Liebensraum

OK, forget what I said , let’s talk about the war.

I moved into new digs Tuesday, as you know. It’s as good as can be expected, in many ways;

  • It’s 5 minutes on a bike to the Esplanade
  • It’s good temperature-wise. It’s got good aircon, and the bedroom ceiling fan is effective, even if sounds like a blender on slow. The patio is under a shelter, out of the direct sunlight, and gets a cool afternoon breeze
  • It’s secure.
  • One of the other flatmates, Hamish, is an escapee from Gore. But he’s overcome that, and he’s been friendly , generous, and accommodating. He’s been in Aussie for many years, and works night-shifts on the Stop / Go roadsigns for $30 / hour.

Liebensraum

It’s very early days, but the other guy, by contrast, is a humorless German, Peter.

He’s having trouble adjusting to a third flatmate, and every time we’ve talked directly, he’s complained or given orders about something or other.

For example, there are two shared fridges in the flat. In his universe, three into two works like this – one for you two, and one for me. It sounds petty, but without fridge-space I’ll be eating junkier food. So sooner or later, there will need to be compromise.

Right now, though, I’m the New Guy – Poland if you will – to his Germany. If it comes to a scrap, I’m guessing the Landlord would give me the marching orders, so I’m being diplomatic.

Gated

Most residences here are behind at least one high locked gate, as if there’s a low-level siege mentality.

Not nearly at the same level as Vietnam, but it’s noticeable for a small-town lad.

Along with a wide range of foreigners, there also seems to be noticeably more Lost Souls here than back in Whangarei . People shouting at windmills and sucking on bags of dubious liquid, or just making the place look untidy.

I guess the Haves are barricading themselves against the Have-Nots.

When In Rome

The weather is even better than expected. It’s not rained once, during daylight, since I’ve been here.

Like most of the natives, I gad about in shorts and a t-shirt, and haven’t yet worn shoes.

All of that seems to be agreeing with me, and if this continues, I may be some time.

New bikes and …

While New Zealand is – again – pulling up the drawbridge, I’m cycling off in the other direction.


This morning, with news that the travel bubble with Australia has burst, I registered my tiny wee gesture of defiance by buying a bike. That above, $60 AUD with lock included.

It’s a commitment to cheap travel here for the next few weeks while the bubble is inspected, pending its possible re-inflation in September.

I’d planned to stay at least two months anyway, and I just couldn’t face myself in the morning if I crawled home now after arriving on July 14.

Of course I risk paying for the hubris. Either by having to cough up for quarantine if NZ stays closed, or by working long hours. Or by finding a real job here to support my feckless self.

So, what’ll it be, then? – chill-blains, rain for days on end, grey skies, freezing cold, or….

“I’ll take the bag, thanks.”

Finding my feet

Day six in Cairns, and what follows is the stew produced from throwing the spaghetti at the wall. A hodge-podge.

On that note, here are some random pictures taken since arriving.

Cycle City

There are bikes lanes, dedicated bike paths, centre-line cyclist stops, and even lanes for bikes on the major arterial routes.

Cairns is the purple spot , probably covering about 25 kms each side

Cairns is also pretty much flat for miles around , as you can see at left.   When there’s been a breeze, it’s pretty mild.

And lastly, the airBnB guest house I’m staying at includes free use of its three mountain bikes. One at a time.

Waterfront

The waterfront is spectacular. Ok, it’s not Nha Trang bay, but it is very nice.

How many words is a video worth?

This is looking out over the bay from The Esplanade, near the town centre;

And this is from a similar position looking more toward town;

The Briny

The tide was out, but even so, it looked inviting enough so that I was fixing to swim there one day soon. The host has told me, seriously, that this just isn’t done. People fish there, and eat the catch, but it’s considered unsafe for swimming. Go figure.

The Colourful Side

While I was near the town centre, I stumbled across the colourful side of town, notably four Vietnamese restaurants and an entire “night market” mainly dedicated to food.

Also from the “good news for gluttons” department comes the discovery that dairy here is good quality and cheap, including cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

The Digs

The guest house has been blessedly quiet after Queensland started shutting out those scurvy southerners from Victoria and NSW. It’s bad news for the host, with a slew of cancellations. But good news for yours truly who, along with a quiet young couple, have the run of the place.

It has good cooking and bathroom facilities, and the bedrooms are ok. A minor annoyance is that its proximity to a well-trafficked road. The laptop mike picks it up, meaning I’m confined to barracks ( my room ) for online teaching.

But it is a little outside a budget I can manage longer-term. Accommodation is going to be the major challenge if I decide to stay on here. It’s the ‘High Season’ for tourists right now, and the best option for me appears to be finding a room in an established flat.

The Weather

Below is the view from outside at around 8.15 a.m., about 21 degrees celsius.

