Tim Walker’s Vietnam XIV

First task, I needed to contact the woman I had met through VietnamCupid.com; the one who had, apparently, bizarrely – almost inexplicably – not seen my email until exactly twelve months after I had sent it.

I took out my Nokia Basicphone, scrolled down and found Vy’s number; using all of the buttons I then typed a message telling her that I had landed in Ho Chi Minh City and asked if she was keen to meet tonight.

I received a message back immediately: ‘Message From Slingshot Customer Care. Your International Roaming Credit is now below $5. To top up…’

What the hell?! (Fair call, the colourful array of impassioned speech brought about by the aforementioned message was somewhat more forceful than ‘What the hell’; alas I have a varied demographic to consider.)

Before taking to international skies I had purchased a prescribed amount of specific credit which would effectively convert my phone from a ‘monthly’ to ‘prepaid’ plan,  and would allow me to (supposedly) send messages and/or make calls free from exorbitant International Roaming charges…

While still in the air, I believe it was somewhere nearing Singapore’s Changi Airport, I received notification that my special ‘International Roaming Credit’ was now active; I excitedly fired off a few messages at $0.20 (calls were to cost $1.39), then I was in Singapore. I sent no more messages until the next day, where from the lobby of the Boss, I updated family once more of my progress; a total of three messages via International Roaming so far. I then flew to Ho Chi Minh City, my phone having passed through several more time and coverage zones along the way. I landed in HCMC, passed customs, spent two hours in the back of a taxi-van, then before checking in to the Aston I’d attempted to contact Vy. How many is that? Right, it is four, that’s what I thought, four. So 4 by 20 is what? That’s right, it’s 80 – cents.

…Initially unsure of Slingshot’s International Roaming deal I had bought only $15 worth of prepaid credit; I expected that would at least get me started and if I did end up running out (I had budgeted on 75 messages for the month which, given this is almost twice as many as I send at home, I expected should have been ample), I hoped I could gain access to a PC, to access Slingshot’s website, to buy some more. Ultimately I wasn’t perturbed – until now.

I didn’t understand what was happening; had I unknowingly sent off many more messages than I’d thought – or shit – had I pocket-dialled somebody? Or, although they had sent verification that the service was now active, had Slingshot failed to implement my special rates as quickly as they’d sent the message informing me of the rates, leaving me to pay massive International Roaming fees? (Last year, while I was still with Spark, touring the length of Vietnam with my Alcatel Crap-phone, through contacting NZ and the various Vietnamese folk I’d met along the way, at what turned out to be $2 per text and $10 per minute, I managed to accumulate over $350 of these hideous charges – which in this time of free Facebook messaging, where I reckon I am just about the last person in the world to own a Smartphone, how can anyone justify charging $2 for a stinking text message?) Anyway, this seemed the more likely explanation. Problem I was facing now, even if Vy did get back to me, I didn’t know if I had enough credit to reply to her response, even once.

I have learned the ability, at most times, across most situations, to force myself into calmness; alas this variety of ordeal was not among those times or situations. I was furious, I was wound up; I decided I needed to speak to someone, using my tongue.

Dismissing the porter, and conscious of maintaining steady breathing as I walked, suitcase in hand I climbed the steps of the Aston. Behind the desk sat the same woman who had been there last year; I wondered if the rest of the Aston team had remained the same…

I later realised the reason for my lack of immediate recognition of my surroundings upon arrival, given that the Aston Hotel and the street on which it is located was such a memorable part of last year’s antics was that, as well as the street this time being packed with revellers along with more bright lights and distractions in general, the façade of the Aston Hotel (Saigon), one year on, looked downright tawdry and unappealing. Later still I came to another realisation about Vietnam (HCMC, District 1); property owners just don’t seem that fussed about presentation of their property. This might have to do with the fact that many HCMC businesses are owned by Westerners and, given that foreigners cannot actually purchase property in Vietnam these ‘owners’ are merely leaseholders of their premises, thus the desire to maintain to a high standard is maybe less. It might have to do with the inordinately high rainfall this time of year which tends to leave everything bedraggled and shabby; it might have to do with the fact also, that Vietnam (HCMC, District1) is a squalid hellhole and although Vietnamese shop owners do take great pride in their street-fronts – keeping footpaths swept, free of litter and such – the structures’ overall condition, also the airborne stench engulfing everything and everyone willing to inhale the toxic air, particularly when it rains, is not so easily managed therefore is not of great concern.

…Evidently the Aston team had not remained the same as, throughout the check-in process, two new faces approached and attempted to ingratiate themselves to me.

I made myself known to the female receptionist, hoping to refresh her memory on the previous year, and asked if Fine was still about. She didn’t appear to recall any ‘Fine’ and handed me my key-card. With startling efficiency she told me my room was ready and that I should check to see that it fitted with my expectations. I asked if she could offer assistance, briefly explaining my predicament regarding a woman named Vy and the case of the missing mobile credit; showing minimal interest she simply pointed outside, with the words, “Get boys help.”

Leaving my bags in the Aston foyer, I plodded down the steps and assumed a position along the street edge that, as déjà vu struck, I realised was very much reminiscent of last year; a couple of younger guys I remembered for the year prior smiled at me and made quite the fuss about my being there, seemingly remembering me too.

I stepped forward to the, as I recalled, better English-speaking of the two young men, pulling out my phone as I did so and scrolling down to Vy’s number. I quickly explained the situation and, looking on, the man immediately appeared to recognise the Vietnamese name on the screen. He crowded my phone for a moment, seeming to study the (11 digit) number for a second or two, then stepped back and pulled out his own (Smart)phone…

He started scrolling through his device while talking excitedly to his buddies; I couldn’t help noticing how much the word ‘Vee’ was being mentioned. It was then that I realised every time I’d seen her name written I had been mispronouncing it in my head; Vy is ‘Vee’, not ‘Vie’ –  that could have been embarrassing – ‘Vie, Sin chow … Oi zoy oi, Vie, dep qwar … Tahm beit, Vie.’

…I looked up a moment later to see the phone to his ear. His cohort were giggling and chirping excitedly. “Who’s that?” I pointed to the first while asking the other guy I recognised from last year; the one whom, on account of his distant demeanour and poor English skills, I had not given much time.

“It Vee!” He now squealed delightedly.

“What, my Vee?” I pointed to my phone, still with Vy’s contact details on screen.

The young Viet man nodded and giggled. The first man hung up the phone and leaned towards me, “Vee said she be here, one hour.”

“Here..?” I asked, gobsmacked. “You mean the Aston..?”

He nodded coolly and stepped away; I was stunned – then I heard a familiar voice…

I recently disclosed my ‘conspiracy’ theory about Vietnam – or at least greater HCMC – being communicatively intertwined; this recent phenomenon gives yet more strength to my theory. From what I understand, Vy works full time while taking night-classes for some kind of engineering degree; she resides in a city 90km from Ho Chi Minh City, yet this man who has worked at the Aston for at least the past two years, clearly knows her. Admittedly this could have been a freak, some kind of massive coincidence but here are the facts: the Viet dude from the Aston had only to glimpse my phone and – without the aid of a photo – extrapolated from the number alone that the ‘Vy’ he was seeing, was the same ‘Vy’ who he already knew. Wait on though, you might be saying, perhaps he just called the number he saw in your phone and organised the date on your behalf..? I don’t buy it; he may have recognised the number in my phone, sure, but he still went back through his own phone to locate the number. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it wasn’t as if the young Viet even took time to memorise the number he saw on my phone, he merely glanced at my screen and anyway, in the 21st century, how many younger people have the kind of memory that perceive and recount phone numbers? The title ‘Vy’, in Vietnam, is by no means an uncommon name yet he appeared to know, immediately, the ‘Vy’ I was trying to contact and what’s more, he must already have had her number in his phone.

…I turned but couldn’t see. Then there was laughter; I would never forget the sound of that laughter as long as I lived – “Fine!” I called to the diminutive figure across the table. The Fine I remembered was dressed in a darkly coloured, well fitted shirt and trousers; this Fine was wearing a brightly coloured, bulky woollen jersey and in fairness to my observation ability, he was standing in the shadows.

