Flooding = Holiday time

Dear Flood Waters,

GO AWAY.

After months of waiting, the flood waters have finally reached Bangkok. Now, the city is more or less surrounded by water. Some areas have been flooded for over a month. 564 people have died. 50% of Chulalongkorn students have flooded houses. All universities and school have been closed. Some classes were cancelled for two weeks, while others were cancelled for five weeks. Drinking water has been in short supply. Our favourite restaurant was closed for two weeks. Air Asia can’t offer all of their usual meals due to food shortages. There is hardly any traffic on the road anymore. Exams will be easier…

What an interesting few weeks it has been, waiting for updates on whether or not university will stay cancelled and if our accommodation will be flooded. However, two days ago we were given a letter asking us to prepare for evacuation. BOOM! What a state of panic we were all in! Where will we go? What will we do? Is the semester over? Do we fly home? Can I stay here and walk amongst the sewage, crocodiles and poisonous snakes? One mature-age exchange student even said, “I am leaving a.s.a.p. because I don’t believe anything the government is saying. It is only going to get worse. The airport is not safe as they say.” A classic six thing to say…

Floods from the air...

Needless to say, we all enjoyed our impromptu mid-semester vacation, seeing the silver lining of the rain cloud and taking-up the opportunity to see more of South-East Asia. Myself and five others chose to visit Vietnam. If you ever get the chance to travel with some outrageous Germans, a freaking beautiful French chick, a crazy Japanese lady and a fine Finnish female, I would highly recommend it. It was literally gnarly.

The group!

North-bound from Ho Chi Minh City (Siagon), we stopped off at Na Trang and Hoi An on the way to beautiful Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. To start, Ho Chi Minh is a nice introduction to Vietnam, boasting many museums to teach you about the Vietnam War and also crazy traffic (the number one attraction in all of South-East Asia according to Lonely Planet)!

In regards to the war, between 1-3 million Vietnamese, Cambodian’s, Laotian’s and American’s were killed. The US (who supported South Vietnam) viewed the war as a fight against communism, whereas the North Vietnamese viewed it as a war against colonisation. One of the most horrible things was the use of “Agent Orange” – a herbicide  that killed 400,000 people, and caused a further 500,000 children to be born with birth defects. When the American military sprayed it over Vietnam, their goal was to kill the forest, thus forcing the rebel soldiers out of hiding. However, there was an extremely toxic compound included in the spray, which caused bigger problems than just plants dying. Walking around Vietnamese cities today, you still see many, many suffering disabled people – children of those who inhaled Agent Orange. In one particular museum, many preserved foetuses and still-born babies are shown, all with significant defects. This was particularly disturbing, especially since they were housed amongst photos of soldiers holding blown-up bodies and American military trucks towing Vietnamese people by a rope along the road. There was one quote from an American commander that really walked me animally on the cookie: “My solution to the problem would be to tell the North Vietnamese frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns or we’re going to bomb them back into the stone age.” … why are there stupid people like this guy in the world? I must wonder, what turned him into a monster? Were his parents also stupid? Was he starved of love as a child? Was he bullied at school? Was he ‘out-of-proportion’?

The babies...

Also horrific were the “Tiger Cages” pictured below – ‘rooms’ for naughty prisoners. The first one is for 1-3 people, where as the second one is for 5-7 people. These affected me a lot more than torturing chamber next door… I guess that could be because torturing seems like such a far-away concept, something that I really can’t imagine. However, I could really imagine ‘living’ in these cages for a week or two. It wouldn’t be nice.

Tiger Cages... but for people

Moving on, My Lovely Mr. Singing Club, the traffic situation in Vietnam makes Bangkok seem so normal and civilised; like a tranquil river-side village. You really need to keep your whits about you. Scooters rule the road with an approximate 1,000,000:1 ratio with cars, and they come from all directions. Two of our friends had accidents, and we witnessed two more. Surprisingly though, it’s extremely easy to cross the road. You just walk out at a slow yet constant pace, and everyone goes around you. It’s as easy as getting your hand-bag stolen and totally beats using traffic lights. THE CAR HORNS THOUGH!!!!! Oh. My. Buddha. If I ever need to hear another “singing” Vietnamese horn, that’ll be the end of me. Try sleeping on a night bus or travelling five hours with not just a ‘beep’ everyone 20 seconds, but a SINGING horn… I’m still disturbed. Not even two packets of Oreo’s and 30 minutes of listening to High School Musical songs made me feel better.

A car for the whole family

A very festive lady indeed!

The highlight from Nha Trang would be the boat trip we did. We were excited about a day of diving in the blue ocean and visiting some beautiful island beaches, but let’s say we got more than we bargained for. It was all very normal until lunch time. We were the only white people as well as the only people who weren’t about 40 or 50. All was peaceful. As soon as the food came out however, they seemed to think that really loud David Guetta music was appropriate. Interesting. When they announced our ears would be blessed with their live rock band, we decided it was time to sunbathe upstairs. Sadly we left out earplugs at home. There was no time to get bored though, because then the floating bar was in the water and, before we knew it, there was an erotic dancer dacing on the bar! If that was not enough, he proceeded to stick plastic cups over his nipples. AND THEN the most boring looking old man in the world climbed to the top of the boat, jumped off and started drinking wine in the water. Well, we were in such a state of shock…

Mr. Crazy!

His spirit remains young, despite his age

Fast-forwarding to Ha Long Bay – it is stunning. It is amazing. It is spiritual. It is cultural. It is a ‘must do’ before you go blind. And if you flirt with the travel agent whilst playing with his cheeks, it costs only $50 for two days and one night. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. They are so beautiful you can literally sit there for hours (looking out, obviously) and not cease to be dazzled. The one thing I can’t let slip though is the dirtiness of the water. There is so much rubbish and oil on the surface it is sickening. I guess it is pollution on a small level in comparison to Western style pollution, but when the surroundings are so beautiful you can’t help but be disgusted and upset. It reminded me of this time when I was hiking through the Peruvian jungle and a Peruvian child threw his Inca Cola bottle into trees. I said it’s probably best he doesn’t do it and should pick it up. He said, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. We’re in the mountains. No one cares.” GRRRR… that is when you should care the most! The highlight of this Vietnamese highlight would be swimming at dusk among this isles. In a patch of clean water, it felt so phenomenal and unreal! Simply magical.

Ha Long Bay

It really has a magical feel...

Hanoi is super vibrant and well worth a stop over. The food is so tastey! I will miss Vietnamese food. Also, the locals do this funny thing, where they sit on street corners drinking tea and eating seeds… they look like birds and the ground is covered in seed shells!

As I leave you today, one month and 10 days before I come home, I would like you take three key points away. Firstly, don’t start a war – it never ends well for anyone. Secondly, don’t pollute Ha Long Bay or the Peruvian Jungle. Thirdly, and finally, come on a University exchange to Bangkok – you’re never in Bangkok and never at University!

You know I dislike you immensely Floods,

No XOXO for you,

Sam

P.S. I just got sent my end of year assignment for I&O Psychology, as I can no longer attend the final exam. This is the assignment guideline: “select 2 topics and write 3 pages each.” This really redefines vague.

Umm... errr... it's art.

The real Asia. Finally!

