A Travellerspoint blog

25 Years after Tienanmen, Remembering in Hong-Kong

June 4th, marked the 25th Anniversary since the blood-spattered protest's at Tienanmen Square in Beijing. Today I was lucky enough to watch the memorial ceremony attended by just over 20,000 people. Here's my account of that grim yet essential time.

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Tienanmen, the word alone stands for so much, yet under China's effective censorship laws stands for nothing to most. I've met Chinese born after 1989 who have no idea what happened in Beijing, June 4th, 1989. But to many it denotes a failed democracy and led to tanks being sent by the government, and shortly after, the slaughter of hundreds maybe thousands of students. Today, I headed to Victoria square to bare witness to one of the biggest memorials in my life, a sea of glowing amber and red; the faces of the city behind those burning wicks. The numbers were nearing ten-thousand.
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Hong-Kong's citizens usually pass peacefully beneath her array of spectacular neon signs, slogans and adverts, to fine dining restaurants and bars. But tonight, Hong-Kong rages with the same voice of democracy, nostalgia and bereavement as China had all that time ago.
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As I exited the underground and it's sweating heaving crowds, Ice cold droplets land on my head from the dozens of air con units in the apartments above; joining the thick patch of sweat down my back. It's 35 degrees and we are practically vac packed into every crevice of Hong-Kong's high streets heading towards Victoria Park; the site of the memorial.
Locals heckle, protest and grieve through megaphones, all handing out bumper stickers and t-shirts with the same intrinsic words "Never forget". One man screams in Cantonese from a life sized cardboard tank. Though I'm clueless as to what is being said, old photographs of Tienanmen and caricatures of former politicians are enough to portray the outcry in today's citizens. In a way, the remembrance couldn't have came at a better time with Hong-Kong feeling the imposing pressure from mainland China.
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Overhead highway roads become so congested, Hong-Kong seems to have-for a moment- ground to a halt. Candles and white roses are handed to everyone passing through into the park, and one by one the park fills with the faces, old and young. The megaphones continue to echo over the whole park and people pound there fists in the air to the woman on stage, aspirations of democracy echo along the sticky hot humidity. As the park becomes more and more crowded, I decide it's time to retreat to some higher ground and read 'Time' magazine, waiting for the lights to go down, and watch the burning candles of defiance to come out.
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In the background, the skyline dances with lasers and lights as it does every night, and below it the crowds begin to sing in Cantonese. I pat a woman on the back standing next to me as she sobs into a tissue, narrowly missing her hair with the burning candle. One of my biggest admiration's of Hong-Kong is how passionate the people are about politics and how persistent they are to bring change, Often revolved around it's relations with China, opposing China's rules is often hard for Hong-Kong when they rely on daily imports across the border.
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The park below is now full, and before park attendants or Police see what I'm up to, I shimmy up a rusted pole and onto the top of the entrance gates, giving me panoramic view of the memorial. As I do, a sea of flashes fire my way, folks wave and other photographers look pissed at my opportune timing. The folks soon turn back to the screen and I wait still for the floodlights to dim, and that melancholy glowing ambiance to appear. But my timing is right, as I grab my telephoto lens, the lights dim, and a silence ushers over the park. I feel as though the whole of China has been silenced, all beside one man beating a drum at the pace of a heart beat, the crowd begins to hum. As they do, hands extend into the air in unison and I revere in the glorious orange light.
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For a scene so happily overpopulated, my shots with the subject feels so intimate as through my extended lens; behind those candles I see the faces of despair, of joy and sorrow for those lost. But most importantly, the significance the whole event had on each person. I see these in the faces from fathers holding there daughters on their shoulders, nurturing the flame, in the faces of young couples, and in the cracked skin of the old. I snap away at these faces, embrace their intimacies between me, them and the camera, but feel sad to see some flicking through their phones as others pray.
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As I pass through the streets, gangs eerily gather around candles, spelled out among them are Chinese characters.The Vietnamese make use of the protests and add there own campaigns for no oil rigs, the Taiwanese however stay silent. Having soaked up every drop of this cultural exchange, I grab my things and run to the safety of the underground and to the confines of my home.
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Still revering in the anecdote, I thank my lucky stars I got a spot where I did, and overall so lucky to experience such a significant event in history not just for China, but the entire world. Tienanmen was a failed democracy in a way, which is more so important at this time as any other with Syria, Russia, Venezuela; to not give up on the notion of defiance, we will not forget.
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I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did living it, if you want to follow my journey via my photography blog you can here @:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/115189787@N03/
or
https://www.facebook.com/BrightersidePhotography?ref=hl

Posted by Brighterside 04.06.2014 10:30 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged religion* democracy* china* mainland* hong_kong* blood* war* politics* youth* asia* tienanmen* Comments (0)

Volcano trekking in Manila, Philippines.

