Egypt Digest: Sand & Sea

Here’s another digest of items originally sent to thee timeline. As before, hyperlinks point to the post in question, where one may find the full bevy of pics from which these-here have been sampled. For the pic-lookin’ enchilada entire, the Flickr page is now — quelle suprise! — completely up-to-date:


March 22:

Q.E.D.

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March 23:

Long story short, sixteen-hour hellride between Luxor and Alexandria — Egyptian trains are even more infested with screaming/careening brats than are Indian trains, and the menfolk carry on loud conversations long into the morning. Needless to say, I spent most of the journey tied to my headphones. At one point, in the two-second gap between songs, I did hear a gentleman across the aisle utter thee following snippet: “…seventy-four, seventy-five…”. Pretty sure those were the only English words I heard in the whole of the journey. Also, as it happens (syncho-fuckin’-nicity), the title of my favourite Connells song.

Life: It’s strange.


March 24:

Though I’ve barely been here twenty-four hours, I’m already falling hopelessly in love with Alexandria. (The hippies call it “Alex”, but I think that sounds pretty stupid, so will be sticking with the long form — or the locals’ “Al Iskandria”, perhaps — which is not only more pleasing to the ear, but more evocative as well.) What did it?

The one-eyed man looking up from his sheesha and merrily waving to me as I passed by. The little boy losing his shit when his teammate knifed a perfectly placed ball past the keeper and through the “goalposts” (two decent-sized rocks) during their four-a-side match on a concrete pitch down by the sea. One kitty-cat sunning itself atop a motor vehicle; another poking its head into a tub of minnows (or what) at the Anfoushy fresh market. The streetside vendor selling dinner plates emblazoned with Wonder Woman’s likeness. The young boy dressed in striped sweater and purple wraparound shades, holding his mother’s handing and chomping down a Falafel. The two older gentlemen dressed in track suits, eating fast food and consummating a business deal atop the trunk of a dented-up sedan. The afro-ed teen, leaning against a car and studying his letters, slyly returning my smile. The goofy lecture spilling out of yon local mosque’s PA speaker. The huge mound of handbags for sale splayed uncermoniously about the street corner. The Cantaloupe vendor happily asserting their quality and clapping me on the shoulder when he noticed that I’d returned, having quite enjoyed the first batch, to pick up another couple of.

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The “Coffe Shop” sitta warning me in heavily accented English not to stray too far from the tram tracks or go wandering down side alleys, lest “a very strong man”…he didn’t say what, but I gathered from his tone that I’d exit the encounter decidedly worse for the wear. The bright red and yellow Bell Peppers selling in the souk, each for about the price of a gumball. Young and old alike carting furniture to and fro’ like as though they were the Beverly Hillbillies — a sitting-room hutch in a flatbed tuk-tuk, for one example; a table and chair by hand, for another. The motor vehicle completely covered with shoes for sale. The splendid street art. The young man standing talking to a friend, wearing a Jamaican hat (forget Nasser, or even King Tut — Bob Marley is the Patron Saint of Egypt) and holding a soccer ball under his foot. My hotel’s night manager arguing, in Arabic, with the custodian for some time, before turning to me and announcing, “Is a crazy woman…crazy!”

The one-thousand-and-one alphabets etched into the side of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina — the modern-day reimagination, located more less at the same site, of the OG Wikipedia Of All Things, torched nearly unto oblivion, two thousand years back, in a fit of pique by a particularly irritable Roman emperor with a bit too much time on his hands — as well as its impossible-to-miss art installation, looking like a cross between the Bubbleator and the Death Star. The seaside juice bar dubbing itself “The King of Mangoes and Strawberries” (I’ve not yet attempted to verify — it’s certainly on my to-do list). The ginormous length of the seagulls’ wingspans; as well as (so far as I’m aware, this is not an entendre) the fishermen’s rods.

The pounding waves and shockingly perfect hues of the Mediterranean. I’ve seen some lovely colours in bodies of water before now — in Indonesia, Thailand, Hawaii, Penang…even Ballinger Lake. But I just don’t think I’ve ever seen any as achingly beautiful as the stretch of shore lining a little cove at Al Anfoushy beach here. The beach itself is nothing to write home, and the water is at this time of year still quite chilly — but, my oh my oh my oh my.

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I was standing there for many minutes’ time, admiring this very same sight, when my reverie was suddenly broken by a gruff-voiced man calling out, “Hey, captain! You are very strong?” I turned to see him pantomiming a heave-ho motion, and walked over to help he and his two companions drag his boat ashore. (He sang a little song to help us keep our heaves and our hos in sync). There were a couple of pieces of driftwood situated underneath the boat to help it roll, so it was a bit like Fitzcarraldo (I mean — just a bit). After we’d finished our labors, the little retarded boy who’d been tugging on the rope began repeatedly yelling at me what sounded for all the world like, “Fuck your mother!” I was a bit put off that he didn’t share his boss’s gratitude, but later deduced — when the guardman motioned for me to get my dimpled ass back from whence it had come — that he was actually just warning me to not proceed any further down the beach.

What’s not to love??

Sure, there is that old Egyptian bugaboo — when you’re wearing shoes, you’re treated lilke a Pharoah; when you’re not, you’re treated like a pariah. And crossing the street here is even more of a suicide mission than it is in Cairo. It’s all right, though: Nobody’s home town is perfect.

The first photo here is the view from my hotel room. At $12 per night, it’s a little more than I like to pay for accommodation, but it was the cheapest I could find. Anyway, with a view like this, gotta admit it’s pretty good value. Also, there’s a teevee in the room, in case in my free time I wanna get caught up on some Egyptian soapy operas…

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March 26:

No better advice ever was given.


March 27:

King Tut: He’s got a couple of couches; sleeps on the loveseat.


March 27:

Every city should have an El Mogmma building, sez I!


March 27:

Good work if you can get it!


March 27:

A few more funtime funtime scenes from Alexandria…

The giant fort out on the jetty of the Eastern Harbor looks like somebody’s Lego project gone wild, while the fleet of tricycles for rent nearby is sublime and ridiculous. The art galleries at the Bibliotheca are just sublime — a more important reason to visit than the famous reading room (houses eight million volumes, or something). The Lilliputian furnitures for sale smack in the middle of the fish market are just ridiculous (but entertaining as Hell…).

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The tram’s conductor issues me a ticket for the one-pound (about six cents) fare, then offers me a sip of his tea. Few minutes later, a teen boy jumps onto the moving vehicle, tells me for a while of his dreams to study American English (apparently in school they’re only allowed to learn British English) and travel in America, then announces that he’s going to jump out of the tram. I bid him peace, and as he jumps out of the moving vehicle, he screams, “Peace out!” then enthusiastically waves as the tram glides by.

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El Kobissi assessment: The hype is warranted; and the guys running the joint are very cool. On my first visit, one of them asked me my country of origin. When I told him, he reacted very positively, and shouted, “Obama!” “Yeah, Obama’s finished,” I corrected him as I moved outside to take a seat. “Now it’s Trump.” “Obama is finished,” the other repeated. Then they repeated it again when I returned the next day (this time for a double-dip; my third visit saw me quaffing in quadruplicate — two Strawberries and two Mangoes).