Dear France (the country),

I send you my deepest sympathies for your loss in the 2011 Rugby World Cup… as they say, “Second place is the first loser,” so I have little doubt that you are extremely upset. Making matters worse, it seem like you feel the referee treated France unfairly. I hear you say, “What’s the point of playing a match, if the Ref already knows who will win?” The world today is such an unfair place, and since you are French, I can imagine the alleged ‘corruption’ makes you more angry than it would any other nation. May I suggest you have a strike against the South African referee? Practically speaking, it would be best if your people parked their trucks on my peoples railroad tracks. Maybe then you will be listened to.

In all seriousness though, I was amazed with how well you played, and I must admit there wasn’t a second in the game when I didn’t think you could and would win. Also, it’s a shame the last five minutes wasn’t really rugby; otherwise you could have really caused an uproar. Nonetheless, I am glad my glorious nation won! It has been so long since their last success, and it is nice to win during a home game. I’m as happy as the parent of someone who just used a potty for the first time! Go the All Blacks! Go New Zealand! … also congratulations to Australia for winning the ummm what’s it called…Bronze final?

It seemed appropriate to watch the match somewhere French, so it’s just as well I was in the former French colony – Cambodia. Rugby, however, was not the real reason why I travelled to Cambodia. Finally, I was able to see some of the real Asia! This is a extremely special country and I highly recommend that you visit. First, I went to Siem Reap, home to the famous Angkor Wat (Angkor WHO?) temple, and then on to the capital, Phnom Penh – a bustling and exciting city with a dark history. This trip was a bit different than my other trips, as I chose to travel alone, meeting a lot of ‘interesting’ people as a result. My name is Sam Thomson, and this is my story:

Adrenalin was pumping before I even entered Cambodia! I had read a lot about the dodgy Thai-Cambodia border on the internet and I was excited: FINALLY I WOULD NEED TO BRIBE A POLICE MAN! However, the silly boarder-patrol policeman was less adamant about me paying the 100 baht “Visa processing” bribe as I was about not paying it, so I got into the country with a massive three dollars saved. I was gutted; there is nothing like an exciting bribe to make you feel like you’ve left Australia. Before leaving Bangkok, I read that everything was a scam in this area and that you should trust or talk to nobody. For some reason though I thought it’d be a great idea to casually hitch-hike from the bus station to the boarder – luckily I gave a cheeky / flirty smile to the right person, and she was more than willing to take me there for free (a rare offer in Thailand). I think I could have started a Thai family on this occasion if I wanted to, but tonight was not the night. Nonetheless, in true Thai style, right after our introductions, I was asked, “Do you have Facebook?” – who knows, maybe we’ll stay in touch and I can shatter her dreams some other day.

This reminded me of some cultural differences regarding social networking, bringing back happy memories of one particular Thai girl – our conversation went like this:
“Hi. I’m Sam.”
“Hi Sam. Let’s be friends. Do you have Facebook?”
“Yes… Sam Thomson…”
“ Skype?”
“Yes, but ummm errr I don’t use it very often.”
“Black Berry Messenger?”
“Ah, yea, but it’s not common in Australia, so I won’t tell you it.”
“MSN?”
“No, I don’t have it anymore.” (lie)
“ Myspace?”
“No.”
“Google Chat?”
“No.” (lie)
“Whatsapp?”
“No.”
“What’s your phone number?”
“I can’t remember [lie] – can I tell you later? Anyway, what’s your name?”

HOW MANY MEANS OF COMMUNICATION DO WE NEED? The youth of today are unbelievable.

Anyway, at the border there is a fake but very genuine looking place to buy $20 scam Cambodian visas, currency exchange booths which you must be stupid to think the exchange rate is close to acceptable, a thousand tuk-tuk and taxi drivers to take you places that you don’t want to go, and the coolest thing is you can actually walk past the visa patrol and boarder security and into Cambodia without anyone stopping you. I was going for the Police-will-come-and-yell-at-me-when-I’ve-gone-past-the-real-boarder tactic… Apparently not, and I got as far as the bus stop and thought, “Hmm… I should have filled in some forms, plus got a visa and stamp by now… whoopsie.”

Onwards and upwards, I got to Siem Reap, former home of the Khmer Empire – Angkor, Southeast Asia’s largest empire during the 12th Century. After a series of wars, a variety of kings and some infrastructure breakdowns the empire collapsed, leaving the beautiful temples behind… it almost seems like Cambodia hasn’t had peace since. History lesson over, I forgot that this area was a high-risk zone for malaria and had not taken my pills, so mosquito spray was applied like a fat man applies butter to his toast… as they say. Nonetheless, if you want to buy 100 valum pills for $10 without a prescription, this is the place (not that I did it… I just got offered it at a pharmacy). The Angkor area is pretty stunning place, with temples for Africa… or Asia even. The day was spent soaking up the ambience, smelling the history and biking around the Cambodian country side (which was so lush). Check it out for yourself:

Angkor Wat

More Temples

Next it was on to Phnom Penh, a 6-hour journey which was perhaps the highlight of my trip. The bus drove through endless Cambodian villages… as in genuine villages, no make-up. What a cultural delight. The majority of the region was flooded, so it was really interesting to see how the locals reacted. Although their raised-houses were surrounded by deep water, they continued living in them. The kids were swimming around in the flood water. Life seemed normal. In the worst hit areas, people had more or less moved their entire lives onto the road side. From a travellers and photographers perspective, this was awesome. For kilometre after kilometre, the road was lined with cows, chickens, ducks, families in small huts, bikes, and hundreds of people carrying things on their heads. It was pure chaos.

I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for what the people were experiencing. I mean, I understand that it must be hard for them, but I didn’t feel anything. Actually, that’s a lie; if I felt something it was a mixture of respect and awe. The spirit seemed high and the people seemed unaffected. As one of my Tuk-tuk drivers said, “They have their family. They have their rice. Nothing else matters. You don’t need money in the country-side.” As long as people have enough food to eat, somewhere to sleep, a family to be with, and clean air to breathe, I generally don’t categorise farmers in the country as ‘living in poverty’. What really upsets me is when I see 7-year-old girls dancing outside of bars like they are pole-dancers, If she’s like that now, what will she be doing in 10 years time?, or when you walk down the street at 2am and a bunch of 5-year-old boys run up to you and start pulling on your clothes, begging for money, Where are their parents? Why aren’t they in bed, asleep?, or when you need to walk through a narrow passage, but must walk over a man with no legs sprawled out over the ground, Why is this the only thing he can do with his life?, or when the government decides to redevelop some land and destroys peoples housing without warning or compensation. Do poor Cambodians even have rights?


Frogs that still croak and leap.

Phnom Penh has a very dark history, and was relatively unstable until 1997. For those of you who slept through social-studies class, the most infamous leader in Cambodia was Pol Pot, who lead the Khmer Rouge army. Attempting to turn Cambodia into a communist nation, he aimed to kill all intellectuals – doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, writers, business-men… even wearing glasses was enough to warrant execution; anyone who was able to think for themselves was a risk to the new Cambodia. Pol Pot endorsed slogans such as, “It is better to kill an innocent person by mistake, than to let a ‘traitor’ [educated person] run free,” and “To destroy you is no loss, to preserve you is no gain.” All-in-all, his regime killed around a quarter of Cambodia’s population.