He stood, smiling at me across the table. “Sin chow!” He yelled with a joyous grin and exaggerated accent.

Call me presumptuous but I felt I knew precisely the moment to which he was referring. “Sin loi!” (Excuse me), I yelled back with my own exaggerated Vietnamese accent…

As I believe I have already documented in last year’s Vietnam Chronicles, on the first night that I met Fine – while still in a conundrum regarding the little Viet’s gender – he showed me around the vicinity, pointing out the good, the bad, what were the best places to eat and, very much in contrast with our tour guide’s (at that time yet to be heard) instructions, from the back of an erratically ridden scooter and devoid of helmets, we motored up and down Bui Vien like a couple of drunken school-kids as I endeavoured to ingratiate myself to the locals with about the only two Vietnamese phrases I knew at the time; ‘Sin chow!’ and ‘Sin loi!’

…He laughed that unforgettable Viet cackle and we shook hands warmly.

“I told you I’d come back,” I said to him quietly.

He just stood there grinning and nodding, making me wonder how much of what I had ever said to him, other than ‘sin loi’ and ‘sin chow’, had actually been understood.

I glanced around and noticed other faces I recognised which, judging by their excited smiles and gesticulation, may have recognised me as well. Shit. I checked my watch; I had just over half an hour until Vy was supposed to be arriving.

From the footpath I bounded up the Aston’s steps two at a time (this would become a habit in Vietnamese hotels as, given Vietnamese are a generally smaller people than most of those in the the Western world, everything is just that little bit – often frustratingly, sometimes dangerously, rarely conveniently – smaller), grabbed my stuff, jumped in the lift, went up a few levels at a painfully slow rate (I remembered at that moment why I had elected last time just to use the stairs), found my room, buzzed in, threw down my gear then, thankful for the familiarity, jumped in the shower. The cold water was blissful; the hot water never came. Some bottled soap went on and even some – for the first time in over fifteen years – shampoo which, although I was just discovering you regular shampooers are probably already well aware, can double as soap when one requires fragrant suds in a hurry yet through rush-induced, also probably sixteen-or-so-hours-in-transit-induced, bodily tremors, one has dropped the small bottle of bath gel and no amount of futile fumbling amid a puddle of smelly water while more smelly water trickles up one’s nose can seem to re-gather it.

Out of the shower not more than three minutes after entering then a quick tooth scrub with a single use toothbrush; dress shirt, dress pants, Vietnam boots (see last year’s Chronicles) matched with best hat and – in the hope of avoiding any more perspiration than is totally necessary – I’m heading back down the lift…

Bugger, forgot deodorant; no matter, a quick waft test down my shirt and, again, I’m thankful for the shampoo.

…I use the time, during the painstakingly slow journey back down the inside of the building, to calm and attempt to compose myself; also to straighten my button line and pull up my fly completely. The lift dings; the doors gradually open. My head is down, my eyes are closed; I am deep in meditation. I raise my head slowly and make to step out of the lift. I swing to the right and stop.

My God, she is even more beautiful than her Facebook shot.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Vienna Maze

Photography by B Yootie

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XIII

Landing at Tan Son Nhat airport Ho Chi Minh City I was dealing with a fair amount of uncertainty.

I was on time but would my suitcase this time have made the entire voyage with me? Also like so many Westerners before, and likely after me, was I going to be conned into paying ten times the recommended taxi fare, again?

I bowled through the airport ultimately dismissive of anyone not essential to my passage thus, before I had even really allowed myself time to register my surroundings, it was with a terrible sense of foreboding that I emerged at baggage claim.

Shifting my hand luggage from my right to left shoulder, hearing the crunch as the empty water bottle in the side pouch slammed into my torso, extending to full height I stood back and scanned the area. There were around seven conveyors carrying bags in arbitrary circuits with dozens of seemingly deranged travellers hunched around each one scrambling to collect their respective bags then get as far away from that Godforsaken airport as possible.

I saw individuals wheeling up trolleys and loading on bags; I witnessed one furious traveller watching in disbelief from metres back as his suitcase was pulled from the conveyor by another man’s hand, before being snatched back by the traveller who then turned and hurriedly exited this airport of horrors.

I breathed, closed my eyes, flexed my neck, and was forcibly calm. After my first slow pass of all seven baggage conveyors showed up nothing I actually accepted that my antiquated brown Paddington Bear-style suitcase, littered with cracks and plastered with Rock stickers, was not coming back with me today.

I walked back past the conveyors, thinking about the botched system that is the whole ‘baggage claim’ at airports; anybody with a free hand is welcome to simply take from the conveyor whatever item they wish. I saw a few exasperated passengers I recognised from my plane standing at the Number 2 pickup zone; I was going to head over and tell them not to worry, ‘Your luggage will turn up, it just might be a few day’s late and it will have been plundered by Vietnamese Customs, but you will get it back’…

I couldn’t believe it – I believe I uttered a few astonished cuss-words – there, coming gradually down the line, Rock stickers prominent, there was my relic of a suitcase; still in one piece, still looking as dilapidated as ever.

…I peered up at the increasingly exasperated – probably first time to Southeast Asia – travellers, gave them what I hoped was a reassuring smile, before grabbing the handle of my own passing suitcase and giving the handle and almighty yank – a strong slow movement ensuring optimum follow-through – I then watched gleefully as my worthless suitcase along with its 20.1 kilograms of largely worthless contents skidded and spun across the polished airport floor.

I was elated; I had made it – my luggage too.

My suitcase wheels having some time ago stopped performing with any amount of efficiency and 20.1kgs being a mite too heavy to easily carry in one hand – that is without the weight constantly thumping into my leg causing me to walk drunken lines and I didn’t fancy anyone in HCMC realising just how much Red Label I had slurped on the plane – I continued kicking, pushing and skidding my suitcase over the floor until reaching the exit threshold.

I envisaged the hordes of drivers out there, ready to swarm upon the next English face they saw; unscrupulous taxi drivers awaiting their next mark.

I turned to my right. There was a taxi kiosk. Well, I thought, this has to be safer than the alternative. I approached the desk. A lady, in wonderful broken English and with an accent that I realised I had sorely missed, asked, “Hello Sir, where you need go?”

“Sin chow,” (Hello) I said employing my best Vietnamese accent, sliding my pack exhaustedly from my shoulder. “Ban ko quear com?” (How are you?)

The lady looked delighted, “Doy quear,” (I’m fine) she responded, nodding enthusiastically.

I pulled from my bag a computer printout I had run off especially for a moment like this…

I remember, last year, the challenge of trying to pronounce company names and/or addresses could be a debacle, therefore in an effort to assuage this awkward confrontation, one pouch of my bag – my filing cabinet as I was referring to it – was packed full of papers, notes, addresses, reminders, and such. (Bearing in mind my old-school propensity, there was no laptop concealed in that bag and certainly, I had no bloody Smartphone in my pocket.)

…”I’m looking to get to the Aston Hotel Saigon,” I articulated as clearly as the current state of my speech centre would allow, and held up the printout for her to see.

The woman didn’t raise her head, instead hollering instructions to an assistant who quickly shuffled across the floor in our direction, to receive a slip of paper with a few handwritten words, along with the spoken words “Eashtin Hoitel Shaigun.” The woman then looked at me, “One hundred and twenty,” she enunciated carefully.

I brought out my wallet and peeled off a 100.000 and two 10.000s, handed them to her, then took a moment to consider the deal that I was brokering…

Last year I had been quoted 70.000 dong for the same trip and, although it had ended up costing me ten times that much, I was aware the going rate from the airport to the Aston had been 70.000 (as I explained last year, such is the nature of their undervalued currency, all prices in Vietnam are stated in thousands – ‘70’ is 70.000, ‘120’ is 120.000, ‘500’ is 500.000, ‘one million’ is 1.000.000, and such like – because given that the smallest Vietnamese denomination is 1000, there is not so much need to add to prices the word ‘thousand’, as it is very much implied); I found it odd to think the price had increased by around half but assumed it had to do with the ‘taxi company’ that I was using rather than aimlessly blundering out the door, walking the gauntlet and entering into the cauldron of scam taxi drivers waiting for the next naïve Westerner who has no idea of the value of his Viet dong in relation to the dirt-cheapness of most Viet services.

