Well, it’s back by popular demand- The patented Bron Batten travelogue, the 2010 edition.
For those of you who I’ve met since my last transatlantic voyage, trip, here’s how it goes…
Every couple of days/weeks/months you will receive an email from me chronicling my adventure thus far. This is mutually beneficial for many reasons:
1. Email is a relatively environmentally friendly mode of communication, saving on the carbon/postage miles involved in hurling scrawled postcards with lewd and/or ironic pictures on them halfway across the globe
2. They will provide an outlet for my so far insular ramblings- I haven’t had a proper conversation for 6 days now and counting- while I was writing this I talked to the sun
3. It will keep everyone up to date so that I don’t have to repeat the same stories over and over when I get home… Not that I have a tendency to repeat myself…!
4.Will hopefully one day become life-changing, best selling personal memoir and subsequent major motion picture in manner of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and star aging actress Julia Roberts or future equivalent
5. Delight, entertain and transport the reader away from the freezing Melbourne winter
6. Give you all a little insight into the sheer day to day struggle involved with being a slightly inept redhead at large in the world.
So here I am in Hong Kong. I arrived last week after a relatively uneventful flight featuring not one, not two, not three but four romantic comedies on the entertainment system. My seat mate unfairly monopolised the armrest for the majority of the nine and a half hours but I compensated for this by ‘accidentally’ kicking him whenever I readjusted my feet under the seat.
Hong Kong is much dirtier than I expected and has a thick taste and a musty smell that hits you as soon as you step out of the airport, a lot like India.
I have been staying in a suburb called Kowloon, which every time I think/say it, reminds me of that bit in Wayne’s World where Tia Carrere says ‘I was born in Kowloon Bay!’ to Rob Lowe.
Now I imagine that in the future whenever I watch Wayne’s World I will say ‘You know I’ve been to Kowloon Bay’ every time that bit is on, appearing both show-offy and forgetful to the people I’m watching the movie with.
I am staying in a dodgy and unbeknownst to me, infamous guest house called ‘Chunking Mansions’, Think rabbit warren/slum/building made entirely out of bathrooms converted into bedrooms and then rented out to people for much much more than they’re worth and you’ll start to get an idea of what it’s like. I encountered a cockroach in my room the other day that apart from it’s colour could have been an extra in Avatar.
I’m sure if you’ve got lots and lots of money to spend you can have a lovely luxurious time and never have to leave air-conditioned comfort- except to buy discounted AV equipment- if the hordes of middle aged British and German shopping tourists are anything to go by. In India if you see another whitey on the street you give them a smile out of a kind of ‘we’re all in this together’ solidarity. Then they smile back- if they aren’t too weak from dysentery. But here if I smile at anyone, they look kind of startled, then a bit disdainful (I have gone VERY red and VERY frizzy). Then they say ‘It’s too bloody ‘ot out ‘ere… Let’s get back to the ‘otel before the next World Cup match starts’ or German equivalent.
But at this present moment, I have escaped Kowloon (you know I’ve been there) to a fishing village called Cheung Chau. Whilst on the island I have been riding a bike around (yes BIKE!) enjoying the nice beaches, looking at the hippie markets, trying to remember that I look rubbish in cheesecloth and trying not to grievously injure myself or any of the unsuspecting populace. On the downside, I have been positively mauled by tropical strength mosquitoes that make our Aussie variety look like gay flies. My calves are covered in welts that WON’T GO AWAY, fostering a fear that MAYBE IT WASN’T MOSQUITOES THAT BIT ME, which at this present time is a thought too scary to seriously contemplate.
My conference starts tomorrow and until then I will continue to surreptitiously take photos of strangers to make it seem as though I have made friends.
Hope all is well,
Itchy and scratchily yours,
Well as some of you may know, I have been in Hong Kong attending the ‘International Society for Humour Studies 22nd Annual Conference’, otherwise known as ‘The 22nd Annual Exercise in Vacuous, Self-important, Academic Monologuing’.
These conferences are held every year and humour scholars come from all over the world to dissect, discuss, debate and essentially destroy any remnant of joy that may have once been associated with the topic at hand by bludgeoning it to death with semiotic analysis.
I have been witness to lectures ranging from the incomprehensible to the infuriating, bearing such titles as ‘Why Confucius Despised Humour’, ‘Why Japanese People Aren’t Funny’ and ‘De-constructing ‘Why the Chicken Crossed the Road’ using the Cognitive Linguistic Blending Theory’.
Which is in and of itself hilarious… If only there was a trace of irony present… Which there isn’t. Which of course is ironic. Do you see how this train of thought could spiral out of control?
The most riveting lecture featured a fiery post presentation debate about the definition of tautological jokes using a metaphorical framework. Exciting, exciting stuff.
