Archive for June, 2012

After a brief tour from Wellington up to Tongariro crossing I had the eventual intention of finding work in Hastings and Napier. These two places are joined together on the East Coast of North Island. Although Napier is a bit smaller it gets much more attention because of its fully intact Art Deco centre. I had read about this place when I studied History of Art, I never really dreamed of making it there.

Napier had the extreme misfortune of being wiped out by an earthquake in 1931. It also had the extreme fortune of being rebuilt in an interesting period, architecturally speaking. The whole centre was built (or rebuilt) in the Art Deco style which was peaking in the 30’s. This style of architecture, although not my favourite, is interesting as being truly international. There are examples of Art Deco worldwide. What makes Napier so special is the fact that as the buildings were built simultaneously we have been given a unique snapshot of Art Deco. Outside of theme parks or Movie Sets it’s hard to find examples of towns which are so uniformly built. I believe Napier was lucky to have been constructed at a time when there was such attention to aesthetics. This was urban planning before the Liberal Utopians of the 50’s and 60’s tried to force us all to live in concrete tower blocks and multi story car parks. To look at places rebuilt after the bombings of World War II is a great compare and contrast exercise for anyone interested in architecture or urban design. You only have to look at Coventry or Warsaw to know that Napier was saved.

As I mentioned, Art Deco is by no means my favourite type of architecture. It makes for interesting underground transport murals and theatre posters. However, when it comes to buildings I often find it borrows from so many things that it seems a bit pastiche. I can often see Pseudo Egyptian elements in the motifs and decorations. Unlike the blatant stealing of Classical designs for some of the larger Victorian buildings, Art Deco seems to just fold elements into the design so they are lost. My only exception would be the Chrysler building which stands out as a silver cathedral in New York’s skyline. The main problem, at least for some parts of the world, is light. The pastel shades of Art Deco look best in the warm light of Mediterranean and Caribbean locations, especially those by the seaside. This is why Miami always looks so glamorous and glitzy. Some of the buildings in Northern Europe just look dated and naff.

With all these thoughts in mind I headed out on an extremely sunny day to photograph all the best examples of Napier’s Art Deco structures. The ones I have captured are by no means the only ones there. It was a period just before I started working at an orchard to make money for a trip to Chile. I see this period as a calm before the storm, a last chance to relax before working crappy jobs. Unlike many tourist resorts in New Zealand you are left to wander round freely with no real goal or destination. The only disappointment I met was beneath the canopies of the buildings. This is provincial New Zealand so there were not quite the street cafes and breezy bars of Miami or St. Tropez. Beneath the facades were many junk shops and cheap clothing stores, they were kept safe from sunlight by ugly plastic verandas. I tried not to photograph these which meant I got serious neck ache by the time I was finished. I enjoyed Napier as an unexpected and unhyped pleasure. I recommend that if anyone is in New Zealand they should take a little detour from Auckland or Wellington to visit.

I finally left Cusco which was hard to do, every time I ventured out I found some new places. On my last night before I caught the bus I was on a hillside next to a Jesus statue, oh… and next to an Indian woman with an alpaca, that’s Peru for you. I opted for a more economical bus than last time, I realised soon that this was a mistake. Cheaper buses are not too bad usually, there won’t be as much food and the steward will be undetectable from the general public, you put your own luggage on and tear your own ticket off, all these things are easy for me. The problem is that on these cheap buses you get the lower end of the market in terms of people. In this case mostly old native women with bundles tied to their necks and little bowler hats perched on their heads. It’s customary for me to be sat next to the little kids, drug dealers or crazy old people. On this particular occasion I thought it would be ok, a youngish guy put his bag next to me and saluted me ‘Buenas!!’. He then wandered off and I was left to think …ah well at least no screaming kid, I’ll get some sleep maybe have a brief conversation about football (I can actually converse with Peruvians as they speak Spanish using words and sentences unlike Chileans and Argentines). However, I was premature in my assumptions, no sooner was I relaxing into a state of pre-slumber than the biggest native woman ever… came and sat next to me.

                                                   As with most of the Indigenous people in this part of the world she was about 4 foot tall and 5 foot wide. Although that’s harsh. I take it back. She was only about 4 foot wide after shedding three of her blankets, these Aymara people LOVE blankets and bundles, there is no limit to the number of fine woven products they adorn themselves with. Within the many blankets and shawls a couple of niños usually pop out, the niños traditionally cause much trouble and their faces are always covered in food. This particular lady had no niños to speak of but she took all of her seat and half of mine, she also stunk of dried animal dung. Eventually I got fairly comfortable but every time the bus swung to the right (Peru is very mountainous by the way) she squashed me into the window. The discomfort got worse as the night progressed because the heaters were broken so everybody’s feet were catching a chill. The rest of the journey progressed like a bad lucid dream.

