Days 649-650: To The Ends Of The Earth

11.10.10-12.10.10:

After two hours kip (I actually didn’t bother using my bunk – the communal area of the backpackers did just as well), by 7.30am I was shovelling breakfast into my fat ginger gob and by 9 o’clock I was on the bus to Bangkok.  The wheels on the bus went round and round, round and round, round and round as I tore south through the country like some kind of angry Scotsman.  Only without the girly skirt.

Arriving at Bangkok in the evening, I once again skirted the manic city I know and love and snapped up a ticket on the last bus to Singapore – country 179 – which if you’d care to glance at a map of the area (or, even better, work from memory) is on the other end of country 178 (Malaysia) and just a short ferry ride away from country 180 (Indonesia).

Buying a thru-ticket from one country into another via a third country is a pleasure I haven’t experienced since I was in Europe, and the concept of ticking off not just Malaysia, but Singapore AND Indonesia before breakfast on Wednesday was a treat like no other – especially given it would knock my countries-to-go total down to a seemingly manageable TWENTY.

TWENTY!!!

I might – whisper it softly – I MIGHT FINISH THIS INFERNAL CHALLENGE YET!!!

I awoke on the Tuesday morning after a fairly pleasant night’s kip to find that we were still in Thailand.  My, it’s a tall and thin country, and I was truly going from top to bottom.  Around lunchtime the coach breached the frontier into Malaysia, me holding up proceedings by spending the last of my Thai Baht on some KFC at the border.

Malaysia passed in a daze: we sped through the Cameron Highlands without even stopping for a cup of tea and a scone; we even bypassed the capital, the wonderfully named Kuala Lumpur, and by the evening we were on course to hit Singapore before sunrise the next day.

Don’t feel jibbed that I didn’t take in more of Malaysia, I’ll be back in a few days… well, I’ll be back in Malaysian Borneo… countries 181 and 182 lay that way.

Day 651: Lion City

13.10.10:

Singapore! World’s End!  You can get here all the way across the mega-continent of Eurasia from John O’Groats to Raffles via the Channel Tunnel, the Urals and the causeway without ever stepping foot on a plane or a boat.  But this is the end of the line I’m afraid.  From now on it’s going to be ship-this ship-that and ship’s-your-uncle.  Ticking a magnificent 179 countries off my list: a daunting and unsettling task lay ahead: the final 21 countries are all islands, parts of islands or full-on archipelagos and (as if I haven’t been at pains to point this out already) I’M NOT ALLOWED TO FLY.

Nature’s borders prove much more troublesome to me than man’s invisible lines.

I am more than happy to pay lip-service to Singapore, with it’s miles and miles of docks and smug (and lucrative) placement right in the middle of things: you know, where Liverpool was 100 years ago.  I’ve always found it a bit too clean, a bit too sterile, a bit too Demolition Man (an under-rated film if ever there was one).  Considering it’s the death penalty for drug smuggling and Blueberry Hubba Bubba Bubblegum is against the law, it’s the kind of place Britain could be if everyone who writes into the letters page of the Daily Mail were in charge.

And wouldn’t THAT be fun!

Although, I must point out that there is a lovely underground (possibly run by a Chinese Dennis Leary) vibe going on in Singapore, IF you know where to look, but unfortunately I don’t.   Bah!

But Singapore’s purpose (not porpoise) today is to serve as LAUNCHPAD OCEANIA: and I’m including all of the final 21 nations in that ‘Oceania’ tag (even though some are in the Indian Ocean) cos I have to take a boat to get there.  The first boat of the day leaves for the island of Pulau Batam at 7.50am.  Pulau Batam is just a few miles off the coast of Singapore, but it’s one of the forty THOUSAND (count ’em!) islands that make up Nation 180, INDONESIA.

I got to the Harbour Front straight off the bus, at around 5am.  It was still dark, but the shopping complex (that including the ferry terminal) was open – well, bits of it were – the ferry terminal didn’t open till seven.  According to the Yellow Bible, the first ferry to Pulau Batam leaves Singapore at 6am, but as you will find if you ever come to South East Asia, the Yellow Bible (like the real Bible) is paved with good intentions but there are many glaring inaccuracies, omissions, half-truths and downright lies told; and the older the copy the more inaccurate things become.  Mine was from 2008 so it was filled with more bloopers than an Ed Wood movie.  Then again, look at the real Bible – it’s from, what, the bronze age?  Good luck with that!