In terms of ‘Sight-seeing”, the S21 Prison in Phnom Penh is an old school which Pol Pot converted into torture prison. After going there, seeing photos of tortured-to-death people and seeing blood splattered on the floor and walls, I really got an impression of the pain Cambodian’s suffered. Furthermore, there are the “killing fields” just outside the city, which as the name suggests, are the fields in which the Khmer Rouge killed many people – there are thousands people in mass graves there. It’s also pretty horrific, with teeth and bones scattered on the ground. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Khmer Rouge is that they couldn’t afford bullets, so all their murders were done through torture, beatings and decapitation. One example of this is the “killing tree” – children were held by their feet and wacked against a tree multiple times before being thrown into the grave.

I have a question for you: for regimes like the Nazi party and the Khmer Rouge, who should be punished / held accountable? Just the leaders of the organisations or the soldiers as well? The Milgrim experiments really made me feel like the soldiers shouldn’t be punished… they were only doing what they were told. But then again, we all need to take responsibility for our actions at some point.

Killing Fields

During this trip I met a few interesting people. One tuk-tuk driver, a 23-year-old Cambodian guy with super English, came and talked with me for two hours. Apart from the usual stuff, he told me about some of the foreigners he’s driven around: a 32-year-old Australian woman who suggested they get married and he moves to Sydney with her, where she earns $80,000 a year; a German man who offered to pay for him to live and study in Germany for three years; and a gay English man who emails him every other day… the tuk-tuk driver said to me: “I’m a bit scared about being friends with him because he is gay. I understand how girls and boys boom-boom. But how do two boys boom-boom?” He was such a nice guy who had such great interpersonal skills; it was sad to know he’ll probably spend too much of his life as a tuk-tuk driver. Then I met a German guy who had a Cambodian girlfriend for 6-weeks. The girlfriend, though, has a western man-friend who sends her lots of money every month. Last week, the German woke up, his girlfriend was gone, and he never heard from her again. Then I met a Nigerian man living in Singapore, with his Chinese wife and 2-year-old daughter. I thought he was really cool, until he said, “Ah, I just went to a bar and asked a girl how much she costs. She said $40. There’s no way I am paying that much – only $20. But I like to really look at the girl before I take her home. Last time I paid $30 and I was not happy with her services.
Umm you have a wife and daughter – don’t be so disgusting. And actually, I need to cancel our dinner plans for this evening.

So as I reflect on my Cambodian trip, I’m truly grateful for having a fortunate upbringing, in a peaceful country with a normal(ish) family. I have to wonder though,  how different would we be if we lived through a war in our countries? Would we be as educated? Would we appreciate lives gifts more? Would we be happier?

You know I love you,

XO XO

P.S. Exams are easy here. I hardly studied and got 86%, 89%, 90%, and 95%. My assignment grades have been good too: 85%, 90%, 100%.

P.P.S. I went out partying last night and kissed two girls.

Oh so pretty!

To the wise man who told me, “Don’t bring in the kitten from the cold if you want a clean couch,”

Boy, oh boy, I have some lush stories for you today. Lately, I’ve been following the advice of the Shabu-shabu tribe, and started “painting my life with rainbows.” In other words, I have tried to experience a diverse range of ‘stuff.’ I’ll tell you about a white-sand island that was blessed with my presence. Furthermore, I hear you want a ‘profile’ of the typical exchange student. Also, there are some nifty sayings that I think you should use with your German friends. Finally, maybe it’s best you don’t come to Thailand at the moment, as it’s raining a lot.

Another island holiday. More beach. More ocean. More sun. More swimming. More relaxing. More beach parties. More mosquito bites… what a life! As they say in Brisbane, “If only that was a Facebook page, we could all ‘like’ it!” My beautiful Swiss friend, Stefanie, and I decided to escape to Koh Samet, a ‘National Park’ island three hours from Bangkok, for a romantic weekend. It is a really beautiful island, which is hard to imagine considering its proximity to such a smelly city! Furthermore, I wrote ‘National Park’ in speech marks to show that in Thailand there is nothing like a cheeky bribe to allow development in a protected area. The highlights included hiking the length of the island (+/-) whilst exploring the beautiful shores, and then kayaking out into the depths of the ocean and swimming with… ourselves! In terms of partying, there is something about dancing on the beach the screams “Freedom” – and I’m not talking about the feeling of freedom when you are swimming naked (although, that did feel good), rather the feeling of freedom I’m sure you have post-shower after hiking through the Peruvian jungle for three days… so fresh! So lush!

The beautiful beach....

Sam and Stefanie!

Of course, since I’m on a cultural exchange, I need to appreciate the life lessons one learns day-to-day. The three key takeaways from this weekend were: 1) Thai dogs lie differently to New Zealand dogs, 2) Developing countries have many more, much larger billboards on their motorways, and 3) When you are on the beach at 4am with someone, be warned of security-guard flashlights, lightning strikes and scary thunder…. in the words of Darren Hayes:

“Breathe in, breathe out, there is no sound,
LIGHTNING FLASH! **BANG, BANG**
We move together up and down
FLASHLIGHT
We levitate, our bodies soar
HUGE LIGHTNING FLASH! **BANG, BANG, BANG** FLASHLIGHT
Our feet don’t even touch the floor.”
LIGHTNING FLASH! *BANG*

The way my dog lay down in New Zealand

The preferred lying position of Thai dogs

With Stefanie and many other exchange students speaking German, I’ve managed to pick up on a bit of the lingo. Many German sayings are so groovy when translated into English! In fact, if you have some German friends, I think they’d really appreciate it if you used the following phrases in context…

Germanlish – English
I’m fox devil wild – I’m really mad
Come on! Jump over your shadow – Be brave
Now it goes around the sausage – It’s crunch time
You walk me animally on the cookie – You are really getting on my nerves
I fell from all clouds – I was really surprised
I think my pig whistles – I cannot believe it
I cannot dare my ears – I cannot believe it
Did you eat a clown for breakfast? – You are being really funny today.
I understand just train station – I don‘t get it
My lovely Mr. Singing Club – Holy moly
I have an ear worm – There is a song stuck in my head.

As you say, LOTI!!! (Laughing on the inside)

But who are these German’s? Who are these exchange students? How do they think? Why are they in Thailand? Questions like this are best answered by reading, “Things Bogans Like.” The term Bogan, however, has many negative connotations, so we will call these young creatures Xcited Exchange Students (XES). And yes, the acronym is sex spelt backwards because that’s what the XES’s are all about. These wild animals, many of whom are experiencing life outside of captivity for the first time, are ready to experience the local cuisine… and when I say cuisine, I’m not talking about a Pad Thai ordered mild from Koh San Road with a bucket of poison and coke. For the boys, it seems none of the female XES’s are that into them. They’ve tried, they’ve failed, and now they’ve moved onto a more ‘cultural’ experience. From what I’ve heard (and I’ve heard some interesting things)… let’s just say there seems to be quite the difference in traditional mating ceremonies between species. For the girls, the XES’s are a bit gross; not quite boyfriend material. But neither are the Thai boys it seems – apparently they just aren’t tall enough and lack that ‘hunter-gatherer’ macho-ness. En fait, I’m constantly reminded of the Wivenhoe Dam here… the pressure and tension is starting to over-flow! Nonetheless, most of the XES’s have received a Thai-tan (i.e. got very sunburnt in that English-person in Turkey kind of way), and can boast a repertoire of experiences such as elephant riding, temple touring, full moon parties, bargaining to save five cents, buying a ‘7-Eleven’ or a ‘Chang Beer’ singlet, and of course, we wouldn’t be in Thailand if someone didn’t get an elephant tattoo when they were drunk – la classe américaine (that’s for you, Dani :-P). Studying, exams and grades are more a complementary part of the exchange, with pretty much everyone who isn’t German feeling quite blasé about school life. But they’re a cool bunch of guys and girls, eager to experience the western-Asia as much as possible (with a little bit of real-Asia).