                 After a change of bus and the most informal border crossing ever between Peru and Bolivia, we reached our destination…Copacobana on lake Titicaca, by this stage the bus was mostly filled with Gringos. I chose the cheapest hostel 2 US dollars a night (15 Bolivianos) it was …basic, but ok. I found Copa to be very cool indeed. Yes it’s touristy, and most of the buildings are modern and falling apart, but there is a very nice vibe in this town. It’s a small place surrounded by the lake on 2 sides and a steep mini mountain. I suppose that’s why they named the area in Rio after this place. I had a wander up the mountainitop for sunset, it knackered me. It wasn’t a long way but this little mountain is actually 3966m above sea level, it’s hard to catch your breath at that altitude. I met a guy off the bus called Konstantin from Munich, although his mother is from Croatia, we went for some food which cost less than 1 US dollar, he was sick the next day but I survived.

                The following day was one of my best, it was the reason I came travelling and justified all the bollocks that it takes to reach a place like this. A great mixture of a boat ride, chatting to various people and a great walk on my own. I went on the boat to Isla del Sol, the legendary birthplace of the Sun(god), this was a sacred site way before the Incas, despite what the lonely planet says. After paying for a crap museum to see some rocks, we were guided up to the ruins of the temples and sacrifice tables. Near this area was a big rock that looks like a puma….hence the name Titi (puma) caca (rock). The name was a new thing to me as I always thought Titicaca meant… titi = Breast, Caca = poo. The discovery of this translation makes more sense. 

After looking around the temples and so forth we could either do the three-hour hike back to the other end of the Island or just head back for the boat. I was ambling round for a while and didn’t realise how little time I had to get back, so I set off on a mission and soon overtook most of the group on the steep climb. I took great satisfaction in strolling past the two dreary American girls with all their expensive mountain gear. Backpackers from wealthy Western nations carry far too much equipment. If you want an indication of what to pack for a trip just look at the locals. It was a short walk on a small island, take some water and a snack! If there is one mantra for backpacking it is “Half the stuff’ twice the money.”When I reached a point outside of the peloton I had a great walk.

It was totally silent and motionless; the view was amazing. The island looks very Mediterranean…like Corsica or parts of Greece, but in the distance were peaks of over 6000m, I was always surrounded by the deep ‘azure’ of the lake (Im sorry – it’s the best word) and in the distance I could make out little groups of natives tending their crops and smacking their asses, I mean donkeys. The altitude and sunlight made the walk pretty strenuous but I soon reached the end village in just under 2 hours, the only people to keep up with me were a Canadian and a Dane who told me some great stories of Amazonian adventures. They recounted a tale in which they couldn’t find a boat so they tried to build one, it didn’t work.

                                                 I have realised whilst travelling that literature is really an extension of such tales. That’s how things started before people could write. The need to share stories, exaggerate stories, or create stories. Unlike books, oral traditions are far more entertaining because you can live the experience through the expressions on someone’s face. You can also ask questions instead of leafing through the footnotes at the back. I’m the kind of person who buys books with many footnotes. I wish I could remember all the stories that people have told me but there is something beautiful about a story starting and finishing with you. Even if the storyteller remembers things word for word it will never be the same again. the moment is fleeting because of who is there and what else is going on. These stories were told on a wooden balcony drinking coca tea overlooking Lake Titicaca. During that time  we also found a stray English girl from the boat who had shunned the entire tour and gone on the trek instead. I really respected her confidence to completely ignore the tour and just wander off. If we all did that there would be no tour. I usually stay the bare minimum of time as a simple courtesy to the guide and out of respect for the destination. We had  time to kill so we took pictures of various rustic scenes from the main village. I found a Rasta donkey complete with dreads (it was young and therefore fluffy), we also found some Pigs and a load of alpacas.You are never far from kids and animals in Bolivia.