The first boat left at 7.50am.  This more than scuppered my plans for the day, it kinda torpedoed them.  It meant that the ferry got in at 7.40am Indonesian Time (I’m nothing if not a Timelord) and – get this – the THREE FERRIES to the big Indonesian island of Sumatra ALL LEAVE at 7.30am Indonesian Time.  Yes, it would take a lobotomised aphid with learning difficulties to come up with a more IDIOTIC system, but there you go, it looked a lot like I’d be spending the night in this, lets be fair, shithole called Pulau Batam.

But IN YOUR FACE KENOBI, in my experience there IS such thing as luck: the daddy ship direct to Jakarta that leaves once a week was leaving today(!) at 3pm.  No poncing about fighting the Sumatran road system down to the island of Java: I was going straight to the Big Smoke.

Oh… something I should point out at this point while you’re flapping your map of the world about and screaming that Jakarta is 100% in the wrong direction if I want to head to Brunei and The Philippines next, I KNOW.  But for some unfathomable reason there is no domestic ferry link between Peninsular Malaysia (that bit what attaches to Thailand and Singapore) and Malaysian Borneo (that bit what attaches to Indonesian Borneo and, more importantly, has Brunei sitting in the middle of it).  So my only option is to take a ship to Jakarta, then another to Pontianak in Indonesian Borneo and then fight my way overland from there.

Which is what I plan to do.

So, completely fortuitously, by 2.45pm I was in a taxi heading for the domestic ferry port – oh yeah, when they said the ship was leaving at 3pm, they MEANT IT.  Crikey – I raced through an empty terminal, threw my bags through the X-ray scanner, headed out onto the quayside and hurled myself up the gangplank (as it was rising).  Sweating and out of breath, I was welcomed on board by a young Indonesian guy called Rangga.

“You’re that guy off National Geographic aren’t you? Are you STILL going?!”

Sweating and panting like Michael Moore running the London Marathon, I dropped my bags on the deck, nod and shook the guy’s hand.  By 3.09pm we were under sail.  Result!

On board the ship I met up with Chiefy – a top Aussie guy who I had met earlier that day on Pulau Batam who was trying to travel the world without flying, but not for any kind of time record – he was happy to spend the next ten years doing it.  In a wonderful bit of synergy I also met a bunch of Brits who were making their way down to Australia on a kinda-Oz bus affair and so we got to share our overland adventure stories.  Most – like John and Matt – were a little older than me, but some, including a scouser from Aigburth called Claire, were around the same age (we scousers either have scouse-dar or we’re just the friendliest people in the whole of the UK… I have a suspicion it’s the latter, AND BILL BRYSON AGREES WITH ME).

It would appear that I’m not the only one who regards flying as cheating.  The weird thing was that while we were enjoying the fresh air and camaraderie out on deck, their comrades on this monumental trek across Eurasia hid in the bowels of the ship, content to miss the cracking sunset and the late night Karaoke (and secret whisky stash on an otherwise dry voyage – thanks Rangga!) which – of course – us scousers found and took advantage of.  Anti-social buggers.  But then, after hearing some of the stuff that had been going on since they started their adventures five months ago, I was glad to be travelling alone: would YOU want to be travelling with your ex-girlfriend who had now got with somebody else from the same expedition?  Thought not…!

It was a BIG ship – over 1000 passengers.  But by midnight Claire and I had the run of the place, everyone else being a bunch of sissies going to bed early.  I was looking out for the Southern Cross – I haven’t seen it since Rwanda last December, but cloud cover dashed that hope.  The sleeping situation was a set of large cabins, each containing over 100 beds in rows separated by wooden dividers.  I slept between a nursing mother and a girl in her early twenties.

Indonesia: Muslim it may be, Saudi Arabia it is not.

THE ODYSSEY WORLD VISA GUIDE

One of the things that holds back many people from travelling is the prospect of wasting time and effort attempting to get into countries that would quite prefer it if you didn’t bother.  However, it is a false presumption.  In more than 150 countries worldwide you can turn up without shelling out $$$ for an invitation first.

So here’s a comprehensive list of the visa requirements for British Passport Holders for every country in the world, although it may come in useful for other nationalities as well.