Down to earth in Cairns

After spending most of yesterday aloft at 30,000 feet, today is a recovery day in Cairns, Australia.

I arrived at the BnB at just before midnight. Exhaustion, and too much rubbish food, meant I slept only about 4 hours.

Nonetheless, the first order of business today, before parking myself on a couch, was a trip to stock up. Recovery equals eating, right?

The AirBnB place I’m staying in provides free bikes, and the lazy 3.5 km trip to Woolworths and back took about half an hour each way.

The BnB I’m staying at is comfortable, an older house large enough for the four guests to easily avoid each other.

The Trip

I left Whangarei ( 5 deg C on waking ) at around 10 a.m., sitting next to a ruddy, chatty type on her way to an automotive convention in the South Island with her husband and son.

Then it was 6 hours at Auckland airport. Auckland turned on a warm day, of course, given that I’d dressed in as much clothing – with as many pockets – as possible. All in an effort to reduce my baggage weight, since it’s fair play for myself and clothing to weigh 80 kgs for the day.

A four-hour flight to Brisbane was next. The plane was maybe 25% full, so there was ample room to spread myself over the spare seat separating me and a young Aussie guy on a short trip back to Queensland to visit relatives.

I did get “taken aside” but breezed through Aussie customs in 10 minutes. There were no requests for proof of the travel declarations ( one for Queensland, one or Australia ) I’d scrambled around to finish at Auckland airport. I’d read that only one was required, but that wasn’t the case, according to Auckland airport boarding staff.

Two hours at Brisbane airport, and lugging everything from the international to domestic airport, followed. The last leg to Cairns was a Qantas flight maybe about 70% full.

I won’t be taking too many taxis here, with the fare from Cairns airport to ‘home’ costing AUD $25 +.

Right, I’m off to find a dark corner and turn on the Tele for a while until that depresses me too much and youtube takes centre stage.

Change of plans

Yes, I’m still champing at the bit to get out of here, but it won’t be happening on Tuesday July 13.

So I was told via text at 11.55pm last night. Their explanation was “operational reasons”. The Air New Zealand phone support spent nearly 5 minutes to tell me they couldn’t explain that further.

I’m now escaping this miserable winter from Wednesday July 14, in the morning.

I’m not overjoyed about it, because it means a six-hour wait in Auckland, and a two-hour stopover in Brisbane.

Meantime, here’s hoping Queensland continues its good covid record.

PB Tech 2 Dick Smiths 0

It’s two-nil to PB Tech in the home-and-away online shopping games.

But you know the rules – let’s not talk about the war.

Instead, let’s talk about buying phones online. The fast decline of my old phone started when I pried off the back cover to do some surgery with blunt instruments.

A few weeks later, the sim card slot no longer slid out, and my attempts to wrangle it back into shape resulted in a banana-shaped back cover. Go figure.

With the upcoming escape to Oz, my daughter suggested the inevitable had hit the fan, and it needed replacing.

After poring over specs and costs etc at gsmarena.com, I settled on a Redmi 9 ( no “Note”) , cheap at Dick Smiths.

I bought that online on June 15, thinking that even if it was being imported from Australia, it would arrive in time.

Whereabouts Unknown

Not. When I hadn’t heard, or received, anything a week later, I looked up the tracking. It was nowhere to be found.

Since Dick Smith’s is now 100% online, and one doesn’t get to talk ( even by text chat! ) to a real person, a busyness of emails followed.

They were “opening an investigation”, which may take “up to 10 working days”. After repeating myself a few times, I think it dawned on them that what I wanted was a phone, and not an investigation. Thank you.

They did eventually refund the money, leaving me to scramble about again.

I found a Redmi Note 9T at PB Tech.

They had delivered within two days an SD card I bought soon after the Dick Smith’s Redmi buy.

And so it was with the phone, which arrived less than 24 hours after I’d ordered it.

So here’s to PB Tech, which delivers stuff pronto with no palaver.

Unlike some other outlets. Which suspicious minds might think advertise products knowing that their delivery tracking is broken, and they don’t have to stocks to meet demand.

On My Way Again

It’s official –  i’m on my way out of this cold rainy Isle to soak in the sun.

For a bit. Maybe as brief as three weeks, but perhaps for as long as three months or more. I don’t ( yet ) have a return ticket.

Destination ? Cairns, Far North Queensland, in the Land of Oz, where it’s warm.

Maybe the 16-month stint in SouthEast Asia messed up my thermostat, but this winter – my first in the “Winterless North” since 2018 – has been brutal on this skinny old bloke.

I wouldna thunk of Cairns, except that it kept cropping up in conversation with Japanese students at Engoo.

July 13

is D-Day. I’ll be leaving Whangarei late afternoon, and arriving in Cairns close to midnight.

I’ve got a room booked in an AirBnB house for the first week. I plan to spend most of that beetling around for ( cheaper ) longer-term digs.