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Viewing Pompey’s Pillar — the city’s tallest remaining Roman structure — with the clouds rolling by is quite the mindfuck. Meantime, walking around the corner and into a Gilliamesque tableaux — two gorgeous mosques, during magic hour, in the middle of the rush-hour maelstrom — elicits similar emotions.

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Two fat ladies in burkhas gallop comically across the street to avoid being run down by the oncoming traffic. The first rule of Egyptian traffic is: There are no rules. From street level, the only goal is survival. But viewed from above, the chaos actually is rather balletic.

At sunset, over the harbor, innumerable birds endlessly circling. Reminds me of Kampot, but, the scenery here is a lot better.

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An old Calesh driver, noting the fruit in my hand, exclaims, “Banani! Banani!” When I give him the old thumbs-up, he claps me on the shoulder and asks my name. Later, when I’ve finished eating them, he intrudes, “Ally! Ally!” (Egyptians have a difficult time pronouncing my name, I’ve learnt) and tries to sell me on the virtues of an hour’s ride in his chariot. When I decline, he bids me feed my Banana peels to his horse, which I am only too happy to do. I may be calling Bananas “Bananis” for the rest of my live-long days.

When I snap a photo of a Santa hat in a car window, a man standing on the street smoking a cigarette warns me, “That car belongs to Mohammed Ahmoud, and he is working in this building.” “I like the hat,” I offer by way of calming his nerves. “Oh!” he proclaims, and I continue: “Santa Claus.” “Santa Claus,” both he and a passerby agree.

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A god-fearing seafarer performs his evening prayers right alongside his boat, while un autre — this one NOT so fearful — gives his a fresh coat of paint.

A senile old one-toothed man in the market kisses me on both cheeks. Two young men tell me he’s crazy, but then ask us to repeat the scene for posterity. The resulting photo is so great, I can’t believe I didn’t ask them to e-mail it to me…

Even in the dirtiest, dingiest, scummiest part of town, the tea shoppes still make deliveries on nice, silver trays. (I think Egyptians love drinking tea even more than Indians.)

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Not to be forgotten, the street art is still pretty awesome; and, also still, the best sight of all — the deep blue ocean rolling by.


 March 31:

Am in Siwa after three eventful days in Marsa Matruh. Will try to write a few words soon. For now, please enjoy some pics of one of the more scenic places ever I laid my god damned eyes. (Just remember, if they seem underwhelming, that the real live experience is ten million times better than the pics…)

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April 1:

I have trod many a fucking league to bring you some pictures to-day, friends; and many a fucking league have I trod.

First, all up into the Great Sand Sea — a ginormous panoramical expanse of windswept dunes, straight out of a god damn Hollywood picture-show, which bestrides the Egyptian/Libyan frontier — for one or two hours’ gazing at the sands, and all.

It actually took about an hour to finally leave behind the maddening drone of civilisation and its infernal gas-powered machines. But don’t never let ’em sell you a packaged-up tour, seen from the window of a cramped-and-reeking-of-petrol 4WD vehicle, I say; ’cause taking off thy shoes and hitting the road on one’s own, to do and go as whimsy pleases (doesn’t hurt to bring along a GPS unit and a flagon of water, natch!), is the only way to explore — and so much more economical, too. Three miles an hour, ain’t it?

Believe it or not, though I’ve read Frank Herbert’s Dune ten times or so; and though I’ve screened Lawrence Of Arabia a good thirty times or more; I’ve never really spent any good old-fashioned quality time walking amongst the giant, rolling waves of sand. Not really, anyhow. Not like this.

And so strong is the compulsion (hear ye now, the compulsion is so very strong) to just climb up this one last dune and see what lies beyond (hint: more dunes), that one or two hours’ galumphing turned itself into four or five easy as you please. But, finally, I did forlornly turn my dimpled ass back in the townward direction.

But, first, was the matter of traipsing through the palm groves (the world’s best Dates are grown here, it’s said — alas, they’re out of season, dangnabbit, save for the vacuum-packed gift-boxes lining the shoppes’ shelves), and visiting some of the dozens of natural springs dotting the oasis. The most famous of these, Cleopatra’s Bath, is pictured herein, bubbling away.

There was also the matter of checking out this one lake I’d spied on the map. It’s massively huge, though quite shallow, and bisected by an earthen bridge. The water is so clear that the colours — minerals, I’m guessing? — of the lake’s bottom show prettily through. It was blowing like sixty here — hmm, more like one-twenty, in fact — but there was hardly any traffic on the road, so it was a fun place to take a load off for a while.

Last on the agenda, a visit to the temple of the most notorious Oracle of the ancient world. Alexander The Great consulted it, back when; and some Persian king despatched an army of 50,000 men to destroy it no mercy (it had apparently given him some unwanted notices), which army was wholly swallowed up in a sandstorm, big style. True facts, I guess — though, whether one believes in the existence of coincidence is entirely a personal matter.

The Oracle itself is long gone, from what I could see, and the tomb is nothing special. But the views, from the top, looking out over the oasis and beyond, certainly made it worth the thirty-pound asking price.

Siwa town is utter shite, by the way. The guidebook calls it a rustic little watering hole in which to chillax the hours away pondering the imponderable. In point of fact, it’s all motorcycles and trucks and tri-cycles and babies screaming their lungs out forever and dust and horns blaring and power tools and plastic bags and cigarette smoke and people beating the shit out of their donkeys (or making them stand in the baking-hot sun for god-knows-how-long tied to a very short leash). It just never matters how far away you think you’ve travelled from the modern world and its innumerable ills, you cain’t ever escape. Human beings are the bunk everywhere.

That said, those willing to walk outside the town for forty-five minutes in any direction will find peace and quiet in spades here. It’s very worth the effort!


April 2:

Another day of sweet, sweet desolation and insanely rewarding views c/o the desert oasis. I can’t think of any place I’ve been to where I so despise the town and am so enraptured by its surroundings. I can’t even think of another contender, to be honest.

To-day, went in for a long walk around the salt lake — this one the other direction from town as yesterday’s. Shit, I never expected to be so bowled over by Egypt’s bodies of water as I have been. A real treat — although I now realise that I’d not properly appreciated how helpful yesterday’s passing clouds had been. This day were no clouds, no wind, no shade…and HOT pounding sun.

For the eventide entertainment, rented a bicycle and drove it back out to the Sea O’ Sand to watch the rays slip away — and hear nothing but the glorious stillness. Unbeatable!


 April 5:

Back in Alexandria just for a couple days before pushing on toward Sinai. Found accommodation for only eight bones per night. Pretty nice place, too. This is the view from the lounge area rather than the room, but, no complaints here.

First order of business: El Kobissi, King Of Mango and Strawberry. I shan’t depart ’til I have drunk the joint dry!