I’ve split the world into four main categories: No Visa Required, Visa On Arrival, Prior Visa Required and Letter of Invitation (LOI) Required.

No Visa Required: You beauties!! Note the (very) high prevalence of prosperous, confident and democratic countries in this list.

Visa on Arrival: Not quite as good as no visa at all, but much, much less hassle than:

Prior Visa/LOI required: Crikey. What a bitch. Don’t turn up without a visa to any of the countries on this (mercifully short) list of grubby and inhospitable nations.  They will fly you straight back home again at your expense because you didn’t ask their f—ing permission first.  So go queue outside their ostentatious embassies in the pouring rain for hours, pay them a bundle of fivers and then wait and wait and wait for the privilege of visiting their stupid godforsaken country.

I find the whole process quite demeaning – it’s like having to write to someone to ask if you can attend their wedding – take the hint man, take the hint – these countries are obviously not much interested in you, or tourism in general.

Many of these countries hilariously require an onward ticket, some want you to write a begging letter to come in, others want a letter off your employer or even copies of your bank statements… remember this is not to LIVE THERE, this is just to VISIT FOR A FEW DAYS.

The worst of the worst require a Letter of Invitation (LOI) – I’ve cast these down into the very lowest rungs of hell.  Not only do you have to pay extortionate amounts of money to Ambassador Ratbag for the stamp, you also have to pay someone in the country to ‘vouch’ for you.

I would actually like a list of all of the illegal refugees and economic migrants pouring out of our rich democratic nations and claiming asylum in… Nigeria? Papua New Guinea? TURKMENISTAN?? Seriously? WHAT?

I hold Australia in particular contempt for this policy – it is the ONLY rich westernised power on an otherwise quite hellish list of paranoid basketcases.

Oh, and by the way, Aussie tourists are granted a SIX MONTH stay in the UK, upon arrival, for free.  So, Australia, when you ask me in your rasping nasal tones where the bloody hell am I – I guess I’m in a country that welcomes me with open arms rather than a punch in the face and a bill of sale.

But look on the bright side, there are 150 (other, better) countries which don’t make you beg for permission to pop in for a visit…

Here’s your at-a-glance VISA MAP OF THE WORLD:

World Visa Requirement Map
World Visa Requirement Map For British Passport Holders

NO VISA REQUIRED (WOO!)

AMERICAS
Antigua & Barbuda
Argentina
Bahamas
Barbados
Belize
Bolivia
Brazil
Canada
Chile
Colombia
Costa Rica
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
El Salvador
Grenada
Guatemala
Guyana
Haiti
Honduras
Mexico
Nicaragua
Panama
Paraguay
Peru
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago
Uruguay
USA (but you do need a prior visa if you arrive on private boat or plane)
Venezuela

EUROPE
Albania
Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Kosovo
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
San Marino
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
UK
Ukraine
Vatican City

AFRICA
Botswana
Burkina Faso
Lesotho
Malawi
Mali
Mauritius
Namibia
Rwanda
Senegal
Seychelles
South Africa
Swaziland
The Gambia
Tunisia
Morocco

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Bahrain
Iraq (Kurdistan only, entered from Turkey)
Israel
Japan
Jordan (if you enter on the ferry from Egypt)
Kuwait
Oman
Palestine
Qatar
South Korea
Taiwan
The Maldives
UAE
Yemen

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Brunei
Fiji
Kiribati
Malaysia
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
New Zealand
Palau
Samoa
Singapore
Solomon Islands
Thailand
The Philippines
Tonga
Tuvalu
Vanuatu

VISA ON ARRIVAL

AMERICAS
Cuba (well, I got a visa on arrival, but I came on a yacht…)

EUROPE
Armenia
Turkey

AFRICA
Benin
Burundi
Cape Verde
Comoros
Egypt
Kenya
Mauritania
Mozambique
Sierra Leone
Tanzania
Togo
Uganda
Zambia
Zimbabwe

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Jordan
Lebanon
Nepal
Sri Lanka
Syria

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Burma (but only valid for border regions)
Cambodia
East Timor (though no longer available on land border with Indonesia)
Indonesia (though not available on land borders with East Timor and PNG)
Laos

That’s over 150 countries where you can get in without asking prior permission.  Now here’s the naughty list:

PRIOR VISA REQUIRED

AMERICAS
Suriname (letting the side down there somewhat)
Cuba (but I doubt they’d turn you back)

