Day 622: The Great Wall

14.09.10:

Sometimes I had good days, sometimes I have bad days, sometimes I have days that are madder than Mad Jack McMad of the clan McMad.  Today was one of the mad days.  It all started at 2am when my bus pulled over at the side of the road and the driver’s mate gesticulated for me to get off.  Are we in Beijing already?  We’re four hours early…

Sleepy-eyed and completely not with it, I got off (hoping I had grabbed all my stuff) and was herded onto another bus.  You see, my bus wasn’t full enough to justify going all the way to Beijing, so I was to get on another bus that was a little more full.  Well, make that TOTALLY FULL.  Which meant that for the next hour while all around me slept the sleep of angels in their little Chinese bunk beds, I was unhappily STANDING IN THE GODDAMN AISLE.  When it became abundantly clear that there was no way out of this situation, I took the executive decision to make an arse of myself and demand my money back.  So I barged my way to the front of the bus and started shouting at the driver, at which point (possibly because the Chinese HATE to ‘lose face’) the driver’s mate clambered down from his bunk and offered me his bed.

I didn’t need to be offered twice.  I snapped up the bed and fell fast asleep.  Then at 5.30am the driver’s mate decided that he wanted to have a conversation with somebody at the very back of the bus (or on the roof, I don’t know) and as the Chinese are blessed with the highest toleration of noise this side of a howler monkey, the ensuing racket woke me up.  Convinced that there was either a fire or we had arrived, I put my socks on and got ready to disembark.  Oh yeah: there’s the Beijing West train station, I know where I am.

Some people got off the bus, so I thrust my shoes onto my feet and headed for the door, at which point the driver’s mate pushed me physically back onboard.  WTF?  I wasn’t in the mood for this, not after last night’s shenanigans.  I pushed him back and told him in no uncertain terms that I was getting off the bus.  Bizarrely, the driver then told me that I had to pay to get off the bus here.  How much?  10 Yuan (that’s about a quid).

FINE.

I took a 10 yuan note from my wallet, threw it on the floor and marched off the bus.  I was doubly pissed off because I had decided that I really liked Chinese buses as well.  Now I didn’t like them so much, but until somebody else puts beds on buses then I’m afraid they’re going to remain the best, even if they suffer from occasional Greyhound syndrome.

Anyway, it was now 6am and the day was yet young.  The bus to Qingdao, the coastal port from which I could get the ferry to Korea, would be leaving Beijing sometime in the evening (I hoped) and so I had a day to kill, and I had a promise to keep with an old friend…

The Great Wall of China is a masterpiece of human endeavour.  Even if it never really worked (it didn’t keep Genghis out) it still stands out as an artistic and engineering triumph, winding its way in now broken sections from the Jade Gate in the far West all the way to North Korea in the East.  The Lonely Planet recommended against visiting the bit of the wall in Badaling (which is where I visited) on the grounds that it’s full of tourists.  Silly pretentious Lonely Planet, I AM a tourist.  Lemon.  What’s with people wanting places all to themselves anyway?  Are all the girls in bikinis spoiling your beach?  Are all the people having a good time in your living room ruining your party?  If all the people in the world camped out in your back garden, would you write and tell the king?

Or would you grab a tent and join ’em?

Tell you what, though, I wish other people would learn to take a photograph.  When I throw you my camera, DON’T PUT MY HEAD IN THE LOWER MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMN PICTURE!!  I’m sure the sky is lovely and one day I might take a picture of it myself, but for the love of God: HEADS, UPPER THIRD OF PICTURE, PLEASE.  ALWAYS.

THANK YOU.

Anyway, the crowds were an added bit of entertainment and it was nice to be around lots of people who were enjoying themselves.  The wall was great, although it was a stinking hot day and with my backpack and my laptop/camcorder etc. to carry, boy it was a killer climbing up that hill.

In a bit I had to climb down, and the fact that I desperately need a new pair of shoes became painfully obvious as the shiny polished stones were like an ice rink: one that is disturbingly vertical.  Anyone who has braved Dubrovnik in Croatia in high heels (and who hasn’t?!) will know exactly what I’m talking about.  I slid all the way down, clinging onto the handrail for dear life.

Fun!

Anyway, enough walling for one day, I headed back to Beijing to meet with Carl and pick up my gear that he had kindly let me leave at his.  After a (much needed) shower I was raring to go to the Forbidden City and see Tiananmen Square for myself.  Carl was up for it, so we took the metro down to the very middle – figuratively and geographically – of Beijing.  Tiananmen was a little meh; too big, too surrounded by yawn and, well let’s just say it – it looked a little like a carpark.

The Forbidden City, on the other hand, was exceptionally groovy from the outside and, like St Peter’s Basilica and Samarkand, I made the executive decision to save the inside for another day: to leave some more stones unturned.  Climbing the Great Wall was enough for one day.  Beijing: I like you.  I’ll be back.

Everybody knows that the best place to get travel information is at a backpackers.  Luckily for me, Carl had been staying at a nearby hostel before he moved into his current flat. Like the Major in Fawlty Towers.  So he knew the staff pretty well and we were their to pick their brains about bus times to Qingdao.  Happily, there was a bus leaving at 7.30pm, which was the time I was hoping the bus would leave.  Carl and I celebrated with the biggest glass of beer you have EVER seen.  It was so big it had its own tap.  And a tube of ice in the middle to keep it cool (the Chinese man, they think of EVERYTHING!).

Unfortunately, it was so big it took us an hour to drink the damn thing and by then it was looking a little late for me to get to the bus in time, considering I still had to go back to Carl’s, pack my bags up and head halfway across town.  But we gave it a red hot go.

I said goodbye to Carl on the steps of the Dongzhimen Station (I wonder if Chinese people find ‘Dong’ and ‘Wang’ as hilarious as I do – then again, nobody thinks the ‘turd’ in Saturday is even remotely funny except for me and the less said about Scunthorpe the better).  Carl’s a good egg, and if you’re ever in need of a couch in Beijing, I couldn’t recommend a more generous host.  Cheers man!

So it was a heart-pounding RACE to the bus station.  It would have been good to have an hour to make the journey.  As it was, I had half an hour.  The first metro line train came straight away, which was great, however the second train I had to transfer onto was a) miles of winding tunnels away and b) just pulling out of the station when I got there.

So I had to wait for the next one.  But even when I had got to the destination station, the bus station was still a while away.  It was 7.25 and things were not looking good.  I needed a taxi and none were stopping.  At 7.33 I arrived at the bus station, but the driver dropped me on the other side of a massive dual carriageway which meant I had to RUN up the stairs (with all my bags which are now collectively weighing a TON), cross the bridge and come down the other side.  And then…

And then….

Where the HELL is the bus station??  One thing about China that’s worth worrying about: hardly anybody speaks English.  Yes, hurray for the Chinese they are just as completely inept at learning other languages as I am.  Which is great.  If you’re Chinese.

I asked a few passers-by, but to actually get the one English professor in the whole of China who actually understands the words ‘Bus Station’ was going to be the statistical equivalent of winning the Lotto.  Without actually buying a ticket.

I had two choices: left or right.  I went left.  Within 50 yards there was a narrow driveway.  A coach was entering it.  I ran after the coach down the dark and forbidden driveway of doom.  And there it was: the bus station, inexplicably hidden from the outside world by a bunch of noodle shops.  I ran inside.  The place was empty.  The lights were off.

There were two women at a small counter by coach bay door number 16 who were packing up for the night.  Like the previous two nights I ran towards the women shouting the name of my destination.  One women shook her head.  “Tomorrow”.

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!! I said, doing my best Vader and banging my head on the counter.

