Firstly, thanks to everyone who’s bought a copy of Daydreams and Devils. If you’ve gone further and left a review, then you will get your reward in heaven. I understand seven virgins is the going rate, though if you’re a lady it’ll be seven studs dressed in the uniform of your choice since a bunch of trembling, pimpleoids saying sorry every ten seconds probably isn’t your idea of heaven. If you’re LGBT (which still sounds like a sandwich) you will have your choice of the above, even the pimpleoids. Anyhow..
I was asked recently “If you won a million pounds what would you do? I immediately answered “travel”. Later on I wondered why. I’m still wondering, but partly at least I think it’s because people are naturally curious. You just need to look at the range of “reality” shows and gossip mags to know what a bunch of nosey bastards the human race is. But I also think most of us have a yearning for something better, to check if the grass might not be greener elsewhere. It maybe shares that aspect with religion / spirituality…but that’s a whole other discussion.
I’ve been lucky over the last year to have been able to see a couple of places I’ve wanted to visit for some time, namely China (through work) and more recently, Borneo. Let’s start there. This was basically a two week volunteer project at Samboja Lestari Orangutan sanctuary, a facility where orang’s who’ve lost their habitat, parents, health or for whatever reason have had to be rescued before hopefully being returned back into the wild. Why is it needed? Us. Humans destroying their habitat to replace it with palm oil plantations and mines. Or money to cut to the chase. I’m not going to condemn the locals for wanting a better life. It’s easy to sit in our distant ivory towers with no experience of real poverty and point accusing fingers. There are plenty more deserving targets for our pointy fingers closer to home. But something needs to be done, and what places like this do is to patiently, over many years, give the orang-utans the skills required to survive in the wild through different levels of “forest schools”, teaching them what their parents would. Alongside that goes the constant search for suitable and sustainable release sites. Orangutans are territorial and need huge areas.
As to the why? Carol and I have always been big animal lovers and after watching the Monkey World documentary series about a chimp rescue centre in England, decided to look into it, see what we could do within the practical constraints of our ‘real’ lives. This ticked the boxes. I’ve always loved Orangs and their hairy Buddha-ness, chilled out and as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa. I also wanted to experience a different way of life, the one you see others living in documentaries as you sit thinking, “what a life you have David Attenborough”.
I expected this to be a bit special, but there aren’t enough fucks in my bulging fuck drawer to do justice to how truly fucking awesome an experience this was. But then somethings can’t be described in fucks, some even transcend fucks entirely. This was one of those…and yet still fucking awesome. It was life stripped down to the bare essentials. Peace, stillness, raw beauty, clear air, fresh, nutritious food… and a well-stocked bar.
THE TEAM (Suneesh, Barry, Carol, Sam, Me, Kate, Wiwik, Vera, Bob, Kelly)
So, what did we get up to over the two weeks? Cue the Benny Hill theme. (One of the guys had it as a ring tone. It became an unofficial soundtrack, well that and the insects. Noisy buggers.) Anyway, in completely random order…Go!
Hosed clean the orang enclosures, play spraying the ones who enjoyed it, shitting myself if they didn’t.
Creating enrichment by cutting bamboo trees and ginger leaves, loading them into the truck, loading ourselves into the truck, hanging on for dear life as the driver tried to find the road between the holes, then filling the bamboo with nuts, porridge, fruit before giving it to the orangs.
Waded through muddy water, up to my neck in places, to clear the moat of weeds so the keepers boat could navigate the island habitats and food could be dispersed…in between weed and mud fights. Huge fun. Inner children well and truly embraced.
Made friends with some of the best people I have ever or will ever meet.
Learned to play ‘bullshit’, a card game based on lying, which I was surprisingly shite at.
Trecked into the rainforest and saw wild monkeys, trees that strangled other trees, huge insects, huger lines of tiny ants, seriously there were feckin millions of these things and you don’t break the line or you get swarmed, aint that right Suneesh. Oh and a man and his dog fishing.
Found and rescued a fish that had spent its whole life in a plastic bottle and was now too big to pour out. Conservation always. “Don’t forget the fish!”