EUROPE
Belarus (no surprise there – they still have the KGB)

AFRICA
Cameroon
Central African Republic
Chad
Congo
Cote D’Ivoire
Democratic Republic of Congo
Djibouti
Eritrea (best obtained in Jeddah – next day delivery)
Ethiopia (best obtained in Nairobi – same day delivery)
Gabon
Ghana
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Liberia
Madagascar (but it’s free, so can’t complain)
Niger
Sao Tome & Principe
Sudan (best obtained in Cairo – same day delivery)

ASIA
Afghanistan
Bangladesh
Bhutan
Burma (for travel into interior)
China
India (AND now requires you to leave for 60 days between visits!)
Iraq (for travel beyond Kurdistan)
Kyrgyzstan
Mongolia
Tajikistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Australia*
Papua New Guinea
Vietnam*

*visa obtainable on arrival at airport with prior permission over internet

LETTER OF INVITATION (+ PRIOR VISA) REQUIRED

AMERICAS
N/A

EUROPE
Azerbaijan (no LOI required if visa bought in Georgia)
Russia

AFRICA
Algeria*
Angola*
Equatorial Guinea*
Libya (AND you must pay for a ‘guide’)
Nigeria*
Somalia*

THE MIDDLE EAST/ASIA
Iran
Kazakhstan
North Korea
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia*
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan

SE ASIA/OCEANIA
Nauru

*To make matters worse, these visas can only be obtained in your country of origin (although it is possible to get a Nigerian visa from Ghana and an Algerian visa from Mali if you’re lucky).

Right.  That’s it.  If there are any mistakes/updates/excuses you’d like to make (this is pretty much all off the top of my head), please comment below.

Day M242: Gotham City

Sat 26.05.12:

Gangsters. I hate them. I hate their pathetic lust for money, their shocking insensitivity to the misery of others, their child-like desire for trinkets and weaponry. But I especially hate their taste – yes I may sound like a rambling old lord bemoaning the trashy habits of the nouveau riche, but sod it: these people are not just morally bankrupt, but creatively bankrupt as well. The kind of goons who would erect a tasteless golden statue of themselves as though it’s not going to be melted down the minute they shuffle off this mortal coil they’ve done so much to ruin for others. The kind of goons that buy cars that look like glorified roller-skates, spend more on sound-systems than looking after their kids, hang out with women more plastic than Barbie and wear shirts louder than Krakatau.

One of the reasons I want drugs legalised is to strangle the main income stream of these lowdown lowbrow lowlifes, but in some cases the damage has already been done. Las Vegas, that trashy Blackpoolzilla of the desert, founded by gangsters who had their goodtastebuds removed at birth, with its shitty bastardised versions of some of the greatest buildings in the world, the air-conned epitome of what the daily exploitation of human greed and a shoddy grasp of statistics can buy. If Las Vegas’ effect on the world was restricted to that wretched hell-on-Earth where dithery old fogeys go to waste the money they’ve wasted a lifetime working for, I honestly wouldn’t give a fat flying crap. But unfortunately for humanity, Las Vegas, the world epicentre of gold-plated kitsch and a lifestyle that only cretins could possibly find aspirational, has spread its pernicious tendrils from Macau to Melbourne to Manila.

Yes I know that Las Vegas is now run by Disney and Halliburton (probably), but the form of modern casinos originates in the grotesque pipe-dreams of gangsters. Look at Tony Montana’s gay nightclub of a house, the gold chains and cheap shell suits of Tony Soprano’s goons or the hang-glider-like collars of Fredo Corleone. What these (admittedly fictional, but art does imitate life) people think is attractive, beautiful or necessary should never, NEVER, be allowed to sully the landscape of Hoggart’s Farm, never mind the skyline of a great city like Singapore.

I WISH this was Photoshop. But it's not. It's real.

Yup. It’s a Sands Casino/Hotel/THING.

Three ugly-as-f— domino-shaped towers. With a surfboard plonked on top of them that’s supposed – get this – to look like a SHIP. Oh my giddy aunt. Is this a joke? Because, seriously, if it is, it’s about as amusing as cancer.