April 6:

It’s like a Life Of Brian outtake: Christ returns (hey, you’d be surly too if they’d just finished crucifying your dimpled ass) bearing not loaves nor fishes this time, but…cotton candy.


April 7:

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Al-Iskandariyah for…thee…WIN. Who could ever leaving here (I mean, not only Alexandria, but Egypt in general)? It’s still nine days until they throw my dimpled ass out, but I’m already feeling more reluctant to leave here than I have been from any place since my first visit to Laos, back in 2012.

[Insert wistful paragraph, from some literary classic I’ve never gotten around to reading, lamenting the passage of time.]


April 8:

Port Said, the northern outlet of the Suez Canal. I had guessed it was going to be fuckin’ supertankers-a-go-go up in here — but in a few hours of waiting, I seen nary a one. Sheez, that’s a bummer.

Kind of a nice town, though. There’s a free-of-charge ferry across the canal, some neat old architecture, an honest-to-god crosswalk (which, shockingly, is respected by the motorists), seagulls the size of which are rather astounding, and so forth. Best of all is the beach — certainly the water is not as beautiful as at other Mediterranean ports of call, but, still pretty at sunset time; and it’s quite wide and VERY long and straight, with almost no rubbish…and the waves are hypnotic, for sure.

All in all, I give the place a worth-a-visit grade.


April 9:

Did see some ships to-day, but am still pretty disappointed with the parsimonious traffic levels. I honestly thought there’d be several per hour going by ’round-the-clock.

There’s a tonne of English signage here — on account of, one presumes, the city’s status as a duty-free zone. It was, apparently, once the Mos Eisley of the Mediterranean; but it’s now wanting to be instead a boring old shoppers’ paradise. Quite surreal, actually, ’cause despite the shoppes are all here, there don’t seem to be any actual shoppers. Anyhow, a lot of the signs are pretty humorous — e.g.:

  • Baby Home
  • Dandy Shop
  • High Burger
  • Fosh Fosh
  • New Rex Cafe
  • Cow Boy
  • Pizza Sllorh [Hey, I never said they all make sense…]
  • Bob Marley For Sweets
  • General Co. For Silos & Storage
  • Total Women & Kids Wear
  • First One
  • Pop 21 Jeans Wear

The people here are a friendly and hospitable sort, as they are throughout Egypt (one man, along with his charming young daughter, even gave me a brief tour and told me some of the town’s history). They’ve different pastimes, however.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and waterEverywhere else in Egypt, the three favourite passions (at least among the menfolk) are drinking tea, smoking sheesha, and watching soccer. In fact, I’ve come to believe that every conceivable activity in which one might engage is really just an excuse to drink tea — before, during, and after.

But the Port Saidians, they revolve around two altogether different suns, viz., running on the beach and washing their motor-cars. I shit you not, I’ve completely lost count of the number of individuals I’ve witnessed out with hose and sponge, keeping their rides spic ‘n’ span. Well, now you know.

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April 10:

I may get my dimpled ass blowed to smithereens, but at least if I do it’ll be here in Alexandria Rock City, in sight of the sea, imbibing of El Kobissi’s miraculous juices.

I had planned to get the bus from Port Said to Dahab, but, it turns out there’s no such bus to get — one must transfer in Cairo, making it a fourteen-hour trip out (not including the layover) and ten hours back; which would have left me with only a couple of days there. In addition to which, of course, the fucking jagoff gringos are up to their old tricks in the Middle East (hey, USA, congratulations: You managed, in scarcely two months’ time, to mint yet another in your uninterruptible line of war-criminal Presidents) and U.S.-funded goofnuts are letting off bombs in churches here. So, it’s probably best to steer clear of Sinai for now, where tensions were already running high…

Anyway, detouring back here is not exactly as if having drawn the shortest straw. Indeed, I’m beginning to feel about Alexandria the same way I feel about Bangkok: Every time I return, I wonder why I ever left.

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April 12:

Remember that line — “Don’t dream it, be it” — from Rocky Horror? Sure you do. That’s Iskandariyah all over. Maybe they should make it the advertising slogan (or what).

Would like to here stress that although the spectacular scenery, monumental architecture, and unearthed archeological treasures make for exciting photo opportunities (and, certainly, engaging with the former is a welcomed respite from the hustle/bustle of the Modern Metropolis™), it’s the friendliness, hospitality, spirit, and derring do of the Egyptian people that make it such an exciting and memorable location to visit. (Alas, they don’t generally like having their pictures taken…)

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While that’s true everywhere in Egypt, it seems to be just a little bit more true here. Alexandria: Don’t dream it, be it.


April 13:

Cameroonian Hostel-Mate: Every U.S. President (I’m sorry to say) is a motherfuck.

Me: I agree — you don’t have to be sorry!

In introducing me to his friend, whom he jokingly told me plays for the Cameroon National team, he explained their victory in the all-Africa cup thus: “We fucked Egypt 2-0.” Needless to say, I love this guy!


April 15:

The Egyptian joie de vivre — as contagious as it is crazy, as exhilarating as it is unquenchable — is a power to lift the heavens. Nowhere is that more true, I now realise, than here in Cairo. During my first stop here, I was too busy trying to get my bearings, and taking care of some logistical crap, and visiting some of the famous touristic sites, to really do any exploring of the city’s nooks and crannies.

I might say that I still prefer Alexandria, as the Mediterranean’s siren call is so magnetically compelling. But I am most surely looking forward to in (hopefully not so distant) future spending a lot more time in Cairo as well. Viva!

[Photos-don’t-do-it-justice alert. The thrill of this city and its wonderful people simply must be felt in person to be truly appreciated. Come on down, won’t you?]

April 15:

Here’s a video I made of some of Cairo’s soccer-playing kids. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do — a Swiss hostel-mate said she would have chosen different music; but in point of fact, this is the song that came into my head while I was watching them, and setting these scenes to this specific music was the reason I decided to shoot the footage in the first place. Anyways, watching this vid makes me incredibly happy…


April 15:

Have returned to finish my stay here in the same place in which it began — Thomas the impresario’s incomparable Giza digs.

Went for a wander to find some different angles from which to shoot the pyramids by, and — of course — the true highlight was the interactions with the neighbourhood people encountered en route. They’re still more camera-shy than I’d like, but at least that’s a little less so in Cairo and environs than elsewhere in the country.

This-here last sunset in Egypt, meantime, I dost believe qualifies as a quote/unquote “corker”.


April 17:

Have arrived in Colombo; and whilst I decide whether I have anything to declare (am leaning towards, “I shall consume every last Mango and Avocado on the island!”) here are some pics from thee last volley in amongst the Gizeh Plateau. It was hazier than per usual in the AM, giving the grounds a particularly ghostly ambience.

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By the way, had been somewhat dreading both the arrival and departure ends of this evening: Overstayed my Egyptian visa by a few days to get a cheaper flight; and had mistakenly entered, in the Sri Lankan e-visa application, my arrival as the 10th rather than the 17th. It would’ve run me about ninety greenback dollars if both countries had asked me to pony up — but neither Passport Control agent uttered so much as a peep.