The women then started talking to her friend in Chinese.  They looked at me, saw the despair, the longing, the joy they knew that only they could bring with those three magic words…

“Come with me…”

A broad smile cracked across my face.  I had beaten the system.  Again.  Hurray for China, man, THREE CHEERS, BRAVO.  These guys know something that the less mentally agile denizens of Planet Earth do not: rules are made to be bent.  I was put on a bus that was leaving that very moment, but before I had even managed to sit down I was put on another bus which I assumed was the bus to Qingdao, but wasn’t – it was the bus that was taking me to the bus to Qingdao.  I assume that they were taking the same route out of town and that they called ahead to ask the Qingdao bus to wait for me.

Anyway, one way or the other, I was soon curled up on my amazing Chinese bus bed dreaming my way to Qingdao and beyond.

Days 704-706: The Power and The Pelni

05.12.10-07.12.10:

Noah had nothing on this. All life is here – spread out all over the floor. Picnics, knick-knacks, porridge, rice and tic-tacs. Families, feuds, filth, food and funny lookin’ f—ers. Music, mayhem, toys and rugs and cardboard. Screaming babies and bawling kids and out-of-tune karaoke and phones on speaker phone and noise and noise and noise.

The Pelni ferries that ply the water between the major Indonesian islands are a hoot. They are the diametric opposite of a luxury cruise: more akin to a floating refugee camp, thousands of people crammed onboard snuggled into every nook and cranny, complete with the ubiquitous massive bundles of stuff. WHAT’S WITH THE STUFF?? I guess Indonesians and Africans have got this in common: neither would dream of wasting a journey. And if that means an old age pensioner carting a metric ton of rice a thousand miles across the ocean, then so be it.

The trip from Java to West Papua was a good one for me. I spent most of the time in the little café on the 5th level. My laptop plugged in for power, no chance of internet and only intermittent phone reception meant that I could plough on with cutting together a couple of promo videos from the 100+ hours of footage that I’ve got from this year.

Here’s one of them:

I can’t release much more footage as it will jeopardise the already dicey chances of there being a second series of the TV show: I’ve got no choice but to work with Lonely Planet again, not that that’s a problem – they’re nice guys, but the strength of the Australian dollar most certainly is. When I first visited Oz back in 2002 it was 2.7 Aussie Dollars to the Pound. Now it’s 1.5. Eek!! The upshot of which is that TV/Film/Music production in the Down Under is now prohibitively expensive for anybody who might be paying for said production in, say, US Dollars, British Pounds or Euros…

Or in other words, I need the Australian economy to crash in order to secure series two of the TV show. Anybody know any corrupt currency traders happy to plunge 20,000,000 cork-hatted people into odious debt??

Sitting in the ship café had other advantages as well: coffee on tap, nasi goreng (egg fried rice – Indonesia’s only alternative to, erm, rice) and a bunch of friendly guys chatting with me. I made friends with the staff and had a laugh teasing these two kids (surprisingly good English, by the way) for shouting ‘meeeeeeeister’ at me all day.

Indonesian Kids
"Meeeeeeeeeeeister"

A brief stopover in the city Makassar on the island of Sulawesi (Celebes in old money) gave me a chance to stop in a brand new Dutch bakery that had opened just the day before. Tasty treats galore… and possibly the first and only bit of Dutchiness I’ve seen in the whole of Indonesia – odd considering these 17,000 islands had been a Dutch colony for so long.

Graham Hughes in Makassar
I is here

Was a bit miffed on the second and third nights when I found my bunk had been nicked by some old guy who refused to get out of it. My bunk was just one of over two hundred on the fifth floor, although there were many more on the floors above and below: there was easily over a thousand people on board this ship and I can only imagine that Pelni are laughing all the way to the bank.  I found an empty bunk and took it for myself.

I had left Java on the Sunday, we had got into Makassar on the Monday and it was in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning when we finally arrived in Sorong. There I would be attempting to score a ride to the very southern islands of the Pacific island nation of Palau, just 220 nautical miles due north of here.

Just like the old chestnut ‘I’m going to visit every country in the world without flying’, this would be easier said than done.

Days 707-712: Fuzzy Logic

08.12.10-13.12.10:

The ship came into the sleepy port town of Sorong in West Papua pretty much on time, which made me happy.  At the port I was met by the indomitable Bosco, the local guy who I’d be CouchSurfing with for my brief stay here.  We got as far as his local church before the storm broke and the rain started coming down in buckets.  Staying on the back of his scooter with all my bags wasn’t smart, so we tucked ourselves under the eves of the chapel and waited for the downpour to stop.

Bosco
The Mighty Bosco

West Papua (or just ‘Papua’ to give the place its proper name) is the western half of the island of New Guinea (also known – just to confuse matters – as Papua).  New Guinea is the second largest island in the world (brownie points for guessing the first) and is spilt straight down the middle between West Papua (which is part of Indonesia) and the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

Incidentally, ‘Papua’ means ‘Fuzzy Haired’.  As ‘Barbados’ means ‘Bearded Ones’, I’m thinking Everton’s Marouane Fellaini should grow a beard so I can call him ‘Papua Barbados’.

Which is SUCH an awesome pornstar name.

Tangent, sorry… anyway, West Papua was not part of Indonesia when it first got independence, it was only a couple of decades later that the Dutch relinquished the colony it had held since 1660.  This didn’t stop Indonesia’s dubious claim to West Papua in 1969 which nobody in the international community had the balls to argue against – a trick that would be employed again a few years later in East Timor.

The fact that the biggest gold mine IN THE WORLD is situated in West Papua I’m sure had no baring whatsoever on Jakarta’s decision to annex the territory.  The mad thing is that ethnically, religiously, socially and spiritually, the people of the island of New Guinea have about as much in common with the people of Java as a pensioner in Sierra Leone has with a Japanese schoolgirl.

One of the main bones of contention is (AS ALWAYS!) religion.  West Papua is, no matter what Jakarta would have you believe, overwhelmingly Christian, animist or secular.  Pigs are worshipped here for Christ’s sake.  Consequently, the locals here are not to big on the whole pig ban thing that Islam so idiotically stole from the Jews.

I’m not one for second guessing the divine creator of the universe (since I fairly sure the crazy f—er doesn’t even exist) but why would he make a perfectly tasty animal and then declare it  unfit for human consumption?  Why not – you know – make it less tasty??

Sorry, tangent.  Stick to the point, Graham.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, West Papua.  Annexed by Indonesia.  West Papuans.  Generally unhappy about it.  That’s all you need to know for now.

So the rain poured down and Bosco and I chatted about my mission here in Sorong – to find a boat that would take me to the Palau islands. As far as far-flung destinations are concerned, the Palau islands are pretty much the outliers of the Pacific Nations on the far, far left of the map.

I had a few contacts given to me in Bali to pursue.  However, some of them were away, others were at sea and others just didn’t answer the phone.  My only hope was a lovely girl called Ina, who was a friend of a friend of Bali Neil.  I’d be meeting with her as soon as this bloody rain stopped.

However, the rain had no intention of stopping and it was the next day before Bosco and I met Ina.  She said the chances of me finding anybody prepared to take me, and more importantly, anyone willing to take me for a song, were slim – but she would see what she could do.

Hanging around Sorong for a few days made me appreciate the amount of STUFF that people had carted here from Java – this place isn’t cheap.  As always when there is a whopping big gold mine / oil reserve / diamond mine and little else, prices shoot through the roof.  I was very lucky that Bosco took me under his wing – the cheapest hotel here would have set me back at least $15 a night – way over my budget.

So I had a decision to make – should I stay or should I go?

Of course, there is a Plan B (there’s always a Plan B): My new Odyssey manager Damian (yay!) has found an owner of a magic yacht happy to take me to all the Pacific Island nations I need to go to (as long as we can source sponsorship money to pay for food, water, fuel etc,) but Palau, being way out west, isn’t on the table – yet.

