Captain Cock Discovers Australia

I kicked around Bangkok during the next morning, walking in the sweltering humidity. I tried hard to replenish insensible losses whilst the weird swimming feeling messed with my mind and body and spirit. I was deep into tourist Bangkok. Brightly coloured temples, rammed full of buddhas small and huge are everywhere. After you’ve walked around a few you can’t really take it in anymore. Scams are a constant presence. A typical one is to pretend that the monument (clearly open and surrounded by thousands of tourists) is in fact closed. Can I take you to another monument instead, it is only a few minutes on my tuk-tuk? You’d have to be constitutionally stupid to fall for thism surely. But the scamming is lightweight and not aggressive, and easy to route around. I found pointing and shouting “LOOK BEHIND YOU ITS A HUGE BUDDHA” and then running off worked quite well.

The tourist throngs were omnipresent around Wat Pho, home of the famous reclining buddha. Pictures can’t really do this sight justice. Simply getting the whole thing in shot is a challenge. Each toe was pretty much buddha sized on its own. I don’t know the story behind this temple, I presume he was just very lazy and wouldn’t get up so they built a temple around him. Seeing this probably is reason enough to come to Thailand.

After the temple I took a boat up-river. The waterways are chaotic and the boats are ram-jammed. The navigational skills of some of the craft leave a lot to be desired. Bangkok also has an extensive canal system but the similarities to the Black Country end about there.

I had read of more street food vendors in Banglamphu. Lunch was at Roti Mataba where I had the restaurant’s eponymous dish which is roti bread stuffed with a sweet vegetable filling. I had a chicken curry with yellow rice on the side, washed down with more iced tea. This came in around 90 baht, or £1.68. Not a bad lunch by any standards.

Mindful of my slow journey from the airport I did not want to leave it too late to catch my evening flight to Adelaide via Sydney. I was debating whether to check out more street food vendors when the heavens opened and it absolutely chucked it down. Simply running to a taxi soaked me right through to the skin. Arriving back at Old Bangkok Inn I was greated with a fresh towel. But then taking my luggage back to the taxi soaked me through again.

It was disappointing to leave Thailand with so many sights unseen. I had particularly wanted to check out JJ Market and Or Tor Kor food market which sounded absurdly brilliant. And I hadn’t even scratched the surface of street food vendors.

Arriving at the lovely Suvarnabhumi airport, I checked my baggage and the dread started. My second overnight flight in 24 hours, this time 9 hours long, with another time-shift – +3 from Bangkok to Adelaide, followed by a connecting flight to Adelaide. I had my nice seat again and I could stretch out (the left side of my body got the pleasure this time). The plan this time was to watch a film (State of Play, actually quite shit second time round despite having memories of this being good), eat the fetid/tepid dinner (beef stew and mashed potatoes) and get the hell to sleep. The Qantas stewards were in no hurry and hours ticked past until the trays were collected and they decided it was night-time.

Bizarrely my neighbouring passenger turned out to be the partner of one of  Steeleye Span and she was going out to join their ongoing world tour. I told her that Hannah hated that sort of music because she used to live in a commune. She then said she was quite fidgety, and proceeded to fidget.

I got out my sleeping kit and again managed to not sleep the entire night. This time not sleeping was more of a battle with a constant dialogue batting around my mind.

“Go to sleep.”
“You can’t go to sleep.”
“Stop thinking about going to sleep, and just go to sleep.”
“I bet I won’t be able to go to sleep.”
“If I don’t think about going to sleep, I might go to sleep.”

This irritating internal monologue where I learnt to hate myself from two separate perspectives continued for hours and hours, driving me to a low insanity. I knew I was going insane because I started putting on tracks from the “Health & Wellbeing” part of the aircraft’s music selection. “Sleep: 20 beautiful melodies which will send you to sleep”. “Mindrubbers – 14 tracks which will make you wish you were being waterboarded by the CIA”. Etc. Clearly that music never helps anyone go to sleep but it certainly makes you reappraise how bad dying might be. Perhaps an inappropriate pilot response to wake turbulence isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Resigned to not sleeping I woke up and stared at the moving map, realising I was now, as Rupert pointed out on Twitter “the Loman who has travelled furthest in the whole World”. A sobering thought to realise within 48 hours you can be over 10,000km away from home. If I could have felt anything other than pins and needles at this point, I’m sure it would have been a very real and profound thing.

Flying over the Blue Mountains, named because of the blue oil released by the eucalyptus trees which cover the peaks Australian geography is markedly different from anywhere else you’ve ever been. The approach to Sydney Airport is quite spectacular, hugging the coastline you see the beach-front properties on the golden sand of Bondi Beach. You fly across Botany Bay and realise you are now discovering this continent for the first time. Even subdued with tiredness, a flicker of recognition that travelling to Australia still represents some kind of first – a genuine discovery – despite being made with regular banality by millions of people.

My pictures from Thailand are uploaded on Flickr.

Coming up next: Nick gets sick, Nick gets a bit sicker, Nick gets terrible diarrhoea, and then Nick goes to Sydney.

The birdshit Westerner hits Bangkok

I’m not dead, but I have wanted to be for much of the last week. The jet-lag hasn’t been too bad and I managed to sleep each night, possibly thanks to the melatonin. But I have been really quite unwell since arriving in Australia – initially just a dry cough and sore throat which turned into swinging fevers and chills, severe musle aches, and finally some quite spectacular GI upset. So I’ve only really been back in action in the past day or two. But I will get the blog back on track from now!