The conference was hosted by a professor whom I quickly dubbed ‘The Chinese David Brent’. I must thank him however for providing endless unintentional entertainment by creating the most stunningly awkward situations whenever he opened his mouth. His opening presentation featured a series of pictures of women in suggestive sexual positions involving cartoon characters and particularly phallic shaped tree branches. This was intended to demonstrate that women actually DO have a sense of humour. My favourite moment however, was when he hired ‘mental retards’ to do a magic show at the opening night banquet, stating the next day that and that ‘See? Everyone can enjoy humour’ and you ‘could tell which ones were retard because of the face’.
I am still processing the magic show itself. I’m sure if you’ve ever seen amateur Chinese magicians with Down Syndrome perform magic tricks in tuxedos and clown wigs then you’ll understand what I mean.
But the professor’s assertions about women possessing a sense of humour were in vain, as the leading and most respected humour scholar in the world, Mr Davies, presented a paper on ‘The cultural conditions and implications of Mother-in-law jokes’.
Within this paper he asserted as fact that all mother-in-law’s are tyrants and that all women have no sense of humour- to my absolute fury and the audience’s complete sycophantic agreement.
So, that said, I would like you to please consider all comments henceforth within this email to be merely innocent configurations of words and any mirth generated from them utterly accidental and unintentional.
But not everyone I met at the conference was a self-important wanker. I was introduced to one anthropology academic who immediately after we met, proceeded to lecture me, in-depth, on the intricacies of west Australian rock formations. I was also bailed up by a Catholic cartoonist who told me that he had worked through his early religious conditioning that women could be divided into two categories, virgin or whore, and urged me to ’embrace my inner Goddess’.
So now I have three days until I go to London and then four days before I go to Switzerland where I get ready to do it all again at the University of Zurich.
I. Can’t. Wait.
So until then, keep warm and listen to the ginga in charge! Woot! Go Julia Gillard!
You may have been wondering where I’ve been- or not- that’s cool too, I’m sure you’ve got stuff going on.
I am about to leave for Spain today, having tripped gleefully around Paris and then zoomed back to England to attend Latitude Festival. But as I haven’t written any witty repartee about those jaunts, we’re going to travel back in time and pretend that I’ve just left Switzerland, after completing my second foray into humour research, or as I like to call it, ‘The Week That Humour Died’.
I started off sharing a room with Liga from Riga, a Latvian girl with a mild acquired brain injury. This had resulted from being soundly struck in the head by not one, but two doors during an unfortunate drunken falling down incident. Thus Liga from Riga and her docile, bovine-like expression helped to firmly establish ‘acquired brain injury’ on the top of my ‘greatest fears’ list.
This co-tenancy was short lived however, after she bore the full and spectacular brunt of my auditory respiratory defect, compounded by both the onset of a cold and the large quantity of gin that I consumed before going to bed. I was snoring so loudly that she had to go and sleep out in the hallway in her knickers, with an overhead sensor light that turned the fluros on whenever she made the slightest movement.
In the morning she said ‘It can’t be cured?’ in a kind of crestfallen and bewildered Latvian accent. I said no and she abruptly changed rooms. Which was fine by me because it meant that I now had a double room to myself. So score one for the snorers.
At the start of the week we had to introduce ourselves and say a little bit about what we did. My first mistake was mentioning that I had done stand up comedy. This revelation was followed by repeated requests to perform and tell jokes- which if you’ve ever tried to amuse an eastern European, you’ll know is extremely difficult. The bulk of the requests came from a French woman called Josiane. She had absolutely no hair on her arms and stated on the last day that she didn’t like participating in the practical workshops because she thought it was rude to be put on the spot.
The other requests came from a bizarre Israeli guy called Hetzl who would bound up to me with puppy-like enthusiasm, convinced I was about to shatter his funny bone with the sheer brilliance of my rhetoric. After this failed to happen he regarded me with indifference and the slight disdain of someone who thinks the other a fraud. Which was fine by me because he was a bit of a dick and I wanted him to leave me alone.
My second Switzerland mistake was getting my laundry done at the conference centre. For one small bag it cost 110 Swiss Francs. I’ll save you looking up the conversion rate, 110 Swiss Francs is $119.215 AUSTRALIAN FUCKING DOLLARS or in other words, MY RENT FOR A WEEK! After this economic assault my affection for Switzerland plummeted and I spent the next few days devising ways to get out of it, mostly involving trekking across the Alps on foot in manner of the Von Trapps. Needless to say that this didn’t happen and they had to pry it out of my fingers at check out. So I fare evaded on the train back into Zurich in a nerve ridden act of defiance. Ha ha!