So I’m waiting to hear back from Ina about a clever way of travelling the 220 miles north to the Palau island of Tobi (Coordinates: 3.0048785, 131.1715768) or to hear back from the yacht owner giving the thumbs up to adding Palau onto our itinerary.  Either way, I’m not going anywhere for the next few days.

Ina
That's Ina on the left. She's lovely.

There’s not much in the way of roads on the island of New Guinea, so if you want to get around, your best bet is to buy a ticket for one of the many ferry boats that skip along the coast.  The next ship heading to Jayapura, the nearest town to the border with Papua New Guinea, leaves on Saturday.

I waited until Saturday, and Bosco was kind enough to keep me.  We really made the most of it though, Bosco taking me to a very West Papuan carol concert.  The half-naked painted people dancing about was great, but as soon as the actors playing missionaries turned up re-enact the introduction of the locals to Mr. Jesus, Bosco and I made our excuses and left to go the pub.

The next day was Saturday.  I still hadn’t heard if it was possible to change the magic yacht’s itinerary and Ina, working tirelessly, had been touting my wares to the local yachties and fishermen, but sadly nobody was very much interested.  I could have jumped on the ferry out of there, but there was another one leaving on Monday so I decided to give Sorong the benefit of doubt and grace it with my precense for another couple of nights.

So you don’t think I’m being idle with my time I shot this video about travelling on the cheap:

Do you like it?  I know it’s a bit rough and ready (and some of the things I say are painfully obvious), but it’s a good idea for me to shoot stuff like this that doesn’t tread on anybody’s toes as far as the second series of the TV show is concerned.  Talking of the TV show, the first series of ‘Graham’s World’ is on here in Indonesia and on Sunday night Bosco and I set off on his scooter on a mad odyssey around Sorong looking for somewhere that had IndoSat so I could watch one of the episodes that I hadn’t seen yet.

However, our quest was in vain.  Everything here closes at 10pm at the best of times, and the few places that were still open and had a telly used cable and didn’t have Nat Geo Adventure.  Bah!  Oh well, back to basecamp.

While I had a hoot hanging out with Bosco, Sorong is about as attractive as an old man’s sock suspenders.  It’s a town made entirely from concrete and has all the aesthetic charm of a wet cardboard box.  Filled with offal.  Night life is non-existent and the beer is –jeepers!–  expensive.  So when the news came through from Damian that the magic yacht would indeed take me to Palau in the new year, I bought a ticket on the first boat outta there.  Badabing, Badaboom.

I thanked Ina profusely for all her hard work and treated Bosco to dinner.  The ferry to Jayapura was supposed to leave at 10pm, so Bosco and I headed over to the pub for a swift-half before saying goodbye, but the ship was delayed so we ended up down the road at the general store/liquor shop downing a mixture of beer, whiskey and local alcoholic grape juice.  By the time the boat was ready to leave it was 1am and we where both smashed out of our heads.

Graham Hughes drunk again
Drinkies!!

Bosco’s mate gave me a lift back down to the port, I didn’t fancy waiting in the waiting room so I sneaked through a hole in the fence onto the quayside.   Consequently I was first on the ferry when it arrived.  I raced to find an empty bunk (the ferry was coming from Sulawesi so it was already pretty full) jumped on the first one I found, my backpack as a pillow, clutching my camera bag and my laptop bag as though my life depended on it.  I passed out before whosever bed it was got back from the toilet.

Days 713-714: The Floating Menagerie

14.12.10-15.12.10:

Crikey! This ship is even worse than the last one. At least on board the last on I had a bed. Here it’s every man for himself, and as I have no intention of spending the next two days sitting guarding a bed. Consequently I have no idea where I’m going to sleep tonight. Of course the floor or the staircase is always an option, although the choice is quite sparse as there are people everywhere! Everywhere!!

You look under a bed to find a family of four playing cards, there are people sleeping in cupboards, on shelves, under tables, on top of tables, on chairs, on mats, in cardboard boxes, under the stars and presumably in the lifeboats and up in the crows nest (if the ship had one). You can’t move for people! People!! Everywhere!!

Once again I set up camp in a café on board. Don’t be thinking Starbucks here, we’re talking a cockroach infested room with two rows of MDF tables and some plastic chairs, some of which aren’t even broken. But with a extension cable kindly provided by the owners of the café (I think these guys pay for their patch on board) and a couple of cups of java, I managed to crack on with work for the website and plotting out (literally) where on Earth to go next.

Graham on the Pelni
Me and the guys from the ship's cafe.

It’s nearly Christmas and I’m quite unhappy about the fact that I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year on my own in Papua New Guinea. I was hoping to be finished with this crazy adventure months ago… at this rate by the time I hit The Seychelles, South Sudan will have become the 54th (official) state of Africa. Bugger!

The second night onboard the floating menagerie left me in a bit of a pickle: my bed had been snapped up by some young whippersnapper and I really didn’t fancy a night on the greasy dirty floor. On all the other ships I’ve been on I’ve had a designated bed, but not this time: it was first-come first-served. Yeah, you do have to bagsy your own bed. The café closed at 10pm and I started walking the decks with all my bags looking for somewhere to rest my weary bones.

Eventually I found myself at the bar on board. Well, I don’t know what you call a bar that only sells soft-drinks (Indonesia is Islamic, don’t forget (it’s easy to do – they seem to forget all the time)), but I ordered an overpriced Coke and plonked myself down on a bar stool. And then they told me they were closing too.

I asked (very politely) if I could possibly, possibly sleep in the bar for the night – stretched out along a nice soft bench seat in the corner of the room. There was a bit of a discussion amongst the staff and eventually they took pity on me (I was the only Bule on board!) and let me kip in the closed bar.

If only it was a real one!!!

Brilliant guys, thanks!! The second night I was confronted with a similar dilemma, but – shock horror – the bar was closed before I got there! Out of options, I headed back to my café.

Any chance I can sleep on the floor? I asked, again very politely. I had spent so much money in the café over the last two days I guess they thought I had earned my place amongst the staff. I was allowed to put three chairs together to make a bed and as the other guys got their foam mattresses out from the back room to sleep on the floor and the tables, I snoozed my way to the land of nod – we would be arriving in Jayapura in the wee small hours of Thursday morning.

How To Travel The World On The Cheap!

I’ve been stuck on the border with Papua New Guinea for the last few days, so not wanting to waste my time I made this here video for ya!

It’s set up so that EVERY CLICK results in money going to the charity WaterAid: so why not set up an auto-refresh program, such as this one for Internet Explorer or this one for Firefox, leave it running overnight and give give give without spending a penny!!

Enjoy! Share! Comment!

Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAbCgr6jJ_0

Days 715-721: My Papua Visa Hell

16.12.10-22.12.10:

You know, when I stepped out of the Vietnamese Consulate back in September I honestly thought that my days of being trapped like a cog in the bureaucratic nightmare that is VISAHELL was over.

But then came East Timor, deciding just a few months ago to stop issuing visas for the trickle of western tourists that bother to visit their country overland from Indonesia.  But even after that was all sorted out, like the mythological hydra, more bloody visas were called for, most hilariously for Indonesia as described in my blog entry entitled A Red Background.

And now with just 17 countries left to visit and all of them being as far-flung as you can fling a flang, I’m trapped on the border of Papua New Guinea almost having a nervous breakdown brought upon by yet another impenetrable layer of bureaucracy that makes the world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil look streamlined and sensible.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE DAMN PLACES?  I’m not a criminal, I’m not a terrorist, I’m not a international superspy.  Are they really doing that well that they can afford to turn back tourists??  PAPUA NEW GUINEA, in the short time I was in Jayapura I met SIX people who gave up trying to get into your country.  I’m not bigging myself up, I’m just a wannabe TV presenter on just one of Rupert Murdock’s myriad cable channels.  But one of the guys you shooed away was a millionaire.