After arriving at the 'Check-Inn Hong-Kong' hostel, I found myself booking a flight to the Philippines; Manila to be exact. With the friendliest locals and the cheapest exotic foods on the market. From tuna jaw, to the dreaded Balut, how could I resist?

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After thriving in a hot and humid week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hong-Kong welcomed me with a measly 7 degrees. It was 7pm and reality was biting at my bare skin with the wind, as I scrunched my aching cold hands into my pockets like tissue paper. The weather was shit, there was no doubt about it, and I hadn't left the luggage hall yet, swarms of British expats cawed like seagulls into their blackberries as their Samsonite's trundled hastily behind them. It felt like I was back at Heathrow, I was half expecting my mum and dad to be waiting at the arrivals hall.

Now, living the life I lead at this moment in time gallivanting to every country I wish (should little finances I have cover it), Hong-Kong was just another stop off point, a base if you will; saving money and resources until the time felt right to move on to my next chapter. To travel newbies, it can give an out-of-this-world feel you have never felt before. But I had $50 to my name, alone, with not a soul I knew, and ravaged by a food intolerance I couldn't pronounce. At that moment in time all I wanted to do was hop on the next plane home to sunny England and have a warm cuppa and tell of my stories from the past year. But I wasn't about to go home, not yet, not permanently at least.

As I left the airport and out onto the sidewalk, the building blocks of Hong-Kong's skyline were my welcoming party, and with the Chinese New Year celebrations imminent, the cold black diamonds had been smothered in garlands of colored lights. The city of Hong-kong didn't seem so overwhelming as it had to me exactly 365 days ago when I first left the UK. I snubbed the cab ride to the hostel and voted on walking the small two mile walk, this idea was soon revoked after I followed the windy trail of the harbor; and I lost my blue beanie to the sea. As I watched that warm knitted sack float away, my eyes met an old junk boat across the other side of Hong-Kong island, it's glowing red sails eerily floating between the black tar of the sea and the man made Christmas lights from HK's residential buildings and business offices. Each apartment light added another block of light to the dark canvas. There was nothing but glowing blocks and wreathes of neon, like something from 'The Tron Legacy'.

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In the end, I just got a cab, and watched as the tiny Asian man wrestles with the weight of my whole life in that big green suitcase he was trying so hard not to drop, "Sure this is the right place?" I ask, as he nearly takes off my big toe with the green anvil, but he says nothing and smooths his comb over to his bald olive head and climbs back in the red cab. Already I can see why Hong-Kong is renowned for being the most vertical city in the world, here I am expecting some big shop front for the hostel, but I stand at the base of what looks like apartments. I'm at the right address so where the hell is it? A rubix cube of signs in simplified Chinese swings above my head in the breeze but I can't make sense of it, but before I can, a friendly local taps me on the shoulder "you staying at CheckInn?" he says and through chattering lips I say "yeah how the hell do I find it?" "Oh it's just over here see?" the lanky well dressed Asian takes one giant step past me, punches a code into the intercom of a giant grid door and we enter what looks like an elongated bathroom, with a silver door for the elevator at the end, a heaving troll of a security guard fumbles with his walkie talkie behind the desk, at this point I feel like I'm going into the fight club. But there's no brawls or henchmen, just friendly staff, as I walk in the well dressed man puts his briefcase behind the desk and takes off his sports coat, turns out the 20-something Asian was the owner; a man I now know as a good friend Wincent definitely had it right. Being the owner of a hostel was something I would hope to aspire to should the opportunity came.