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It’s a goddam Easter miracle (or what)!


 April 19:

Almost forgot: Very last photo in Egypt. Waiting for the gift of…

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Egypt Digest: The Nile Valley

A dearth of time, along with very slow Internet connections throughout Egypt have prevented me from blogging.  But here is a Nile Valley compendium from the ol’ timeline — the hyperlinks point to the specific entries in question — there’ll be lots more pics over there, but I’ll post a sampling from each entry here.  For the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle of photos, there are three Flickr sets:

For some commentary and more pics from Giza, see this blog’s previous post…


March 4:

Wikitravel says of this guest house that the “rooftop hangout is one of the coolest on the planet.” Am finding it difficult to disagree!

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March 4:

Oof, I am just about the last person they should’ve let near this goddam place with image manipulation capabilities at his/her disposal. But, c’est la goddam vie!

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March 5:

Wey oh, wey oh-oh, wey oh-oh, weeey ooooh…

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March 6:

Welcome to Cairo.


March 8:

Open-to-close (9:00am – 5:00pm) at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and still didn’t see everything. A lot of times, museums can be boring, or feel like a chore. Not here, I tells ya. Not here at all


March 9:

Some crazy gorgeous architecture in Cairo. (And other neat shit, too.)


March 10:

German Hostel-Mate: Where are you from (if I may ask)?

Me: Seattle.

Him: What is Seattle famous for? I forgot.

Me: Kurdt Cobain.

Him: Ah, yes! But isn’t there some “Sky Needle” that I have seen in the movie Sleepless In Seattle?

His friend: [Laughing at the mention of Sleepless In Seattle, then…] What kind of music is Kurt Cobain?

Hostel-Mate: Grunnge.

His friend: [Shrugging shoulders]

Hostel-Mate: [Banging head, singing] “Here we are now, entertain us”.

Me: [Laughing] It’s Space Needle, by the way.

(It’s much funnier if you imagine their German accents.)


March 12:

I feel a bit like Jack Buck to-day — “I don’t believe what I just saw” — after having visited the Luxor and Karnak temples here in Luxor. Impossible to describe the intense feeling seeing these works. No idea what kind of drugs those ancients were putting into their Wheaties, but they worked a treat! (That said, it’s still not even close to what Mother Nature can produce. Standing over the brink of the lower falls of the Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone, for example, tops this experience with room to spare.)


March 13:

Meanwhile, down by thee banks of El Nile, the noontide proceedings done took a sudden and/or dramatic turn when yon errant pass richocheted off an opposing player at just such an angle and at just such a velocity. “That’s going in the fucking river!” thunk I.

Sure enough, after a couple of high bounces, the splash landing was made. The gravity of the situation was told by the large and growing numbers of lookers-on — all of whom ended up offering to the brave young soul who had dared all to strip off and swim out to rescue the wayfaring ikon an exceptionally warm round of applause.

Them soccer balls is important!

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March 14:

A day on Luxor’s West Bank. Unfortunately, the truly mind-raking sites — the tombs at the Valleys of the Queens and Kings — are no-photo zones…

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March 17:

Well I had to come all the way to freakin’ Nubia to do it, but I’ve finally found my people. Got up early, booped the ferry over to the west side of thee river to look some ancient stuff, then wandered off into the desert for a few blissful hours’ peace and/or quiet, and finally back into town via yon local Nubian village.

Walking down the road, this fine gentleman, name of “Maghredi”, pointed at my bare feet and began lecturing me about the benefits of such practice. (During which lecture, he noticed me crinkling my nose at the waft of his compatriots’ second-hand smoke. “Sorry,” quoth he, “We smoke ganja in the morning.”) He was preaching to the goddam converted, but his words were music to my ears. I took his leave, and then a few hundred metres down the road, another gentleman reacted with great happiness to the sight of my barefoot striding.

Egyptians are very friendly toward the shod; but dare to remove your footwear, and they become surprisingly hostile. To be sure, in every other country in which I’ve travelled, the locals consider me a nitwit straight through — but after a few measures of good-natured ribbing, they let me on my way. The Barefoot Farang, and all.

Know ye now that if you arrive in Egypt, and want to walk as god intended, best come on down to Aswan and get your dimpled ass over to the west bank — the Nubians will treat you right, for sure!

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March 18:

I just wish to high Hell that I could recall all the little, nuanced details that add such vivid colour to these sorts of experiences: The police capitan languidly drawing upon his cigarette while making sure the situation was under control; the smartphone used to translate betwixt Arabic and English being ceremoniously passed to and fro’, its glow emanating like as though it were King Tut’s big, gold Ankh; the surreal, milky atmosphere painted in the sky; the Japanesian’s goofy hat; the sound of the muslim prayer call filling the air; the Chinesienne worriedly asking of her attempted phone call, “Does this sound mean I’m out of money?”; the look of glee settling over the people’s faces when the bag of peanuts was produced; and so very many more. Without these, the story just can’t be the same.

But, so, what I can say is that a dust storm the likes of which arrives but one day per year blowed in and stranded myself and five others here in Abu Simbel, three hours south of Aswan and site of one of the most prestigious archaeological finds in the whole of the Nile valley.

I had fallen in, a few days back, with a VERY cool trio — a Canadian, a Chinesienne, and a Japanesienne — from my hotel. I’d previously made plans to visit to-day, and they decided to come with, on their last day in Egypt before getting a ride on a merchant steamer to Sudan.

It was a bit cloudy in Aswan, but further south, became very windy and hazy. Still, we arrived just fine, had a grand time visiting the temples (assessment: the hype is warranted!), and arranged with two Japanesians also visiting the temples to share the microbus back to Aswan.

Negotiating the fare and time of departure was a bit trickier than expected — but eventually we were on our way…only to be stopped after about thirty minutes’ driving, and an hour or so later, sent back whence we’d come to have a li’l powwow with the presiding member of Simbel’s finest. He (a most charming accent he possessed) patiently explained to us that it was too dangerous to be out driving, and that he’d arranged with a local hotel for a very steep discount off its normal rate. So, here we are, spending eight dollars per each rather than its usual rate of fifty-seven smackers. Nice place, too — and even despite the storm, it’s got by far and away the best Internet hookup the whole of my time in Egypt. Go figure!

Update:

The 4:00am wakeup announcement that the storm had abated and that our driver was present set us on our way. This time, it was not weather, but instead police checkpoints that slowed us down. However, we arrived back to Aswan by 8:00 or so; the Japanesians immediately departing for the airport. The CanJapSin trio took a few minutes to pack, after which I saw them to their microbus up to the dam and their passage to Sudan, then set about on some more explorations about town. What a twenty-four hours that was! I should clarify that I was the whole time (until we got turned back, of course) under the impression that this weather was normal for the area — an effect of the lake, I thunk. Good thing it’s not, maybe, as I was loving enough to want to move there!