– It’s really hard to link some topics, so please excuse the awkward jump – Unless you think this is okay:
While you may still be rolling on the floor laughing from the German sayings, some Thai people currently have no dry floor to roll on, and they are not laughing…

Currently there are large floods over South-East Asia. In Thailand, 10 provinces are being evacuated and 260 people have died. The flooding is starting to hit Bangkok, and 700,000 sandbags have been ordered. Having being in Brisbane for the floods in January and now being here, it’s interesting to note the difference in reactions. I can’t tell if it is just because I was more involved in the Brisbane floods, but life in Bangkok seems to be carrying-on as normal. In Brisbane I felt like Queensland closed down for the week and panic was wide-spread. From the photos below (which I stole from the newspaper), you can see how some Thai’s have reacted differently to the situation…

A casual meal in the flood water.

Fanned Elephant Tours Through Flooded Towns-a niche

You know I love you,

XO XO

P.S. Don’t worry, we can still be friends even though Australia will lose against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final. When I tell myself that it’s like charity, I find I still want to talk to you.

... the winners.

Life.

To my wonderfully special cousin, Lucy.

Whoever said exams in Thailand are hard has obviously never done an exam in Thailand. Maybe I speak too soon, as results are yet to be released, but after minimal study Chula’s exams didn’t present themselves as a challenge. In fact, I even had to thank the lecturer of our hardest exam for not insulting our intellect – it felt so good to use my brain again.

The most amusing exam would have to be Industrial and Organisational Psychology. For those of you who I haven’t already told, this teacher has a really ‘different’ teaching style: (i.e. Reading the textbook out. Word-for-word. For three hours. Non-stop. I would upload one of the many videos I have of her, but I don’t want to get into trouble). Our exam included 160 m/c questions and in the week prior to the exam, the lecturer said, “The mid-term is very hard. I will give you some assistance.” She then preceded to roughly read-out all 160 questions, encouraging us to write them down. We obviously obliged. Then, in the exam, she was kind enough to give us the hints in the question: e.g. What are the three main aspects of I&O Psych – a, b, c, or all of the above? “Hmmm… have I walked into a maths exam by mistake?” Or, in four consecutive questions, we were given all four definitions that needed to be matched with one of four terms. In other words, we had all the definitions plus all the terms and just needed to play mix-n-match. “Oh dear, post-test evaluation’s are done post-test and pre-test-post-test evaluation’s are done pre-test and post-test, right? Or is it the other way around?” Finally, some of the questions were just plain crazy: e.g. Testing that a person does by themselves is called – group testing, individual testing, paired testing or none of the above? “Seriously?”

Nevertheless, I don’t want to make it sound like I got 100% in any of my tests. I didn’t.

**Take a breath**

On a completely different and more important topic, child prostitution is something that has been on my mind a lot lately… and it all started when dad’s girlfriend did a charity run, raising money so child prostitutes can be trained as hairdressers – a healthier profession. I then read an article called, “The Diary of a Sex Slave”: http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/diary-escaped-sex-slave. Most of it is pretty graphic, so I will try to sum-it-up. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!!! In most Asian countries, about 30-40% of all prostitutes are children (boys and girls). In Thailand, around 800,000 prostitutes are under 16. This group alone earns a greater profit than the sale of either arms, drugs or lottery tickets. The above article is about a Cambodian girl named Sreypov, who was sold to a brothel by her mother (well, actually, they pretended she was going to become a maid, but that never happened) when she was just seven years old. Forced to sleep with up to 20-men per-day, she sometimes rebelled. This resulted in server punishment that included being burned with a hot poker, covered with biting insects, whipped with an electric cable, and even worse, unmentionable things. An appointment with a girl apparently costs as little as $5. However, because pimps can charge around $800 for a girls virginity, the girls are often stitched-up to fool the next client. Interestingly, although paedophile tourists get the most media attention e.g. through World Vision’s “Name and Shame” campaign, locals are the most frequent abusers…

However – let’s move one. I hope that is enough information for you to realise that there is a big problem!
Now, what can be done about it…? During my research, I came across these suggested solutions:

1. by helping to rescue the children who are unwillingly caught in this web, providing re-education, health care, and job training;
2. by addressing the laws that govern the practice of prostitution in order to prohibit the enslavement and trafficking of children;
3. by addressing the economic issues that force children to migrate to the cities, where they are exploited in a variety of ways;
4. by examining the customs and culture, to determine the part of people which plays a role in diminishing the worth of any child.

In conclusion, I would like to say this message was not intended to offend anyone from any country. I wrote it purely from an educational perspective, hoping to motivate at least one person to help tackle the issue.

You know I love you,

XO XO

P.S. I sent an email to all the lady-boys I know, asking them lots and lots of questions. I hope they reply soon so I can tell you why they’re so popular here!

Exams and Intellectual Stimulation? What?

To the rising star of QUT, Kitty Sutherland (from the show “Cooking and Cleaning with Kitty”),

It’s exam time, which can only mean one thing… I’ve done nothing but procrastinate. For this reason, my letter to you today has a number of irrelevant topics including mistresses in Thailand and German and Dutch honesty.

They say, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” However, it seems this saying has a cheeky twist in Asia…. “Behind every successful man, there are sometimes at least two, three or maybe four women.” The question on everyone’s mind is: why are multiple wives and mating partners normal in Asia?

My interest in this topic started from three experiences. Firstly, I once stayed with a Singaporian who appeared to be the son-of-a-mistress. He knew his father, but had no idea where he lived, what he did for a job, why he lived in another house, and why he only saw his father when they were together with his mother. Then, my Swiss friend went for some drinks with her Thai (girl) friends and their boyfriends (who were all 23-25-years-old). The boys sat there, talking about the naughty things they did with their mistresses the night before. The girlfriends didn’t react. Furthermore, my Thai friend told how her dad has a mistress, and how it’s more or less accepted in Thailand. She also said men quite often go to bath-houses for reasons ‘unbeknown’ to her.

Now, I must admit that apart from the above situations I don’t know how common this is for today’s generation; last week I asked some guys in my class, “Will you have multiple wives when you are older?” and they got a bit angry at me…. (which either means, “YES, but please don’t ask about it in front of the girls we are trying to pick-up,” or “NO”). The mistress is called a ‘mia noi’ (minor wife), and the more wealthy you are, the more minor wives you have. The major wife takes care of the family and children, where as the minor wife takes care of the husband. My ‘research’ stated that husbands don’t talk about personal , work and relationship problems to their major wife. Instead, they off-load all this information to the minor wife. Additionally, it seems this situation is a win-win-win for the husband, major wife and minor wife (plus more –win-win-win’s if there are more minor wives): the husband is not bored and has a person he can confide in. The major wife doesn’t have much pressure to have sex, the husband is more ‘satisfied’ so less likely to get a divorce, and the kids are financially taken care of. Finally, the minor wife is happy because she has a man in her life, but doesn’t need to clean his dirty laundry.