A brief note on alpacas and Llamas:

Alpachas and Llamas are actually related to the Bactrian (two hump) and Dromedary (one hump) camels of the Mongolian steppes and the Arabian deserts. You could say that these two creatures are proto-camels. Several thousand years ago the ancestor of these species travelled over Panama and eventually found its way over the now disappeared land bridge between Alaska and Siberia. This migration and subsequent genetic modifications led to the appearance of the furry Bactrians in the Gobi desert and the Dromedary of the Arabian desert, which are both of course Camels, the greatest living beings on this earth. Few other creatures are so well suited to their environment.

After eating at an unfinished restaurant and being served by a girl of 7 years we quickly got down the hill to catch the boat. On the way down the hill we saw a group of Israelis who started to ask how far it was to the top, I told them about 30 mins and very steep at that, actually it was more like 10 but hey.. they had little Indigenous kid carrying their packs. I will be cruel only to keep cosmic karma in check. Any fully grown able-bodied person who gets small kids to carry their stuff deserves what’s coming.  The journey back on the boat was much swifter than the reverse trip in the morning as I was talking to people. Time passes quickly when involved in interesting conversation, and there is usually an opportunity to scare gullible backpackers. I spent some time next to the two dreary Americans from the bus the previous day. The journey was less pleasant for them as every time one of them opened her guidebook and pored over some place I said ‘ Oh my god, don’t go there!!!’. This is a really annoying habit I have developed after several months of travelling, I don’t think anyone has actually taken my advice, at least I hope not, otherwise their journeys will be scant at best. I think one of the American girls disliked me because she was actually born in Surrey and I said it’s the English equivalent of Delaware, what do you know or care about Delaware? My point exactly. I crashed out after disembarking and later went to eat (another) trout. The trout of Titicaca are among the biggest in the world.

The brief stay and the journey to Titicaca has been one of the most rewarding. It’s a place I have seen on many travel shows and there is the great sense of deja-vu when you see the colourful villagers and the perfect blue of the water. When people imagine backpacking this is what they imagine. It really lived up to my expectations and it’s one of the few places I missed as soon as I left. The lake and rocks have always been sacred to the people who inhabit these parts and I can see why. It’s a truly special place.

I just completed a monster bus journey breaking my previous record of 23 hours, my new record is 33 hours but actually it took 34 and a bit due to some complications at one of the stations. I would have extended this journey to at least 40 hours but the bus schedule prevented this task so I now find myself back in El Bariloche. My original intention was to go down the Atlantic side of the continent and come back up the Chilean coast on the Pacific side. Unfortunately this was made impossible by cost and seasonal variations in transport. So I have just revisited many of the places I have already seen, I thought I would be more annoyed but instead I just think that there is a certain symmetry to the entire journey. Sometimes its nice to return to places you have already seen, it gives you a sense of the passing of time and what you have seen and done in the intervening period. I think between my first visit to El Bariloche and my current one, it has been the most intense period of travel for all the time I have been away from home. It has been the most difficult due to the sheer distance between places and the inaccessibility of places I had intended to see. I am always trying to calculate the value of any journey or destination, ‘worth’ or ‘value’ is difficult to calculate. This isn’t an obsessive need to categorize experience, sometimes it can be simple economics. It is worth travelling so far on a bus and using up so much time to see..a rock, or a building, or a town? A lot of the time it’s very subjective and based on who you are travelling with and even the weather. If you trying to come up with an equation it would be something like:

 p / t + m = value

p =  number of photographs taken

t =  time

m = money

Actually that’s complete bollocks. I really hate maths. The idea of working out an equation for how good a place is or how worthwhile an experience is… is total crap!! Being in horizontal snow with Antarctic winds on the Beagle channel is beyond the realms of calculation. Looking at 1000m plus granite pillars after a half hour scramble is impossible to compare with anything. Watching a 50m ice tower collapse into a lake off one of the most impressive glaciers in the world… you just cannot describe in words, pictures or anything else

 Tomorrow I´m going back into Chile and visiting the Lakes region; Pucon. I feel this is a halfway stage in South America before I head up to the Atacama Desert and eventually into Peru. The thing I cannot believe is that the best is yet to come, I´m really glad to have finished up in South America as everywhere else would have been slightly disappointing after here. It might be premature to say it, as I have much to see, but Argentina is still the best place. This is especially true of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Travel is often just A to B, a bus taking you to a town then minibus to a hostel. Travelling in Patagonia is totally different, you can stare out of the window for hours and see nothing, I actually thought I could see the curve of the Earth because there was such emptiness. I think of all the photos I have taken the ones from Tierra del Fuego will be the best. I sometimes took a photo, and immediately after looked at it on the view screen and just stared in wonder. For some reason photographs can make something more real, I don’t think video cameras have the same effect. I have really been heavy on the editing, this saves money for development and forces me to take higher quality, or more pertinent pictures, the Brazilian girls I travelled with take millions, half of them with themselves doing catalogue style posing. They asked me why I don´t have myself in the photo and I said there are 3 main reasons:

1. I don´t actually want to see my face next to some of the most beautiful scenery in the World, it detracts from how Impressive something is.