…The assistant nodded, smiled, glanced at me, smiled again then took my arm and directed me out the main door.

She waved down a taxi-van. Surprised that she was ordering a van, but assuming this might account for the additional cost, I shook the assistant’s hand and thanked her warmly. The van driver and I then departed…

Flying in to Ho Chi Minh City just after 6:30 p.m., I would have sworn that I could have pointed out Bui Vien – the street on which I intended to be staying – for its brighter lights, its ostensibly higher level of commotion and, as the plane lowered in altitude, for its much higher number of revellers.

…Curiously the van turned and drove in the opposite direction to which I had been expecting. I almost leaned forward and intervened – ‘Ah, Sir, I’m pretty sure Bui Vien’s back there’ – but knowing how important ‘face’ is to Asian folk and how they hate to be told they’re in the wrong in any regard, I sat back and with increasing anxiety but forced calmness, I waited to see what would happen…

That seemed the theme with my recent trip to Vietnam – the regular thought process, my adopted mindset if you like, was one of ‘Yeah I probably shouldn’t do this but I’m going to do it anyway because I want to see what happens’ – because the truth is, nothing exciting ever happens when procedure is being followed; nothing truly remarkable is likely to take place if one always stays within life’s recommended boundaries.

…Around 45 minutes later (it ought to be noted that I am by now beyond exasperated but still very much intent on seeing how this abortion is going to play out) in a journey that should have taken no more than 15, we enter a hotel driveway. From my backseat position I bend my head downwards to peer through the front windscreen; printed in large gold lettering above the entranceway are the words ‘Eastin Grand Hotel Saigon’.

Intense frustration coupled with mild rage erupted. I unzipped my bag, pulled out the computer printout, leaned forward and held it in the driver’s face; “Aston Hotel Saigon, the Aston – just as I said to the woman at the desk … The fuck would you take me to the Eastin?!”

“Aston Hotel Saigon..?” The driver finally betrayed his ability to articulate English…

The entire trip, any time I attempted to say, or to ask the driver anything, his response had always been along the lines of ‘Huh?’, ‘What?’ or the classic, ‘Sorry, no English’.

…“Two million dong,” he now said.

“You fucking what?!” My eruption continued unabated.

“Aston Hotel Saigon, two million dong,” he repeated.

“You can get fucked,” I said calmly, opening my door. “Open the boot, give me my suitcase.” With that, grabbing my bag I bounded out of the van and strode around to the back, waiting for the luggage compartment to open. The boot popped, I lifted the door, grabbed my suitcase and was turning to walk back to the street – I had no idea even in what District I was currently placed – just as the Eastin hotel porter arrived at my side.

“Sir,” he said looking at me curiously, “what’s going on?”

Again I pulled out my, now crumpled into a ball, well-prepared computer printout. The porter appeared to speak English very well therefore – where I might otherwise have curtailed and simplified the explanation for speakers of a Viet tongue until that explanation was so curtailed and so simple it’s practically meaningless thus rendered pointless – I felt able in this case to reveal the full story. “I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City about an hour ago … I went to the airport taxi desk … The lady there was supposed to get me to the Aston Hotel Saigon … This man,” I pointed to the taxi driver, “brought me to the EastinNow he’s trying to charge me two million dong to get back to the Aston … He can go fuck himself,” I concluded to the impassive porter before turning back and walking towards the street.

“Sir,” the porter called after me, “Sir, please come back.” I looked around to see the driver and the porter in discussion. “Sir,” said the porter again, “we have the airport taxi desk on the line, would you like to speak to her?”

Honestly, no. I couldn’t see the point. Either through the fault of that woman, or the fault of this man, I was now effectively stranded almost an hour’s drive from where I ought to have been. Nevertheless I took the call. “Sin chow, ban ko quear com?”

“Yesh, helloh,” her voice wasn’t as friendly as I recall, “you tell me go to Eashtin – you tell mee.”

“Ah, no,” I countered, “I showed you a printout of where I wanted to go – the Aston … I think perhaps you failed to look at my paper, which clearly said that I wanted to go to the Aston.”

“No no!” The woman’s chirruping voice seared through my eardrum, “No no, you say Eashtin!”

“Look, it doesn’t matter what I said, I showed you, if you had only looked … Forget it though … As a result I am now a long way from where I should be – from where I have already paid to be…”

“You pay to Eashtin, you pay to Eashtin!”

“Ah fuck it doesn’t matter … I am at the Eastin, I want to be at the Aston, and your man is trying to charge me two million dong to get there.”

“Let me speak,” her tone had calmed somewhat.

“What, to your driver?”

“Yes, let me speak.”

I passed over the phone as both porter and driver now looked at me with horrified expressions; I guess, given the violent tremors and convulsions that tend to rip through my body whenever I assume an awkward posture, such as standing and holding a phone to my ear, particularly while holding a heated discussion, fair to say I may have appeared somewhat freakish/dangerous/murderous.

Some minutes later the driver again handed me the phone. “Yeah,” I offered down the line unenthusiastically.

The woman’s heckles were back up. “You tell me Eashtin!” She was very enthusiastic.

“I showed you, if you had only looked, that I was going to the Aston.”

“You tell me Eashtin!”

“Ah fuck off,” I took the phone from my ear, handed it back to the driver and, following a massive convulsion of my entire body, again lifted my case.

“Sir, Sir,” just moments after I had given up on a successful outcome the porter was calmly addressing me, “Sir, it’s fine Sir, you can go.”

“What? I am going.”

“No, Sir, Sir, you can go with him,” the porter indicated my original driver.

I shook my head definitively, “No way, that fucker wants to charge me two million dong to get somewhere that should have cost me a hundred … I’ll find my own taxi, thank you.”

“No, Sir, Sir, it cost nothing … You go,” he motioned with his hand in a reassuring gesture of passage.

I looked at the driver who had already grumbled his way back to the driver’s seat. “You sure..?” I inquired speculatively, “Are you certain this fuckhead is not going to try and charge me two million?”

“No Sir, yes Sir, all sorted for you Sir.” The porter struggled to heft my suitcase back into the rear of the van then looked at me, “Have a good trip, Sir.”

I clambered back inside the van and – judging by his frequent use of Google Maps – with a driver who had little idea where he was going, made our way to Bui Vien Street.

I had never seen so many of Ho Chi Minh City’s dark and squalid, impractically narrow back streets as I saw that night, sitting in that van behind an increasingly frustrated taxi driver as he drove through the city in circuitous patterns which by my reckoning, ultimately had us no further than a few kilometres from where we’d begun.

Almost an hour after leaving the Eastin – which, incidentally, we’d left around an hour after leaving the airport – the van came to a halt. Road cones blocked the street. I snapped back to focus and gazed out the window. People were everywhere. I peered up. A banner was strung between two buildings, hung high above the road; ‘Bui Vien Walking Street’. The driver turned to me, looked back to the road and pointed, “There,” he said. I stared at the building he was indicating – around 100 metres inside the coned area – blinked, focused then slowly, vision rotated and recognition returned; I realised in those moments I had never actually perceived the Aston Hotel from this point of view – it had always been from down the street looking up.

The building’s lettering which, last year, I recall had shone brightly all night was now just nondescript lettering affixed to the side of a dilapidated building; ‘Aston Hotel’, it read. I was certain it used to have the word ‘Saigon’ at the end but I wasn’t going to argue the point. I knew I was finally where I was supposed to be; a location just fifteen minutes from the airport where I had, over two hours ago, paid to be.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by X S Praytion

Photography by Noah Listen

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XII

Arriving in Singapore Friday evening, after manically riding the one of the hundred-or-so elevators up and down the inside of the gargantuan Hotel Boss to check out each of the – as it turned out generally identical – floors until being joined by a managerial-looking but not terribly affable Singaporean dude who presumably suspected I was a well-dressed drunkard having wandered in from the street thus demanded to see my key-card, I went in search of what I expected might be my last decent meal in four weeks.