Almost lost in all the hubbub was the very impetus for the journey in the first place: The temples at Abu Simbel, though taking only a few hours to tour, are as masterfully realised as anything in Luxor — if not moreso. Confounded no-photo regs mean you’ll just have to trust me in re the interior. But have added some more snaps of the exterior — as well as some photo-op hijinks of my intrepid co-conspirators (they didn’t all exactly register the concept of “flipping the bird”, but, it turned out even better that way, perhaps)…

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March 20:

Aswan: It’s got ancient ruins, the eponymous high dam, a couple of small but excellent museums, and other suchlike tourist drawing cards; it’s got Nubians; it’s got sailboat rides on the frickin’ Nile river; it’s got boundless hectares of gorgeous, unspoilt desert through which to aimlessly ramble; it’s got parks and public gardens (these last are severely lacking in Egypt); it’s sunny and warm 365 days per year (or 364, as I very recently discovered), but cools down nicely in the evenings; it’s got produce stands, restaurants, cheap as street food, juice bars, and sheesha joints up the good old-fashioned yingyang; it’s got some pretty cool street art; its souk smells of incense rather than exhaust fumes (hardly any motorcycles enter!); the guidebook says there may be some crocodiles around; it’s got far less dust, rubble, and rubbish than everywhere elsewhere in the country; though it’s actually got more mosquitoes than the country at large, they’re still very few in number.

The only thing missing, from what I can gauge, is accommodation options geared toward the modern backpacker. If they’d put up a few guest houses with good mattresses, good roof decks, clean lavatories, good Internet connections, inviting common areas, and community kitchens, the hippies would be here in droves. (Oh, I guess they’d also need to make plenty of cheap beer available.)

Not that droves of hippies is necessarily a good thing — but at least it would save me from having to stay in the shittiest and noisiest of shitholes, as I have been doing for the last many days since my arrival here. At $4.11 per night for my own room, it’s difficult to complain too much; but I for one would rather spend a few more dinero for a dorm bed in a nice, clean place.


March 22:

Back in Luxor just for a day to visit the museum. Not a patch on the museum in Cairo, but certainly still time well spent!

 

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Take A Picture Here, Take A Souvenir

Well, shit-howdy, that’s kind of a bummer of a title with which to re-launch this blog, eh? Perhaps we could back up and begin with a bit of levity (in the form of an upskirt shot of a prostrated ‘n’ amputated King Ramses II, natch) before jumping headlong into the torrents of unvarnished cynicism.

All right, all right, one more fun for the kids, ain’t it?  Here here’s one of the Pharoah in finer fettle, catching some well-earned shade for himself underneath yon Palm tree…


Okay, let’s begin to-day’s report with an unscheduled rant in the form of a most brilliant idea with which I was struck during my passage, and which I here offer free of charge to any and all airlines operating transoceanic flights. Viz., assuming that said airlines schedule one such flight per day per direction between two given locales, perhaps they-all would be willing to set aside one day per week for people travelling with young children to utilise exclusively-like, freeing the rest of us schmucks to then fly our dimpled asses in peace-slash-quiet all the god damned way across those very same oceanic basins.

Of course, the maths may work out so that the child-rearers would need two, or — god shouldn’t wonder — even three out of seven days. Behemoth knows, during my recent Atlantic crossing there were no fewer than four such youngsters, in my section of the aircraft alone, taking it in turns screaming foul fucking murder for essentially the entirety of the ten hour flight (and the cacophony grew to even more outrageous proportions in the airport’s arrival hall); so it very well could be the case.

Either way you slice it, parents needn’t be laid low by this design: Just plan ahead and book the flights before requesting the days off, and everybody wins. Better yet, plan even further ahead before going in whole-hog on the procreation tip, and maybe plant some trees instead. The sustainable human population is somewhere south of fifty million (that’s Million, with an M), so, the fewer of us motherfuckers the better (I always like to say).

Anyhow, what I mean to put across is that there are certain hostels, in certain locations, whose owners have created spaces so perfectly suited to neighbourism that the property in question seems magically to attract the most interesting and most friendly people of all. De Talak in BKK is such a one (the perfection of the form, we might say); Alobar 1,000 in Kathmandu is another. And, Pyramids Loft here in Giza, I have discovered, is yet a third. My head was spinning, fast, almost before I could even set my bags down, at the numbers of awesomely interesting people popping up out of each little nook and cranny.

A Canadian born, raised, and currently living in Tanzania. A Danish exercise fiend with some thought-provoking philosophical takes, who also enjoys cross-European bicycle holidays. An Alaskan gentleman who’s stored on his laptop — I shit you not — at least a thousand pictures he’s snapped of the Polar Bears living in his town. (And he showed us all of them…) An Australian mother and her pre-teen home-schooled son. A San Franciscan of Ethiopian descent, en route to go visit family back home. And so very many more — including my separated-at-birth (or so I am presently guessing) brother and sister, a Filipina Durian-hound and her most affable husband, an Egyptian citizen now working and living in the Philippines. They even busted out and gifted me with a package of Durian candies!

How badass do you gotta be to even be traveling with Special Davao Durian Candy, let alone gifting entire packages to your newly met hostel-mates? As badass as the world is round, I’ll up and wager.

Egyptians seem very friendly and helpful as well — I’ve already been practically adopted by the father/son team operating an welcoming little fruit shop about fifteen minutes’ schlep from the hostel. Though, the proprietor did request me to gift him one of the mesh produce bags into which I’ve been placing many kilos of his excellent Clementines. I was happy enough to give him one, but, dang, those fuckin’ things are pretty expensive, and I’m only travelling with a few of them. Well, karma and all that shit…


What I’m trying to get at, however, is that there are some certain phenomena which have (rightly) become so world-renowned as to attract to their orbits some god danged enormous numbers per annum of interested gawkers. Angkor Wat in Cambodia is one such location; the Taj Mahal another; and the Giza Plateau is yet a third. The helpful touts lined up to serve (or some, if their jib has been cut in just such a manner, might rather say “fleece”) the tourists’ every need tend to attach theyselves, in these locations, like stink on shit…just in case there are some touristical needs which the tourist had not yet been made to realise that he or she did need. Plastic trinkets, for one example; guide services for another. They don’t really take “No” for an answer — although once in a Blue Moon, “La, shukran” (Arabic for, “No, thanks”) does the trick.

Some of them — as I found out some few short hours after my arrival, whilst visiting the Saqqara and Memphis sites about an hour’s drive south of here — have even ingeniously levered to their advantage the efficiency gains made possible by not even asking the question at all, but instead launching straight away into the provision of service.

A nice-looking man, his boy, a Donkey, and a friendly helper called “Mustapha”: What could possibly go wrong? What miserable son of a bitch would dare deny his request to snap a photo? Fair enough. And fair enough even to sit in repose with said son for some on-camera hijinks of one’s own. But beware, traveler, for here in Giza, one soon finds oneself entangled — or, in other words, borne atop the haunches of the patiently waiting donkey, quckly garbed in the raiments of an Arab Sheikh, and paraded round the grounds to take pictures in front of every rock outcrop in the whole entire place. Dunno whether every helperman called “Mustapha” is as sure and as nimble of hand as he. But this one, he was ouright practiced, for sure.