The thing I want to know is if having a mistress is an Asian phenomena, or is it just more accepted and visible here than in western cultures? Just like corruption is… maybe? Additionally, could having minor wives be the solution to rising divorce rates around the globe? From a evolution perspective, does polygamy increase the likelihood of survival and the successful rearing of one’s offspring?

Next on the agenda is the brutal honesty of Dutch and German people. They really practice the philosophy of, “If you are truly friends, you’ll be honest to each other.” I mean, some people call it harassment, polite people call it rude, nice people call it insulting, while the general population will say it’s offensive. They call it honesty and integrity. Having lived in the Netherlands for almost a year (with many German friends), I must admit I feel like I’ve ‘suffered’ through this cultural difference. For example, if you say, “I feel really lazy,” they will reply with, “Well that’s because you do nothing and you are lazy.” If you say, “I feel like my parents drink a lot of wine,” they will reply, “well, you seem like a bit of an alcoholic yourself.” If you get a new haircut that they don’t like, they’ll say, “Sam, that s a disgusting haircut. Can you please get it changed.” Nonetheless, now that Dutch and German’s make-up only about 40% of the exchange student population, I feel they are a healthy balance to, let’s say, the Americans. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, if you tell some of them, “I think my jeans make my butt look big,” they will of course be nice, polite, happy, tell you that you’re awesome, that you are the best thing since sliced bread and that the world would not be the same without you…. and that they love you, would catch a grenade for you, would jump in front of a train for you, would do anything for you and that they want to have your babies…. when really they should have said, “Yes, maybe we should try some other jeans.” (Sometimes though, the cheap flattery is appreciated).

So, I have come to trust my Dutch and German friends more. As someone who is paranoid that people don’t actually want to hang out with me, I find it relieving to know that if the Dutchies and German’s don’t want to see you, they will say so. Conversely, if you ask to hang out with them and they say, “Yes, I really enjoy your company,” you know that it is true! Isn’t that just great!? Furthermore, this honesty is expected to be returned; if your Dutch or German friend is annoying you, they expect you to tell them. Otherwise they will take your silence as acceptance. What I am trying to say is, their honesty takes away the guessing in friendships. You really know where you stand with them and how much you mean to them.

Which brings me to this super phenomenal French guy who I met last week. Do you know how sometimes you meet someone and then for days on end you can’t stop thinking about how amazing they are? How everything they say is so funny and everything they do is so cool and when they speak French you just don’t want them to stop because it kind of gets you excited? And then you are reminded that he already has a partner (so nothing could ever happen) and he is quite happy with life as it is and will be hopping on a plane in a few days to go back home…. it kind of sucks. Nonetheless, due to a series of fortunate events (well, they were fortunate for me anyway), namely the floods in Cambodia and the pouring rain in Thailand, I got to see him more than I expected. That was nice! His smile, his voice, his stories, his French passion, his big throbbing… heart were all so groovy. In fact, I don’t often feel close to people, so it was extremely nifty to feel a connection with him straight away- he is one of those people you feel close before you even say hi.

As they say in Thai: Sam sad now. Sam miss his fliend.

You know I love you,

XOXO

P.S. Here are some photos of people…

P.P.S. One of the funniest things you can experience is a German and Dutch person disagreeing. It is a long process of two people fighting about something that doesn’t matter. Neither side will give in, and they will both think the other person is very wrong. You will most likely be sitting there, clapping your hands, smiling, and saying, “In the scheme of things, IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER IF WE MEET AT 12:08 or 12:10!!! Can’t we just all be friends?”

Swiss, NZ, and an Aussie: being full of sass, as usual.

Hanging out with the naughty locals....

Is this real life?

To my dearest QUT – the most generous university of them all,

First and foremost, I would like to express my extreme gratitude to Andrew Paltridge, his team, and also the QUT Exchange department for sending me here to Thailand! A few times this week I had to stop and think, “Wow – this is breathtaking; it is so cool to be here.” Then I went on to feel so sorry for Andrew, his team and QUT staff and students for being locked up in their offices and lecture theatres while I’m out here on this idyllic island, lying in the sizzling sun, swimming in the beautiful blue ocean, snorkelling with the dazzling topical fish,  trekking through the lush forest, partying on the sand with the full moon and having orgasmic Thai foot massages to the sound of the waves … As a result, I thought it would only be too appropriate for me share some photos with you, just so you can live a little through me … (but only if you want to, of course).

The stunning sunset after a mountain hike

Gaby and Sam go searching for Nemo!

…the beach where it all happened.

Over the last ten days, 12-16 of us exchange students escaped from Bangkok and went down to two Southern Islands – Koh Phangan (the Full Moon Party Island) and Koh Tao (the Full Moon After-Party + Snorkling and Diving Island). We really needed a break from Bangkok, as it is very loud and hot and there seemed to be the start of a Measles break-out amongst the exchange students here at Evergreen. Nevertheless, whilst we were away we all started to get a bit homesick, yearning for Bangkok! When I think about it, I can’t decide what specifically I missed: it wasn’t the air we choke on, it wasn’t the smells that make us feel like vomiting, it wasn’t the mysterious parts of animals that turn up in our food, it wasn’t the air conditioning that causes our lungs to fill with mucus, it wasn’t the ladies at the end of our street constantly yelling, “Thai masssssaaaaarr [massage], Foot masssssaaaaarr, Oil masssssaaaaarr,” it wasn’t the sassy uniform we need to wear to university, and it most definitely wasn’t the homework that we needed to do!

Instead, I really missed the kindness to normal Thai people. Thai people (especially the ones at Chulalongkorn) are so gentle, kind, caring, lovely, and smiling. They really have your best interests at heart and genuinely care about your well-being. This is not the case on the tourist islands, where people are quite often rude (sometimes understandably), and don’t care for you more than the money you give them. I therefore conclude that if you are a short-term Tourist in Thailand you will not see the best side of Thai culture and its people. That’s why I recommend a semester abroad at Chulalongkorn University … why would you go anywhere else? I also missed the food here in Bangkok; we eat so well here, for so cheap! I missed my morning fresh-pineapple ($0.30), my daily iced Mocha ($0.50), my should-be-weekly-but-is-consumed-daily deep-fried bananas ($0.30), my chicken-noodle soup ($1), and my favourite chicken, chilli and basil dish ($1.10). Needless to say, I’m putting on weight. Moreover, I think I just missed Bangkok’s vibe – it has character, it’s cosmopolitan, it’s sassy, it’s chic, it’s yesterday, today and tomorrow … or maybe it’s just something in the brown tap-water that we brush our teeth in.

The guilty pleasure of being the only caucasian in a class…
Me: “Sorry professor, I need to go on holiday during the first week of exams. Do you mind putting your exam on Dec 2?”
Professor: “If it suits you, Okay.”

BUT! What about the Full Moon Party? OH! What a night…. for three nights in a row! My expectations were low: we were all going to get food poisoning, all our belongings would be stolen from our hotel room, we’d all catch some horrible disease from standing on used needles, we’d get our drinks spiked and end up dancing naked on the bar, we’d then wake up married to someone we didn’t know, in a town we hadn’t heard of, in a country you can’t enter without a police escort and have three children named Cornholio, Myrtle and Wolfgang.