The best part about Hong-Kong is that it is literally Asia's world city, opportunity lurks under beer mats in conversations at bars, favors can lead to jobs and new friends can mean new opportunities. In my case it was a holiday, having been in the hostel some 15 minutes, I overheard the crowd in my dorm room talking about going for dinner; and so being how I am I hinted if there are any good places for a hungry cheap backpacker; having already eaten I just wanted to meet new people, it's a weird way of mine.
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Within an hour I had exchanged contacts with French, Swiss, Finnish, American, Canadian and of course; British. There were teachers, web designers, writers, volunteers; and all of them wanted to do one thing; travel. So we dined, partied and spent what money we didn't have and I was slapped in the face with the realization of how skint I was and how expensive HK is, this is where I met my good friend Zekee. Zekee was a happy go lucky American with no shadow of a doubt, always living for the moment kinda thing. We all sat and had our dinner in the neon jungle of Hong-Kong, Wan Chai, where prostitutes prey on rich expats, but the food was cheap and the beers cold. Zekee's next destination was to his family in the Philippines, and he kindly offered for any of us who wanted to, to go with him and live with his family in Manila; having known one another for just a day this was pretty generous, and without a shadow of a doubt I agreed out of everyone. I shook his hand as a surprisingly strong prostitute tries to drag me into one of the tacky dark venues. I figured that after having to wait for my working holiday visa, which could take up to two weeks, I would rather head to the cheaper continent and save money, an excuse to get away for a while despite being in HK for only a day. So I scraped together my assets, some petty funds in my Aussie bank account, packed my backpack and we headed straight to the Philippines two days later.
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To think I thought the Malaysians the friendliest people I had met, the Filipinos quickly snatched the title after I landed at Clarke Airport, two hours drive from central Manila. We were to be greeted and taken home by Zekee's cousin Gia. A Crowd of international sim card sellers jumps at us as we leave the luggage terminal, but I have never been so happy to be verbally molested by such friendly people. I lose Zekee and I can just make out him and Gia exchanging pleasantries as I begin to get smothered. "No thanks I'm happy with my provider" "okay la, here my friend I open your car door for you instead". Before I even knew it, I was swooped from the humidity and the bustle into the cold white leather seat of a Mitsubishi Pajero, (fun fact: my better Latina half, as well as other South Americans, informed me that the name "Pajero" is slang for 'He who fiddles with himself for sexual gratification' ultimately leading to the ban of the car in the majority of South America) the worker escorts me in and disappears. A stocky balding Asian man sits in the drivers seat, he leans in to give me a long stare, and I look at Zekee for comfort but he wears the same look of confusion. "Hey man! I'm Rico, Gia's partner, you like mangoes?". We all exchange pleasantries and go buy a bag of mangoes, and I immediately fall in love with the chaos of the Filipino high streets. 'Jeepney's' a metallic hybrid of a jeep and a limo, dominate the brown dusty roads with it's passengers filling the car until limbs begin to stick out of the barred windows and doors. Some roll past with giant gorillas on the roof, lights, signs and speakers, billboards, non look safe. Rico tells me they're an innovation brought by the Americans, as the town is the former site of an American Military base, or at least it was until the resident volcano at Mt. Pinatubo erupted back in the day.
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Rico takes to the track with elite precision, dodging through the traffic. A battered silver model brushes past my side of the car, the innards packed to the roof with fresh vegetables, marrows and carrots fly out onto the sidewalk. A chubby woman pushes her back against the precious organic cargo with both feet either side of the open back door, as though she was waiting for the confirmation to disembark. She turns to me and my camera and in all the hecticness of everything, gives a big wave and a grin. After this we soon find out that playing with the traffic was a great pastime, I throw a bag of sweets to a van full of workers and they start to wrestle for the sweets laughing and waving.
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After making it half way to our home for the week, our generous hosts stop of at the service station and we have a feast of Beef Cartadile, fried pig intestines and sticky rice wrapped in Banana leaves, the Filipinos share the same Asian concept of making the use of every part of an animal. The intestines are sweet and salty like a chewy pork scratchings, then we finish with some sizzling tuna jaw bone. Soon we are back on the road, and our surreal concoction of commuters continues, five kids share one scooter with nothing between them and the road other than a tattered singlet, and a young couple ride a run-down scooter, their baby nestled snugly between their bike leathers. We laugh at the badly designed billboards, a famous Filipino model poses nude with 'the best tuna in the land'. I think it gives out the wrong message.

We cross into the nicer less hectic district of Manila, in Merville. Each street named after a major city, and we pull into Hamburg. But we don't hang around in Hamburg, we unpack our bags and head out straight away for a taste of the Philippines fine dining districts by the harbor in a place called Dampa, right next to the 11th biggest mall in the world.
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On Dampa street we head through a lively night market, the iron jeepney's and car park attendants circulate the busy sea of tourists. The scene is colorful and hectic as ever, along the left are dozens of colored tanks filled with an array of marine life from lobsters to snappers, crayfish to starfish; black legs hang out of one tank and seem to wave as we walk by. I couldn't tell what the hell was in half of these tanks, one looks like a sea cucumber hanging from a conch shell, I ask the man and point to it and he says 'dear penis'. I would have preferred the latter. The great but not-so-great thing about Asians is they will utilize every part of an animal they possibly can, from the stomach lining of a cow to the penis of a pig, it's all in there.

On the opposite side to these tanks are three different restaurants, and how it works is that you pick what you like from the tanks, and the unfortunate marine critters are chopped, fried and boiled by the time you are shown to a table and sat down. We're told to hurry before the drunks leave the bars and the tanks begin to empty fast. I drop a sad looking rainbow trout into the bucket, giving my sincerest apologies, along with a crab grinding its claws towards my Adams apple; the shoe sized crab finally gives up and submits to the bucket. Before I can bid farwell to the crab, we are reunited in a tasty reunion; but one of us is now soaked in a ginger and black bean sauce, garlic mussels and sweet and sour snapper fillet.