But should I be surprised that some moron thought this was a good idea? Should I be gobsmacked that some spawn-of-Satan architect designed it? Should I be shocked that the morons in the government gave it the green light? Should I be bewildered that men toiled for thousands of man-hours with a budget that could have pulled an African country out of the shite to build something akin to a fanciful folly of a fat spoiled rich kid, what happens when Homer’s brother puts him in charge of design, the architectural equivalent of an episode of that nightmarish MTV show My Super Sweet 16?

Dear God, MAKE IT GO AWAY

FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, IT’S THREE TOWERS WITH A SURFBOARD DUMPED ON TOP!! LORD, GIMME STRENGTH.

No. No, I’m not surprised. And I’m sure there are people willing to sacrifice all dignity, any shred of perceived integrity, manners or decency by saying ‘well I think it looks nice’. If that’s your opinion, you seriously don’t deserve opinions. Or, for that matter, oxygen. Put the crayon down and please stop designing buildings or I’ll have to put you on the naughty step.

It’s crass, it’s tacky, it’s pathetic, it’s moronic, but most of all… it’s just f—ing ugly.

Ugly like a British soap opera. Ugly like a civil war. Ugly like a car accident. Ugly like a divorce. Ugly like a heroin overdose. Ugly like the lecture hall of a 60s polytechnic. Ugly like disease. Ugly like a the mind of a gangster.

But is this a huge shock to me? That in the 21st century people are still willing to build such monumental crap? No. No it’s not.

I’ll tell you what was a shock to me. THIS:

Ahh... That's better

Often in my travels, often to defenders of modern architecture, concrete and “clean straight lines”, I have thrown down The Graham Hughes Modern Architecture Challenge. It is simply this: name me one building, anywhere in the world, built (not restored) in the last fifty years that is beautiful?

And nobody, NOBODY has ever come up with an answer. A single one! ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD!! Seriously! A single building built by any of the 7,000,000,000 souls on the good ship Earth. NOT ONE!

Well butter my balls and call me Bongo. It’s taken three and a half years, 197 countries, 18 territories and 250,000 miles but I think I may have found it.

I give you ParkView Square, Singapore:

YES.

What’s this? Well-wrought statues adorning the courtyard? Dali, Beethoven and Churchill immortalised in bronze? Why the hell not eh?

Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo

Chinese motifs on the façade? Awesome. Let’s go inside.

My friends observe! This is what beautiful looks like.

Oh sweet bliss. Hand-made brass frescos, art-deco styling, the highest wine-rack in the world – one that comes with ‘wine angels’, barmaids who don a harness and bungee and float up like fairies to get your bottle of plonk?

And this is an OFFICE BUILDING? Are you kidding? No?!

Atlas Shoved.

Okay, okay, Graham – we get it, it’s a very nice building, but why are you so excited about all this?

Because ParkView Square, known affectionately as ‘Gotham City’ by the locals, was built FROM SCRATCH less than ten years ago.

You see, I don’t care that the internal structure of ParkView Square is made of concrete in the same way I don’t care that Scarlett Johansson’s internal structure is made of blood and guts. The Liverpool Liver Building and the Liverpool Gothic Cathedral also have concrete rattling around in their bones, but you’d never know unless you cut them open – and that’s the point.

Of course, mealy-mouthed modern architects will talk this place down in the same way that literary critics will dismiss Lord of the Rings (the third best selling book ON THE PLANET – fact!), but that’s to be expected isn’t it? However, from where I’m standing, all I can see is a building that inspires joy and wonder, a soaring monument to human endeavour and ingenuity.

I walked through this building every day on the way from the Bugis train station to Kuni’s place, and each time I noticed something new; a detail I had missed, a facet I had overlooked, something that put a smile on my face. Like a what the chaps at Weta did for the Roxy cinema in Wellington but on a truly epic scale, the Chinese owners and New York architects (who, I feel, are in desperate need of some serious high-fivin’) of ParkView Square deserve nothing but respect for showing the world what I’ve been banging on about in all of my many rants about modern architecture: THERE IS NO GOOD REASON THAT MODERN BUILDINGS HAVE TO LOOK UGLY.

Beetham Tower, Manchester: Europe's Tallest Eyesore
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.
Holyrood, Edinburgh: Europe's Ugliest Building
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.
Federation Square, Melbourne: Ugliest Building in the Southern Hemisphere
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.
Mirador Building, Madrid. Now seriously, WHAT THE FUCK??
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.