The Singapore Steakhouse appeared to have what I was seeking so after devouring 250 grams of – mutilated by tenderisation yet somehow still chewy – back fillet, I took to the streets.

I had been recommended by the shuttle driver (he’d been tough to hear as he spoke in broken English and over the Vellfire’s vibrating engine mounts as the vehicle lumbered forward at about 12kph in 3rd gear) to head to ‘Singapore Party Central’, a street called Arab Street.

As I walked I couldn’t help observing the high number of dark – Pakistani, perhaps Indian but certainly not what I imagined were Singaporean – faces glancing up as I strode by; call me bashful but I had reservations about asking one of these characters for directions to a place called ‘Arab Street’. Don’t misunderstand me, I would have had no problem asking one of these dark-skinned passersby, for example, if they knew the way to Sesame Street, but Arab Street, I had this fear that the response might be belligerent, along the lines of ‘What, as if I should know..?’

It was a daft fear and after walking around for almost an hour in what I thought had been the direction of the shuttle driver’s vibrating finger, I did ask pose the question to one of these (smaller) men. “Pardon me Sir, are you able to please point me in the direction of Arab Street?” I watched for his reaction with mild trepidation (shit I wasn’t even in Vietnam yet, it was still far too early to be antagonising locals with unintentional racial slurs or other means of affront – indeed that bloodbath would come later, to be precise on my third night in Ho Chi Minh City). The only reaction I detected however was genuine surprise followed by a compelling desire to be of assistance.

“Ah,” the young man glanced around as if he had no idea of the street’s location but was still desperately keen to help, screwed up his nose and pointed, “yeah, pretty sure it’s just over there a bit.”

“Thank you Sir, you have a good night,” I said, striding in that general direction.

By the time I made it to ‘Singapore’s Party Central’, Arab Street – having enlisted the help of several more dark faces along the way – it was almost 2 a.m. and the street looked to have been dead for about half an hour.

I wondered about getting back to my hotel then, as if gazing skyward for the Bat Signal, I simply looked to the skies; taking up an entire city block of real estate and towering above any of its competitors, with an initially clear line of sight, Hotel Boss can be seen from most anywhere. This was fortunate as I was shocked to see, having found a clearing in the city’s undergrowth giving me a good view of the surrounding skies then searching those skies for a number of increasingly panicked moments, there, away in the distance, far in the distance – so damned far I almost cried – I saw the shiny red outline on black lettering: Hotel Boss.

 

The next morning I was checked out by 11 a.m. and after a bite to eat at the hotel restaurant along with a Singaporean iced coffee (sorry Singapore, it was good but it had nothing on a Vietnamese café sua da) then, hand luggage in hand and wishing I’d had the foresight to pack a change of lighter clothes, I took in the city of Singapore by day.

As with the previous night, despite my initial ‘reluctance’ to ask for directions, I spoke to as many foreign people as I could – be they local, tourist or otherwise – all in the ultimate quest for understanding.

It is truly remarkable how much knowledge can be gleaned from this world, without Internet, without a computer or in fact without any technology at all, if one just looks for it; if one simply asks for it.

I learned, as many of you will probably already know, before they demanded independence, Singapore was a city in Malaysia and was inhabited primarily by Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian immigrants; the majority of so-called indigenous Singaporeans therefore, are in fact Malaysian, Chinese, or Indian, or an insanely attractive mix of all three.

Alas Singapore women reminded me of Kiwi women, and solidified the fact that I simply cannot envisage spending my life with the latter; many Singapore women, from what I experienced, similar to many Kiwi women, from what I have experienced, are a touch full of themselves and tend to operate with an often unjustifiable sense of self importance (it should be noted at this point that almost every Singapore citizen under the age of 50 is fluent in English). Admittedly some Singaporean women were cool, yet many gave me the classic Kiwi ‘Ugh, really – you actually think that you are good enough to speak to me?’ look, while others, well, others just pretended not to hear or simply refused to return my approach.

Every piece of worthwhile information I learned about Singapore came from the ever helpful male contingent; that was, until my last day…

From under the shade of a tree in the Hotel Boss courtyard reading cover to cover the book that resurrected my temporarily shattered life and in fact, had I read it before entering Vietnam, I am certain it could have prevented me from blowing over half my budget in the first week.

…On that first day in Singapore though, feverish, fearless as I was in my pursuit for knowledge, I was sure to be back in the Hotel Boss lobby by 1 p.m., having affixed my orange sticker – given to me along with a brief explanation of its purpose by a highly efficient woman at Changi Airport Travel desk – to guarantee my pickup and transfer back to the aforementioned airport.

It was while seated on one of the Hotel Boss foyer’s many sofas that I became acquainted with one of the most interesting people I have met; she was exquisite, even by Singapore standards, had a typically Asian semblance yet unlike most typical Asians, her skin was a kind of golden brown, or bronze, more indicative of Western sun…

Across Southeast Asia most women subscribe to the principle that ‘White is beautiful, brown is ugly’; across the rest of the modern world most White men would assuredly dispute this mantra (fortunately there are a number of Vietnamese girls simply born with darker skin as a matter of gene selection).

…It is largely the above belief that means many Vietnamese women, through much of the daytime, regardless of an ambient temperature pushing 35 degrees, do their best to cover any bare skin; long-sleeved shirts with collars up keep their torsos white and full-length skirts or trousers keep their legs white, with gloves keeping their hands white and stockings keeping their feet white, all while the Vietnamese sun and its comparatively feeble UV Index does its best to burn through the cloud, the haze, the exhaust pollution and all the other airborne pollutants that help to make Ho Chi Minh City District 1 the cesspit it is…

At this point I need to be clear: the following 25 days, unless otherwise stated, take place solely in District 1 of HCMC. Any future reference I make which implies ‘Vietnam in general’ – given that, due to self-imposed budget constraints suffered during the first week meaning that where I had perhaps intended to see more of Vietnam and maybe even venture into the countryside I ended up experiencing only District 1 of HCMC therefore any negativity directed at the rest of Vietnam is unwarranted and ultimately unfounded – it is relating strictly to District 1, HCMC.

…Seated on a couch in the foyer of Hotel Boss just along from this tanned Asian goddess – she didn’t have the facial distinctions of a Viet nor did she have the face shape of a Thai; she was assuredly not Japanese although I did suspect she was an international traveller thus less likely to be Singaporean and in fact, I speculated, aside from her glorious tan, she actually looked Chinese – she must have sensed my inquisitiveness because turning, glancing at me her expression and briefest moments of eye contact said ‘I know you have something to ask me and while I might appear untouchable, I am actually a very warm soul and I would welcome your inquisition’, or something along those lines.

“I’m sorry, it’s just … Hi,” I eventually decided to begin with the same ingratiation I had been so far using across Southeast Asia, “my name’s Tim, I’m a journalist from New Zealand … I’m on my way to Vietnam but have stopped over for twenty-four hours in Singapore … Anyway, I am compiling information, and plan to write articles on, among other things, ethnic diversities across Southeast Asia, thus while I am here, I am speaking to as many interesting faces as I can…”

“Do you consider me an interesting face then?” She chuckled. I was gobsmacked.

“Ah crap,” I muttered.

The Asian goddess laughed, “Not what you were expecting then..?”

“Not exactly … See, I’m sitting here going through all the Asian ethnicities I know in my head but I just can’t place you, then you speak…”

“I know, dead giveaway, right?” She laughed again.

“So, forgive me, what are you?” I shook my head in perplexity.

Now her laughter really opened up. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she joked, “for not conforming to your standards on how people should look in relation to how they sound – guess.”

“Guess..? Alright … Your features are quintessentially Asian, but your complexion, your skin colour, refutes that … You’re not smoky-brown like a Thai chick, you’re golden-brown like a Western chick…”

“So, what kinda chick am I?”