I’ll say that again, just in case ANYONE from Papua New Guinea is reading this.

YOUR COUNTRY, WHOSE PER CAPITA GDP IS LESS THAN THE GAZA STRIP’S, TOLD A MILLIONAIRE THAT THEY DID NOT WANT HIS CUSTOM.

Are you guys INSANE?  Like, really really insane??

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Stepping off the Pelni ferry at 4am on Thursday 16th December was a little like trying to get out of the front row of an Oasis gig just as the band is about to start but loaded down with backpacks and teetering on a watery precipice.  There were people EVERYWHERE.  It was all I could do to prevent myself falling into the breathtakingly polluted water of Jayapura’s port.

Groggy, sleepy and unhappy I began to trudge towards the few hotels listed in the Lonely Planet.  The few CouchSurfers here had buggered off for the Christmas hols and so the choice was either hotel or a notel.  The first place I tried was full.

So was the second.

And the third.

And the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.

After TWO AND A HALF HOURS of trudging around with my backpack and my bags, I finally found somewhere for the night, but at $22 for a single room, I could feel my already stretched budget kicking me in the balls.  But I justified it to myself because I could have a couple of hours kip this morning, so I was effectively getting two nights for the price of one.

It wasn’t much of a justification, but at least there was air conditioning, a hot shower, a western-style toilet and a TV (that I didn’t use).  I fell asleep and woke up a couple of hours later, gathered my ‘visa kit’ and raced off to the Papuan New Guinea Consulate for when it opened at 10am.

Now it says in the Lonely Planet that you can get a PNG visa at the Consulate in Jayapura the next day, or if you ask really nicely, the same day.

HA!

Good one, LP.  Did you actually get a visa at this consulate, or did you just go in and ask them how long they take?  Because I can tell you it’s much MUCH more of a headache than that.

I filled out the form enquiring after my collar size and father’s maiden name only to be told that I couldn’t make a visa application without a valid airline ticket out of the country.

Oh, right…

TOP TIP for developing nation: If a western tourist ludicrously outstays his or her visa and you can’t afford to deport them, just sentence them to five years in jail.  THEIR OWN COUNTRY will soon pay for their repatriation!!

Anyway, twattily enough, I also had to write another daft letter explaining why I wanted to go to Papua New Guinea.

The temptation to write TO RAPE AND STEAL AND DESTROY was almost overwhelming, but I managed to stifle that baser instinct.  So I went to the internet place over the road, bought a ticket from Port Moresby to Brisbane, wrote a silly letter and returned… to be told to come back after 1pm.

Fine.

So I waited outside in the baking heat of northern New Guinea, within a skerrick’s pube of the equator, sweating and fuming.  If only I’d know this would just be the beginning of my VISAHELL, I probably would have gone off to shoot liquid crack into my eyeballs.  But instead I waited patiently (and sweatily) and at 1pm I walked in and handed over my papers, tickets, photocopies, photos and application forms only to be told I needed to get a photocopy of my Indonesian visa.

Wha?  Uh?  Bu…?

FINE.

I stormed off down the road, got page 23 of my passport photocopied in a roadside shack and returned within the half-hour.

Thanks.  Will it be ready tomorrow.

The lady said she would try.

Okay. Great.

I jumped onboard the next ‘bemo’ (minibus) back to town.  Happy days.

I found a place just up the road from my hotel that had free internet but where the coffee was TWO POUNDS a cup  (blimey! – so much for travelling on the cheap!) and managed to pad two coffees out to last me the whole day.  The coffee place closed at 10pm and I retired to my hotel.  Things were going well – at this rate I should be in Papua New Guinea by the weekend.

Ha.

Ha.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

No.

The next day I checked out of my hotel and hop, skipped and jumped down to the Consulate, five miles away.

Here’s a video recreation of my conversation with the woman on the front desk.

I stepped outside and emitted a silent scream.  Looks like I’ll be in hideously expensive (well, let’s just say ‘hideous’) town of Jayapura for the weekend.  If this visa isn’t ready by Monday morning, I am quite frankly going to have a bit of a meltdown.  After scoping out the competition (and finding them all full for the weekend) I checked back into my hotel only to be told that the only rooms they now had left were ‘luxury’ rooms.

I stepped outside and emitted a very LOUD scream.

So the weekend slobbered by with me attempting to minimise my expenses as much as possible.  I generally hung out in the café with internet and actually managed to stretch the purchase of one coffee cover a mammoth twelve hour internet binge in which I managed to download this video off my good chum Leo and convert it for YouTube:

No mean feat at 56 kbits a sec I tell you!

So what do you want to know about Jayapura?  Well it’s a wild west town on the far eastern edge of Indonesia.  It’s unattractive, unremarkable and, well, about as much fun as sticking broken glass up your nostrils.

But here’s something to make you laugh.  Or cry,  I dunno.  In the middle of the town there is a excruciatingly tasteless concrete statue of an Indonesian soldier standing with a flag and gun – and this soldier is being held up on a pedestal by obviously Papuan natives.  Anyone who has seen the latest Harry Potter film might spot the similarities with the ‘Magic Is Might’ statue ordered by a certain He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Indonesia Puts Papua In Its Place
Indonesia Puts Papua In Its Place

Anyway, before I knew what was what it was Monday.  The weekend was over (not that Jayapura has much in the way of ‘weekends’ but hey-ho.  So I hailed a bemo and headed off to the PNG consulate for the fourth time.

Here’s a video recreation of my conversation with the woman on the front desk.

I returned THREE TIMES that day.  The first time she told me to come back at 1.  The second time she told me to come back at 4.  The last time she told me that it wasn’t ready, but would DEFINITELY be ready for tomorrow.

It’s not just the inconvenience here, it’s the fact that Jayapura is ugly, smelly and EXPENSIVE.  I returned to my hotel sweaty, hot, exhausted (the consulate is five miles away) and ready to kill, kill and kill again.  Luckily for me I ran into a couple of Bules in the same position.  One was a South African surf/wave detective (yes!) called Harald, and the other was a top chap from Hawaii called Mike.  Harald and Mike are travelling the world in pursuit of the perfect wave.  It’s all very cool indeed.

Harald and Mike
Harald and Mike. Surf Detectives!

So we had a few drinkies together.  They were going to try and get visas for PNG but decided (based on what they had been told by fellow Bules) that they were going to skip their trip to Papua New Guinea BECAUSE IT WAS TOO DIFFICULT TO GET A VISA.  You hear that, PNG??  So they were going to stay in Indonesia instead AND SPEND ALL THEIR MONEY IN INDONESIA INSTEAD.  Yeah – go for it, guys, PNG obviously has bigger fish to fry.

The next day I (again) packed all my things together and checked out of my hotel.  I travelled over to the PNG consulate and… hey! Guess What…?

So that’s a no then is it?  A NO.  EVEN THOUGH YOU TEXTED ME THIS MORNING SAYING THAT MY VISA WAS READY AND I COULD COME PICK IT UP.

Noooooooooooo

If somebody had handed me a tank of petrol and a match at this point I would have not been responsible for my actions.

So I returned to my hotel as quickly as I could an – would you Adam n’ Eve it – the damn place was FULL.  Utterly utterly full.

That was it, I thought.  Death must reign down from above.  While I know it’s not Indonesia’s fault per se, I must regretfully report that I’m really starting to despise Indonesia.  While India will always be home to the most irritating people in the world, Indonesia (appropriate name) comes a very close second.  As I walk down the street there is an excruciating meeeeee-ster every few seconds.  If I ignore it, it will continue meeeeeee-ster!  MEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!  MEEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!!!!!   MEEEEEEEEEEEE-STER!!!!!!!!!!!, but if I turn I know I’ll get the old howareyou? followed by the usual, predictable peel of howling laughter that leaves you wondering whether you remembered to put on your trousers this morning.