We have to put up with ugliness every day of our lives: bombs going off, child murders, internecine strife, car accidents, war, famine, disease, EastEnders… must we ALSO live in a world whose buildings are dictated by the obscene fetishes and peccadilloes of architects and politicians? Gibbering morons happy to dress like this:

Politicians. I Hate Them.
Yeah, see what you've done there, going for the 'serial killer in the rain' look, right?

This is the world of gangsters, bling, marketing, lies, and cocaine. This is what happens when people with no taste or decency are permitted to build things. These are the diseased brainspunk of our parent’s generation and it’s high time we ripped down this garbage and built something beautiful in its place. Give me the neo-Gothic, give me the Baroque, the Romanic, the Spanish Mission, the Country Cottage, the Florentine, the Art-Nouveau, the Tudor villa, give me Gotham City… just, for heaven’s sake, give me something that looks BEAUTIFUL!!

One damn fine Scottish sexpot
That'll do.

Today, Kuni, Christoph and I went for a mooch around town. At the end of a long hot day, Christoph and I ended up in the famous Long Bar of The Inimitable Raffles Hotel. Peanut shells cover the floor and automatic fans waft cool air gently down onto the patrons. It’s a whopping $26 (£13) for a Singapore Sling, but when in Rome…

Graham Hughes vs Singapore Sling
WHERE Else Should One Partake Of The Singapore Sling But At The Raffles Hotel

Day M243: The 10 Courts of Hell

Sun 27.05.12: 

Today I met up with Maryanne, the CouchSurfer who shared Mike’s flat with me in Hong Kong. Together with Kuni and our new CouchSurfer Callum we headed over the Haw Par Villa Theme Park to go see the TEN COURTS OF HELL!!

Hell isn’t an exclusively western concept. What happens to you after die has obsessed the upright ape since it first climbed out of the trees, touched the monolith and killed off all the Neanderthals. In some instances the fanciful fables of the hereafter have assumed the status of myth (that place religions go when they die), but for many people on this planet hell is as alive and as real as Disneyland. So why not make a theme park out of it?

That was the idea of brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the developers of Tiger Balm, who came up with the idea of Haw Par Villa in Singapore in the 1937 – a venue for “teaching traditional Chinese values”, or in other words, a venue for “scaring the shit out of children”.

The English translation said ‘Ten Courts of Hell’, and I only counted ten, but I was assured by our Chinese-speaking friends that there are indeed 18. And how wonderfully gruesome they are. Saw meets Hostel meets Hellraiser via the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but all done out with delightful little mannequins. Guts being pulled out, tongues being cut off, heads being sawn in half down the middle… and the place was full of KIDS! Seriously! Man, there’s some sweet-assed nightmares right there. I guess this is where you take little Timmy if you want him to wet the bed.

Well, this doesn’t look too bad…!
A spot of skinny dipping – just what Satan ordered.
Okay now things are getting rather gruesome…
It was the first and last time I was asked to present Jackanory.
Yes that is a man being sawn in half. But it could be worse…
…he could be getting sawn in half lengthways!
Happy Nightmares, kids!

Personally I hate the idea of hell, I find it an insult to the forward march of science and logic. I hate that kids all over the world are lied to by their lazy hack parents – is ‘doing good makes you feel good’ not a better line? No, kids are told (pretty much) ‘do as I say or you’ll burn in hell’. F—ing lovely.

“BLAH BLAH BLAH you don’t have kids, Graham, you don’t know what it’s like.”

Yeah I don’t have a million dollars and a coke addiction but I’m still happy to point and laugh at celebrities who do. Teaching kids not run into the road by slapping the backs of their legs is one thing, having some asexual freak in a frock tell kids that the universal punishment for ‘being naughty’ is TO BURN FOR TRILLIONS OF YEARS IN A FIERY LAKE OF POO is another entirely. What the hell is wrong with these people?

There are a vast number of chumps who seriously believe that all ‘non-believers’ will burn for billions of years in a boiling reservoir of excrement. Thanks a bunch, pal. I don’t go home and fantasise about Fred Phelps falling into a super-sized Glastonbury portaloo that’s just been set ablaze, I just kinda hope one day someone lobs a grenade at him. While he’s having sex with a rent boy. In Sweden. Oh and don’t forget, the list of ‘non-believers’ doesn’t just include atheists like myself, it also includes people of the ‘wrong’ faith and people of exactly the same faith (but a different denomination).