2. I am usually the one taking the picture, I don’t trust other people to take a picture, even if they say ‘Is it ok, do you want another?´ I never have the heart to say..actually you cut my feet off and it’s lob sided, your visual sense is questionable and reflects your poor choice of clothes, haircut and general way of life.

(where was I ?) oh yes, number 3

3. The most important reason why I don´t like to be on photos is vanity. Vanity is one of the most common modern sins and one of the most difficult to detect. Pictures of people next to famous monuments and mountains inevitably get blown up and framed then left on the mantlepiece or in the office. I and most others don´t really need to remind ourselves that we have been somewhere which means that in general these type of pictures are done for the benefit of other people, as if to prove you have been somewhere. The people pictures I have taken are generally from meals or just to remember faces and faces in places. Having said this I do usually take a picture when I have just got up a mountain or something, this is some human weakness to show man´s power over nature, I’m sure Freud had a name for it.

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                      As for the moment I’m staying in a homestay type place again, no English in sight. It´s veryt nice and tasteful and the owner looks like the comedy actor Luke Wilson (brother of Owen). I´ve got a mere 9 hours on the bus tomorrow, so I´ll get some token sleep……………….hasta la vista y buenos noches (manana para ustedes!!)

One of the stranger aspects of teaching and living in Korea is the possibility of giving new students their ‘English’ name. I use inverted commas because of the context of this post.
The naming process is new to me, as I have mentioned previously about 99.9% of Korean students take on a ‘Western’ name for English classes. Some Koreans also take a ‘Christian’ name at their Church of choice. Obviously there were no Saint Ji-sungs or Paul’s letter to the Kims, so it makes sense to have a biblical name. I have often wondered at the logic of how the names come about. I have heard stories about people being reminded of friends back home, favourite football players, movie stars. It seems like some people just write a random 3 names on the board and ask the students to choose . When I got my first new class, by this I mean 1st Grade Elementary, I was genuinely concerned about the weight of a multi (secular) Christening. How would I choose the names? What if they don’t like their names? They could be stuck with this name forever? What if their parents know a serial killer with the same name, or some dark family mystery? A James or a John could be a bent priest, a drunk G.I or a family pet with rabies.
                                Names carry so much meaning that I was confounded when my Korean co-teacher told me I would need to name some people. In the end, after asking other teachers, I approached it like this: what names do I not like? The answer being, I do not like modern trendy names. This can often mean ‘American’ names or names that would get you battered in a playground throughout England. Due to pluralistic nature and cultural melting pot of North America, many names float around without any deep analysis. However, names in the UK can often be a bit too traditional and rely upon saints, disciples and kings. Any other names seem to show a disregard for Western society and the traditions of the Church. I guess I wanted to walk the line between the stifled tradition of my home and the more esoteric American names. Names from the Judeo-Christian tradition are fine –  Michael, Isaac, Solomon, Joseph. Anglo-Norman names are also fine in my book: Robert, Richard, William, Stephen etc. If you are wondering, nobody in England had names like this before 1066. When I say I don’t like American style  names, I mean to say the names which carry no meaning and make no sense on the basic logic of naming traditions. The following is a small selection:
Chip (type of potato)
Randy (a state of sexual excitement)
Chad (a poor country in Central Africa)
Butch (isn’t the Sundance kid dead?)
Jesse ( slightly weak or soft)
Chuck (throw casually or Australian chicken)
Buck (a dollar)
Krystal (what the maze or the ball?)
Dustin (I do it every Sunday after I finish the hoovering)
My stance, although slightly xenophobic, is in the best wishes of the students and the future of the Korean nation. I simply thought if they ever go to the UK, Ireland or perhaps even…Australia, then why not choose a name which won’t be a cause for bullying or hysterics. After all, they could have this name for the rest of their lives. I could be responsible for naming a future football star or president. By complete chance my first naming occasion coincided with when I found my Kings and Queens of Britain cards. This is a deck of cards which has a picture of every monarch since William the Conqueror, and some information on the back. I was a bit coy about this but the co teacher and another American teacher discovered that I was using the cards to choose names. I think they discovered this when someone said to me ‘You have another new student, he has no name.’ ‘Hold on, I’ll just get my cards’.  