No, I don’t want to shake your hand wizened old man – mainly because I was having a slash the other day and I saw the man next to me SCOOP PISSY WATER OUT OF THE URINAL WITH HIS HAND and ‘wash’ his dick with it.  As with many developing nations, germ theory and basic hygiene are undiscovered countries here – people do all kinds of disgusting crap with their hands and then expect me to shake on it.  Ha!  No!  Bugger off.

And for heaven’s sake: maybe, like one day, I might, you know, want to go 24 hours without eating luke-warm white rice with a GODDAMN COLD FISHHEAD ON TOP.  I saw a sign for Pizza Hut yesterday.  I got very excited about it and all day I was fantasising about getting a nice HOT pepperoni pizza… Actual Bread! Melty Cheese! Spicy Sausage!!

I walked back to my hotel and asked the girl on reception to order me a pizza.  Then I found out that Jayapura does not have a Pizza Hut.  It’s in another town, 15km away.

Okay: is there anywhere in this large sprawling town where I can get… chips? No. Steak? No. Pasta? No. Potatoes? No. A Sarnie? No. A Sausage? No. Mexican? No. Indian? No. Thai? No. Malaysian? No. Chinese… come on, there MUST be a Chinese place…? No. A kebab?

What’s a kebab?

DEAR GOD PLEASE HELP ME.

There are a hundred food stalls and shops here in Jayapura, and EVERY SINGLE ONE just sells white steamed rice and fish-heads.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  In the Middle East I get it, IT’S A DESERT: a lump of gritty meat wrapped in sandy bread is the best you can hope for.  But in Indonesia you could throw a stick into the ground and it would grow into a tree.  These were THE SPICE ISLANDS for heaven’s sake.  What’s with the monoculture?  What’s with the little plastic packets of ‘spicy sauce’ I get with my rice and fish heads??  Maybe Indonesia isn’t such an appropriate name – if there’s one thing I’ll always forgive India all her sins for, it’s the corkin’ nosh.  Here you’re best bringing a packed lunch – those fish heads have been sitting in that hot, sweaty, fly-infested window for hours… or maybe days…

And is anything open after 9pm?  I know going to bed early is the Asian disease (and quite possibly why there are so many Asians in the first place) but please, I just want a bottle of water.  Or maybe a pack of Handie Andies.

And are sidewalks without massive deadly holes in them too much to ask?  Do Indonesian town planners sit around with diagrams and schematics working out the optimum way to turn a simple task like walking down the street into a live-action version of Super Mario Brothers?  And does all this litter bother anybody but me?  On the boat to see the Komodo Dragons last month there was so much crap in the water I was convinced that a ship hauling rubbish to the dump had recently sunk – it brought to mind the trash-compactor scene from Star Wars: oh no, all in a day’s work for this dianoga-friendly UNESCO World Heritage site.  Illegal logging?  That’s no problem – just give me a bung and I’ll look the other way… after all, there’s plenty more virgin rain forest where that came from.

AND WHAT is with this whole thing of making it impossible to see out of the windows of minibuses?  How the hell am I supposed to know when to get out?  Now I understand some people (drug-dealers mostly) don’t want people seeing into their vehicle, but purposefully making only 10% of your windscreen see-through is just f—ing NUTS.  Is it to stop tall people stealing your minibus?

And no, I DON’T SMOKE.  But thanks for walking all the way over here so you can sit right next to me in this big empty room and blow smoke in my face.  And, since you’re here, why not crane your neck over so you can read what I’m typing?  Go ahead, I find it easier to write with a goddamn audience.  Yes, I prefer friendly people to the cold indifference of Eastern Europeans, but c’mon, this is just… irritating.  Really, really irritating.  Like that noise they make in Dumb and Dumber.

AND YES your music is shite it keeps me up all night.  Well, it would do if I wasn’t such a heavy sleeper.  And no, I don’t want it amplified so loud that it shakes the poo out of my bottom.  There’s a passive-aggressive notion from middle-class dinner tables that western (well, UK, US and Jamaican) music is somehow inferior to what we like to condescendingly describe as ‘World Music’.  To that I say PFFFFFFFFT.  Local music is AWFUL pretty much everywhere: in Latin America the best you can hope for is Me Gustas Tu, in Africa everyone is too busy listening to African-American homosexual jingle-pop (or R&B as it’s also known), continental Europe is all um-pah-pah, accordions, the Spinal-Tap of Death Metal or 80s pop that would have seemed dated in the 80s, the Middle East just sounds like Tarzan falling down a very deep well, India is some shrieking harridan singing through her nose whilst wobbling about behind a pillar, SE Asia is even more obsessed with Celine Dion and Bryan Adams than even the Middle East (the more I travel, the more I become convinced that heterosexuality is the one that’s ‘not natural’) and Indonesia?  Jesus wept.  Possibly because people kept playing Indonesian music at him.

Oh Graham, you big meanie… you’re such a music nazi.  Yes, yes I am and this music ist not gut!  From a population of 250 million with its thousands of islands, hundreds of languages and mosaic of cultures, I expect at least one song that makes me tap my foot instead of sticking my fingers in my ears and going LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA.

In short, Indonesia: you irritate the crap out of me, you don’t wash your hands, your cuisine is as dull and your music is poo.  And too loud.  It’s not me, darling, it’s you.  You’re too plain Jane, the spice has gone out of our relationship and I would rather spend my time with other countries – ones that like to stay up late and dance until the break of dawn.  Let’s get divorced so I never have to see you again, but I can look back on my time spent with you with fondness as my memories of your bloody awful cooking fade with time.  Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: You.

BUT WAIT…!  What’s this?

Indonesia?

Indonesia… come back!!

I didn’t mean it!  I was just – you know – venting!

Yes, I will forgive a country of pretty much anything if it manages to send my tastebuds on a spine-tingling roller-coaster ride of texture, flavour and outright  yumminess.  And tonight, Indonesia you have surpassed yourself.

Maybe the fact that I had to eat crap for two months was a conspiracy to make me lower my standards, lower my defences before… WHAM!!!

The tastiest dish I have EVER EVER eaten.

A little bit of backstory: after getting kicked out of my hotel, I headed over to the hotel that Mike and Harald were staying at and tried to check in there, but (lords-a-lordy) it was also full.  Harald and Mike, being the top blokes that they are, agreed to let me sleep on their floor and the hotel kindly supplied me with a mattress.

So once I was settled in, Mike and Harald had some good news… unlike me they wouldn’t be spending a lonely Christmas in this shithole, they had just scored the last couple of seats on the last plane out of here on Thursday morning.  Lucky buggers.

Mike was (understandably) ecstatic at this news and wanted nothing more than some decent tucker to celebrate, so we headed towards the seafood shacks laid out along the road beside the harbour.  But not just to any seafood shack, we went to THE seafood shack.  Possibly the finest seafood shack in South East Asia.

The Fish Place
The Duta Cafe, Jayapura. Remember that name.

THIS is what I’m talkin’ about!  For just six quid each, we got a deliciousfreshly-caught blue grenadier cooked to perfection of the barbie:

Fishy Fishy
I’m gonna eat you little fishy!

We also got a plateful of delicious deep-fried king prawns:

Harald and The Seafood
Harald and The Seafood

But that was a mere trifle compared to the gastronomic perfection that was to come.  I ordered fresh calamari out of the cooler box and Harald, being fluent in Indonesian (and an able fisherman himself) was able to explain exactly what we wanted.  And what we wanted was heaven on a plate.  And that’s exactly what we got.

Yummy Yummy Yummy
Yummy Yummy Yummy

She may not look like much kid, but she’s got it where it counts.

Lightly tempura’d calamari, served up with long-cut stir-fried veggies in a sweet and sour sauce.  Man, my mouth is watering just thinking of it. Usually calamari can be a bit chewy – this stuff was so fresh it literally melted in your mouth.