So the guys who think this God character wears a blue hat are firmly convinced that those LUNATICS(!) who believe God wears a red hat will, for the ‘crime’ of Christ-Knows-What, be tortured for ETERNITY. That’s a jolly long time. I know your brain ain’t too good with large numbers (I’m assuming you’re human) but have you ever stopped to consider how many human lifetimes actually go into an eternity? Ever heard of a ‘googol’? It’s a big number. A one with a hundred zeroes after it – and therefore a bigger number than the number of molecules in the universe. A bit abstract for you? Here:

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!

That’s a googol. Now that’s a long time expressed in Earth years. But most religious people don’t just desire MORE THAN A googol of years extra bonus post-death life. Yes, they are that greedy, that bizarre, that full of themselves that they believe they will not only magically survive their own deaths, but they will also live for ETERNITY. Which is a hell of a lot longer than a googol of years.

A ‘googolplex’ is a one with a googol of zeroes after it. I can write it like this: 10googol (ie 10 to the power of a googol), but if I tried to write it out in long form it would take me more time than the universe has left to exist. Just to give you an example, here is a one followed by a 1,000 noughts:

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!

Now copy and paste all of these zeros out 999 more times. Then you’d have a one followed by a million noughts, a number that doesn’t have an official name so I’m going to call it a Moogol. A Moogol is quite hard to conceptualise, so I’ve written it out in long form for you:

CLICK HERE TO SEE A MOOGOL…!

The crazy thing is that a Moogol is nowhere NEAR an googolplex. Seriously, if you clicked on that link just to see what a one with a million zeroes after it looked like, you could times that big long number by A MILLION and still you’d only have a one with 1,000,000,000,000 zeroes after it – nowhere near the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
zeroes you’d need to make a googolplex.

Considering the UNIVERSE has only existed for 13,700,000,000 years, it would seem that people who believe they will continue to exist for eternity are living in cloud-cuckoo land. A googolplex of googolplexes and you’ve still not reached 0.00000000000000000001% of an eternity.

If I was a Christian, I’d honestly spend every waking moment praying that Christianity wasn’t true, since I have no vested interest in the continuous torture of dead people and I really, honestly, don’t want to magically survive my own death and then to continue to exist – EVEN IN HEAVEN – for 101000000000000000000000+ years. If you do, you’re either a dimwit or a whack-job. I hate to sound so harsh, but COME ON BE REASONABLE!! If you grant me that there is no tooth fairy and there is no Santa Claus (sorry to break it to you!), then death absolutely, totally and utterly IS the end. All that will survive of you are your deeds and, if you’ve managed to breed, some of your genetic material. Deal with it, kiddywinks!!

But like I say, hell isn’t just as Christian idea, the notion of post-mortal justice has entertained the minds of the twisted and deranged for millennia. In ancient Greece, poor old King Tantalus (whose only ‘crime’ was to murder his own son, cut him into bits, cook him in a pot and, erm, serve him to the gods for dinner) was thrown into Tartarus – the nastiest bit of the Underworld, and there he was forced to spend eternity hungry and thirsty while the most sumptuous food and drink would float agonisingly just out of reach above his head (that be where we get the term ‘tantalise’ from!). There’s Hindu hell, Buddhist hell – hell, there was even a Viking hell – for warriors who died dishonourably (presumably while having a poo).

The Chinese hell is more logical than the Christian concept, but to be honest that’s like saying 2012 (the film) is more logical than The Core. It’s still a terrible movie, but at least in Chinese hell you get judged, horribly tortured for a limited time and then you get reincarnated – no googolplexes for the maths-savvy Chinese. The mad thing is that before your re-incarnation you get your memory wiped, which kinda makes the whole torture bit rather redundant. Can we skip the judgement/torture/memory wipe/reincarnation shenanigans and just have bad people in the world, you know, just die? I don’t want to live in a world where Hitler is still alive as a squirrel.

Have you learnt your lesson? Good. Now drink this magic tea so you forget the lesson you just learnt.

That evening, Christoph and I headed off to Singapore Zoo for the Night Safari. As 80% of tropical animals are nocturnal, it makes a lot more sense to go and see them after dark. As flash photography isn’t permitted, my night-vision function on my camcorder came in incredibly handy.