Scenes From My Life Abroad

I
We’re at the Killing Fields and we’ve just finished watching a documentary on what happened here.  The documentary was shown in this small room adjacent to the tiny museum they have on site.  Before entering the room, we had to remove our flip-flops.
Boxhead, Jeff, Carla and I, we’re standing in a circle, a short distance away from the low steps leading up to the cinema and I’m wondering what Aff is doing.
Looks like Aff has lost his flip-flops again, I say to the others.
We all look over, and he’s there sifting through the pile of flip-flops on the steps shaking his head.
He just happens to look up as we’re all looking at him, smiling.
He marches over.
He’s convinced we’ve hidden them like he always is.  He starts throwing accusations at us.
I’m saying no, I promise I haven’t touched them!
Everybody’s saying the same thing and we really mean it.  He probably doesn’t believe us because we’re all smiling trying not to laugh.
I know it was you Boxhead! What have you done with them?
Grim-faced westerners walking past
He’s got Boxhead in a headlock.
I know it was you! I KNOW IT WAS!

And I have to walk away because I am almost crying with laughter at the Killing Fields.


II
He’s talking shit and he’s got me crying with laughter again, only this time we’re at the Killing Caves.


III
We’d been staying in this Arequipa hostel for three or four days.  The flop was family-run.  We might have been the only people staying there.  Each morning we’d head up to the roof and there would be two young girls and an old girl sat at one of the tables.  All three worked in the hostel.
Every morning, one of the girls would ask us in a sweet little soft-spoken voice
Chicos, would you like some breakfast?  (The girls would always start a question with chicos, which we liked)
And we’d say, “Oh, only if it’s no trouble”.
And they’d shake their heads with shy little smiles and start grabbing at pans and items of food.

We’d eat our breakfast on the hostel roof under the sun.  The girls would anxiously watch us and we’d say ‘Mmmmm…’ because it was, and they would GLOW.
Something about the whole thing affected us though.  We thought, this is so kind of them.  In this world where people are frequently cruel to eachother, these three ladies are genuinely glad to make us breakfast.  So each time we finished eating, we’d get up with our dirty dishes, carry them to the sink and start washing up.
“No! No! Don’t do that!”
No, we insist!  Please, it’s the least we can do!
And they’d be so grateful it made us feel good inside.

However.  When we checked out of the hostel and looked down at the bill on the desk, and saw an extra £12 each on top of the room, we were a bit confused

What this?

“Breakfast”

They were f*****g charging us the whole time.

We thought it was free and we’d been doing a nice thing.


IV
Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia.  Getting hit in the face with a Frisbee, my friends laughing at me… Eating a burger from a shack on the beach at the end of the night… Paralysing stomach cramps…  Shivering and sweating toward the morning…  Sprinting past groups of girls in my pants with a toilet roll in my hand and a worried look on my face…  The irony of how only days before I had been laughing at stories of people soiling themselves…


V
We’d spent the day stopping off at various landmarks around Battambang, Cambodia.  The last place we visited was the bat cave, where at the same time every day, millions of bats fly out of the cave and swarm across the sky.

P1050168

P1050169


VI
The whole time I was learning to dive I felt sick.  Really sick.  I mean, I was SHITTING myself, quite literally.  It was a four day course and on the third night I worked myself up so much I gave myself the runs.  In between running back and forth to the bathroom I just lay there thinking about what could go wrong.

Jim hadn’t purged his regulator properly and he’d sucked in a jolt of water instead.  Watching him choke and Simon grip his shoulders and hold him down on the seabed.  Telling him to stay calm and take deep long breaths.  Watching this, my eyes were heart attack wide.   Christ, it was lucky I’d done the skill before Jim, because after seeing this…

My God.  If it was ME, I couldn’t, wouldn’t remain as calm as Jim.   I knew what would happen.  I would nut Simon in the face then shoot to the surface like a champagne cork, and my ears would bleed like Niagara Falls and then the sharks would come and finish me off.

This stress.  A coupla hundred dollars for a stomach ulcer, I thought.  Great.  Maybe I should tell Simon I can’t do it, just walk away.  I could live with myself.  No, I had to make it.  It’s moments like this where I can make the decision to be weak or be strong.  There have been plenty of them on this trip.

I didn’t get a wink of sleep.  Turns out Boxhead was lying next to me awake the whole night, putting himself through the wringer the same as me (we were in a double bed).

Then I had to get up, get dressed, brush my teeth.  Too nervous to eat.  We went outside and walked to the dive shop.  I was shaking.  My hands and my feet and my lips and my chest.  Shaking.  I felt as if I was about to face a firing squad.  I didn’t look like I was going to make it.

On the boat, I just blotted everything out.  Life had telescoped down to these two dives.  There wasn’t a thought on my mind except getting through the next few hours alive.  This course that 10,000 other people were doing at the same time as if it was nothing, getting a full night’s sleep to boot.  All I was focused on was ME.  Everybody else was a faceless white pancake because I was in my world.  They were in theirs.

Anyway, I made it, and all night I have been in the BEST mood.  All night riding the adrenaline.  I’ve just left a beach party with this smoking hot girl from the other group and we’re a little further down the beach…

I’ve given her the spiel about how I want to be a famous writer and she’s all over me.  The dark blue space above us sparkles with starlight.  She sits up and shows me her body

“You’ve been checking this out all day haven’t you?”

And my eyes darting from side to side, I say

“Uh… yeah, right…”


VII
In a bar on Boracay, a tourist is splayed out on this faux leather couch so drunk he doesn’t know where he is.  There’s this girl straddling him and she’s kissing him all over, his face his neck his mouth.  He gives as good as he gets.  Her face, neck, mouth.  Their tongues like a pair of crazy snakes.

What he doesn’t realise, is that this girl is really a bloke.

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The Monkey

We were waiting in a garage
In the middle of Laos
When I noticed the monkey on a leash
Behind the garage
And the leash was tied to a rusted out car
As I watched
The monkey made crazy movements and fitted
Like it had a tic
From being tied up for so long

I watched it disappear inside the car
To be alone in another place

It’s a different sadness to the monkeys in Thailand
Where they’re forced to wear diapers
And have their pictures taken with tourists
And if they don’t look
Their heads are yanked toward the camera
So that you can put the picture on Facebook and show your friends
“Look! A monkey!”
Tiny dark unhappy eyes
Right there for the whole world to see

I wish there was something I could have done
For that poor lonely monkey
Behind the garage in Laos