However, nothing like this happened (almost). I never thought I would say this, but the three nights of partying on the beach were some of the best nights in my life. Our group had such a nice vibe about it – it was a fantastic bonding experience and I think we are now all pretty close – emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically for some. Our days went like this: slept until the afternoon, then dressed-up in our tacky fluro outfits, painted ourselves with a mixture of rainbow flags,  naughty song lyrics, and pretty patterns, then we’d have a cheeky bit of foreplay in our room (drinking a bucket of soda-pop), before hitting the beach to dance all night long! There were 3-5 main dancing areas along the beach, each with a different type of music. We’d start at one end and, as we emptied more buckets, we’d move along the beach. Our group always danced on the tables and stage – a great way to find our people and also to look at other people…and By Jeepers George, there were so many amazingly good looking people on the beach. I think the majority of us were just thinking, “I wanna do bad things to you,” whenever we saw another person. There were hot English people, hot French people, hot German people, and most surprisingly, so, so many hot Israelis’! But as a matter of fact, being surrounded by extremely good looking people is so distracting. You become so entranced  by these people that you just become addicted to looking at them and their erotic physiques and can’t focus on just dancing! Nonetheless, most of us left with some permanent ‘souvenir’ from the party. I left with a burn from someone putting their cigarette out on me, a friend left with a burn from a firework that exploded on her (‘cause baby I’m a firework…), two friends left with large burns from jumping with an alighted skipping rope (such a stupid idea), while others left with the fond and mind opening memories from their ‘happy shake’ experience at Mellow Mountain. Then some left either without their mobiles, camera’s or dignity. Due to the large amount of motorbike accidents that have already occurred within our exchange student population, we took precautions and as a result there were no vehicle related injuries this time around. Nevertheless, there seem to be as many hospitals (including psychiatric wards) as people on this beach, which is both reassuring and disheartening. I’m not sure if it was something in the Thai Red Bull, but I really was floating on a cloud for the three days…. I felt so much like David after visiting the dentist: “Is this real life?” It was just so awesome!

Somehow I missed the only Chula group photo!

The American and I

We then went on to Koh Tao, “Turtle Island” for some much needed R&R. Of course, everyone else from the Full Moon party had the same idea, and we partied just as much. This island is well known for its diving courses (PADI Licence for just $300), but we decided that would require concentration, so we opted for the day of snorkelling instead. It was a fabulous day of  “Searching for Nemo,” swimming in the beautiful clear blue ocean, and visiting another island which was pure paradise. Just like Darryl Kerrigan, I was always thinking, “How’s the serenity? So much serenity.”

...we're a bit wet after the long hike to the beautiful view

The gang of fish-lookers.

I think my housemates were a little sad that I hadn’t talked about them on this blog. So, Michael is a blonde-hair and blue-eyed Norwegian, who is tan, works-out a lot and likes to walk around in his underwear… (need I say more?). He has the most scandalous love-life of us all, which he doesn’t like to talk about, however he quite often finds himself confronted with questions about it from me.  He has only eaten McDonald’s once this year and he has taken on the role of being my other housemate Kjell’s mother. Kjell is very, very special indeed. I don’t quite know how to capture the essence of him in a few sentences, but Roald Dahl writes a good explanation in the Big Friendly Giant (BFG). He likes to cough throughout the night (he’s sick), spend private time on the internet (reading annual reports) and to participate in live shows (about Thai culture). Together, Michael and Kjell were generous enough to buy me a sassy bread plate with my photo on it (see below) . Lovely, aye? Finally, there is Axel (as in Axel Rose from Guns’n’roses). He is a really good bloke from Sweden, who I think is actually a bit of a cheeky wolf dressed up in sheep’s wool. Axel is super friendly, and the type of guy who gets along with everyone. He loves chewing tobacco, quite often stumbles into bed at 3am and, in my opinion, has a future in writing poems.

What a sassy gift!

You know I love you,

XO XO

P.S. If you have a bit of naughty shabu-shabu with someone in the night, and then in the morning they either don’t address the topic or say, “Wow…I was so drunk last night,” does that mean they do or don’t want to do it again?

Hangover 2 is set in Bangkok for a Reason!

To my darling sister, Annie.

SAWADEE KRAB! HELLO! I am in Bangkok! Crazy. Lights. Hot. Pollution. Bowing. Happy Time. Chilli. Massage. Mr Feet. Party. Curry. International. Poison. Cheap. Temples. Smelly. Mouldy Fish. Special Price. Special Friend. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Here. Now! Beautiful people, beautiful people…

Deciding where to begin and the extent to which I disclose information to you is quite the challenge! Needless to say, I landed here and have settled in nicely. I’ll start by telling you a bit about who I live with and where, then I’ll touch on some cultural things, and then wrap it all up with a bit of the old one-two (i.e. an Amsterdam debrief).

40 phenomenal exchange students are living in the same apartment complex as I – the Evergreen. We are in delightful two-bedroom apartments, which are lit up with four stunning people. In 1209,  I live with Axel (Swedish), my room-mate, and Michael & Kjell (Norwegian). They are really, really great (I’ll find out if they read my blog before I say more) and there are more good looking people splattered around other rooms.

It’s a serviced apartment, which means two-to-four people come into our home every morning, wash our dishes for us, replace our towels, make our beds, and have a general tidy-up. In other words, who needs a mother when you can live in Thailand. We normally do breakfast at home, and then go out for lunch and dinner. Why cook when you can eat-out for just $3 a day? Our days generally involve waking up at around 11am, going to the apartment’s pool with the rest of the exchange students, eating, doing something un-holiday-ish, eating, partying in the apartment until we get asked to be quiet, going out to party, and then most of us come home (and order McDonalds, delivered). Sometimes  people don’t come back and we think, “Bangkok has him now, and that’s just too bad.” Sometimes we have uni too.

The highlight of the Evergreen is Grace, the lady-boy whom works at reception (which is cool with me – I think it’s very forward to Thailand to be so embracing). Grace has taken a far-too-inappropriate -for-a-staff-member liking to one of the American exchange students [dodgy story has been removed]. If the other receptionist asks for your room number and name, Grace tells him before you can even open your mouth. This is a little disconcerting considering there are 112 rooms and we’ve only been there one week. Nevertheless, little does s/he know, we are interested in him/her too: on channel 12 all the rooms get live streaming of the reception-desk security camera. We never party without having Grace on the T.V. and sometimes we even just have a “Watching Grace + other guests at the reception” party. We think she’d love it if she knew (well, actually, maybe she does know, because we are quite often asking her to wave at the camera). What do you think?

One of the Californian’s here is pretty amazing! His energy and mean-as puppy-dog view of the world is awesome. Like, man, life for him is just awesome. Yea, man, the beach was awesome, aye. Oh yea, that night-out was amazing, man. Oh yea, sweet dude, that bar is so awesome, man. Dude, seriously, it was so great man. I was like wow man, this is so awesome dude. Yea that restaurant is so awesome, man. The food there is so awesome. Yea, man this exchange is so awesome etc…. I asked him, “Have you been sad before?” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “Sad, as in upset.” He replied, “No, man. How can you be sad. Life is just so like friggin awesome man. There are so many awesome people here, man. And like, we are in Bangkok man and it’s awesome! AWESOME man! Cheers to that, dude. Yea, awesome!” When I told Ben Dunphy (QUT) this story, he replied , “That’s unreal, man.” … just like everything else Ben comes across. Unreal.