“So I’m thinking, well after hearing you speak, I mean you’re obviously American but then, you’re obviously Asian – other than the tan I’m thinking Chinese..?”

“Bingo.”

“Chinese-American..?”

“You got it.”

“But how does that work, I mean, your distinguishing features are totally Chinese, yet you have utterly no hint of Asian accent, you speak quintessentially US and let’s be fair, you look – I mean according to your skin-colour – like an American … Which almost implies that, either you’re a Chinese ex-pat who’s been travelling in the North for so long you’ve ditched your Asian accent or, you were born in the US to Chinese parents..?”

“Oh, so close,” she slapped her leg and leaned forward as I would imagine every Yank is taught to do from a young age. “No,” she continued in her broad US tone, “actually I was born in China…”

At this point I had completely forgotten about my orange sticker and the shuttle that was supposedly coming for me at 1:30 p.m. In a moment of panic I tore myself from the most scintillating conversation I’d had in years and (in what must have appeared a rather rude gesture) glanced at my wristwatch. I breathed relief; I still had fifteen minutes of scintillating conversation to go.

“…in the ‘90s and adopted out to American parents.”

At that point I forgot all about the time; I forgot everything other than what I was hearing. “Are you serious?” I was in disbelief. “You were born, in China, in the ‘90s, a baby girl, yet you are sitting right here before me..?”

I was aware that in the’90s China adopted their ‘One Child Policy’ and in many cases, although such practice was never officially recognised, a baby girl was executed in favour of a baby boy; clearly this baby girl though, in favour of execution, had been fortunate enough to have grown up with a loving family in the US.

“I’m Paige,” she extended her bronzed hand.

“Such a Western name, Paige,” I grinned and clasped her hand. “Paige,” glimpsing the time, “my taxi-man will be here soon but, your story is amazing – I want to know more about you.”

“OK, sure,” she smiled, “but I won’t be home for another month…”

“Hah, neither will I.”

“OK, perfect.” With that Paige gave me her email address and we parted ways. “Chat soon,” were her final words.

A minute later a flustered-looking taxi driver popped through Hotel Boss’s glass doors; spying my sticker, in what might have been perceived as an ominous gesture, he simply stood in the entranceway and pointed at me. I stood and obligingly made my way to the door. Half an hour after that I was at Changi airport Singapore, in transit to Tan Son Nhat airport, Ho Chi Minh City…

Interesting thing about HCMC, few locals ever refer to their city as ‘Ho Chi Minh City’, preferring to use the older, and indeed the former Vietnamese capital’s former name, Saigon. (This had often struck me as odd so, what does one do when one has no other means of sourcing information – what have we learned?) Obviously I had to inquire about it. Here is what I found: General Ho Chi Minh, as is widely understood, is a Vietnamese war hero; problem is he fought with the North Vietnamese Army. Curiously Ho Chi Minh City is situated far to the south of Vietnam. Turns out most Southern Vietnamese folk don’t actually think much of dear old Ho Chi Minh, fighting Vietnamese civil wars against them and such; hence, ‘Ho Chi Minh City’..? More of a name for tourists; the locals of South Vietnam are always going to opt for ‘Saigon’.

…Soon I was in the sky, Saturday evening, slurping Johnnie Walker Red through a straw, on my way to HCMC District 1, the unequivocal Party Capital of Vietnam.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Gloria Ash

Photography by Asia E Merrican

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam XI

Having accepted an offer of transportation from my number one plasma-buddy, I was picked up from my driveway on Thursday night then taken to spend the night in Christchurch.

Friday morning, with Kelly preparing to later undergo the needle at NZ Blood Service (as he and I like to do every second Friday), I was dropped off at Christchurch Airport and, after a firm handshake also a fair amount of loitering and general time wasting, embarked upon my second journey to Southeast Asia.

The flight was marvellous; Singapore Airlines – in conjunction with Air New Zealand – are phenomenal. Complimentary snacks are periodically administered, the meals are substantial rather than continental, and even Johnnie Walker Red was even available for those idiot passengers who liked to singe their nasal passages with the vapour of cheap whiskey neat through a straw (I do believe in that capacity I was alone in my idiocy)…

Forgive me, my writing is not what it should be – having only arrived home Monday afternoon then staggering around aimlessly until about 5pm where I gave myself an ice-cold sponge-bath (I seemed to have already forgotten that not all water comes tepid from the cold tap) before collapsing into bed then waking with an anxious flashback every two hours after that, until around 9am – but I expect that, given time to process, to contemplate and indeed, to palate the happenings of the past 30 days, I ought to be back on track for next week’s instalment.

…Almost a day later it was night. I had decided after last time, where I travelled overnight and arrived in the morning, that night-time travelling is among the worst things a long haul traveller can do; yes by travelling overnight, in theory, one can sleep on the plane or other mode of transportation but honestly, can one really? Travelling on the plane overnight I found myself very tired, very uncomfortable and, as generally happens when one cannot sleep at a time when one would very much like to, increasing agitated; I dozed for perhaps ten minutes at a time but that was about it, hence I arrived in the day feeling as though I’d done an all-nighter. Conversely travelling during the day one’s brain is aware that it is not sleep time and therefore probably dozes as much as one would while travelling at night but ultimately arrives at their destination ready for sleep, at night…

As with last year my initial assessment of Vietnam is horrific (now you just wait and see what I have to tell you before you judge, thank you very much) although in fairness I spent my time only in Ho Chi Minh City and perhaps more pointedly, primarily in District 1; I recall starting one of last year’s Vietnam Chronicles with the line ‘…Ho Chi Minh City is the unequivocal arsehole of Vietnam’ which, again, given that I had extensively seen only District 1 of HCMC, this was probably an unfair assessment to make – probably largely accurate but perhaps mildly unfair.

…I arrived in Singapore, circumnavigated baggage claim (having again taken the gamble to allow my suitcase along with all its worthless contents, to make the entire trip to HCMC unassisted) and although I had been told, I was taken aback by the magnitude, also mesmerising beauty of Singapore and its glorious Changi Airport…

District 1, as I pointed out last time, is the most corrupt, the most debauched and decidedly the most depraved section of Ho Chi Minh City; it’s where the majority of HCMC tourists go to have a good time and, while I was there for a number of other reasons as well, the street on which three out of four of my hotels were situated, Bui Vien (Buoy Ven) Street, was tantamount to Kings Cross in Sydney, Khao San in Thailand or even – viewing it from a high vantage point at around 3am – the noise, the lights, it could have almost been Vegas.

…Singapore is very much reminiscent of New Zealand in many senses. The currency is comparable, the expense is comparable, the roadside fauna is comparable, the air quality is comparable, the concentration of Asian population is comparable; the cleanliness is actually of a better standard – at the airport and throughout much of my stay I saw not one cigarette butt littering the street – additionally one feels safe in Singapore and, well, it’s just a pleasant place to be. This is also a highly organised, highly efficient nation (as the value of their currency might indicate); upon disembarking I strolled through the airport, located the correct travel desk, revealed my documents and was presently whisked to my hotel in the most official-looking, glistening, but always in one gear too high – a theme I will later come to realise – black Toyota Vellfire…

Alas as I have explained, currently, my mind is not where it needs to be to in order to properly grasp all that I have experienced, all I have put my body through, all that I have seen; all that I have endured over the course of the past month.

…Hotel Boss, as it is called, is without misnomer; it is bigger than any hotel I’ve seen, with somewhere near 20 storeys including a pool on level 4, a 100 metre square lobby with a restaurant and a 12 metre reception desk at which, at any one time, are stationed no less than six personnel…

Thus as I sit here at my own desk, dredging my fatigued brain for content, for recollection but moreover, for clarity, while poring over the last month’s worth of receipts scattered before me, trying to piece together some sort of chronological or at least, coherent structure to the past month, hoping to see where all the time, hoping to see where the days, the weeks, the years off my life, hoping to see where all the Goddamn money went, I assure myself that this time I will have no sympathy; everything that I experienced, everything that I have endured, everything that I learned about District 1 Ho Chi Minh City – not matter how grim and no matter how unpalatable – I assure myself, that if the reader wishes to learn about those experiences too, next week and for the many weeks to follow, they may do just that.

