Friday, 29 March 2013

"3 weeks in Bangkok? Are you insane?"

Welcome to Bangkok,
population: everyone
Between leaving New Zealand and arriving safely back in the UK, I've got a 3 week stop in Bangkok. Not Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand's dirty, noisy capital city.

And this is not okay with anyone.

The baffled, sometimes violent denials have been like this:

"What do you mean 3 weeks in Bangkok? Why? Are you stupid?"
"But Bangkok's so DIRTY and NOISY and STRESSFUL. And UGLY! Did I mention UGLY?"
"Go to Chiang Mai, just do it, I'm not even going to entertain this idea"
"Yah sure, fly IN and OUT of Bangkok, but spend 2 weeks down south on a beach and de-stress"

The incomprehension has been so consistent, so hysterical, you'd think I was trying to force THEM to spend 3 weeks in Bangkok.

I'm not sure how many are aware that I've actually been to Thailand before, and have spent a little time in the south (well, Koh Phangan), Bangkok and Chiang Mai/the north as well. So while I haven't been to the East or West of the country, it's not like a totally new country I'd be missing out on.

And don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Bangkok is a more preferable place to stay than Chiang Mai, or even little villages like Pai (which has probably expanded vastly since my visit in 2003).

Bangkok is indeed big, dirty, noisy, stressful, and yes ugly.

I've got 2 reasons for staying there:

  1. I'm moving, I will have all the valuable things in my life that I can carry, and I don't want to drag them around the country with me.
  2. I'm not travelling. Sure most people who visit Thailand are travelling, and there is so much beautiful country outside of the capital city to see. But I want to relax, and that means not worrying about travel arrangements and accommodation. And it's even going to be "real life" for me, a bit - sometimes I'll be staying indoors and working! (Well, "working" doing T-shirt designs)

For those opposed to Bangkok, point 1 is easy. "Just store your luggage, it's easy, then get the overnight train to Chiang Mai, let me tell you about it..." Yes, I took that train, I know about it! And you know, it's not that easy to feel comfortable leaving a lot of my most valuable things in storage in another city altogether. It'll be weird enough leaving them in my hostel room.

Point 2 is less easy to counter, partly because it just confuses people more. It's like when people say on sunny days, "Oh it's SO nice today, it'd be a crime to stay indoors! LITERALLY A CRIME". (Never mind that people say this in Wellington on sunny days that are still freezing cold.) People are confused about me staying in Bangkok for 3 weeks because when you're in Thailand, you want to get the most out of your holiday and get outside every day and do things do lots of things every day every day!!!

Well, I plan to spend some entire mornings or afternoons mooching around in the hostel, or even just in my room. And "indoors" often looks kinda the same wherever you are. Yes it's a crime, come and arrest me if you like.

The thing is, I've got a lot of travel coming up in the next 12 months. And it's hopefully the start of more travel in the next few years - visiting different countries, doing gigs in strange cities. But while "travel" in the sense of adventures, trekking, sky diving, scuba diving, guided tours, horse riding, etc. etc. etc. is a lot of fun, I can't do that all the time. It's draining and exhausting, never mind expensive.

I might be seeing lots of different places, but I won't be actively in "tourist mode", I'll be having "normal life". Kind of, anyway. Being in foreign countries (especially where they don't speak much English) will be challenging enough, and interesting enough.

So, aside from the fact that big cities have hospitals and embassies and important things like that, those are my feelings about my 3 weeks in Bangkok. I wanted a break before getting back to Britain, a chance to spend some time in Asia. And hey, I might still take a visit or two out of the big city! We'll see what happens.

But Bangkok is home to 8 million people. They LIVE there. Like, all year round - including a whole bunch of ex-pats. So assuming that they are not all crying out, Thais and farangs* alike, to get out of This Accursed Hellhole They Named Bangkok, I will assume there are many things to see and do to keep me occupied for a mere 3 weeks.

We'll find out either way I guess!
Jezo Kempo

* Thai word for white person, and/or foreigner.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Space T-shirt designs: Save Mars 2014, Planet-God Neptune, and more

After designing a campaign T-shirt to save Mars in 2014 from the comet C/2013 A1, I stumbled upon a new vein of cute designs: space! Below are some of my favourites, be sure to check the category link for more designs in future :)

Poor Mars! Can we send Bruce Willis like in that film?
Our little family in space! Poor little Pluto, he's not a planet but he's still part of the family.
Excuse me, do you have time to talk about Our Lord and Saviour, Planet Neptune?

Our little home, and lots of little facts about it. I like this one.

Meet Pluto, the Dwarf Planet! Not dwarf planet should be without an axe, beard and tankard.

Poor Eris! Bigger than Pluto, but nobody knows who she is! In some ways, I wish it was Eris facing collision with C/2013 A1 (instead of Mars), because then I could make a "Save Eris" T-shirt...