But let’s go back to where I left off, arriving in Thailand…

I was staying in an eco-guesthouse right in the centre of the old town. Bangkok is a huge sprawl and much of it is difficult to walk. The older part of the city is more amenable, with only a 10% chance of being mown down at any given paedestrian crossing. The Old Bangkok Inn is a lovely oasis surrounded by the madness. I jumped out of my taxi some 500 metres from the hotel having been stationary in traffic for some 30 minutes. Stumbling in with my unwieldy case, all sweaty and bangy I was sat down by the hotel staff. I was instructed to sit and a glass of refreshing iced tea was set in front of me. An instant feeling of calm came over me, this is how guests should be greeted.

A little joke. Wat is Thai for temple?

Keen to beat the jet-lag and adjust quickly to local time I immediately showered and set out purposely down Mahachai Road. Walking past Wat Sakhet’s “Ghost Gate”. This is the most famous Pad Thai joint in the City. Although it looked busy enough the plates they were dishing out didn’t look great. Walking further South I stumbled across what I think was Ray Jay Fai’s drunken noodle stand. Virtually all the signs are in the Thai alphabet and so it was impossible to tell for sure. But it was heaving with locals. A huge bowl of bubbling, dark red broth gave off the right aromas so I rather trepidatiously pointed to indicate I wanted some.

The vendors don’t speak English so the knack is to point and make a stupid face. It’s tricky to know how stupid this face should be. My broth came minutes later. I am fairly sure it was mutton based and was served with chunks of marrow jelly, thin rice noodles and a tiny dish of very, very hot paste to stir in. The broth was clear and absolutely delicious. The chilli was astoundingly hot and made my lips swell up agreeably. I was sweating before – it was about 32 degrees C and  be close to 100% humidity in the evening but after a few mouthfuls it was dripping off me and making my eyelids sting. The locals looked bemused.

Emboldened by this early success I became overconfident. I stopped by a barbecue stall which was doing a brisk take-away trade. A lady explained that the “pork and chicken” were good. It took me some time to convince the vendor to sell me some. He steered me away from the chicken wings and towards some unidentifiable chicken parts. They were dipped in chilli sauce and put into a plastic bag. Walking along I tried to get a nice picture for the blog. In doing so I up-ending the contents all down my new shirt. Westerners have a reputation for being unkempt and sloppily dressed – they call us ki nok farang (birdshit Westerener) and I had lived up to stereotypes. So I decided to go back and change my shirt whilst munching on the second stick of chicken parts. These had an appalling crunch to them followed by a period of entirely ungiving chewing which made me realise they were gizzards, threaded on the stick.

I’ve put some pictures of Bangkok on Flickr.

Forced expiration against a closed glottis

Despite the huge improvements made to online booking websites, a long-haul plane journey at night is still an inhuman endeavour which I find spiritually unsteadying. My departure gate, apart from being in the horrible Heathrow Terminal 4 was a labyrinth. The snaking queues of sweating would-be tourists brought to mind a horrible dystopic futuristic human processing plant. Perhaps we were due to be turned into Soylent (Green). But no, eventually there was a plane at the end of the tunnel. Always amazing how hard it is for people to locate and sit in their assigned seats. You’d think that was easy?

Being a smug bastard, and proof that the new class system involves people that can use a web browser versus people who can’t, I had checked out the best seats on and got a nice 2-seat arrangement at the back of the plane, where the fuselage tapers off. This means you get a nice large space on your right to stretch out one of your legs (the right one, assuming you are sitting facing the correct way – i.e. not like an Australian).

Small talk started and ended with my antipodean neighbour quickly. After watching an episode of the Wire (the one where Avon Barksdale’s towers are blown up – Poo: “I got my first pussy in those towers with Shaentelle” – “They should put up a monument, sell tourists little models of your dick”) I applied my luxury padded eye-shades, foam ear plugs, blanket, furry inflatable neck support and rested against my microweave foldable cushion (thanks Hannah x). I then proceeded to not sleep, solidly, for the next 11 hours.

Actually perhaps the journey is better measured in litres of bottom wind expelled. Note to self: do not order large mixed mezze at lebanese restaurant in Edgware Road before getting on a long-haul flight. My seat position actively resisted the expulsion of air. Trying to forcibly fart against a seat, enough Valsalva to let it escape, but not so much that it wakes my innocent neighbour is a life-altering experience and a test of nerve/skill. Believe. I gave up eventually and ended up with severe colick.

Anyway, I had a dump (sorry, do you want to know all this? Let me know.) and watched The Dark Knight instead. The sight of waking passengers queueing up for their morning dump (and eventually being told to sit down because we were landing) makes you realise that we are all the same (at least physiologically/gastrointestinally – is that a word?).

It was 15:20 local time when we arrived on schedule at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. This had been described by the British Airways Cabin Crew For Your Comfort and Safety Officer over the speakers as “one of the most massivest airports in the world”. I’m assuming that’s not a chain, like “Small Luxury Hotels of the World” – someone should start it. “Most Massivest Airports of the World Incorporating Fuck-Me That’s A Big Railway Station (of the World)”.

I grabbed a freshly squeezed orange juice with “Freshness” (guarana, Vitamin C and some other chemicals) and sped to my hotel in the waiting limo.

The Great Genomics Tour Part 2

Sawasdee from Bangkok! I am now off on the second leg of my Great Genomics Tour. This will take me to Adelaide for the BacPath 10 conference, then Sydney to visit Vitali Sintchenko at Westmead Hospital, then to Brisbane to stay with Scott Beatson at the University of Brisbane. My return journey takes me via Hong Kong to visit Herman Tse at the University of Hong Kong. No time for a long blog post, but I have managed to put some photos of last night’s Bangkok Street Food adventures up here. I only have another 5 hours in Bangkok so I must go explore now!