…Hotel Boss is where my mission begins and indeed, this is where it ends.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Tim Walker

Photography by Tim Walker

 

 

Tim Walker’s Vietnam X

Having called upon the NZ Blood Service to assist with excretion of my 100th donation, I was now able to shift focus to my other pressing endeavour.

The pressure I had been experiencing over past weeks to perform as required on my big day, on July 13th, on what would become that most blissful of Black Fridays, had been intense – true to form I had almost been expecting that I would find a way to thwart my ambitions or to somehow sabotage myself – but now it was over.

Now it was done, the pressure had been lifted and I could start planning in earnest my return to Southeast Asia.

Incidentally, around 12 months ago when I made my debut appearance unto the landscapes of Vietnam, while bearing in mind the mantra that I hold so true – ‘Good Fortune is what happens when Opportunity meets Preparation’ – several weeks before my departure date I had entered onto a Vietnamese dating site, in the hope of establishing some contacts…

Funny thing about that Cupid.com Vietnam: I paid, I think, 30NZD for one month’s membership then three weeks later closed the account and left for actual Vietnam (along with, of course, a number of supposed contacts from up and down the country which, should I have felt able to break off from my tour group, I was hoping to engage in the coming weeks); then upon my return to New Zealand – in actuality having engaged none of the woman with whom I had been chatting online but instead having met myriad actual Vietnamese women – I turned on my computer to find that, despite my authority to the contrary, Cupid.com had ‘automatically renewed’ my membership meaning that all the time I was in Vietnam my New Zealand Internet connection was maintaining a membership with a Vietnamese dating site which I had zero ability to access given that I was in Vietnam and my PC in New Zealand.

…In fact there had been one Viet woman who I had met online in the build-up to last year’s trip with whom I had become rather close and who I was excited to be meeting, as per our arrangement, in the foyer of my hotel on the afternoon of my arrival but, on account of a six and a half hour plane delay also my own lack of a Smartphone thus no way to make contact with her after the aforementioned airline debacle (then there had been the missing luggage which had stolen from me any last desire I had to meet let alone befriend Vietnamese folk anyway), Good Fortune had apparently not been favouring me on that particular occasion.

Another funny thing about Cupid.com Vietnam, just recently I was contacted via email by a Vietnamese woman who evidently, according to my past email to her, I had contacted almost 12 months ago:

 

‘hi

I dont see you letter, and sorry for late

Hope to see you the nearest day. If you come to Vietnam visit me, very pleased to be acquainted with you. Can you give me your face book?’

 

This Vietnamese woman was claiming to have only found my email almost 12 months after I had sent it (I recall 12 months ago coming up with the brilliant scheme wherein, instead of being charged Cupid.com’s exorbitant messaging service fee, I realised I could make contact with the women on the dating site then, still while using the site’s ‘complimentary first three’ messages, I would offer my Outlook email address or Facebook link) and furthermore, conveniently, she found my 12-month-old message just as I am preparing to return to her country; I suspect these people assume that ‘English’, as they call us, are mostly idiots.

This phenomenon also goes some way to bolstering my theory that much of the Vietnamese population – most of the Ho Chi Min City populous anyway – is communicatively intertwined…

My belief that the majority of Vietnamese folk are in communication with each other regarding the movements, actions, spending habits and preferences of their many English tourists is not something that I have previously documented for fear of being labelled a Conspiracy Theorist, but the more I contemplate the possibility – indeed the more I conspire – the more logical the notion becomes.

…Given they are a country whose only substantial international income is tourism and given also the horrifically undervalued state of the VND – approximately 15,000 times less valuable than the NZD thus a person would require 15,000 Vietnamese dong to buy just one New Zealand dollar which, lest we forget is still only half the value of the US dollar – it makes sense in my head that these people would dedicate their lives to developing the most efficient method of extracting money from these Western tourists.

Last year when my tour group arrived in Nha Trang, having spent the previous few days being plundered and swindled in HCMC where, for the record many Viet folk actually seemed to know about my missing luggage without needing to be told by me at all, although our group was only one of many, I swear the looks I received from other Vietnamese tour guides, from various shopkeepers and other service providers, were often looks of sly recognition; smiling and nodding knowingly as though anticipating or almost expecting of my actions…

A few weeks after HCMC we spent the last day of the tour in Hanoi, and this is where my ‘conspiracy theory’ was given a reality boost; spending the afternoon just wandering around Vietnam’s capital city I ducked away to escape the heat into a (blissfully licensed) café. I approached the counter and ordered a café sua, nuok da (white coffee, iced), then indicated behind the bar at the bottles of liquor, articulating along with two raised fingers, ‘hie’ (two, or in this case, double). The man looked at me, initially perplexed then slowly smiled – that unnerving, knowing grin that says ‘Ah, yes Sir, I know about you’ – then through his stained teeth laboriously articulated the inquiry/statement, “Ooh, you lie da wikky, yea..?”

“Kahm urn,” I said, “Whisky … Scotch.”

It occurred to me later that, given my general indication towards the rows of liquor, there was no way that attendant could have known that I wanted to spike my coffee with whisky rather than, for example, the much more common Baileys or Kahlua, rum, bourbon or in fact any other one of those bottles of booze; any person who had known me over the last few weeks however would have been only too familiar with my penchant for scotch, and in particular, the way I liked to use it to ruin a perfectly palatable Vietnamese iced coffee.

Whatever scheme they’re operating, this Viet woman who contacted me one year belatedly but who just ‘happened’ to catch me a few weeks out from my return to her country, it is clearly one of great functionality.

While I am aware – indeed I have always been aware – of transcendent Asian intellects and otherworldly abilities, I do believe there is even more to this ancient culture of people than their amazing knack of doing sums and extracting cash from tourists.

We’ll see.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Lye Da Wiki

Photography by Swan D’Lah

 

Tim Walker’s Century

All going to plan, in exactly one month’s time I shall head to Christchurch’s NZ Blood Service for extraction of my 100th apheresis donation.

Friday the 13th of July is scheduled to be the landmark date in question, and is the perfect day for a number of reasons: firstly it is the date of that month’s New Moon (conversely to a Full Moon a New Moon is actually no moon, which is pretty awesome); secondly, technically, it’s Black Friday which is pretty awesome as well and finally, indeed most importantly, the 13th generally falls the day after the 12th July, which is my 35th birthday.

I first donated to NZ Blood Service sometime throughout my early-twenties, probably as a way of giving back to the nation from which I felt I was taking so much; then from there, on a quarterly basis, I continued giving pints of ‘whole blood’ (simply, the unadulterated red liquid that comes out of our veins – a process which takes under ten minutes but for some people, may act detrimentally on iron levels).

This Friday – Friday 15th June – I intend to head into NZ Blood Service to squeeze out number 99.

Obviously, doing the math, twelve or so years at three or four times a year is not nearly long enough to achieve such a milestone; thus eight or nine years ago, under the recommendation of NZ Blood Service nurses, I made the conversion from whole blood to ‘plasma’ (effectively blood concentrate, plasma is the translucent substance taken from within whole blood – it’s the ‘weeping’ around the edges of a fresh wound – and due to its versatility also beneficial/regenerative/life-giving/saving properties, is considered even more valuable than whole blood) which, for most people, can be given as frequently as every two weeks.

Originally occupying Riccarton Road’s defunct Georgie Pie building, Christchurch’s NZ Blood Service now resides at its very own, purpose (Ngai Tahu) built building, nestled away down the end of Lester Lane, just off Deans Ave.