Bron= 1. Switzerland= 119.215. Those neutral, chocolate making bastards.
The summer school itself, although infinitely better organised than the conference in Hong Kong, proved to be equally as baffling.
You’ll be pleased to know that the same academic who stated with such finality that women have no sense of humour was there, this time with lovely things to say about our lady Prime Minister. After revealing that she was born in the seaside town of Barry in Wales, he stated, and I quote:
‘It’s appropriate that a woman coming from a lower class town is now the Prime Minister of a lower class country’, end quote.
All the while he was saying this, his speech was interspersed with little strangled coughing noises exactly like the ones my cat used to make before she died. So let’s hope his nose rots away like hers did.
So I descended from the Alps and stole away into the night bound for Paris.
Ah but that’s another story for another time!
I hope you are all well- tell me things about stuff!
All my love,
Well dear readers, last time we met I was stealing away through the night towards Paris, having escaped Switzerland and it’s exorbitant laundry prices. We have to once again suspend disbelief because as I write this, I am barrelling through the Italian countryside, on a train headed for Florence.
So I arrived in Paris on a thundery Monday morning and as I was only there for two days, I shall give you the highlights thus, in point form:
* Imagining that I was Audrey Tatou as I wandered through Mont Matre and Sacre Coeur
* Eating a relatively large amount of croissants to my comparatively small amount of time in Paris
* Trying to take novelty photos of the Eiffel Tower (tower is pinched between two fingers, tower appears as an amusing hat, etc)
* Encountering haughty French cockroaches that when you exclaim your disgust simply ignore you, as if they’ll only depart if you say it in French
* Eating Roquefort in the park
* Eating things in general
And this is the last thing I’ll say about Paris- it really does look like the Paris end of Collins Street.
And so onto London, where I encountered that good for nothing trio The Suitcase Royale on our way to Latitude music festival. Once again, as our time together is brief and we have a lot to get through, I shall give you the highlights thus, in point form:
* My friends Miles and Jof taking photos of themselves spooning a passed out guy and then people coming over to give him mouth to mouth (he was fine)
* Me making it the second consecutive music festival where I have thrown up in my own tent (sorry Jof)
* Seeing the Suitcase play the cabaret stage, all the while denying being cabaret artists, then opening for a gypsy band
* Eating bacon sandwiches EVERY DAY
* Performing an epic contemporary dance duet with Jof to Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’, culminating in a spectacular lift
So all in all it was a fun festival.
After a hair raising departure from London (moral of the story: NEVER take an overground bus to the airport- there’s nothing quite like sprinting through an airport departure terminal to make you feel like you’re in your very own anxiety ridden Richard Curtis movie) and making my plane with LITERALLY seconds to spare, I arrived in sunny Barcelona.
My hotel certainly wasn’t the worst one I’ve ever stayed in but it did feature walls so thin that you could hear the person in the next room roll over. Not only that, but the rooms were situated around an interior air duct about the size of an elevator shaft that acted as an architectural amplifier.
Through my wall I could hear a man who sounded like a Nazi war criminal with a mechanical voice box which, I can tell you, is the second most terrifying sound in the world. Later that evening I heard the Nazi war criminal and a lady friend engaging in an activity that made Meg Ryan in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ seem positively repressed, which, I can tell you, is the first most terrifying sound in the world. Needless to say, everybody could hear what she was having.
Even later on I was privy to a less disturbing but infinitely more annoying noise situation whereby an American gentleman two floors up was conducting a phone call in which he was relating, in minute detail, everything he’d eaten since arriving in Spain. Each description was then followed by ‘yeah I know dude, and it only cost like, three dollars!’
All of this of course happened the night before I had to get up early to depart Barcelona, embarking on an epic bus journey to the south west coast of Spain. This took all day and as night began to fall, every roadhouse we stopped at looked increasingly like a location from ‘No Country for Old Men’. Which I am aware was set in Mexico- but they are both countries that speak Spanish and favour the dirty ‘tache- so there.
When I arrived at my destination it was properly dark and I was getting properly apprehensive, so you can imagine my immense relief when I arrived in the absolutely delightful town of Los Alcazares, containing a hotel room decorated in no less than THREE TYPES OF FLORAL!
But as I have rambled on for ages, I shall give you the highlights of the rest of my Spanish sojourn thus, in point form:
* Making friends with an Irish visual artist called Mags and surreptitiously trying to steer the conversation towards topics starting with ‘TH’. The Irish sound funny.
* Olives, omelette, mussels, bravas, chorizo, gelato, jambon, sangria
* Sunning myself on the beach from the safety of a beach umbrella whilst using 50+ sunscreen. I have now achieved a kind of ‘off white/eggshell’ hue
* The stunning absence of mosquitoes
* Meeting a guy in a Valencia youth hostel that was not only from Australia, but GREW UP IN WARRNAMBOOL!
