Book Release: A Learning Curve

01 A Learning Curve 72dpi-1500x2000

This book introduces me and my story while I explore Asia’s fascinating history, especially the relationship between Asia and Europe over the centuries, and how Western influence has played its part in Asia’s development. From simple fishing villages to high-tech industry, I have seen it all.

Shortly after my 21st birthday, a couple of friends and I travelled Europe by rail for seven weeks taking in all the usual sights in Paris, Monaco, Venice, Milan, Florence, Rome, Athens, Vienna, Munich, Belgium, Amsterdam … to name just the highlights. When I was 24, I lived and worked in the Costa del Sol, Spain, for 18 months, where I discovered there was no turning back – I was hooked. At the age of 28, I got my first taste of Asia on a short holiday to Thailand with my father. The following year I began my first solo long haul expedition, starting in Malaysia, where this book begins. It follows my journey over six years as I tell my story of some of the people I met, and the places I visited in my search across the continent.

Speaking of highlights, I wanted to write a book that I would want to read, and I don’t know about you, but I like things to be kept simple. Not to bog you with irrelevant information but merely an introduction to Asia and its history, its people, its customs and its cities, old and new. This book is intended as an easy going read, with some interesting stories throughout history that will hopefully guide you on your journey as they guided me on mine.

This story is about my travels through Asia and some of the things I saw, but it is also a book about what I learnt. I regale stories of trade history between the East and the West, as well as little known information the guidebooks don’t tell you while revealing some harsh truths about our colonial past. During my journey, I discover some of the darker sides of the human race, foreign and domestic, especially during times of war and the hardships that inevitably occurred. In my words, I also describe some of history’s most successful travellers, activists and invaders.

In 2010, I rented a house in a Thai village near the Myanmar border and lived in a small community for several months. I tried to blend in with the Thai way of life as best I could, often with disastrous consequences, and personal tragedy. During my time in the village, I discovered that Thai people are incredibly superstitious when it comes to life and death, and I manage to answer just some of the questions about Thai culture that many of us have in the West.

I learnt early on that having knowledge of the area I was visiting began to bring the place to life, and the more I unearthed about the country, and culture, I was visiting the more spectacular my encounters became. As I moved my way around Asia, discovering ancient cities that had once been crucial to the emerging world economy, I was enamoured when learning about the significant figures that have shaped the way we all live our lives today, orchestrating events that have changed the face of the earth.

When I first arrived in Asia, I had no real idea of what to expect, and I was a reasonably inexperienced traveller. While as I progressed through my journey, I augmented the necessary skills to gain the confidence to get off the beaten track and try to see a part of life that tourists don’t get to see, which unfortunately didn’t always turn out how I expected.

If you are only interested in partying than I can recommend right here and now, to go to Pattaya and Bangkok in Thailand, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for there. But, if you are interested in experiencing a truly fantastic world of beauty and idyllic locations then this book will point you in the right direction.

Before leaving for Asia, I was keen to learn more about the things I had only heard about from watching TV, or from family and friends. For instance, before going to India, I knew little about Gandhi and what he stood for, but after a chance encounter with another passenger on a flight to India, I realised I was already on the path to discovery. Before going to Japan, I was interested in knowing more about the samurai culture and the country’s high-speed railways. And then there are the things I have learnt along the way; trying to scratch the surface of Thailand’s way of life and, of course, the mesmerising history of China and the unexpected surprises of Malaysia.

I have always been fascinated by famous travellers throughout history, and over the course of my journey I attempted to follow in some of their footsteps – feel free to follow in mine … it’s a hell of a ride!

Signature

My book, A Learning Curve, is now available on Kindle – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01FPAA86K

Check out the contents page for A Learning Curve – http://goo.gl/aR9Kgj

 

 

What a journey …

hcmctraffic

I got the idea that there were several places that rented motorbikes in the city but unless I actually saw, in English, the words ‘Rent Motorbike’ I wasn’t going anywhere near them. I was sure I would have to surrender my passport, and there was no way I was going to hand it over to some geezer on the street that I can’t even have a conversation with. I ran a search on Google Maps for rentals in the city when a handful came up. One that caught my eye in particular was a place called Chi’s Café. It was a fair distance journey on foot but I figured if this was all that I did that day then it would be worth it. I set out around mid-day in the hot sun following my cursor on the map, as I meandered my way down back alleys and side streets. After an hour I was starting to get a bit pissed off, but I could now see many more foreigners on the streets, so I figured I was getting close to a tourist area.