Learned the art of the machete, clearing dead foliage and generally chopping shit down.
Put live catfish in the Sun Bear enclosure (the sanctuary’s other residents). Was secretly relieved when the bears didn’t really know what to do with them.
Saw a shopkeepers look of joy at the influx of “rich” westerner customers flip in an instant to crushing disappointment as the cry “He’s nae magnums. Back on the bus,” rang out. Bet he’s got a freezer full of them now, like this guy had.
(I like the hat so shut it)
Watched kids in gleaming white shirts and uniforms make their way to the village school. Mums are the same the world over.
Watched in awe and terror as seemingly random mass scootering, miraculously swarmed without incident. Not a mod in sight.
Read, Stuart Ayris’s the Buddha’s of Borneo, Jack Kerouac, listened to Exile on Main Street and drank cold beer. Thank you Bintang.
Almost became a hero at the local market, playing a game where you had to fully cover a circle with three smaller discs. With two well placed it was game on, the market hushed, the prize (a tablet of sorts, nae pish) within my grasp…but I bottled it. Mr Magnum dude, I feel your pain. We could have been contenders…bums it is.
Dug out foundations for orang platforms on an additional island habitat. Hot, hard and sweaty. (Cue Benny Hill)
What else?…went on a boat trip to see proboscis monkeys, sailed through a fishing village perched on stilts, followed by waving, grinning kids, shouting like we were the Beatles…or one Direction, though mistaking me for Harry Styles would be a bit of a stretch (ashamed I know who Harry Styles is…move on). Didn’t see any monkeys till we got to the exact spot we’d left from. I’m wondered if they phoned ahead and told them to “release the contingency monkeys”. They were never getting those guys back in any box though that’s for sure. Acrobatics galore.
Got spat on by Orangs young and old.
Was introduced to the Australian cultural pastime, the ‘Timtam slam’, which involves sucking coffee through a chocolate biscuit. Why?…Nope, got nothing. Great fun and tasted good. That’ll do for me.
Went to a shopping mall with the hottest aircon in the world
Screamed like a school girl when a Preying Mantis landed on my hand. It was a big green scarey fecker.
Went to a bear and cat rescue centre. They don’t mix them.
Heard the words an orang has escaped more often than I expected, along with “run” and “stay in your rooms.” There are a few criminals in the orang population even Alcatraz couldn’t hold.
Saw a wild python after it had eaten a rat in the laundry. Not sure if the rat was dead. Some emergency laundering may have been required.
Had an absolute ball!
What I learned:
Orangs, while chilled Buddha’s…are also a bit mental. Usually when you don’t expect it.
Borneo has the most wonderful people in the world.
Orangs are great spitters.
Australian women are world class swearers. Vera I salute you.
People need saving from ‘progress’ as well as animals.
Men take their dogs fishing the world over.
You don’t break an ant line. Ever.
Regardless of all else, kids go to school clean.
Crazy cat ladies get everywhere.
Malarone (anti malarial) is made from the Devils own dung. Makes me wonder if malaria is really that bad.
I won’t die if I can’t get online.
There are no foreigners, only people.
What else? Civilisation is a relative and misused term. You don’t need to consume high cost goods and services to be civilised or happy for that matter. But it’s easy to sit back all misty eyed about what those who live in areas of stunning natural beauty are giving up in return. A lot of the people are genuinely dirt poor so who could blame them for wanting, if not a better life, then a more comfortable one. But I saw how much and how warmly they smiled. I’m also very aware that the corporate marketers don’t mention the epidemic of mental illness there is in the west. Funny that. Also, now almost everyone in Borneo smokes. I remember Roy Castle (who had lung cancer at the time) turning his back on Thatcher when she visited the BBC because of the work she was doing with tobacco companies to promote their wares in emerging markets. The truth is these people are being exploited, as they always were, but with an extra layer of cynicism, to give the illusion of benevolence, of helping them to better lives. Yeah right.
I also saw how our governments and media lie about other countries. Jumping back to China, we’re fed the line that Chinese people and communists in general are all paranoid, miserable wretches who would sell everything they don’t actually own for our freedoms. What I found here (and previously in Cuba) were happy, friendly, sometimes playful people who were genuinely patriotic and would openly discuss the pro’s and cons of their governments policies.