Eat me!
Eat me!

YUM!

YUMYUMYUM!!

So yes, Indonesia, you have won me over.  Unlike the BLOODY PAPUA NEW GUINEA which well and truly HASN’T.  That night I stayed up drinking with the other Bules staying at our hotel, all of whom were waiting for visas.  This guy, Quentin, was from France and had been waiting TWO WEEKS for a visa.

Quentin
Quentin damns PNG to HELL!!

Please be aware that at this point it was the wee small hours of Wednesday morning: Christmas day is NEXT SATURDAY.

If we didn’t get our visas for PNG today, we’d be stuck in Jayapura until 2011.

And all the wonderful calamari in the world wouldn’t make it worth staying.  I wanted out.  I wanted to reach my 51st country before the year’s end – and, more than that, I wanted to USE the damn plane ticket to Australia they made me buy.

I wanted to see Mandy again.  It’s been too long.

So after a few hours kip, Quentin and I descended on the FRIKKIN’ PNG Consulate for the twentieth time.  And this time we were not leaving until we got our visas.  I had been told yesterday that my visa was ready and IN MY PASSPORT.  Arriving at 10am, we were told to wait.

Why?

The visa is in my passport!  Give me the damn thing!!

Sorry…

What?  Why?

It needs to be signed.

By who?

By the man who signs the visas.

And is this man in work today?

No.

And is this man coming into work today?

I don’t know.

ARE YOU ON CRACK?

No… Sorry…

Okay, give me my passport now, I’ll sign it myself and take my chances.

No… Sorry…

I have never wanted to beat another human being to death with their own shoes before, but this bloody woman was seriously moments away from joining the choir invisible.  I told her I wasn’t leaving without my visa and she put up the ‘closed’ sign and tottered off.

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

If they had just told me in the first place that it would take a week to put a bloody stamp in my bloody passport it wouldn’t be so bad.  If they hadn’t made me come back TIME AND TIME AGAIN IN THE SWELTERING HEAT with false promises that my visa was ready it wouldn’t be so bad.  If they where rushed off their feet and had thousands of applications to get through, it still wouldn’t be acceptable, but it wouldn’t be so bad.

But we are talking here about a stamp in a passport and a couple of lines of writing.  Even if you were an illiterate slug it would only take a minute to do.  And it wasn’t as though there was a queue of Bules waiting outside every morning – and Indonesians don’t need visas for Papua New Guinea.  They probably had about ten visa applications to process A WEEK.  If that.  Well, me and Quentin waited.  And waited.

The first few hours were painful.  It was hot, it was sweaty and I’m sure my hair was beginning to fall out. At 1pm they wanted to close for lunch so we go chucked out, but we were back again at 2pm sharp.  My bloody mindedness was now thinking along the lines of ‘if I create a bloody nuisance of myself, they’ll give me the visa just to get shut of me’.

Well, it wasn’t the most elegant of plans, but (eventually) it worked.  But not early enough for me to be able to get to PNG today.  The last taxis apparently left at 1pm.  It was 3.30pm before I got my visa.  Another exasperated Bule, a German guy called Jan, came into the consulate and got his visa at the same time – he, like me, had been waiting a week.

Quentin, on the other hand, who had been waiting for TWO WEEKS for his visa, came away empty handed.  Unbelievable.  Utterly unbelievable.

Oh, and our ordeal didn’t end there.  Jan and I headed over to the immigration office in Jayapura to get stamped out of the country when we were hit with the most baffling piece of red-tape in the history of dick-headed bureaucracy.  If you got a visa on entry to Indonesia, you aren’t allowed to leave via Jayapura.  As Jayapura is the ONLY border post between PNG and Indonesia, this somewhat leaves your options limited.

Luckily for me, I had gone through the frigmarole of getting a ‘proper’ visa for Indonesia in East Timor (as they weren’t being issued on the border).  Jan wasn’t as lucky.  Of course, the c—s at immigration would be willing to accommodate his predicament (for a $60 ‘fee’), the alternative being for him to FLY BACK TO JAKARTA.

Seriously.

SERIOUSLY.

This is just quite mind-boggling and a new one on me – an international border that you cannot LEAVE a country from without the correct ENTRY visa.  How f—-ing stupid do you want to be?

Oh, Indonesia, you had me for a moment with that sublime calamari, but you’ve just blown all that good will.  Sickeningly corrupt and loaded with ill-gotten blood money, you can go to hell, Indonesia.  You SUCK!  And, while you’re at it, get the hell out of West Papua.  It’s not yours and you’re only there for the gold.  The profits from which go on WHAT EXACTLY?  Health care?  Schools?  Roads?!

 

Ha.  HA!  HAHAHAHAHA!!  Don’t make me laugh!

They go straight into the back packets of the slimy politicians that live on an island a thousand miles away, literally and metaphorically. Bluuuuuurgh to the lot of ya!!

Happily, Mike and Harald weren’t leaving Jayapura until the morning, so they (being top chaps) again allowed me to kip on their floor.  Thanks, guys!!

Tomorrow there will be nothing to stop me getting into Papua New Guinea.  I booked a taxi to the border.  It will be the Eve of Christmas Eve.  Looks like I’ll be spending another Christmas without the girl I love.  PNG is not a happy place and while I’m quite happy to risk my safety doing this crazy stuff, I’m not willing to put Mandy in that situation, so I’ve told her not to fly to me this time around.

Days 949-962: 10 Things I Hate About U(K) – Part 1

07.08.11-20.08.11:

Occasionally I get messages from malcontents who find themselves offended by negative comments I’ve made about their country on this blog. It goes without saying that you can’t please all the people all of the time, but I wouldn’t want you thinking that I’m blinded by some misplaced sense of patriotism into believing that the UK is the be-all-and-end-all. It’s not. My League of Nations list is (as I admit in the pre-amble) tremendously subjective, and the fact that England comes out on top has more to do with my family and friends than it does any sense of rabid nationalism.

With that in mind, and with last week’s riots leaving a bad taste in our mouths, I thought I’d take this opportunity to give the UK a damn good dressing down.

Before I start, let me just say that the UK has many, many things going for it. However, I stand by my opinion that the British just don’t seem to get how good they have it when compared with the vast majority of other countries on the planet.

Sure, Newsweek can select Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland as the “best” countries in the world… but when it comes to literature, art and good old fashioned rock n’ roll, us little Englanders, Scotchers, Welshers and Northern Irelanders kick their arses from here to Timbuktu.

Having said that, if we could just iron out a few little niggles, the UK could be a much, much better place…

1. Public Transport

Considering we are dealing with the country that invented the steam engine, you’d think we’d have half a clue how to run an halfway decent public transportation service. But we don’t.

I would say that as far as the worst public transport service in the world is concerned, I’d have to tie the UK with the US. In short, it’s a frikkin’ embarrassment. Hell, at least in Guinea public transport is cheap. Unlike the London Underground, the trams in Manchester and what’s left of the Liverpool rail network which cost a small fortune. But that’s nothing compared with intercity travel, something that should be cheap and easy, considering most big British cities are located within walking distance (if you’re walking a marathon) from each other.

British intercity trains are horrifically overpriced – 260 quid for a return to London from Liverpool (a two-hour journey) – they rarely run on time, are often overcrowded, the toilets have a nasty tendency to fly open mid wee (and the “door-close” button is conveniently located out of reach of the toilet itself), the staff are notoriously rude and unhelpful, the companies running the trains are cowboys with a monopoly (laughing all the way to the bank no doubt) and the unprofitable part of the railway network – the maintenance of the track – is paid for by us gibbering idiots, yup: the taxpayer. Madness, utter madness.