I began to think Chi’s Café could also just be a woman, who doesn’t speak English, by the side of the street renting bikes, but I had to give it a shot. About twenty minutes later, I found the café, and it was right in the heart of the tourist area, and it probably would have been a good place to stay with an abundance of cheap guesthouses. There were dozens of restaurants, and I guessed this is where most foreigners hang out, especially backpackers. The area is called Phạm Ngũ Lão Street and everyone spoke pretty good English, which was a first since I had I arrived in the country. I knew there must have been a tourist congregation somewhere in the city and this was it.

After having some well needed lunch, I enquired about renting a motorbike and there seemed to be a few decent ones around. She said it was 120,000 dong (£4) a day, so I said I would take it for 4 days. After paying my bill and surrendering my passport, Chi showed me to my dusty, clapped-out old banger of a bike, she had brought out from a dark and dank corner. After wiping away the cobwebs she told me that I mustn’t take the bike out of the city, which was my intention, but by the look of it I didn’t think it would make it anyway. I think she said that if the police stop me on the bike outside the city they will confiscate it, but I wondered whether she was just ‘blowing smoke’. She also said that I mustn’t just park the bike anywhere because it will get stolen, and I must leave it with someone and get a ticket … outside a restaurant etc.

DSCF3547

Nice mirror!

Security guards are a common sight outside shops even during the day, and there are barriers in use protecting department stores and the like. I was hoping to take the bike to the Cu Chi Tunnels and complete number #8 of my travel bucket list in style, but I guess for now that will have to do. I have plans in the pipeline to buy a motorbike in Asia in the next couple of years and may do an extensive road trip then; possibly China as well, but that’s a blog for another day.

Ho Chi traffic 2

So I got on the bike, that was probably older than me, and headed out onto the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and I don’t mind telling you I was shitting myself with traffic coming from all directions and near death experiences on every turn. Out of habit, I kept looking in my right hand mirror when I kept realising the thing was missing, so moving into the right hand lane was a little tricky! I had a rough idea of the direction I wanted to go in, but I had to stop a couple of times to check the map. Slightly trembling, I made it back to the hotel in one peace. Parking at the hotel has security so at least I didn’t have to worry about that. Dodgy place, Vietnam, with a lot of crooks about!

Follow Twitter       Follow on Facebook

Book Advert

 

Hồ Chí Minh

slide-hochiminh

I discovered I wasn’t far away from the action with several attractions being within an hour’s walk away. In accordance with my travel bucket list, I was keen to hire a motorbike, but there was nowhere near the hotel that rented them. I decided I would head into the town centre on foot and try my luck there. However, I was a little concerned about security at the hotel and was a bit worried about leaving a rental outside.

I saved a few locations on Google Maps including the War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels and Saigon Square including a couple of places for potential bike rental. I figured that would be a good start for my first day in Vietnam.

I was keen to do some tours, but I do like to seek places out for myself first, and in anticipation of doing some motorcycling I saved an offline map on my Tablet, which I thought would come in handy later. Downtown Hồ Chí Minh is quite small, probably not much more than two miles squared. It is quite common to be stopped by men on motorbikes asking if I needed a taxi, but I just waved them on and shook my head. They are not official, or regulated, and most of the bikes look like leftovers from the war. The city itself is modern though, to me, it looked like it had been built in the 90s and hasn’t been upgraded since. Following the war, that ended in 1975, major redevelopment took place in the late1970s.

The War occurred in Vietnam from November 1, 1955, to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. US and South Vietnamese forces relied on air superiority and overwhelming firepower to conduct search and destroy operations involving ground forces, artillery and airstrikes. In the course of the war, the US conducted a large-scale strategic bombing campaign against North Vietnam.

Chandung

Hồ Chí Minh was a Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–55) and president (1945–69) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People’s Army during the Vietnam War. He is highly regarded in Vietnam, obviously, since they renamed (Saigon) a city after him and his portrait is on all the banknotes. However, the name provokes strong anti-communist feeling in a substantial number of Vietnamese, especially those living abroad and many continue to refer to the city as Sài Gòn, in rejection of the new Communist-imposed name.

Hồ Chí Minh stepped down from power in 1965 due to health problems but remained a highly visible figurehead and inspiration for those Vietnamese fighting for his cause—a united, communist Vietnam—until his death. After the war, Saigon, the former capital was renamed Hồ Chí Minh City. With the outcome of the Vietnam War still in question, Hồ Chí Minh died in 1969 from heart failure at his home in Hanoi, aged 79. His embalmed body is currently on display in a mausoleum in Ba Đình Square in Hanoi despite his will stating that he wanted to be cremated.