They are rushing headlong into a western inspired, high rise future. It looks like Bladerunner in some areas. There are also vast ghost cities ready for…I guess it’s the build it and they will come philosophy. And they will, of that I have no doubt. Everyone, in the cities at least, has the latest phones and gadgets. It’s tech central. They are developing at such a phenomenal rate its inevitable they will be the superpower in the near future, slow down or not. The City I was staying in, Shenzhen, home to a population of 10million was a fishing village 25 years earlier. But going back to the people, they work very long hours, under great pressure and I can see consumerism turning them into miserable wretches after all. I can see Borneo getting sucked in, albeit in a much smaller scale. The phones and Man United shirts are already there. Such is the power of marketing.
Also, assume leaders lie, have agenda’s, if need be just think of Donald Trump banging on that Mexicans are thieves, rapists and drug pushers with dodgy eyebrows. I haven’t been to Mexico myself (probably one of the few things I have in common with Donald Trump), but a friend has. He assures me he was neither raped, thieved or had drugs pushed, or pulled for that matter, during his stay. The eyebrow slur however is sadly true. Still, it didn’t hold Liam Gallagher back…Okay better make that Noel.
What else have I learned? I get sea sick. I learned that in China. It’s fucking horrible. When sailing, we were summoned together for a demonstration on putting on life jackets. Desperately trying to hold onto my stomach contents I heard the words “I’d like a volunteer”. Not me, not me, not me…It was me. With my teeth clamped together I got that jacket on and off in Olympic record time (projectile vomiting over someone trying to save my life seemed a bit ungrateful). Demonstration over I noticed the white-faced chap I was sharing a cabin with set off like a rocket to no doubt hurl in the privacy of the cabin. That option closed I headed to the well named mess area. Well, if the ships bouncing wasn’t enough, the faecal matter leaking from the toilet onto the floor certainly finished me off…There would be no kneeling though. (and mercifully no pictures!)
What has any of this got to do with books or writing? Fuck all probably, but I suppose the greater variety of people you meet, the more you understand the human condition and the less your characters will suck. Yeah, let’s go with that.
NEWS: My first novel, The Search for Ethan, is on Amazon kindle countdown deal now (6th – 13th Sept), only 0.99, so grab a bargain. Click on the ‘Books’ tab above for details.
BUDDHA’S OF BORNEO – STUART AYRIS
I read this while in Borneo, partly because I like Ayris’s writing and partly to ‘get me in the mood’ for the trip. As the book confirms, Borneo doesn’t need any help. It’s a lovely book from a man who still retains that childlike sense of wonder. That probably makes him as rare as some of the species to be found in this part of the world and for similar reasons. Growth isn’t always a good thing.
It’s a travelogue of sorts, documenting a trip to the Malaysian side of Borneo in the hands of his guide and driver, the Buddha’s of the title, but Buddha’s content, as all Buddha’s are, to leave the real work of enlightenment to the traveller and the experience. There’s a very moving part about the world war 2 death marches which I read after a ‘hard’ shift in the humid sunshine. Never have I felt such a whiney wimp.
But with Stuart Ayris it’s as much about the writing as anything else, the flights of lyricism, gentle humour, bewilderment and joy… and he likes a drink. What’s not to like.
BEHIND THE EIGHT BALL – CRAIG FURCHTENICHT
As someone who read and loved ‘Dimebag Bandits’ I was really looking forward to this. Thankfully, having set my expectations high I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a follow up but no re-tread and shoots out the trap at pace and keeps going, pin balling between adrenaline charged set pieces building to a great finale.
There’s a great mix of melancholy and humour, love and violence soaked into the atmosphere of the book as a whole, but nowhere more so than in the people. One of the many strong points of Furchtenicht’s writings is the roundedness of the characters. They have strengths and failings, all on display and all the more human for it. Losers maybe, but like Tom Petty once sang, even the losers get lucky sometimes.
Well it’s your lucky day, so have a read. Brilliant.