When I did, after several unsuccessful attempts, finally manage to disentangle, it came the time of payment for services rendered, you see. My offer of twenty Egyptian Pounds (about $1.25) was met with incredulous howls of protest and hurt feelings. When I began deleting the photos to prove I meant business, they settled, surprsingly quickly, for the twenty smackers. I looked up to find that my hostel-mate — the aforementioned Canadian — had suffered the same fate as I. He said that he didn’t offer any tip whatever…only agreeing to honour their request of five Pounds for the Donkey.


The touts are annoying and all; but I don’t wanna rain on their parade too terribly much. You all know my feelings concerning certain matters — I’ve been spouting them for decades by now, and don’t foresee them changing any time soon, if ever. Namely, Fuck America, and fuck Americans. The list of grievances that can be laid against us is so long that to try to list them all would surely crack the Internet right in half: We’re white. We’re gluttons. We’re Imperialistical maquiladora-lovin’ war-mongerin’ shits-for-brains. We’re white. We’re ignorant. We five percent of the world’s population produce fifty percent of the world’s waste. We invented George Lucas. Uh…what else? Oh yeah (I almost forgot)! We’re as fucking white as the day is long.

Long story short, we’ve no real cause ever to complain about anything, and definitely not when some local entrepreneurial types devise and play out schemes to separate us from a few greenback dollars here and about.

The professional guided tours obtained through one’s guest house, however, are a little more difficult to justify. They are fairly pricey (at least for somebody living on a backpacker’s budget), and never seem to live up to the grandiose promises made at the outset of negotiations. Once the money changes hands, it all boils down to rushing from location to location to be given a few rapidly orated words of historical context and a few minutes to take some photos in front of, then off to the next few (hurry now, the clock is running) locations, followed by a quick jaunt atop a camel, before being delivered, captive, into the waiting maw of the “museum” salesman. The “museum” is actually just a fairly reasonably priced gallery with a five-minute intro explaining the process of the local artisan. (In this case, Papyrus paintings and essential oils).

I’ve only done it a few times; and though it’s never seemed money well spent, at least the company of the tour-mates is almost always very good, and the guides friendly and charming and whatnot. But the whole hurry-up-and-get-your-pictures-so-we-can-sell-you-something-plastic vibe…well, let’s just say fair play to those whose thing it is, but, it ain’t really mine.

Although when I finally did get the chance, the day following the tour, to set out on my own into the desert to enjoy some respite from the crowds and find some new angles to photograph the structures by, I eventually became embroiled in a bit of an International Incident — reconnoitered by a pair of non-uniformed guardsman, then finally apprehended (after a good three hours’ rambling) and escorted to yon guardshack to be administered…if not the third degree, perhaps the first-and-a-half. Once the half-dozen or so gentleman had verified that my entry ticket was current, that the contents of my bag were au courant, and that the contents of my smartphone camera folder were none but scores of photos of some certain well-known local monuments, I was permitted to exit out the back door. And also, it must be said, to re-enter through the front gate — so long as I didn’t go wandering off into the desert again.

It must also be said that the guardsmen were fairly friendly, fairly courteous, spoke rather good English, and never shook me down for any type of baksheesh (or whatever you may call it). Best of all, they never asked me to delete any photos. So, raise a toast to those friendly guardsmen before perusing of yon photoset, included below (and then peruse some more, if you like, over there at thee olde Flickr page)…

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My severest feelings of dread, at the end of this day, regard the mistreatment of the animals enslaved to heighten the tourist’s desert-fantasy getaway seated on top of a Camel or inside a Ben Hur chariot. It may not be more damaging than the ecological effects of tourist jet-setting, or of all the plastic goddam stuff, but it’s certainly, to my way of thinking, the more starkly caustic indictment of the entire industry (or, really, the human condition itself).

I did take a brief Camel ride as part of the tour. And though ours didn’t seem to be too bad off, I honestly don’t really know. I regret having not simply opted out and chosen to walk alongside. There’ve been times, traveling, that I’ve given in and gone along, not wanting to be a complete goofball inside of somebody else’s country — gonna try to get better on that score.

The horses have the worst of it, from the appearances; made to carry three or four people plus a chariot up a steep, paved incline at a gallop — and then eventually back down, the load so great that they have to plant their feet and slide down the hill to keep the chariots from running out of control. And if you wanna tell me that they don’t even feel the beatings they must take to get them runnimg faster faster faster, one need only take a look into their eyes: They’re not having fun, or anything close to it. It’s really a sickening sight to witness, honestly; and I fear that those of us who choose to participate in the global tourism biz are, ultimately, damned.

Fuckin’ humans, man — why can’t we just go away forever?

 

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Gimme That Old Thai Voodoo!

Boy, am I ever thrilled that I ended up flying out of Bangkok. I love Penang, and I like KL pretty all right. But Thailand…Thailand is just the best (as this latest, briefest visit served to yet again remind). They call Thailand “The Land Of Smiles”, but as I’ve argued many a time previously, Land Of Weird And Surreal would be an epithet every bit as appropriate.

Take this goddam place I visited the other day, for example – Papaya Vintage Shop, up there at Lat Phrao. Oh, first of all, take this goddam 22-hour rail passage from Hat Yai, which lolled into Hua Lamphong a full six hours behind schedule – making it, I think, both the longest and furthest-behind-schedule train ride in all of my Thai rail experiences. A little fact-checking may be in order, here.

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Economical – Yes, it is that, in spades. Seven bucks for the passage, including the overnight “accommodation”. Prices like those are impossible to resist.

Safe – In my experience, it is that, too; though I have on occasion read in the Post of trains having jumped their tracks.

Fast – Um…ah…er…I think…not.

Comfort – Ha ha.  At least in the Economical classes frequented by yours truly, comfort is about the thing it’s furthest from.

But, actually, the sign misses the best part of the third-class rail-ridin’ experience, viz., poking one’s head out the window, feeling the rush of the wind upon the face, listening to the clickety-clackety clickety-clack drone on for endless hundreds of kilmotres, and gogging at the beautiful Thai countryside rolling by. Nothing but nothing beats that! It’d be a bargain at ten times the price.

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Anyways, back to this goddam Papaya Shop joint. Stopped by there on the way to attend the Muay Thai, and stayed so long I ended up arriving late for the Muay Thai. What it is, it’s a freakin’ temple o’ kitsch. Three huge floors covered right up to the gills in bric-a-brac.

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Factually, it’s not so different from the House Of Museums, which I visited three years ago — though Papaya, unlike the latter, is shockingly free of dust, cobwebs, and ankle-loving mosquitoes (all features so common to Southeast Asian museums one would think they were mandated by the contract). The music of choice, though, at the House Of Museums was old-thyme Thai traditionals, while at Papaya, it’s all Sinatra all day long. But also, whereas the former seems more ad hoc, the latter is a monument to OCD. Imagine a series of Jar Jar Binkses next to a wall of clocks, next to a room full of furniture arrangements, next to a mountain of suitcases, next to…next to…next to… But all of it very lovingly and carefully arranged, see?