It took a couple of days to get my head around the currency. It’s about 32,000 dong to the pound and notes can build up fast, so it’s wise to try to spend the lower denominations as and when, and within two days my wallet was filled with a massive wedge. I don’t think breaking change for a 500,000 note is a problem in most places, but I usually saved those for places I knew could handle it, like Pizza Hut, and tried to unload the smaller notes when eating from street sellers etc.

Ho chi minh currency vietnam

Due to the New Year celebrations, most of the city was closed and traffic seemed light compared to what I thought it would be like. Certainly not like the ‘chocking standstill traffic’ I’d read about, but I was sure once the things got back to normal I was in for a surprise. I figured I should get my arse into gear and hire a motorbike whilst the city was in ‘downtime’.

It was a 30 minute walk in the hot sun to get into the centre of town, and I figured a good place to start was the War Remnants Museum. It cost 15,000 dong (46p) for the entrance fee. It was definitely worth the visit but it was very overcrowded and too hot to stand there reading all of the information on the walls, so I cruised through at a reasonable pace.

Outside in the courtyard, there were various war vehicles that were left behind after the Americans left. Unfortunately, again, there were people everywhere and I was getting a little frustrated trying to take photos without people in my shot. I couldn’t believe how many people could see that I was trying to take a photo but would just walk in front of me anyway, not even acknowledging they had done it. Most photos I did get normally contained signs saying ‘No climbing’ or ‘Do not touch’ which kind of kills the magic a little anyway and makes them less likely I would put them on Instagram.

DSCF4253

There was a guillotine which I was rather impressed with. It was my first one, and although a rather archaic device, there was something rather historic and authentic about it, which I always find exciting … obviously not for the poor sods that met their end this way! There was also a mock-up prisoner in a cell and a few recovered torture devices on display. In the main building was an abundance of photos and paintings with descriptions. There was an exhibit of photographs and newspaper articles on protests from around the world condemning US involvement in the War. I tried to find if the UK had protested but I couldn’t find any evidence …

DSCF4274

After the museum, I headed to Saigon Square but Google Maps must have given me bad directions because I couldn’t see anything. All I saw was an abandoned street that looked like a Soviet compound after a nuclear meltdown. Not impressed, I trudged along in the heat of the day until I stumbled upon the main concentration of tourist hotspots, which I later discovered was Saigon Square … there seems to be more than one! From a distance, I could see Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office where I managed to buy and send some postcards. The Post Office was rather quaint and looked like an old train station with a huge arched ceiling; however, I didn’t know what it was until I got inside the building. Although the Vietnamese use the Roman alphabet, there is very little English throughout the whole town which makes visiting restaurants, and other buildings, slightly off-putting. It seems that most places aren’t that welcoming, which I would say is mostly a language thing. In Pattaya, Thailand, you can’t walk 30 seconds without someone calling you into a shop, restaurant, massage, taxi etc.

More photos of Vietnam coming soon on Instagram.

Follow Twitter       Follow on Facebook

Book Advert

 

 

Poised for another adventure …

Me at top of Menara

It’s that time of year again!

Well, the weather’s turning cold, and it’s time to migrate somewhere for the winter. Unfortunately, last year’s trip turned out to be a bit of a bust, in terms of Wingin’ It Adventures. I originally had plans to make a documentary of the trip through India, China and Japan but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

I was also hoping to keep a record of the trip on the blog but, again, things didn’t quite pan out as I’d hoped. The purpose of last year’s trip was to gather enough material to finally finish my long awaited book, A Learning Curve, which is out this spring, but whenever I wrote something for the blog that I thought was pretty interesting, or cool, I decided to save it for the book. In the end I got fed-up of churning out half baked blog posts and decided to jack it in.

However, as the winter is beginning to set in, I have decided to head off to Thailand for a few months in search of some work opportunities as a digital nomad.

Keep an eye out on Instagram for some more photos from last year’s trip, as well as some new blog posts coming over the winter. I don’t want to say too much but, hopefully, I will finally make it to Vietnam, which I have been threatening to do for years and, with any luck, fulfil number eight on my travel bucket list, which I really need to start getting to work on!

After my laptop failed during last year’s trip, I had to abandon my hobby of producing some slideshows but, in my excitement for this year’s trip to Pattaya, I decided to make this little video to remind me of the absolutely brilliant time I had in Japan – as if I need reminding!