Another long blog! Oh dear, oh dear. In the meantime, I would like your opinion on this interesting remark: your eye looks like an egg whose yolk was broken and stirred just once. Effective?

The other day, we went on a bike tour around the outskirts (or a tiny, tiny bit of the outskirts) of Bangkok. It was well cool, as finally I saw some of “the real Bangkok” – that place which people so often seek but struggle to find. We biked for about 20-30mins through a slum, which was ever-so interesting. The ‘track’ which we ‘biked’ along was a ‘footpath’ between the ‘houses’. But the ‘houses’ were very open so it was more like we were biking through the residents ‘living/dining/bedrooms.’ Invasive much? I think so!

I all too often hear Westerns say, “[the people living in slums] are so poor, but they are so happy,” or, “Despite our differences, [the poor person] and I are one; we are kindred spirits,” and I can’t help but think, “Oh you silly Westerners… don’t be so naive.” But, apparently it is true. Apart from a few unhappy old people, they were all wrapped to be there. Especially the children (maybe ignorance is bliss…), who were running after us yelling, “Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!”, giving us high-fives, smiling and not even wanting to sell us something (which, for Bangkok, is very unusual). We also saw some crazy Thai boxing training on the side of the road. Mental.

SO! AMSTERDAM! It is such an awesome city, man! It’s just unreal! Having lived in the south of the Netherlands for one year, I never really got the full ‘living-in-Amsterdam’ feeling, as I was always just there for the day. But it was so great to just bike around during the day, chilling, drinking in the boutique cafes, and learning to act like a local. At night-time though, all turned wild! Haha. Na, na, na bro. Just kidding. The gay-pride parade was pretty cool – EVERYONE goes out to celebrate: the hetros (+ partners, who stick to each other like glue), the metros, the momos, the homos, the grannies and granddaddies, the mummies and daddies, the little girls and boys, the lady-boys and tom-boys, and finally, the not-quite-sure-what-category-you-fall-into’s…..! It’s absolute chaos along the canals as everyone is standing to watch Princess Tooleta-Pepsi strut his/her stuff on a canal-boat, and watch all the hotties dancing on the “Naughty boat”. There’s even a boat for children who are gay at school, which must be pretty cool for them: “Take that bullies – one:nil to me!” Then everyone goes out to party, which is also chaos, as the Dutch bars are pretty small… let’s just say it was intimate.

I’m now staying in the coolest hotel ever with Caroline, Jason and an unreal bloke called Ben from QUT. We have a case competition coming up, but more on that later.

For now,

You know I love you,

XOXO

P.S. My room-mate has some nail clippers and my nails need to be clipped. Is it social acceptable to borrow them? I mean, it’s not like we’ll be sharing underwear.

Fun, Fun, Fun, in the Sun, Sun, Sun!

To my most Ron Weasley-like brother, Nic.

Oh, how you have grown, little Won-Won. It seems like just yesterday you were boarding your first Hogwarts Express train – dirt on your nose and all – and now look at you, popping out little gingers! Flippin’ lucky that Nev was there to save you with the sword though!!!!

Having just seen the last Harry Potter movie ( – IT ALL ENDED – ),  I’m a bit sad. The series was, after all, such a significant part of my childhood. Nevertheless, I’m in Amsterdam – the land of flowers, cheese and things that please, so there’s no point being miserable! In fact, a couple nights here and Moaning Myrtle will have to get a new nickname…. (*wink*) – it’s my mother… she’s been very ill!

“But, Sam, what have you done this past month?” I hear you ask.
“Why, jolly good of you to ask me young chap – I’d be awfully pleasured to make you all-the-more knowledgeable,” you hear me say.
“Eh, okay.”
“…Banter.”

So, as mentioned previously, my first destination was London, Baby. Here I embraced some stunning friends and colleagues left-over from when I lived in the UK, and also people I know from N.Z./ Australia. There’s always a ‘feel-good moment,” when you are reunited with creatures who are so classy, chic, cosmopolitan, and NOW (minus one, who was so yesterday’s technology, delivered today). Additionally, it’s nice to see actual old buildings – a sweet reminder of how relatively recently Australia was taken over by those Buckingham Palace inhabitants. I also visited Canterbury, Cambridge, and Manchester, which are all super cool. Highlights would include 1) going to Bing-Gay (which is Bingo hosted by a Steve called Eve) and winning not just a tin of SPAM, but also a Jesus Clock and (!) a sassy toilet-seat cover (or, as the incomprehensible Chinese label called it “Floss an urinal the mat of warm” – ya-ha, one suggestion for next time: use a better translator), 2) something I can’t talk about on this blog, and 3) something else which also cannot be mentioned. Needless to say, it was fun!

For me the U.K. is a very special place, as it makes you ask yourself such necessary questions like how many times does one need to be told to please mind the gap between the train and the platform before they remember it and was the tube this hot when it was used as a bomb shelter during WWII and in the old days did people also need to treat themselves to an upward nudge of the thermostat in the middle of summer and now that I’ve seen WICKED twice will I defy gravity faster? There are also more contemporary questions, like, why should you buy whole onions when you can buy them pre-chopped and cooled? In fact, why should anyone buy any fresh food when it is so hard to come across? Why can you go clubbing with the London divas any night of the week and have guaranteed contact with stud-muffins? Will London’s infrastructure cope with the 2012 Olympics? Why do people care about my Kate and Will when Pippa’s dress was remarkably more revealing at the wedding?  And most importantly, did anyone need to see a doctor because they were sick of hearing about the PHONE! HACKING! SCANDLE!?

Then it was to Hamburg, Germany! First stop, McDonalds. One cannot go to Hamburg without having a Hamburger; just like one cannot go to Frankfurt without having a Frankfurter and just like one cannot go to Bangkok without … never mind. Then back to Berlin for the third time– oh, how I love it!

I must admit, waking up in an old-school apartment in East Berlin to the sun shining and Edith Piaf singing, I swear I felt like those people waking up on the first day post-WWII or post-Berlin Wall. Freedom at last! And Coca-cola! I stayed with  some German friends (beautiful people, beautiful people). Then, on to Rheda-Wiedenbruck: here I stayed with friends Katrin and Andrea  and their cute little mother and funny father and party-animal brother. This town was really ‘interesting’ – there were fake fat people statues EVERYWHERE! Like cute little painted fake fat people sitting in restaurants and fake fat nuns outside the church and fake fat tourists getting fake photos taken and fake fat people dancing in the town square. Did you know German’s only drink bottled water? Unbelievable.

This really long blog is almost over – sorry! One month of travelling and I’ve got a lot to say. As a break, here is a quote: “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain.

Then, via Amsterdam, I was off to Mallorca (or, if you’re uneducated /on an all-inclusive holiday, Majorca with an emphasis on the J), an island off Spain, with my Daddy and his lady-friend Caroline. We stayed in a beautiful Spanish-style villa in the north of Mallorca and drove the most untrendy Fiat van around – luckily we saw no-one we knew.