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My favourite was the collection of old typewriters and adding machines…

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And there were plenty of other crazy shit besides. Here is a very small scratching of the surface. Yo, if there’s anybody can tell me what this “SMASH!” thing is for, I’d sure like to know. (And in re the nekkid mannequin: There were dozens, maybe even scores, of nekkid mannequins throughout the grounds. I don’t think I ever spied a one with its clothes on.)

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The oddnesses continued next afternoon, after I’d said my tearful adieus to the Good People of the one/only De Talak Hostel (centre of all that is righteous in humankind – though they were not the ones doing the crying, let me assure you), gathered up my luggage, and popped the subway to Bangkok’s tallest skyscrapah — the Baiyoke Sky Hotel — to meet up with my Thai sister-from-another-mister and to sample of the hotel’s fruit buffet, which had been recommended to me a few weeks before by arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell.

No sooner had we filled up our plates, sat our dimpled asses down, and smelled the first whiffs of the Durian which the staff had parsimoniously doled out from behind the wizzzard’s curtain…that in walks arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell – with his bags (and his cool/mellow son, name of Damien) in tow!  I’d known that we were to be flying out of BKK on the same night, but had not guessed I’d be seeing him here. Well…fuck it: Fruit party every body!

But, huhn, that’s not even the trippy part yet. Which, there we were having ourselves a gay old time scorfing down the restaurant’s Papayas and Pineapples and Grapes and Coconuts and Mangos and Longkongs (the Longkongs were very delish) and Dragonfruits and Honeydew and just you-fuckin’-name-it, and then we noticed, being projected in a video-loop upon the wall behind us, an interview being conducted with the very ringleader of the Durionic Hordes, the all-time Durian obsessive, the Queen Of The Thorns, Lindsay from the Year Of The Durian blog.

We barely even had time to wonder How-in-the-fuck? before, in scenes from a Thai Durian Orchard, comes bounding onscreen everybody’s favourite human, the God of Chanthaburi fruit-hunting, Mr. Nong von Nongster.

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And then finally, the coupe de god damn fuckin’ schweirdness, up on thee screen come footage of none other but arch-fruitarian, world-class athlete, and all around beacon of awesome, Mr. Grant Campbell himself (!). Right while he was watching, too! That’s some weird crazy shit gone down over there in Bangkok town. And for those who don’t subscribe to the primacy of coincidence, well…you tell me what it all means?

I et my last pieces of Durian – Boo! Sob! – and, as nobody else’d ponied up the extra Baht to check out the O-Deck, shuffled up there by meself. I was serenaded, in the lift, by a three-piece band heading up to the top-floor restaurant to perform – and, ho hum, each member rocking a crazy-assed haircut. Then, the stairwell up to the revolving outdoor viewing stand smelt permanently of fart, was painted up in some kind of sci-fi narrative, and had a dude in a orange monkey suit walking around. Fuckin’…Thailand Weirdland! Who-could-ever-want-to-leave-this-place?-land.

After all that had gone, the view was frankly pretty anticlimactic. But, here it is, Bangkok from the top.

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Grant and Damien had waited for me downstairs, so the three of us hopped the link train out to Suvarnabhumi. My flight was just getting ready to check in when we arrived, and theirs was still some hours forthcoming. So, I bid them a fond farewell – Grant is going to be running in some damned-fool twenty-four-plus-hour marathon all the way across the United Kingdom in just a few days’ time – and made my way into the bowels of the airport.

There were a few tense minutes at Passport Control – three different personnel took it in turns to screw their faces up into confused-looking contortions when cross-checking my hard-copy with their computer’ screens’ records. When she finally did deign to administer the ever-precious “chop” (as the Malays delight in terming the applying of the stamp – if you ever travel in a van with Malays, you had better be prepared to discuss at great length your “chop” experience, or you ain’t gonna be discussing anything at all), I asked the clerk if there had been any problem. “No problem,” she merrily replied, “I check your data!” O-kay, do-kay.

I arrived to the gate with just about exactly enough time to listen to the new Sleater-Kinney rekkid before the boarding call, and that was that. Thailand Weirdland; that’s-a the place for me-land. Save some Durian for when I return, if you would be so kind. (By thee way, all of my pics from this year’s Thai Rodeo are shimmering themselves silly over at Flickrside.)

Oh, before I forget: One last pix, from Cambodia, which I’d (wrongfully) neglected until now to share. How cute is that shit?

I’ll see ya tomorrow.

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Penang Digest

For anybody who likes to read the blog, but prefers not to follow the timeline, here’s how it went down in Penang this year. The three fortnights were dominated by the following obsessions. The text is just copied from the timeline — more pics from each report can be learnt by following the links. Also, all my pics from Malaysia have been sent to the Flickr page, and may be observed there as well.

Obsession The First…

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(June 13)

Me: [Beating a hasty path toward the Esplanade, freshly procured Durian in hand.] Park-Bench Sittah: So, you take Durian?
Me: Yeah!
Park-Bench Sittah: It’s good, eh?
Me: Yes! Number one!
Park-Bench Sittah: But I thought, uhhhh…Europeans don’t take Durian?
Me: I’m American. We take it!

In point of actual fact, I don’t guess that Americans are any more likely than are Europeans to “take” Durian. But, sometimes, it’s necessary to lie a little in order to get to the truth — ain’t that right?

At any rate, the season here is already in FULL swing. And if my initial forays are any indication, it is going to be a fucking barn-burner! Who wants to come join me here??? Raise your goddam hand up!

(June 16)

The year’s first venture to Bao Sheng Durian Farm: All the delights that Heaven allows (but say bye-bye to my flat tummy). Organic Penang Durian, freshly dropped, from sixty-year-old trees — accept no substitutes!

(June 22)

Listen up, party people! The goddam Penang Durians are of exceptional quality this year — just rolling strike after strike after strike after strike. (As much as I’d like to believe that my selection skillz have reached such rarefied heights, I think the reality is simply that it’s purt near impossible to pick out a bad one this year.)

If you’re a-reading these words, you’ve still time to get here and crest the wave — but don’t dilly-dally: there are only about five weeks remaining in the season. You don’t wanna look back and regret having missed out…do you?

I already regret not having at least asked the price of this fricking behemoth, here. Just look at the sumbitch dwarfing its neighbours — about the size of a basketball, it was. Hopefully, one of its siblings will turn up soon.

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(June 25)

My favourite grower from last year (apart from the almighty Bao Sheng, natch) was a little later than everybody else on the giddyup this season — only began trading in the Good Stuff at the middle part of last week. I’m able to report, however that as of to-day, they have officially hit their stride. For the next weeks, lo do I worship at their altar!

Though, they don’t necessarily know the power of their own produce: They were loathe to permit me to purchase a particular fruit this very morning on the grounds that it was, they told me, shite. I stuck to my guns, insisting that it smelt quite heavenly to me. Finally, they threw it in for free, along with an admonition to not come crying to them and cetera and cetera. Can’t deny having felt a little intimidated, being dressed down in front of a big crowd and all. But we Ang Mo aren’t quite as stoopid, Durianically speaking, as the Malaysians delight in believing us to be. It turned out to be one of the best Durians of this already-legendary season.

