Backpacking Teacher

Travel, teaching and things in between. Saigon is the focus for now.

Archive for January 2008

Worst thing that’s happened to you whilst travelling?

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Gadling recently had a post in which they discussed author Chuck Thompson’s new book Smile While You’re Lying. As part of their post they invited people to write in with tales of the worst things that had happened to them whilst travelling. Like most travellers I’ve had a few things happen to me on my travels so I though I’d post one of my horror stories. Technically I wasn’t travelling but was actually working in Indonesia, in any case I think that the story holds up. What tempted me to write in was that they were offering 5 free books to the best “worst thing thats happened to you” travel stories.
Today I received an email saying I’ve won the book. So I’ve decided to repost my exact post from that site here. The details are mostly true although I will admit to being slightly hazy about the actual timing of the events. They’re close enought to accurate anyway.

Lets see …the time I got pulled over at gun point travelling in the back of a strangers car whilst crossing the Guatemalan border into Honduras … nope

The time I walked through the flooded streets of Calcutta and a rat thought I was an escape raft … nope

How about the time I worked in Indonesia managing a remote resort .. ah yes ..that one

I managed this remote resort on the island of Java. The country was in upheaval, students had recently been shot on the streets of Jakarta and my security manager came into see me.

“Pak”, he says. “Bad news. The local people they not like the resort making money on their land. They coming tomorrow to burn it down”.

“ok”, says I, attempting to be calm. “time to put our contingency plans into gear”. Thinking all along how absurd it was that I had contingency plans, for rioting villagers, ready to go.

12 hours later our guests had been relocated along with non emergency personnel

18 hours later the local military had set up barbed wire outside the resort entrance. Their Sergeant was setting their lines of fire. This was most definitely not part of the contingency plan which consisted mostly of getting the hell out of there just after our guests had buggered off.

18 hours and 2 minutes later I was furiously trying to find a solution and panicking at the sight of armed men playing with their weapons.

20 hours later the owners of the resort finally send a delegation down from Jakarta.

22 hours later the Jakarta delegation pays off the local Kepala Desa (Village Headman) and he persuades his villagers we’re good people after all.

2 days later I visit the village with food and gifts. They invite me in for lunch. Nice people..I should go back some time.


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January 23, 2008 at 1:44 am

No Nile Crocodile And A Half Pace Bob Marley

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Just before I head off to Malaysia to get my fill of KopiPeng, Char Kway Teow and Martabak Manis I thought I’d leave you with these memories of my sailing down the Nile on a Felucca.

It wasn’t until after I had jumped into the Nile that I remembered it’s famed crocodiles. Never mind, I thought, if I’ve survived the papyrus sellers of Cairo’s Khan elKhalili market then I can surely survive a crocodile attack or two.

I dove under the Felucca and broke through the water on the other side, the sun glancing sharply off the water. Momentarily blinded I slowed to wipe my eyes and spotted a crocodile. OK. I didn’t spot a crocodile in fact the only crocs I came across in Egypt were on feet or stuffed in museums or stuffed on feet trudging around museums. Or, as in this case, where the croc I saw was being wielded by the Nubian captain of our Felucca who, waving it in his hands was clearly using it to remonstrate with a tape player. What he expected the croc (a bright orange one I might add) to do I’m not sure but what he wanted was what he’d wanted for the last two days of our sailing. He wanted Bob Marley to stop singing at half speed. Now, I know, the sound of Bob singing as if he’s stoned has a certain synchronicity about it but being advised at mournfully low speed that "no woman, no cry" is more likely to lead to crying than not. I sympathised with our captain and would have gone to his aid and remonstrated alongside him using my own, far less colourful, sandal but I was enjoying the moment much too much.

Behind the croc waving Nubian stood a proudly decaying pillar and wall. A wall and pillar shining that golden colour that all ruins along the Nile seem to have. Etched deeply into the wall were Hieroglyphs although all I could make out was the occasional cartouche. To the right of the building and by the water’s edge sat an Egyptian woman washing. Behind me a small row boat made it’s way across the river. Two schoolboys in white shirts and ties sat in the stern as the boatman rowed away. I wondered if he asked them to move down to the back of the boat as they entered and, if we examined the underside of the seats upon which they sat, we would find stubborn lumps of old chewing gum.

"Won’t you help to sing, these songs of freedom", came bubbling across the water. The orange croc had apparently worked and Bob was now advising me to "free our minds" at a mostly normal speed. I’m not sure I needed the advice at that exact moment as I drank in all I saw around me. The Nile around me, the smiling Nubian captain, croc still in hand, sharp sunlight, the engineless Felucca, walls that spoke of ancient glories, schoolchildren in a little row boat and Bob. Somehow it all worked to, for those few minutes at least, emancipate myself from mental slavery.

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January 5, 2008 at 4:35 am

Vietnamese Coffee or how to really take a good photograph and blog about it

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If you’d like a bit more information on authentic Vietnamese coffee (and great photography) you should have a look at this blog post by Eating Asia. I’ve been lurking around her blog for ages now, thoroughly admiring her photography. This particular post on Vietnamese coffee makes me want to get on a plane and fly to Vietnam. Instead I’ll just have to wait until I get to Malaysia where I can order a Kopi-Peng which is made in a similar manner to the Vietnamese iced coffee (Cafe Sua Da).

The above photograph is one of Eating Asia’s and her entire article and other great photographs can be viewed at

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January 3, 2008 at 2:55 am

Weasel Coffee & Beef Pho: Does that little animal really regurgitate the coffee beans?

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My breakfast this morning consisted of this bowl of extremely fresh and tasty Beef Pho and a cup of Iced Coffee at G-Pho in Maroubra, Sydney. Not just any coffee mind you but Weasel Coffee.

The idea behind Weasel Coffee is that it is a coffee bean that has been eaten by a Weasel. The Weasel then naturally regurgitates the bean by which time the enzymes in it’s digestive tract (still with me) have caused the coffee bean to subtly alter flavour. These beans are then roasted as normal. The resulting brew is strong (like a good Robusta) but leaves none of the bitter after taste. Indeed when you first smell and taste the coffee it almost has a sense of mocha about it. By far the best Iced Coffee I’ve had in Sydney, perhaps anywhere.

OK. Here’s my conceit. It’s not actually real Weasel Coffee. Which I would still have had except that most of the Weasel Coffee (which comes from Vietnam) is now made without having to wait for cute little animals to regurgitate. Nonetheless the coffee was superb and that’s the point.

The Beef Pho was equally delicious and the shop that serves these two dishes, G-Pho, is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. If you’re interested this is their website. It doesn’t have anything beyond a home page but the address is there.

The photos above don’t do either the coffee or the pho justice but I only had my iphone and the photos the thing takes are not fantastic and nor (looking at where the light is coming from on those photos) are my photography skills.

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January 2, 2008 at 4:21 am

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