After some cute father-lady friend-son bonding time (which involved drinking ridiculous amounts of Spanish wine and eating enough cheese to support an entire cheese factory; time to switch to skinny-water I think), we were joined by lady-friend-Caroline’s friends, and together they formed the three witches + partners (a word of advice: if you go on holiday, invite adults as they cook amazing food for you every night!!!!).

One night we heard there was a huge party in the town square and naturally, we went to shake our bonbons. As it turned out,  it was a celebration of the Virgin and everyone was wearing white – like, everyone was. Everyone but us. Too bad we missed the memo, especially since one of the witches was dressed in all black – needless to say, the message the locals got was polar opposite to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

NOW, I’m back in AMSTERDAM! It’s gay-pride week. There are rainbow-warriors everywhere – they can’t help it if they’re fabulous! Party time! Also, my wonderful friend, Caroline from New Zealand, is here. Woo-hoo-hoo! I’ll let you know how it goes later. But for now, I’ve been learning a bit about business as Dad’s Caroline is the manager for Personal Care (shavers etc.) at Philips (the Dutch electronics company). She was saying how Philips was known as a grand-daddy company, and the youth of today just didn’t want to use products that their fathers did. Understandable. So, they tried to make their personal groomers more appealing; Caroline launched the marketing initiative during a Philips meeting (with really old and conservative males) and asked them if they trim their pubic hairs with scissors (OH NO!). For obvious reasons this is very dangerous, yet a lot of them did! Despicable. Philips then made various really funny advertisements regarding electronically ‘grooming’ your man parts and the benefits it offers – i.e. your face may be the king of the boardroom, but your Bonsai is the king of the bedroom so you better present it well! Watch one of the videos: www.philips.com.au/c/mens-grooming/15259/cat/. One could almost say many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising, or grooming in this case.

I’ll be in touch again soon,

You know I love you.

XOXO

Lions and tigers and bear. Oh my!

To my dearest friend, Mummy.

Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! Lions and Tigers and Bears! OH MY! LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS! OH MY! I’m going on exchange! Woo-hoo-hoo! What a thrill, what an adventure, what a pleasure! In the words of you-know-who (not Lord Voldemort), “I can feel the adrenaline moving through my veins…”

Preparing for exchange is not exactly a streamline process, so I hope to guide you somewhat through it. Additionally, I’ll let you know how I feel about going to Chulalongkorn University (Chula) in Bangkok. Then, I’ll fill you in on my visit to Christchurch, N.Z., as I am just at the airport getting ready to leave.

So firstly, how does one get to be at the airport, ready to study in another country for a semester? Applications are due about one year before your planned departures (why – I don’t know), and the first step in deciding where to go. Although you need to check the university has subjects you can do, chances are it will all have changed by the time you actually leave, so don’t stress. Most important is to decide which country to go to. I like following the ‘3-C’ continent-country-city model; it works every time (just like how telling your partner you love them gets you breakfast in bed). To decide the country, you can choose between Asia, the America’s and Europe. Each level of ‘C’ has questions you need to ask yourself, which will assist you. (Actually, these are just joke questions; the continents mentioned offer much more.)

For Continental Asia, ask yourself:
1) Do I like smelling stinky fish in markets?
2) Are my lungs able to handle breathing in dust (and not oxygen) for six months?
3) Do I want to ride Elephants, play with monkeys, tickle tigers or float with fish?

For the Americas, ask yourself:
1) Do I like McDonalds?
2) Do I want to live life on-the-edge in South America?
3) How much time can I afford to spend  in airport security?

For Europe, ask yourself:
1) Do I have the money to travel across the world, and spend my highly-valued Australian dollars? With the Euro in this state, simple shopping in the Euro-zone is like donating to charity.
2) Do I want to engage in naughty, bedroom behaviours with attractive people?
3) To what extent do I like churches?

Now that you know which continent to go to, the country must be chosen. Questions for this could be similar to: Do I want learn how to locate a country on a map (U.S.A.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww , or do I want to eat at the Peruvian burger chain, Bembos (whose burgers are orgasms in buns)? Do I want to chunder everywhere (U.K.) – please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU ? Or, do I want to pose for as many photos as celebrities do (Thailand)? Then, choose your city! (REMEMBER: these videos are extremes/jokes and the U.S. and U.K. are much more normal in real life).

Afterwards, QUT will approve your exchange and put you in-touch with your host university. About 4-5 months before your exchange, expect to hear your first words from them. Once the host university has contacted you, you will need to re-apply through them. You will receive an outline of the subjects available that semester, and you will need to get approval from your QUT course co-ordinators if you make any changes to your original. If you are lucky, you will get a letter of acceptance from your host uni before you leave or need to apply for your visa. Then, choose your accommodation and book your flights! Because I have issues with feeling lonely, I chose to live with four people in one apartment, even though a studio apartment was the same price.

Now secondly, why did I choose Bangkok? I was tossing-up between Universitat Mannheim in Germany or  a character-filled Asian country. Did I was the prestige or  the poverty and character? Since I couldn’t decide, I followed the advice of a psychiatrist and meditated on it. As fast as the sorting hat put Malfoy into Slytherin, I knew I was going to Asia. Then I wanted to choose between Hong Kong and Thailand. Because I am cheap and have a curry-fetish, Thailand it was! Also, I spent an amazing week at Chula’s (my university’s) international conference in 2011 – it was fan-tas-tic! I actually did ride elephants and play with tigers. Today though, I’m actually really scared about going… just the other day we got sent a list of our flat-mates. I share a bed-room with a Swede and the apartment with Norwegians. I am think this is good news, as I’ve never met an unattractive person Scandinavian! I may have tried to stalked them on Facebook but couldn’t find them…. or their photos (more important). What happens if they aren’t stud-muffins? How can I fix this problem? Oh well… sleeping with room-mates probably isn’t a good thing anyway. Also, from my experience in Bangkok (BKK) it is very smelly, dirty, loud, messy, disorganised and above all, naughty – but the awesomeness seems to make up for it.

Finally, en route to Bangkok I have been in Christchurch, N.Z. (my home for 18-years), and am on my way to London, Manchester, Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam and Mallorca (in fact, I am drinking lots of wine at the airport now – viva la Areo Nueva-Zelanda). For those of you who don’t know, Christchurch has had 3369 earthquakes since September 2010, 25 of which have been over five on the Richter scale. Have you ever visited a city in which 600 building have been destroyed from the C.B.D.? Can you imagine Brisbane with no CBD for over half a year (we experienced only a few days during the floods). Do you have adequate bladder control? The photo below shows the process of liquefaction, referring to the process by which sediments are transformed into a substance that acts like a liquid. The car’s driver, a friend of my aunts, and his son had to climb out the boot. Sadly, the father left his mobile in the car and made his son go back and get it! … typical Audi drivers.

Talk about being stuck in the mud!

Time here has sure been ‘interesting’. No bars to party in, no cafe’s to coffee in, and most importantly to us business students, no offices to work in! Man alive, it was weird! The roads in many suburbs are what you’d expect from Sierra Leone! People don’t really leave their homes unless the need to. And not surprisingly, people are getting fatter! Conversation revolves mainly around the earthquakes, which in itself is exhausting. Nevertheless, the people at large remain sane and strong! Power to the people! It is nice to see how well-adjusted the creatures are, and how they are doing the best with what they have got!

For now, the wine is getting to me, and my flight is about to leave!

You know I love you,

XO XO

Sam