So there’s your Durian Tip o’ the day: When your nose is recording signals of deliciousity, don’t let an authority figure frighten you into believing otherwise. The nose knows! (This tip is much easier to follow, of course, when the fruit in question may be obtained free of charge…)

(July 7)

Just another day on the Island. First, the World Durian Team here spent the morning and afternoon powering through about five hundred and eleventy billion metric tonnes of Bao Sheng Durian Farm goodness. Later, I made it back to George Town in time to catch — as part of the city’s annual Heritage Days festivities celebrating its 2008 UNESCO listing — one of the more athletic Lion Dance performances to which I’ve ever made witness.

It’s Penang ass-kickery, 24/7

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(July 10)

Another great day on the Durian trail — this time courtesy Penang Green Acres.

As proprietors Kim and Eric explained, many of Penang’s oldest farms are finding themselves unable to turn a profit, and so are being sold off and the trees liquidated. Green Acres isn’t profitable, either, but it’s all organic, and they’re willing to subsidise the project in order to save the trees from the neighbouring farms’ trees’ fates. Plus which, their Durian-wood eco-home is a truly gorgeous sight to behold.

Put this on your very, very short-list of must-visit Durian locations. Listening to them tell the farm’s story whilst supping of their magnificent fruit (including my first-ever taste of the very rare Graveolens Durian) — truly an I’m-not-worthy experience.

Ten million thank-yous Eric and Kim — and big ups, as always, to the ever-intrepid Year of the Durian for the tip-off.

(July 12)

Three words (arrange ’em in any order you prefer): “Penang”, “Motherfucking”, “Durian”. Are you receiving me?

(July 14)

There is only Durian; there is only Penang. All else is illusion.

(July 16)

The year’s final visit to Bao Sheng Durian Farm; so sad. The season began late, and is wrapping up early — but for three or four weeks there, it was the most dazzling rush of flavour/texture/aroma I’ve ever experienced. May we one day see its like again…

(July 19)

It all crumbled away so quickly. The Kampung situation in George Town is now in such a sorry state that I hopped a bus to Balik Pulau, where…the situation is equally as dire. I did manage to scrounge up this little fuss-budget, at least. Though very tiny — I’m not even sure whether the dude charged me for it — it turned out to be one of the two or three most numbing Durians I’ve ever eaten. Incroyable!

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Back in George Town, I swallowed my pride and went cruising the stalls out on Jalan Macalister; where, taking into account Commander Eric Rosales‘ proddings, I ordered up a representative of the XO variety. Gotta say, it was quite delicious — though at twenty Ringgit the kilo, decidedly out of my price range. But being it’s the end of the season and all…

Two good shots to go out with. And now, one is left to ponder the imponderable: Is there life after Penang Durian season-ending?

Obsession The Second…

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(June 17)

The George Town Helmet Project is back in thee saddle! Oh, gawd, how I do love this town. For more info, check out my report from last year.

(June 18)

Yet more helmets. How I fucking love this town! I do feel bad for the poor Penangites, though — they already think me satanic for my barefoot; my shaking of the picturetaker at them all over town can’t but add to their distress. But the results…oh, the freakin’ results! (And I’ve tried to transplant the project to other cities — but it only works in Penang.

(July 14)

I’m still shooting motorcycle helmets like a madman. Have now compiled about 8,500 pics in all — and I estimate that I delete about 50%, so I’ve actually *taken* about 17,000. Crazy. To think that I sometimes get pissed off at my poor, mistreated camera when it doesn’t do exactly what I want it to. That thing should be awarded the fuckin’ medal!

Anyhow, I sometimes wonder, “Okay, you’ve probably got enough pictures, now, innit?” But then, each new day, the results are just so fantastic — every George Town motorcycle helmet is a beautiful snowflake — that I can’t bring myself to stop. I think I’ve found my life’s calling, in fact. Whenever I am in George Town, the helmet-photographin’ mania will and must ensue.

And — just ever once in a while — I manage to capture a shot so (if I may humbly submit) epic, so culturally defining, so completely on-the-nose, that it belongs in the goddam time-capsule. Here, from just yesterday, is such a one. (If anybody needs me, I’ll be sitting here, ever so patiently, waiting for the time-capsule people to call…)

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(July 23)

Stir in a few more helmet pics, along with a small selection of amusing signs, and Penang is a wrap. Oh, where does the time go?

Obsession The Third…

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(June 14)

It’s kid-in-a-candy-store time when I arrive in Penang. I’m like, “Oh, snap! I wanna go to The Esplanade! I wanna go to Little India! I wanna go get some Durian! I wanna go to Batu Ferringhi! I wanna see what’s new at the galleries and museums! I wanna drink another Coconut! I wanna go listen to the prayer call! I wanna go befriend weirdos! I wanna go take pictures of motorcycle helmets! I wanna go look at the street art! I wanna see a Shadow Puppet performance!” And on and on.

Here only two days, though, and I can already feel the gravitational tug of time’s ineluctable whirlpool. This month is gonna fly by faster than a bat outta Hell. But while it does last…

(July 2)

The ocean was in top form to-day — in ways the camera will never know (not that that’ll stop us from trying). Ten thousand shades of stunning; beginning with the roiling, wind-blown daytime greens then giving way to the sinfully gorgeous evening blues. It all added up to the best maritime performance I’ve seen since I left Bau-Bau.

And these god damned ravens…first of all, they filched a piece of Durian from me the other day when I weren’t looking. Not a very big piece — but certainly one that I was looking forward to devouring. Anyhow, to-day, they kept plucking fish out of the sea, carrying them toward the shore a ways, then dropping them back in. What was that all about? Must be the full Moon, or some shit.

(July 9)

George Town takin’ it easy for all us sinners.

(July 13)

It’s a G-Town git-down.

Not An Obsession – More Like An Enthusiasm…

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(June 24)

They’re still putting new street art — keeps the repeat visitor all up on his/her toes.

(July 3)

Some more G-Town street art-istry.

(July 22)

Anybody in George Town wishing to see some cool shit, head over to the Fergana Art space at the Whiteways Arcade. Current show features some great collage pieces from artist Samsudin Wahab.

(July 23)

Last batch of murals from George Town (dig the SAMO reference in the second pic).

In addition to all the motorcycle pics, I did also manage to capture a few shots of people on bicycle or foot. Not as many as in years past, but they’re still looking very stylish indeed whilst employing these human-powered modes of transport.

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Just as in Big India, George Town’s Little India’s citizens’ penchant for requesting to have their photos taken is all too charming. Gotta give ‘em their day in the sun!

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And finally, a couple of clips. The first one proving, yet again, that no matter how corny it sounds, mother nature’s artistry is the most beautiful and compelling of all. The second, a quintessentially Asian experience: A morning stroll through George Town’s Chowrasta Market, the ultimate Lynchian fever-dream for the masses.

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