* Encountering tenacious Spanish cockroaches who would cling defiantly to the sides of the basin as if to say ‘This es mi casa mother fucker!’
And so that brings us to Italy. And I am tired and wish to stare pensively and mysteriously out of the train window so we’ll have to leave it there.
All my love,
So dear readers, this will be the last travelogue to arrive in your in-boxes as I return to Australia next week. To all those who said that two and a half months would feel like no time at all- you were absolutely right.Since we last electronically interfaced, I have traipsed through Italy and Edinburgh and have landed with a damp ‘thwump’ in soggy Thailand. Which serves me right really, for doing little to no research about when exactly is the best time to come to Thailand. So being trapped inside in the pouring rain gives me plenty of time to compose this, my final opus, in the manner of Mr Holland.
My Ryanair flight from Spain to Rome I can liken to being stuck inside a large tin barrel that navigates it’s path through the sky by rolling from side to side. My seatmate tried to distract me by pointing out notable landmarks as we descended “Look, the Colosseum!” he would say. “Fuck the Colosseum!” I would reply through gritted teeth as the plane took yet another nose dive. On every Ryanair flight I travelled on, the passengers had a disconcerting habit of applauding whenever the pilot landed the plane, as if survival were some kind of extra in-flight bonus and not merely an essential part of their job.
The rudeness of the Italians was a tad unexpected- not that I thought I would be heartily welcomed by large statured men in coloured overalls resembling the Super Mario Brothers (well ok, I did a little) and I did rock up in their country speaking no Italian expecting them to understand me, but still! Comparatively the Parisians were overjoyed to see me!
Gorgonzola, cannoli, gelato, proscuitto, tallegio, gnocchi, ragu, vino, tiramisu. ‘Nuff said.
Florence was lovely despite being packed to the gills with Americans. I had a crash course in avoiding Italian sex pests in the park (one must be firm but fair) and felt rather out of place amongst my fellow travellers. Despite the term ‘backpacking’, everyone now has those naff little wheely suitcases.
I spent a mere few hours in Pisa, enough to witness the delightful sight of people from all over the world standing in the forecourt with their arms in the air, taking novelty shots of themselves pushing over the leaning tower.
Edinburgh was as lovely as I remember, with the ancient castle crowning the lush green hill in front of the H & M. Scottish food once again proved itself to be horrible, well living up to it’s international reputation.
Permeating the town like a fog was a kind of artistic desperation- equally inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because there are just so many people that LOVE THEATRE performing there. Never mind that their other hobbies look to be Dungeons and Dragons, gaming and fantasy novels- theatre is so horribly uncool. And depressing because within the sheer volume of festival shows, a lot of good work just isn’t going to get an audience, rendering all that artistic energy somewhat futile…
I did however, have the pleasure of seeing our friends shows get the sell out houses and four (and five!) star reviews that they so patently deserve. I myself debuted the now infamous ‘tampon rap’ at the Edinburgh edition of The Last Tuesday Society, much to the consternation and bewilderment of our largely Scottish audience. Oh well, ‘internationally produced’ is at least going to sound nice on our next press release…!
The rest of Edinburgh passed a touch blurrily. It mainly consisted of having my mind severely disturbed by Tim Crouch’s new play ‘The Author’, trying (unsuccessfully) to work out how to steal things through the TESCO self service checkouts and mischief made with my friend Matt Kelly. We now have an entirely new repertoire of annoying noises.
And so onto the final leg… I arrived in Bangkok and embarked on a monstrously overpriced taxi ride to my hotel. After a post flight nap (which was a bad decision in terms of jetlag) I was just settling down to a delicious green curry when there arrived on the doorstep a wild-eyed Scotsman called Scott, the linguistic synergy of which pleased me no end. He had just landed from Glasgow and was utterly traumatized, so much so that the simplest tasks were now beyond him. He was infinitely confused about how to apply insect repellent (‘Do I jus’ like, put et on me legs like?’) and was very upset that there was nowhere in his room to plug in his iron- never mind the futility of trying to iron clothes in 80% humidity.
Having held his hand all the way to the bus station the next day and waved him off as if it were his first day of school, I headed south to the island of Koh Chang. Since then I have been happily ensconced in a wooden bungalow on a clifftop, eating delicious food, lying in a hammock and ploughing through the goldmine of chic-lit left in my hostel library. I have one week left.
And thus concludes the fifth and final travelogue for my trip. Thankyou all so much for reading and for your lovely comments and emails.
I arrive home next tuesday the 31st around noon and will be available for beers about 1.
Hope you’re well, all my love, see you soon,