Flags of All Nations (that I've visited this year)
Walking West

Thursday, December 14, 2000

Most readers of this log don't spend much time at the front page of its parent site (i.e., Speedysnail), but I thought I'd mention that I've just launched a fresh new design for the fresh new year. The improved graphicky mouseovery look comes with a slight cost in increased download time, sigh, but after nearly eight months of the old one it was high time for a change.

In doing that, of course, I find that some of the other corners of the site are showing their age as well. I dunno, you replace one ratty old piece of furniture and in no time you're redecorating the whole house...


On Tuesday, we went into the city to cheer on a friend who was going to be an extra in the sequel to Interview with the Vampire. A row of white movie trailers lined the relevant street, and actors and movie types milled about in a couple of marquees. We passed one trailer door discreetly labelled 'Lestat', and contemplated knocking on it to see if Tom was in.

We waited and waited for our friend, finally ringing around on our mobile to find him—at home, with his ankle swollen from a volleyball accident. The poor guy missed his chance for 0.5 seconds on the big screen.

What will they call the sequel to Interview with the Vampire, we wondered?

  • Follow-up Interview with the Vampire
  • First Day at Work of the Vampire
  • Probationary Period of the Vampire

We wandered off as several new cars with fake UK number-plates drove past us to the set. In the distance a red double-decker bus and a grey Austin were driving back and forth. If you ever catch the movie, now you'll know that those scenes of London are actually Melbourne.


Tuesday, December 12, 2000

I didn't even find this, Jane did: Men at Work signs in Madagascar.


New ISP. All services restored. And suddenly I can see all of the websites I couldn't for the past few weeks via the old one. Perhaps I can turn this into a weblog again.


More gossip about my friends... James is preparing to move back in to Infinite Monkeys, and it's all looking very spiffing. My favourite page is the one in the 'Bachman' section titled 'Work', which reads:

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Now, some may interpret this as a simple CGI error. Some may say it simply means that James hasn't got around to writing this bit yet. But I choose to delude myself believe that James has become a cyberspace pioneer by plugging himself into the Internet (we won't dwell on where the plug goes), and that every time you click on that link it sends a few volts into the relevant part of his brain so that he starts working. The error message shows that he's being a bit recalcitrant at the moment, so let's give him a friendly nudge, eh? Work, you lazy sod, work, work, work, work, work!

Shades of Stanley Milgram... Thank God I don't have one of those links on my site, or I'd be toast.


Sunday, December 10, 2000

I should have posted this weeks ago, seeing it's just a paraphrase of a letter I wrote at the end of our trip. Because I can't FTP directly to my site I can't even put any photos with it as I'd been planning to. But what the hell. For those who are interested, here's...

Our Trip to Thailand, 15 October-5 November 2000

Way back in neolithic times, around January, Jane rang a certain airline's frequent flier centre to ask if they would finally change our address from the old one they were sending our mail to. And by the way, could we do anything with the points we'd got from a round-the-world trip in 1997? Yes, they said; as it happens there's a sale on this week: 20,000 points for a return trip to southeast Asia. Excellent, thought Jane, and booked tickets for us to fly to Bangkok at the end of October, thinking we'd be ready for a holiday by then. This was before we knew about everything else we'd be doing before then...

Since they were free flights we figured we would ditch them if something else came up. But come October we were free of all obligations. So: we went to Thailand for three weeks.

And it was brilliant. We spent the first ten days at a resort near Krabi, in the far south, surrounded by beaches, islands, palm trees and impossibly tall limestone cliffs. The tail-end of the rainy season wiped out a couple of days and brought brief storms on a few more, but we still saw most of what the area had to offer, went on an elephant ride, and generally relaxed.

We then spent ten nights on the road to Bangkok. At Khao Sok National Park we exhausted ourselves walking through the jungle in tropical heat to see a waterfall, keeping an eye out for gibbons. We didn't see any of those, but did see several lizards and snakes, and at one point I stepped into a patch of sun next to a river where dozens of different-coloured butterflies flew up around me for a minute or more; a magical moment.