Dwarf suns, on the other hand, are perfectly fine with a hammer instead of axe. Here is a loveable red dwarf sun! (It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere...)

Planet Mercury, messenger of the planet gods! What a charming little chap.

And here's our solar system family, but to the correct scale. Look how small Pluto is!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Round the world trip - 10 years on

The Needle, cross-island walk,
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
On the 8th March 2003, a 19-year-old little Jezo Kempo went on a round the world trip (RTW). I took 17 flights, and went to: Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, and Mongolia.
This was my first day as an international rogue.

Thinking about it now is pretty strange. On the one hand, it was a mind-blowing trip, I did amazing things and saw some frankly epic stuff. I had no idea what to expect, it was my first real trip away from home, and in some respects it was very scary. Going round the world? At 19, by yourself? To ... foreign countries?

Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand
And yet, it was a Totally Normal Thing. The middle-class gap year backpacker trip was already a British institution, and I spent more time with other British tourists than foreign tourists or locals the entire way. Thailand sounded like a scary place - my mum initially didn't want me to go to Asia at all - and yet on arrival, there was an entire industry and infrastructure already set up for well-off middle-class kids just like me to travel around and do whatever touristy stuff I wanted: get drunk on island beaches, ride an elephant, go jungle-trekking in the north. The main character in The Beach (amazing book) talks about the tourists turning Thailand into some horrible plastic culture-less place, and Alex Garland wrote it before 1996.

When I got to Mongolia, I met a World Vision group of 16-year-olds. 16!

Today, the world is even more interconnected. Today, travel prices are lower, cameras are all digital, phones have touchscreens and wifi.

Sky diving over Lake Taupo, New Zealand
Global travel is still not something that just anyone can do at the drop of a hat, and it's still not physically possible to just go for a weekend in Australia or Africa. But the idea of such a trip being absolutely "once-in-a-lifetime" is no more.

At the time looking forward, I was wide-eyed and ready for anything. And while I didn't get eaten by sharks or locked up in a Thai prison, a lot of anything happened to me. It was exhilarating and exhausting and amazing.

Gobi Desert, Mongolia
Today, looking back, I'm not sure how to feel. In 9.5 years since, I haven't done much actual "travelling". Other than a quick trip around Central/Eastern Europe in 2008, it's either been holidays, or just living here in New Zealand. So it wasn't the start of a new travelling habit (or for some, addiction). I love travel and feel comfortable doing it, but I was not born to travel.

What it marked was the start of me evolving - turning gradually into the Jez you know and love/hate today - and understanding that the world is both a) bigger than we can possibly imagine, which we should never forget, and b) more accessible than we assume, which we should never forget either. People say, "oh I could never do that". People talk about money, commitments, responsibilities. Well, these things are always important, but they will always be there for you, and there will always be ways to accommodate them.

The reason I moved to New Zealand was an accident. I put myself in a situation, and I had to go through with it. Sometimes, the biggest reason for not doing big and exciting things is that we're simply afraid to reach out and touch it. It is as difficult and effortless as making a decision.

These pictures are only some of the 1500+ film(!) photos that I took. They're all living in a box back in the UK; one day I hope to scan them all and put them online. Those photos will tell of swimming with catfish, obstacle courses with Mongolian kids, snorkelling in Muri Lagoon, getting lost in Tokyo, dinosaur bones at the Flaming Cliffs. But anyway.

In a couple of months I'll be in Thailand, which I'm quite excited about, on my way back to the UK, which I'm very very excited about.

But right now, I'm involved in booking my 2nd round-the-world trip.

I am 29 and a half years old and I am still looking forward.

Sunset at the Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Taranaki Falls, near Whakapapa/Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand

At the top of the cross-island walk, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Lagoon boat trip, Aitutaki, Cook Islands

The longest beach I've ever seen, Fraser Island, Australia. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. "It is used as a landing strip for planes and an informal highway for vehicles (highway rules state that vehicles must give way to aircraft if they are oncoming)."

Wreck of the Maheno, Fraser Island, Australia

The landscape in the Gobi desert is this flat.

Dusk on racing yacht, Whitsunday Islands trip, Australia

Atop the sand dunes in Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Semi-wild horses, My Camp, Mongolia

Wanaka, New Zealand

Sunrise from boat, Whitsundays, Australia

Shanty districts in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

My friend Sonynbayar having a sleep, making heat-preserving igloos, Lotus Children's Centre

Sunset from Mrs Macquaries Point, Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Abandoned (or not?) temple, Mongolian desert



Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Train station in Mongolia

Adrenaline of a Bangkok tuktuk ride

Whitehaven beach, Whitsunday Island, Whitsundays, Australia

Graffiti at Newtown station, Sydney