I’m told by an Insider in the airBnB game that at NZD 270 / week, I’m getting a good deal. But at that price, a 3-month stay may be a stretch.

But, barring Aussie customs deciding that they don’t want another recidivist Kiwi, I’m hoping to at least dodge the worst of the remaining winter.

Stop Press

Out with the old

Rather than fix the Old Dunger bike, I rented a new one at 1 million / month.

The prospect of turning up at school looking as if I got the wrong suburb didn’t appeal much. The school’s very upmarket.

The repair bill for the old bike came at about 1 million VND. That’s about the same as its retail value if it’s going.

I arranged to sell it as is for 500,000 vnd, but the buyer pulled out, leaving me with a white elephant. Learnings again.

Head down, arse up


Three weeks down, five to go.

Term now ends June 30, so it’s a case of making hay while the sun shines. The “Eagle”‘s monthly bowel movement is due June 7th after which I will feel a lot more secure.

I have two classes daily Grades 8 ( 13-14 years ) and 9. The younger students are eager, disciplined and easy to teach.

The older class is a battle with teenage hormones and several renegades running amuck among them. There’s a way wider range of English abilities. Three or four are maybe at the level of a good New Zealand 12 year old. Five or six are not far above New Entrant level.

Past July, the job isn’t assured, so I was pointedly told by the Head Teacher. The solution would be to sign up as a full-timer, which would mean more than 40 ‘office hours’ a week.

But that’s a bridge too far for me. And it seems, for the three other full-timers, who’re making noises of complaint about it.

The Head Teacher has told me that the school has been looking for two years for a 4th full-timer to tackle the brutal schedule.

Right now, I’m going to gamble that they won’t find one before August. In which case they’ll probably extend my contract at the ‘part-time’ mornings-only hours.

Laptop Blues


The laptop I bought in May 2019, just before leaving New Zealand, is unwell.

It may be terminal. I’ve been able to get by using flash drives, Linux, and the school’s machines. But revival attempts on the PC are taking up way too much of my time.

The worst upshot has been missing online classes with my favourite Japanese student. He’s an interesting guy, a native Japanese who’s lived in Thailand for 3 years, and supports himself as a sports writer. He’s been far and away my most consistent and loyal student. I regard him as a friend.

But his tolerance for me being forced to cancel classes won’t be unlimited.

Apartments


I’ve become accustomed to the smaller living space, cheaper rent, and higher electric costs at the new digs, and plan to be here til July.

I’m also finding my way among the local roadside food stalls. So far I’ve found good, cheap, quality sellers of duck eggs, avocados, pork luncheon, and fresh greens. Still on the list are banh it, and seafood. I’ve learned that rather than ask uestions, the fastest way of identifying a mystery food is often just to buy a sample.

Pattaya to Rayong


Slept really well at Harry’s Bar and Restaurant, despite the nightclub noise from downstairs. The air-conditioning worked well, and bed-clothes nice n heavy and warm. That might sound all rosy, but see below.

He’s a ( wannabe ) Mod

I decided in the morning that I had to hire a scooter. When in Rome… Had a blast. The roads in Thailand are total anarchy. From a very unscientific survey, there are as many scooters as cars on the roads. Who’s riding them? 12-year-old kids, Mums with three youngsters, old blokes, white blokes, smoking blokes, texting blokes. They’re like squadrons of wasps, floating in and out of traffic. Helmets are optional. I don’t think I saw a cop.

Harry’s Bar and Restaurant – Old-man gripes

Apparently supplying a plug for the bathroom sink was just a bridge too far. I tried to cajole the young and beautiful maitre d’ (?) into hunting down such a thing, but soon gathered I was low on the priority list. Having to check out in the morning, I started getting bug-eyed about needing to shave etc beforehand. Still no good. Finally, she supplied me with a large stainless steel bowl. Sheesh. Other than that, I had to fight like Ronnie Barker to open the door to the room. And there was a puddle in the shower which never went away. And there troupes of drunken old guys ( about my vintage ) ‘romancing’ the local women. Cheap, though.

Street-life in Pattaya

On the Road

After the plug-less morning, and scrambling about trying to rent a car to pick up in Pattaya, and return in Rayong, I gave up, and went with the sledgehammer option. I got a taxi. And a fine fellow he was too. His English was nearly as bad as my Thai, but he did introduce me to the wonders of the Google Translate app ( who knew? ). So we spent the trip chatting away by tapping messages into our phones. He was good enough to help me find a scooter hire in Rayong ( the only one, claimed the operators ), and then guilted me into a little tip, even though I’d paid 1000 baht for the trip already.