The plasma-letting process really is a sight to behold; first comes my favourite part – watching that lustrous needle penetrate and become enveloped by, then disappear beneath, ostensibly becoming one with, the supple skin of my right arm. After that, similarly to whole blood, the machine draws a quantity of red blood cells which, in this case it collects in a centrifugal chamber that – mingled with anticoagulant to avoid clots – winds up and spins furiously, separating plasma from the red blood cells. The most amazing part then follows: as I lie there in my wonderfully, my delightfully ergonomic chair, restfully and relaxed, the red blood cells are slowly returned to my body, thus rendering the depletion of iron reserves minimal. This ‘draw’, ‘spin’, ‘return’ process is repeated – for someone like me at my diminutive 71kgs – four times, with each draw varying in quantity from person to person but, in my case around 500mls.

Admittedly this current scheduling has worked out less than perfectly, with my desire to make the date of July 13 number 100 meaning that I’ve had to deliberately miss a few appointments and will likely miss another still; alas it’s my own fault really, given that I have not fallen afoul of any prolonged illness since returning from Vietnam this time last year.

The entire plasma-letting process takes around an hour, that’s including coffee and all the glorious ANZAC biscuits I can eat – also as many hard candies and mints as I can stuff into my pockets while the delightful kitchen lady pretends to look the other way – but for me, it is ultimately my hour to reflect, to contemplate, to know I am surrounded by good people and to know furthermore – with each unit of plasma that I donate saving potentially three lives – that my efforts are appreciated by a great many more living people throughout New Zealand.

Commemoration of this momentous/fortuitous/serendipitous occasion (which I had last year been hoping would include the earning of my jiu-jitsu blue belt at our impending grading day but, after failing to grade up last December, this has become less likely) is to be marked by a trip back to Vietnam a fortnight later where – amid a country that I feel won the battle last time – this time who knows?

It really is a tremendous shame that more able bodied Kiwis don’t visit the NZ Blood Service; whatever your reason for not, there is probably a far better reason for Giving Blood.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Sal E Brace

Photography by Archie V Mont

 

Tim Walker’s Shot

The Government has conceded that New Zealand has ‘one shot’ at eradicating Mycoplasma bovis.

Across the world eradication of this cattle-borne bacterial illness has never been achieved, making New Zealand’s attempt to do it potentially groundbreaking…

I find this scenario oddly reminiscent of the Government’s past (albeit feeble) attempts at pest and predator ‘eradication’ from New Zealand’s native forests; seems those situations were never deemed sufficiently dire to unveil the ‘one shot’ policy.

…Mycoplasma bovis, which threatens a cow’s milk production along with the health of the animal itself, is not actually detrimental to humans; neither milk nor meat from an infected beast will harm people…

For as long as I can recall DOC have been ‘attempting’ to ‘eradicate’ pests and predators from New Zealand’s native forests to no avail; hiring a few rustic trappers with their ‘humane killing systems’ or attempting a half-hearted poison drop to succeed in merely hampering the existence of wildlife – that is before the eco-warriors find out what’s going on and put a stop to proceedings – seems to be all that ever happens around New Zealand’s native bush-sites meaning the pests and predators continue to thrive, ultimately unchallenged.

…Over the next few years 126,000 cattle are expected to be culled from Kiwi farms, with the Government providing affected farmers with a compensation package of $886 million; still this will leave farmers out of pocket by around $278 million, but with the alternative of an estimated $1.2 billion for disease ‘management’ looking no more auspicious…

Over the years the cost to the New Zealand Government of effectively ‘managing’ its unwanted species has been astronomical; if they had settled on the decision all those years ago that the issue of introduced species ravaging our wildlife could be rectified with a ‘one shot’ attack, they could have executed the sweep with precision and dedication, it would have done its thing, then we could have spent the last decade ‘managing’ our native wildlife, rather than the pests therein.

…The likelihood of eradicating a disease such as M Bovis, given nowhere else in the world has managed to do so, is slim; however if the Government use all their resources and over the next two years take every follow-up precaution necessary, it assuredly can be done…

A ‘one shot’ approach to New Zealand’s pest and predator problem, years ago, would have meant that forests had been temporarily devastated and sure, many varieties of wildlife might have perished throughout the process – but so too would have the pests – and surely the wildlife could have been replaced..?

…Imagine a world with no infection, no disease, no pests, no inimical entities of any kind; New Zealand could have (had) just that.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Mai Coh Plazma

Photography by E Raddy/K Shinn

 

 

Tim Walker’s Offset

Air New Zealand are pleased to announce that a portion of its travellers are volunteering to pay a supplementary fee intended to ‘offset the impact’ of carbon emissions.

Given modern peoples’ assumed understanding of ecology, Global Warming and, by implication, most everything environmental, they are of course aware of the massive volume of exhaust discharge emitted by an aeroplane also the detriment to which this is assuredly subjecting New Zealand’s environment; Air New Zealand has perceived the willingness of their customers to pay them this additional guilt-tax as ‘a step in the right direction’…

Quote from the Air New Zealand website: ‘Air New Zealand is committed to helping customers minimise the impact of their air travel on the environment’; thus in their attempt to achieve this claim Air New Zealand is – net of taxes but reportedly taking no administrative fees at all – using every bit of those customers’ extra funding to purchase ‘carbon offsets’, which are presumably intended to offset the Greenhouse Effect.

…A step in the right direction indeed, as Air New Zealand now has its customers paying more flight-tax than ever before; according to the airline though all funds raised are going towards the ongoing establishment and maintenance of New Zealand’s nature reserves, where thousands of square kilometres of native bush will work to neutralise airborne pollution across the nation and potentially, around the world…

Going back a few years, people who propagated large stands of forestry could apply for something known as ‘carbon credits’, as these vast plantations were seen to be ‘capturers of pollution’ and were therefore working towards mitigating/negating the onset of the Greenhouse Effect.

…Also thinking a few years back, the New Zealand Government made a pledge to ‘significantly reduce its carbon footprint by 2020’ and started planting trees in earnest, in order to meet this target while in the meantime, of course, earning carbon credits for its efforts; then only to discover that it was in fact far quicker and much easier to simply purchase carbon credits from other, already heavily forested nations such as Ukraine and Russia, rendering the Government’s ‘carbon credit scheme’ something of a farce…

Ultimately Air New Zealand customers have no guarantee how their money, the taxation being used to fund their so called carbon offsets, is being used; they have only our eponymous airline’s word that it’s being used for good not evil and ultimately Air New Zealand has no guarantee either that its money, the revenue from the taxation which it is allegedly passing over to New Zealand’s nature reserves, is being properly appropriated by those reserves or more importantly, is having any tangible effect on the state of our environment of which the reserves are a part and which they are supposedly protecting.

…Air New Zealand, the largely New Zealand Government-owned airline, has started encouraging its customers to pay a voluntary tax to cover the cost of the environmental impact caused by the emissions of its aeroplanes…

This is an undoubtedly superb thing that, around the nation, our Government is committed to the propagation of nature reserves for the benefit of nurturing and supporting New Zealand natives, but realistically, do we actually believe that this new concept of ‘carbon offsetting’ is truly advantageous to our environment and that it’s not just another way for our Government to squeeze more tax from hard working Kiwis while improving its own image in the face of World Climate Change?

…Air New Zealand is committed to helping customers minimise the impact of their air travel on the environment; yet it is unwilling to absorb any of, thus appears to have zero compunction in passing on, the environmental cost from the effects of its planes’ pollution.

Still I’m undecided whether the above script ought to be categorised as Political, Ecological, or Financial.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Flynn Haer

Photography by N Vie Ron-Cost

 

 

 

 

Tim Walker’s Haters

There is an intrinsic element within the human psyche which often prevents someone from perceiving another’s success with anything but resentment.

This natural form of competitiveness can be traced back to Man’s beginnings; in that time if someone was deemed inferior to somebody else, that someone might just struggle for survival…

It would be hopeful to find that people have evolved since the petty squabbling and territorial pissings of Prehistoric Man; our frontal lobes are now prominent, they’re more active, and are therefore, supposedly, more rational than ever, after all.