From Surat Thani, near Khao Sok, we caught an overnight train north, going third class—because that was all that was available. The guidebooks don't even contemplate going third-class overnight, saying only that you might get away with it in second... but it was less extreme than we feared. The carriages had pairs of seats facing each other, rigid, uncomfortable, and crowded; one Thai guy was stretched out underneath our seats (and our feet) to get some sleep. But after the public transport in Madagascar, an overnight Greyhound bus across the Rockies, and numerous long-haul economy-class flights, this didn't seem that bad. And it was insanely cheap: two tickets for twelve bucks.

In the main part of Thailand we saw the sights in a few smaller towns before heading to Bangkok: old temples in Phetburi; the Bridge on the River Kwai and the Burma-Thai Railway POW cemetery in Kanchanaburi; the world's biggest chedi (domed Buddhist temple) at Nakhon Pathom; and our favourite, the former Thai capital of Ayutthaya.

Ayutthaya was once bigger than London, but was burned to the ground by the Burmese in 1767—an event that should be as infamous as London's Great Fire of 1666, or the bombing of Dresden; that it isn't says something about the biases of Western history. The old part of the city is on an island surrounded by a moat formed by three rivers. We spent two days exploring its many ruins (reminiscent of Rome, if the Romans had been Buddhist), going on another elephant ride, and riding everywhere on dilapidated bicycles.

Those bikes led to one priceless moment, when a monk flagged down Jane, climbed onto the extra seat on her rear mudguard (the purpose of which suddenly became clear), and got her to dink him down the road. I had the best of this deal, riding behind with a perfect view of this orange-robed monk wildly trying to keep his balance while not Touching a Woman, as monks are not supposed to (although Jane said he kept poking her in the back to hurry her along). Once he lost it and fell off onto the road right in front of me; thankfully there wasn't a bus or a tuk-tuk (three-wheeler) behind us, or Jane might have been in serious spiritual trouble. But he climbed straight back on, keeping his balance until Jane reached his destination.

We stayed a few nights in Ayutthaya in an old teak house by the river with a name we couldn't pronounce; I had a hard enough time with 'Ayutthaya' (Ay-YUT-ty-YAH, not AY-u-TY-a). It's a fiendishly difficult language for a non-tonal-language-speaker like myself, making it hard to communicate at times. We figured we'd been no worse off in Madagascar with our basic French than we were in Thailand with most Thais' non-existent English and our non-existent Thai.

Our trip ended in Bangkok, huge, frantic, smoggy: pretty much like the other Thai towns we'd seen, only moreso. Like the rest of the country, it felt like a parallel world, with the familiar sights of modernity alongside Buddhist temples and signs in unreadable Thai script. We saw more temples, the zoo, and endless shops and stalls. We stayed not far from Khao San Road, the main backpacker-hotel area lined with stalls selling hippy-alternative gear and pirated CDs; as Jane said, it felt like the world's biggest Community Aid Abroad store.

Despite Thailand's 'adventure backpacker' reputation, it all seemed pretty easy to us: transport was straightforward, you could buy anything, and the food was great and plentiful and cheap, even by depressed Aussie dollar standards. Thailand had just the right combination of the familiar and the exotic: the landscape, the temples, the monks, the crazy Thai-to-English translations. We loved it.


Oh, this is just spectacular. The ISP that provides dial-in access for our household has dropped the account. They gave some specious story over the phone (after I called asking why the username/password combo wasn't working) about shutting down all their dial-in services because they were losing money on them, but it was a little suspicious that they only came out with this after I gave them the account name. And if they've shut down their dial-in, how come the server still accepts connections? So much for 'unlimited access'. There's an easy way to check, though. We're going to try ringing them tomorrow and ask if we can set up a dial-in account, and see what they say.

Fortunately, our friend also has limited access via his work account, so at least I can surf, blog, and check mail through webmail. Can't FTP, though. Good thing I uploaded all those photos before this happened.

By the way, that Madagascar piece below is a sort-of-first-draft, sort-of-warm-up-exercise for those draft chapters I mentioned way back. Tell me if I'm deluding myself in thinking that this is even vaguely interesting to anybody except me and Jane.


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