A bit troppo

With the freedom of a scooter and the on-board navigation of Google maps, I set about having a good look around. I found a really nice hole-in-the-wall outfit down the road from the motel who had a smorgasbord deal going. Eggs and ‘coleslaw’, just the thing. Then later I got caught in an eating jag in a supermarket complex, and slammed down a load of ( warm ) pork sausages. Hello food poisoning. Mild, but still bloody nasty. ( update Sunday – still battling stomach cramps ! )

A durian – that portion will set you back about $3NZD

Note to self – crap food is crap food, Thai or not. On the other hand, I discovered  new favourite delicacy, a durian. Kind of a cross between a banana and a pawpaw , pure sugary bliss.

Transport

Had to return the rental bike today, or face another 500 b. ( baht ) / DAY, which is daylight robbery. Scooters could be had for 2400 b. / MONTH in Pattaya, but much harder to find in Rayong. Found someone who will rent me one for 4000 b / MONTH.

New Arrival

Ma and Grace Auckland Airport

The flight to Sydney was uneventful. Watched ( most of ) The Departed. In the middle of a row of four in the middle of the aircraft. Painful but quick. Got changed at Sydney airport so I looked a bit less Worzel Gummidge. The flight was a trial from Sydney to Bangkok. Something like 8 – 9 hours, and didn’t sleep much. BUT the seats and the service is better on Emirates. Plus I fluked a window seat on that second flight and the seat next to me was vacant.’

Fleeced

I was so shagged when I got to Bangkok that I got fleeced by a taxi driver that collared me at the airport. Cost 500 baht ( $25 ) for a trip that another driver today offered to do for 200 baht.

The SilverGold Garden Hotel – someone in Marketing hedged their bets

Was just too tired to think at first when I arrived, and wanted to get to my hotel asap*.

The little posse of food stalls outside Silvergold Bangkok. Brewing up a feed at 4 a.m.

As it was I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep. Luckily about 50 metres from the hotel there were a whole bunch of street vendors. One of them was open and brewing stuff up at 4.30 am! Got a great meal ( big bowl of soup-like stuff, including some that looked suspiciously like refined carbs, not exactly rice but something related ) for 40 baht ( less than $2 ).

* Next time I’ll seriously consider sleeping at the airport. It has air-conditioning, and there were dozens of young-uns crashed out around the airport when I went through. Plus they have wifi and shops.

Yes it’s HOT

It’s hot as hell. At 4.30 am it was just bearable. Any other time of the day I have to scuttle back under the cover of air-conditioning after quick 30-minute forays outside. It’s so extreme that I don’t think there are (m)any hotels without air-conditioning.

Busy? Bangkok , in the area I was, wasn’t actually crazy busy. In hindsight. Today I decided I better start moving toward Rayong. But between grappling with the hotel wifi, and keeping the sustenance and water up, I couldn’t figure out how to negotiate catching the bus. It goes through Bangkok to Rayong, but trying to locate something on a phone across Bangkok is hard work.

English

Not very many Thais speak English either. Even the young ones serving at the 7-11s ( American-styled ‘dairies’, full of rubbish food ) hardly had any English. Two people I found in the whole complex of hotel and street vendors spoke English well enough for a conversation, the hotel receptionist, and the taxi concierge.

The taxi concierge because I decided getting to Rayong and getting settled was a better plan that saving a few baht on a bus I couldn’t find. So I opted for a taxi trip to Chonburi, about halfway from Bangkok to Rayong, with the guy who offered me the cheaper airport fare. But turns out he was the ‘concierge’ , and I got driven by an attractive woman maybe in her 30s. Had a good chat with her, her English was ok, and I tried to regurgiate some very basic Thai she taught me.

Chonburi

Anyway, when I got to Chonburi, I hated it. It’s like a bigger, hotter, dustier Te Hana, but with a six-lane highway splitting it. So I forked out even more, and got the driver to take me to Pattaya, only about 30 – 50 kms away from Rayong. It’s supposed to be by the seaside. Instead it’s a flesh-pot, full of aging pot-bellied Poms with young Thai women. From having spent a whole 6 or 7 hours here, they don’t seem to do very much except drink beer, play pool, watch soccer, and eat. Much like what they would likely do in dear old England, except more cheaply. There are dozens and dozens of eateries, and most of them cater for the ex-pat ( white-skinned ) crowd, rather than offer any Thai cuisine.I guess it needs more investigation. The coconut milk / cream they have here is un-believably good. There are also dozens of bordellos – the women hang out outside, often in ‘company’ uniforms.

 

I feel like a smoke.

I’m a bit over-tired, and – get this – got lost in Pattaya about 500m from the hotel :-/ . My phone ran out of charge. All the streets look the same. None of them are signposted. It’s hot. There are motorbikes everywhere. There are no footpaths. If you’re not on your toes you’ll more than likely get them run over. There are something like 4 different 7-11s within a 200m radius, so it starts to feel a lot like Groundhog Day. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_(film) )

I’m knackered, but surviving.

Time for a shower and bed.