That’s not to say the coach network provides much of an alternative.  With the exception of the no-frills Megabus (which does a decent job of WYSIWYG), most of the country’s intercity coaches are operated by a monopoly called National Express. No competition (there are no other national coach companies and the trains are too expensive for 83% of the British population to afford) means that they can deliver a piss-poor service, charge over the odds and get away with it – something they’ve been getting away with for years. When I say that only Greyhound USA is worse, that’s hardly a compliment. It once took Mand and I ELEVEN HOURS to get back from London to Liverpool on a National Express bus.

I think we could have done it faster on horseback.

The fact that it’s cheaper for five people to buy a car, tax it, insure it, fill it with petrol and drive to London and back than to take the train is testament to how bloody awful the situation is. Your car could be stolen and burnt out upon completion of the journey and you’d still be better off than the five who spent over 1000 quid between them on the train.

But driving would mean driving down Britain’s god-awful motorways. Not that the motorways are poorly maintained, I’d argue that they’re not, it’s just that motorways in the UK are more like lorryways with an occasional car problem. Thanks to the short-sighted, piss-poor and quite frankly corrupt policy decisions of the Conservative government in the early 60s, our motorways, also paid for by the taxpayer, are long flat concrete bitches of the massive haulage companies that are no doubt using their mountains of gold coins as an indoor ski slope.

The British Haulage Industry's Winter Holiday
Literally.

Ever heard of a chap called Ernest Marples? You should have. He ruined your life. Most people blame Dr Beeching for the utterly incomprehensible cannibalisation of the British railway system in the 1960s, but it was dickwit-in-chief Ernest Marples who was the puppetmaster. Take it away, Wikipedia:

Beeching had been appointed to his post as head of British Railways by Marples. Marples was not just a government minister; he also owned a construction company, Marples-Ridgway, whose main concern was constructing roads. They contributed to several motorway projects during the 1950s and 1960s and also constructed the Hammersmith flyover in London. When it was pointed out that being transport minister as well as a road builder might be construed as a conflict of interest, he agreed and divested himself of his shares in Marples-Ridgway. However, this was to his wife, with a clause to buy back the shares at the sale price when he ceased to be a minister: something not disclosed at the time.

Oh really?  So let me get this straight: guy owns ROAD BUILDING company, gets job as government TRANSPORT minister, avoids accusations of conflict of interest by giving his shares to his wife, takes back his shares once he’s personally destroyed TWO-THIRDS of the British Rail Network (the only viable competition to HIS F—KING ROADS) and ensured his road-building company’s position on the gravy train for life. Now give me another wheelbarrow full of taxpayer’s money, my wife needs a new fur coat.

Ernest Marples
Ernest Marples: A Thief and a Liar.

What a irredeemable bastard. Then again, you vote right-wing, you deserve everything you get: which will (invariably) mean the interests of wealthy individuals, companies and corporations trump your petty little needs every time. I can’t be the only one who notices that… Anyway, so here we are, fifty years on, our trains cost more than what most of us earn in a week, our coaches are several shades of god-awful and our motorways are gridlocked (since the freight that used to happily travel along the railways can’t travel on non-existent lines, apparently).

Oh, did I mention that even though there are very few surviving branch lines, the tax-payer STILL has to pay for the maintenance of the THOUSANDS of now unused bridges, tunnels and viaducts that criss-cross the nation?  If a single loose brick falls onto the windscreen of a car passing underneath, it’s the great British public who will pay the damages. So we have a situation were we are paying to maintain infrastructure that we have pretty much NO WAY of getting ANY money back from whatsoever! Brilliant!!

Plus, thanks to Marples, North-East Liverpool has no railway anymore – in fact, there are over FORTY closed railway stations in Liverpool: the highest number of any first-world city in the world.  This means that in some of the most deprived area of Liverpool it’s next to impossible to get to work… unless you walk (in the rain), cycle (in the rain) or get the bus filled with screaming, gobbing, swearing, fighting schoolchildren as… oh yeah, we have no school buses(!). I don’t have to paint a picture of how unpleasant these 8.30am buses are, I’m sure you’ve got a good idea and it probably doesn’t involve Moonlight Sonata and caviar on the Orient Express.

Ninety years ago, Liverpool had a better, faster, more integrated and (bizarrely) GREENER public transport system than it has today. The same can probably be said for most cities in the UK. Progress anyone?!

A little suggestion: how about a new rule that companies are responsible for paying for bus and train passes so their employees to get to work? It would see a constant, reliable income for Public Transportation systems (even if the employees choose to drive instead) and discourage companies from employing people who would need to make a three-hour commute every day – you know, local jobs for local people? Smart.

Oh, and while you’re at it, re-nationalise the bloody railways. Even America — land of gullible poltroons who believe that corporations are their friends and that the government they elect is their enemy — has a nationalised rail service. Get with the program, you dithering Limey knuckleheads.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what happened to that rotten bastard Marples:

“In the early 70s … he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear … So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company … there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions … He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years’ overdue tax … The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein.” (Richard Stott, ‘Dogs and Lampposts’, Metro Publishing, 2002, pages 166 – 171)

No doubt he was twirling his evil little moustache all the way.

2. The Architecture (since 1958)

I’ve written at length about the bum-scroff that passes for architecture around the world these days, but it really does boggle my mind and break my heart that Great Britain, the same country that spent a good 1000 years cooking up some of the most delicious buildings in the world should see fit to throw all that glorious heritage away and follow the nightmarish visions of that bastard crackpot Swiss pied piper of all things bleak, totalitarian and downright ugly – Le Corbusier, a man I have about as much respect for as Hitler. Which is to say, none.

Le Corbusier
A madman, yesterday.

So damn the renaissance, the neo-gothic and the art-nouveau, there’s a new kid in town – a cool kid that’s made of Asbestos and Legionnaire’s Disease, smells of piss and looks like a nuclear fallout shelter – a nuclear fallout shelter built in a hurry after they have already dropped the bomb. It came in over budget, the roof is leaking, the windows don’t open, the people inside are being slowly cooked alive, the lift is broken, the solidified mashed potato that constitutes the interior walls is crumbling away and to top it all the damn thing is just so goddamn ugly it makes Susan Boyle look like the Venus de Milo.

Susan Boyle
If Susan Boyle was a building, she’d be every building built since 1958

I wish I was describing one single god-awful edifice, maybe tucked away in the Outer Hebrideswhere nobody will ever see it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’m talking about every building designed and built everywhere since 1958. Hell, you might think they’re beautiful, but then you’re presumably from Mars, were born without eyes and have wet dreams about Susan Boyle.

Hand in hand with the horror of our modern arseifaces, we have to give equal condemnation to the town planners … they should be flogged, covered in jam and fed to the wasps. Not content with scarring the very fabric of our historic towns and cities with the totalitarian horrors of the Mancunian Way, the Bullring and Leeds city centre Hotwheels circuit (not to mention the shameful demolition of the Euston Arch), they are also responsible for the god-awful shopping centres, the screwball thinking that towerblocks are a good idea, the car-centric concrete jungles of the 1960s and the disgraceful cloning of our towns… wouldn’t it be nice if every high street looked exactly the same eh? NO. NO IT WOULDN’T YOU CROWD OF MASSIVE RETARDS.

British Street
Attack of the Clones.

These vandals – this dark conspiracy of big business, lazy architects, megalomaniacal town planners and corrupt politicians – have irreparably scarred the once-beautiful cityscapes that previously graced our green and pleasant land.  You can get a whiff of what once was if you stroll around Belgravia, Rodney Street or The Royal Crescent – and get a sense of what could be if you visit the magnificently restored St. Pancras Station, but at the end of the day, it seems that The Powers The Be have better things to spend your money on – wars, probably.

Before 1958, we would build warehouses that are so good-looking they are now UNESCO world heritage sites, we would build power stations so iconic that they would go on to grace the cover of a Pink Floyd album, we built extractor towers so fabulous that they barely look out of place on a street of prestige buildings. Now, however… urgh…  I don’t want to go on with this, you get the picture.  It makes me too miserable.

