yet.

This is one of my favourite snaps from around Chiang Mai, taken from the sawngtaew on our way out of town.

The dirt road up into the hills was rough and bumpy, we joked (to distract from the cries of our bruised rears) that it would be smoother coming down (we weren't far off the mark as it happened. Apart from a few hairy rapids, it was plain sailing).

On the way up I stood on the back with my (rather heavy) camera in one hand and a dubious-looking handrail in the other. As we went over bump after bump, my feet momentarily leaving the platform every so often.

We drove past an old dude with a walking stick, and a questioning look on his face. Questioning why normal people would endure all this only to jump into a river with just a little rubber between them and the elements (some of which were solid and hidden under the dark green water, as I discovered). And why one of them in particular chose to risk being tossed over the cliff at the next bump (camera and all), just to take pictures of him. I'm sure he rightly concluded that in fact, normal people wouldn't do that, and went on his way.

The keeper of this roadside refreshment stall probably had concurring sentiments towards us. Or perhaps she didn't care, or even see us...

The journey back to Chiang Mai lead us through gently winding backroads, past small villages, and banana groves. It was quite relaxing after a hard day's play.

By the end of the day I was battered and bruised, but worst of all I was horribly sunburnt. Having only a few minutes to prepare (I got a call at 7am that morning, SUNDAY MORNING!, and was picked up 20 minutes later) , I didn't think to bring any sunblock. In fact I don't think I even had any. I'd just been in China for a month and hadn't seen the sun for most of the time I was there (it was usually overcast, smoggy, or snowing). The organiser was Thai so didn't think to bring any either (he didn't need it).

Back to reality. It's past 1am, I'm in China, and I have to leave for work in less than 6 hours. Whatever was keeping me awake three hours ago, I sure doesn't do it again.