So for this year’s Wingin’ It adventure, I am heading to the sex capital of Thailand for most of the trip, which should be interesting, with some excursions to some of my favourite places to visit, Chiang Rai and Koh Chang, but as I have learnt over the years, nothing ever goes to plan!

Signature

Follow on Facebook            Follow Twitter

Exploring Fort Cochin

fort-kochi-nhh-map

From day one, I was keen to go and explore the local area on foot. I decided to keep it easy and follow the main curvature north of the Island. I checked my map, and the Indo-Portuguese museum was just around the corner, so I thought I’d see if there was anything of interest.

On my search, I strolled down a small back-alley heading towards what looked like a few interesting shops. There was a music store selling all kinds of instruments. I told the guy I wasn’t going to be buying anything but he said “OK come in, its free to look”. It was a small place that reminded me of the shop in New Delhi where The Beatles visited, and bought their sitars in the 1966.

This place wasn’t nearly as grand, but it was an interesting little music market. The guy really wanted me to buy something, and continued to showcase me lots of instruments/toys, as I was trying to head for the door. To be honest, I was tempted to buy one of them. It was a one string instrument called an Ektara, but I already had my Ukulele with me, and I’d hardly played that since I left the UK. He also showed me a Tumbi which was pretty cool.

Further on, in my quest for some culture, I saw a small clothes store that seemed to sell predominately female clothing. I asked the ladies outside if they “only sell garments for woman?” They said no, and beckoned me inside. I spoke to a young guy and told him I was looking for something similar to what I was wearing, which was a typical white Middle Eastern shirt.

I found a suitable blue top but it was long sleeve. He told me that it was “No problem, we can fix it in 10 minutes”. After a rudimentary measure of my existing top, I said OK. I’d been looking for a comfortable pair of trousers, but I don’t like the hippy-look that a lot of travellers adopt – on their journey to find themselves – such as ‘Castaway‘ beards etc. But they did look comfy, so I asked if he’d do me a discount for the pair – he only knocked off 50p but I didn’t mind, and paid £9 for both items.

When it comes to haggling in India or Thailand, I really don’t bother too much on clothing, when it only costs £4-5, but I do try and get a discount for multiple items. When I’m looking to buy clothing that is £20 or more, then I’ll try and haggle a little, and try to get at least 30% off. Someone recently told me that if in doubt; always start by halving the initial price offered, especially for taxis and Tuk Tuks, which is not a bad way to go.

I discovered a little book shop and had a quick browse. I bought a couple of books on India and Fort Cochin. A woman came in and spoke to the lady behind the counter. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but from her reaction, and how I read the situation (no pun intended), she cracked a joke and said something like, “Still ripping off the tourists I see, Geeta?” I could see some of the books were second-hand, but she was selling them for the price they had on the back, though they may just have been dirty – but then everything is dusty in India.

Feeling hungry, I wandered over to a large hotel and restaurant. I suppose they cater for a more Western pallet in hotels, but I always found the food to be much better quality and taste much nicer. I ordered one of my favourites, a Half Tandoori Chicken, two Naan breads and a bowl of Cucumber Raita. It was absolutely fantastic, and washed down with a couple of decent cups of black coffee – I was absolutely stuffed, which made a nice change from my usual small curry and a chapatti.

289

My expedition took me down a road less travelled, and soon, I stopped being harassed by Tuk Tuk drivers and other tourism vendors, which lead me to believe I was leaving the tourist zone. I carried on for a while looking around when I found a 300 year old Mosque. I saw a garden area with what looked like graves. I asked a man that was standing next to me what the place was, and it was indeed a cemetery. I asked him if he knew somebody buried there and he replied yes. Not wishing to pry further, I didn’t ask him for anymore details. As we stood by the side of the road, it was a rather solemn 2 minutes, staring at the final resting place of a hundred or so lives that have since past.

Muslim graveyard

I reached a bridge, and then a main road to the right. I figured this was my best bet at finding my way back, but I decided to carry on into the abyss. I walked for another 25 minutes, talking to people in shops and taking photos. I was harassed by a couple of school kids, asking for money, but nothing too untoward.

I finally found another right turn and figured it was time to change direction. I had pretty good bearings and a tourist map in my pocket, so I was fairly confident I was heading the right way. Sure enough, after 20 minutes or so, I found a restaurant that I recognised and knew my way from there.

I had been out exploring the town for about 5 hours, and it was the first time I got the chance to do what I normally do, when travelling alone, which is to explore the local area, single handed and without compromise – going wherever the wind took me.

See the full story here…

Book Advert