3. The Depression

Talking of being miserable, crikey we Englishers are a miserable bunch, aren’t we? Sometimes it seems like we’re only happy when we’re having a jolly good moan.

Victor Meldrew
Moaning is fun, kids!

But there’s a major downside to this affliction (other than being teased by the rest of the world)… real depression is often overlooked and sadness is often misdiagnosed as something you can only cure with drugs.  Hence the somewhat depressing (that’s probably not the right word) number of Brits on anti-depressants.

Ecstasy Gurning
…and sometimes Ecstasy.

The general malaise that hangs over the good ship UK is something that has bothered me for a while, and there are two things that I think would help: a ban on building stuff out of bloody concrete (I’m serious) and a concerted effort by our politicians to end their idiotic bluster about competing economically against China(!) and instead push for laws, reforms and acts of parliament specially tailored to the explicit aim of ‘improving the happiness of the nation.’

You know what has been proven to improve the general happiness of any given nation? A small and shrinking gap between rich and poor.  Since 1997, the rich/poor divide in the UK has grown exponentially… as has our general misery. This is no coincidence.

It looks like if we want to improve the general contentment of our electorate, it would be wise to whack up the tax rate on the super-rich and yes, fine, let them leave the country if they must… but add a twist:

1) Whoa whoa whoa!!  You’re not taking that UK passport with you!  Put. It. Down.  Step away from the passport, you traitorous dog.

2) If you’ve left us for another continent and then decide you want to work in the EU in the future, you must apply for a working visa, like every other alien.

3)  The support from British Embassies (paid for by John Q. Taxpayer) will be withdrawn. Good luck getting out of that Congolese jail, ya tyrant billionaire!

Ahhhh, I feel happier already.

4. The Schools

There’s a mad system in this weird little country I visited while trotting around the world and I’d like to share it with you.

In order to get your kid into a good school – thereby setting him or her with the best possible chance in life – you have to pick a football team. Yeah, that’s right, a football team. Even if you can’t stand football! You then have to attend every single match that team plays for a year. If you’ve pretended to be a really big fan and not looked too bored or criticise the owner of the club (who may or may not be a known facilitator of paedophilic activity), little Johnny will be allowed to go to this school.

Fail in this charade, and little Johnny goes to the shitty comprehensive five miles away and proceeds to get his head flushed down the toilet every day for the following five years, since little Johnny is either fat, gay, ginger or clever… all capital crimes, according to the law of the playground.

The schools in question, one should point out, are not paid for by the football teams and they’re not private either. These are publicly-funded schools, paid for by the tax-payer. What’s even more ridiculous is that these schools are under no obligation to employ any teachers that don’t support the correct football team, something that’s quite a whacked-out arbitrary requirement… and one that would be deeply illegal in any civilised country.

Accrington Stanley Fan
Accrington Stanley Fans Need Not Apply.

But then the UK is obviously not that civilised, since, yes, that is the ‘weird little country’ to which I referred. Just replace “football team” with “religion” and “match” for “service” and “owner” for, well… “owner”. How it is a good idea to separate our children into tribes based on what Bronze Age creation myth their parents (through an accident of birth) find themselves subscribed??

I’d love to be a gay teenager going to a Catholic school: it would make my day to hear how un-natural I was, that I’d be burning in hell once I died and that the bullies are right to bully me (I need fixin’!). I’d love to have no teacher I could confide in because I’m 14 years old and pregnant and thinking of having an abortion. I’d totally love it if I was told, in SCHOOL, that Aids was bad… but not as bad as condoms.

Although these real-world dilemmas are rendered moot by the horrors that play themselves out on the streets of Northern Ireland every night. Enforced segregation in ANY OTHER WALK OF LIFE is ILLEGAL – WITH GOOD REASON, with the exception of our schools. Take a deep breath and analyse those words… with the exception of our schools. Yes, a school in the UK has the right to deny me a job even as a caretaker if I don’t partake the ‘right’ religion.

Change “religion” for “skin colour” and you MIGHT JUST SEE why this system is so utterly abhorrent. Make no mistake about it: it is Apartheid. Apartheid blessed by the system, paid for by John Q. Taxpayer and legally free to discriminate in a way that not even the BNP is allowed to discriminate. Against children.

Martin Luther King
“I have a dream in which apartheid is illegal… except in schools!”

This post is entitled “Ten Things I Hate About U(K)”, but the cruel, inhumane, idiotic, openly discriminatory nature of the British School System alone could be “Things” 1 to  10.

5. Chav Culture (Innit)

From a country that exported its language and culture all over the world (not always forcibly!), chavs are nothing short of an abhorrent stain on the fabric of British society. I mean, what’s the use of a chav? At least troublemakers like the punks, mods and rockers had good music. These chavs dress like morons, talk like morons, act like morons… and embarrass the hell out of the 99% of the British population that are decidedly chav-nots.

To the uninitiated, a chav is a young British citizen who dresses in hooded tracksuits, wears a Burberry cap and sports tacky gold jewellery from catalogue shops that wouldn’t look out of place on a pantomime dame. Dressing like a clown is a rite of passage for all young people, but I can’t help but feel like all the good ideas (bike leathers, zoot suits, mohawks) have been done. So here we are: an entire generation that’s run out of ideas and is (understandably) bored with their lot. It’s amazing what utter bobbins can pass for being ‘cool’ in any given generation.

Chav
A Chav, yesterday.

This boredom manifests itself in myriad ways – causing a nuisance outside the corner shop, hocking up and gobbing on the pavement, listening to repetitive generic crap on their iPhones (and forcing everyone else in a 3 mile radius listen to it too) and just being generally anti-social spoddy little toe-rags.

But I’m not just knocking the young here – chavic behaviour have been around since I was a kid. My real problem is with chav culture. That bolshie, anti-education thinking which brags its stupidity and attempts to make a virtue of ignorance. I can’t stand it. Being a dickhead is one thing, but being proud of being a dickhead is just… pathetic. And what has chav culture contributed to society? I really can’t think of a single positive, except perhaps to give us chav-nots something to make fun of.

But I would much rather it be the case that what we do make fun of is not so chinge-worthy for the rest of us.  When I was younger I remember watching Jerry Springer and thinking “Ha! That’s hilarious! Stupid Yanks”. I will discuss how patently NOT stupid the Americans are later (when I talk about the British Film “Industry”), but at the time it did seem like that kind of trailer trash television was a peculiar cultural facet of our cousins on the other side of the pond. Of course, since the advent of Jeremy Kyle, we know that not to be the case.

And when chavs go abroad on holiday, their ‘culture’ ends up representing Britain to the world… and it’s not a pretty sight. When you’re talking to a foreigner or you’re a stranger in a strange land, you wind up representing your country by default.

The last thing any country needs are a bunch of boozed-up England shirt-wearing troublemakers running rampage through the streets. Chav culture ends up tarring all us Brits as dribbling guttersnipes who dress like Floridian retirees, are barely comprehensible, are usually drunk on Bacardi Breezers, have a tendency to fight in the streets, indulge in casual racism and are full of snarls and nastiness.

What a terrible advert for my otherwise green and pleasant land. It’s like every personality trait I find repulsive and irritating rolled into one massive ugly fungal infection – a fungal infection that’s running around telling everyone it’s British.

I would rather be stereotyped as a blustering buffoon in a bowler hat, a sexually repressed misanthrope always moaning about the weather or a uptight Fawlty hitting my car with a branch. When your only boast in life is that you could have been good at something, anything… but chose not to be, you’re not going to get any sympathy from me. Society might fail you… but don’t fail yourself.

Talking of Scroobius:

DING DONG! Reasons 6-10 are delayed due to leaves on the line. Gimme a couple of days…