…Thus inspired Primitive Man’s quest to be the best, to be the strongest and by implication – also as time has gone on – to be begrudging of all other attempts at success…

Seemingly, in 21st century New Zealand we have so little going on in our own worlds that, for many of us, our primary source of enjoyment is the belittling, the undermining of other people’s worlds; today when somebody steps forward to offer their opinion/insight, irrespective how well thought out and worded or even accurate that statement may be, another will stand up to invariably mock/ridicule the suggestion.

…The ‘Alpha Male’, while originally a term given to the dominant lion among a pride of lionesses, is a premise which today is still very much in effect; take a group of young men, mingle in half that number of women, add just enough alcohol to inflame and befuddle the senses while maintaining reasonable cognition then watch as, with their underdeveloped frontal lobes overcome with testosterone thus primal instinct, they discover among themselves which is the Alpha…

In this time of online commentary it has become so very easy for someone to shoot down someone else’s idea; then also given how this can be done anonymously, meaning that the gutless derider behind the insult need never actually reveal his/her identity, it has opened up a new world for the kinds of pathetic human who thrive on the elevation channelled through the act of bringing down another – cretins who target someone vulnerable, someone who is having a genuine go at something different then, from the comfort, anonymity and risk-free safety of their home they disparage, they denigrate, they demean to their cruel heart’s content.

…Whether it’s a controlling/dominating sibling/relative, an assertive/opressive partner/spouse, or just that bumptious pillock who believes he is the most important person in the world and plays an indispensable role because he affects the outcome of everything in everybody’s life as well as that of his own, but who really just suffers Narcissistic Personality Disorder…

I used to do a ‘Caption This’ section on The Rock FM website, where you’d take a look at a humorous photo before leaving an appropriate caption, to potentially be ‘ranked’ (in the form of a ‘Thumbs Up’ or ‘Thumbs Down’) by other Rock website-goers; many of the entries were silly, some were clever, and a few were brilliant (of course I never bothered to ‘say’ as much, as my own attempt usually fell somewhere in between), yet each week after the first few captions had gone up, along with a few sensible rankings, somebody, for some reason, would run through and administer a spate of ‘Thumbs Down’ feedback.

…Although we’re only small, New Zealand comprises a populous of ambitious, tenacious, and generally driven people, with many Kiwis constantly aspiring to be superior to one another; although in order to be better, somebody must therefore be worse and in order to be elevated, the belief is thus one must be downtrodden…

After more captions had been posted on The Rock website, suddenly another wave of ‘Thumbs Down’ comments were given, and this was when I began to notice a pattern; each time a wave of ‘Thumbs Down’ comments went through, there was always just one who was given a ‘Thumbs Up’ suggesting that for each new caption submitted, the aforementioned author was giving himself (yeah, ‘himself’, obviously, because this is such a bloody male thing to do) a ‘Thumbs Up’, while giving every other person a ‘Thumbs Down’ which, am I alone in finding that utterly juvenile?

…In a perfect world (of which this most certainly is not) somebody could experience personal elevation without feeling the need to bring down someone else; as stated though, this world is far from perfect as it seems the best we can do is perhaps a 50/50 Ecstatic/Dejected ratio, which is a really daft plan of existence to maintain…

A major problem is that (and I have had recent experience with an example of just this scenario) most Narcissistic Personalities, much as they are striving to elevate, become so invested in themselves they are actually unaware that their impending grandeur (which these guys do actually need to survive so perhaps try to cut them a break) is often coming at the expense of the happiness of others; although given that Narcissistic Personalities tend not to accept or believe that anything they do could ever be wrong, it’s likely that even if they did realise they were harming others they would soon find a way to justify their actions to themselves until they felt at ease, because that’s what narcissists do.

…An equally daft way to be is just plain nasty, but this is the way for a portion of younger people; for whatever reason – upbringing, lifestyle, personal hardship, health (incidentally digestive/bowel health plays a significant part in youthful mood and I would be delighted to elaborate on this #wearekillingourkidswithantibiotics alas, #homemadehashtag that’s a story for another time) or other negative situation a child may face – the ability to look upon a new face with an empathetic approach is simply beyond these creatures’ abilities, hence their often debilitating, ‘pull down, leg up’ strategy…

Haters, generally, are created, they’re not born; while haters will always do what they can to bring us down, it’s up to us to stand fast and be the bigger person.

…Haters are naturally Negative looking to become Positive; so you just have to use your naturally sourced Positive to overcome their bought of terminal Negative.

‘Terminal’ because too much negativity will kill a person.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Haytuss R Wurthles

Photography by B Kim Postiff

 

Tim Walker’s Lawless

There has been a recent increase in the prevalence of oxymoronic Kiwis who choose to practice their operations outside the bounds of established society/government/law.

In fact it’s far from an exclusively New Zealand-based issue; idiots around the world have been exploiting this grotesque human paradox for a long while…

Oxymoronic because, as much as they might consider themselves ‘outcasts’, ‘rebels’, ‘free-thinkers’ (or in other cases, ‘budding entrepreneurs who do what we want when we want without no control from no Po-lice no how’) who go to serious lengths to avoid the constriction of official influence, of course when things go bad for them they are only too keen to come running back to the comparative shelter and safety of our Government-controlled society.

…In many places in the US gangs believe they control the streets; walking proudly among their cohort, disrespecting authority, pervading intimidation, demanding respect – until they encounter a situation they cannot handle alone…

A few years’ ago in New Zealand ‘car surfing’ – where a car’s passenger positions themselves  on the roof as the car is being driven at speed (and of course captures the entire ordeal on camera for a surfer’s shot at fame, glory and instant popularity), often while yelling profanity or hurling disdain at authority – made it’s official entry on our streets. The punishment for such an act of recklessness is loss of licence, demerit points, possible impounding of vehicle and/or a fine of up to $3000 yet, “Why can’t we do it?” comes the indignant query from one such apprehended surfer, “’snot like we’re hurting anyone … Yeah, and we’re only gonna hurt ourselves, anyway..?”

…For example, in an eruption of gang warfare Police will likely become involved, if only to ensure minimal fatalities, and much as this might not be welcomed by those engaged in the violence, assuredly welcome will be the paramedic and ensuing hospital care that the injured gang members will receive, as well as the (also Government funded) rehabilitation process they might then require…

In the event that a car surfer does become injured, despite only moments earlier shirking the need for authority thereby effectively relinquishing their dependence on the Government, they will undoubtedly have no issue limping to their nearest ACC office to capitalise on New Zealand’s First World Nation goodwill.

…Or other groups who make their living through illicit practises, who do what they can to avoid paying Government-imposed income tax, thus realistically ought not to be entitled to any of societies benefits which are ultimately paid for by taxes, yet who, for example, despite spending a lifetime avoiding authority, when they step out of their Government-allocated State House to pick up their children from the bus stop, to later find that one such child has been improperly treated by a teacher – thus obviously requiring the Police (Government) to be called upon to come and inspect that school (Government) and to ensure the child is indeed receiving a proper education (Government) yet when the parents (Liabilities) push their complaints further – ensure that, through that public school’s own code of conduct and the proper channels of law enforcement, the teacher in question is promptly dismissed…

People riding bikes without helmets, going out in boats without lifejackets, riding in a car without a seatbelt, or texting while driving; it’s all the same thing – the Government tells you not to do it, of course you ignore the Government’s pleas, until you are injured doing the exact thing the Government told you not to do because you might get injured – now you run crying to the Government for support.

…Whatever the country the theme appears the same: idiots who make a point of avoiding authority figures, who think they can manage on their own – dismissing regulations, spurning society, flouting laws, condemning the Government and such – until they need help and still believe that they are entitled to receive it…

Everybody needs help at some stage and whether it’s Police, Education, Health or Injury related, it’s all ultimately the Government and they will always come to the rescue.

…Therefore, save yourself some embarrassment, stop being a dick, grow up, pull your head in and realise that the reason you’re being told to not do it, much as it is probably intended to prevent unnecessary Government expenditure through employing the gamut of government services to save your arse, is generally for your own benefit.

Work with them and they’ll work with you.

 

 

Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Ida Yacht

Photography by Ian Jury