Moments later I had a young Korean flicking through past monarchs, he made a very quick decision and liked the look of a rather masculine warrior on horseback brandishing a sword. This young student is now called Richard (as in the lion-heart). He likes his name and the person he’s named after. After several days I had a regal looking young Victoria, an elegant Elizabeth (since shortened to Ellie), a studious Edward (the first), a Charlie, a James and an Anne. After exhausting the list of Monarchs I have also used American Presidents, TV show characters; currently I have a huge list printed out which is all English (Anglo-Saxon) names. I usually find the approximate first letter of a Korean given name then give a choice of all the names with that letter. This printout is from an internet site and carries the meaning of each name. The reason I chose Anglo Saxon was because that’s where English comes from so why not give a context. Also, I wondered which names would have floated around before the Normans arrived.
                                             I am not really a patriot or a monarchist but I do think that some sense of tradition should be kept. Working with Koreans, Americans and Canadians has made me realise that people generally don’t care about Britain, England or English for that matter. The English are in a strange situation because we were so dominant but now we are becoming an irrelevance on the edge of an irrelevant continent. This is especially true when you live in East Asia. A place where U.S troops have been posted since the 50’s and where it’s easier to learn English in the Philippines or Australia than the UK. Coming from a previously dominant but now irrelevant nation means that my small political protests and cultural pointers fall on deaf ears. Englishness is simply not important enough for others to worry about, but Englishness is not exotic enough to be curious about. When I protested about being called a ‘Brit’ it was met with a disregard for my utter pettiness. This basic human right of being referred to by the correct adjective based on your state of origin seems to be a weighty issue if you are an Ulster man, Irishman, Basque, Catalan, Bosniak, Kosovan or First Nation, Inuit, African-American, Cherokee… I believe every group, people, nation or ethnicity should have the right to choose how they are referred to by others. Even if this means changing the word for your group, like African-American or First Nation. I may be from Britain but I speak English, my football team is England, my cricket team is England and I follow the English Premier League. I guess I will just correct people until I return to… er…Britain. The worst thing is that other ‘Brits’ have asked me if it really matters. I usually tell people that wanting to be called English is as much about being English as it is about the Welsh being Welsh and the Scots being Scottish; they are other places with other peoples and other traditions. Bring on devolution. 
                                              This trivial stuff was in the back of my head as I took my new classes. I already knew many students , but many faces were new and they didn’t know me. I decided to have a basic Q and A session. When I say basic I mean basic, where do you think I am from? After naming nearly every nation in the World I asked them if they wanted a clue. Pointing to the badge on a girl’s coat which read “British Culture” above a Union Jack, they still had trouble. I asked the wearer of said garment, what flag are you wearing? She didn’t know. After crying for 5 minutes I told them I’m from England. When they looked and read the coat they said “No Englandu, Britaini” “Same thing.” I said, crying again. I have since noticed that 4 other students were either wearing British flags or had British flags on pencil cases, there are some Italian flags too! It’s very post modern that a nation who planted flags in deserts, jungles and bogs all round the World can now conquer the World without trying or without their ‘subjects’ knowing. The British flag has been added to the list of signs, icons and images with absolutely no meaning whatsoever. This same list includes Che Guevara, Brazil, U.S, anything Cuban, meaningless Chinese tattoos and about a gazillion American Sports Franchises. The only symbol you would think might escape the free use of signs and signifiers is the Nazi Swastika, the Swastika in its Buddhist use is in many places here though, this I think is OK because it pre dates the Third Reich. I have since made a point of reminding students and sometimes other adults about the origin of names, designs, logos, and anything else that seems important. Non English speakers often choose to wear slogan t-shirts with absolutely no regard for the meaning of the words. I once saw a typically olive-skinned Italian girl with jet black hair sporting a t-shirt saying ‘Blondes have more fun.’ I asked ‘E vero?’ (is it true?) She just looked at me blankly. In one of my super shy and impossibly quiet classes a girl once walked in with a t-shirt declaring TALK, TALK, TALK in bold black letters. I chuckled instantly and the irony was not lost on the student in question as she hid her t-shirt from the silence.