The claws are so dense, the claw breaking tool breaks in two. For a plate of mussels, two cat-sized crabs, a dozen claws and a few beers each; the whole lot comes to about $10 usd. We then head to the harbor for a couple more rounds, a bucket of San Miguel comes to $5. European prime ministers need to get their heads together and start taking notes.
But obviously this whole journey cannot revolve around cheap and tasty Filipino foods. Before getting high on beer and seafood, we had booked a tour to climb the local volcano Mt. Pinatubo the following day; but the meeting time at a local petrol station is at 2am that night/morning and we were still sat at almost 10pm drinking beers, time to head home.

We're picked up at 3am at a shell station in central Manila by a grumpy 80-something man, and greeted by a bunch of sheepish European backpackers. Despite the hour, the hostile stream of bikers and Jeepney's is no less hectic than midday. I try to get some rest but I'm soon withdrawn again as a gang of Filipino woman clamber onto the bus chattering Spanglish Tagalog the local dialect, laughing away the night the night tehy had just had, what would make you want to trek a volcano after a night out is beyond me. One of them passes out and falls asleep on my right shoulder and the frantic driving forces my head against the window repeatedly, no sleep for this guy.
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We soon pass through a military checkpoint and reach the base of the Mt Pinatubo at 6am and into a small dusty town. The morning sun is slowly creeping up on the left; the crimsons and yellow define silhouettes of the bunting hanging overhead, and either side of the road is filled with jeeps, some brand new and some battered to near extinction. This small strip of town caters entirely for the tourists arriving in the taxis and minibuses, offering hand crafted walking sticks are 7 year old kids, there were also cheese flavored ice creams, and cold showers being sold. Me and Zekee are still half asleep at this point but manage to make our way into the meeting hall before the tour, a giant straw hut.
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Looking around I notice a couple of strange things, cockerels in cages on the lawn waiting for their fight, and local devouring barbecued pig intestines for their breakfast, ill stick to the oatmeal. Our safety talk from Sonia, the tour guide; seems more like one big disclaimer; but the rules are simple enough, stay away from the ash and don't swim in the lake.
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Ronald our tour guide; takes us to one of the more battered jeeps , we load up and waste no time heading to Mt.Pinatubo. Six of us including the driver, squeeze into the rusted white shell of the Jeep and Ronald clutches onto the roof with only his right foot in the drivers well for stability. But like all the other tour guides, Ronald knows these roads like the back of his hand. I feel in good hands with the two locals, even when our van breaks down in one of the first streams. But it doesn't fill me with confidence when I see the fuel tank, a plastic oil drum with a pipe fed through the lid. The chalky grey land begins to wake and the morning sun seems to be chasing us through the valley; the layers of ash make crater formations and spires of the powder tumble and fall as we pass in our convoy of jeeps. I start to feel like I'm on the moon in a buggy rather than in a beaten up jeep in the Philippines. That is until I spot a local, trekking through the dust clouds behind our jeep, and after a 30 minute drive at 5am from the base this must mean he would have been trekking for hours on end. He wears a balaclava to shield himself from the clouds of ash being kicked up from our jeep, and I shelter my camera in my jacket as ash gathers in the ridge of my £600 17-40mm lens. We pass more and more locals as the sun ascends over the hills, and with them comes a gang of horned cattle, grazing on what shrubbery is left among the barren ash wastelands.
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Ronald tells me the curly haired locals are named the 'Itah's', the indigenous of the Philippines, as he explains we hit a river mouth and he tumbles across the roof, only to pause and carry on. The only time the tribe had ever left the mountain was during the eruption of the volcano back in 1991 so they were pretty stubborn, but friendly and excited to see us tourists. We stop off at a photogenic facade of ash for some photographs, the Itah children jump in giving peace signs and middle fingers, and I jump in too. I pat their bushy heads and they give us a clap as we carry on our ascend in the rusty, old jeep.
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She drops down 5ft slopes with ease and the driver barely lifts a finger or bats an eyelid, the jeep sounds like it's about to fall apart at any second, but she relentlessly charges through the water without fail. To the point where the caustic sulfuric water begins to seep in, as the open back levels with the water. I clutch onto my camera kit as another cloud of ash engulfs the inside of the cabin, my head crashes against the bare metal bar inside the cabin and I nearly fall out the back. The journey isn't for the faint hearted, yet Ronald rides on the roof like it's a daily bus to the town center. But he was far from the most adventurous, jeeps in front throw clouds of dust in their wake with their tour guides standing on the roof, pointing out landmarks to tourists. It feels like we're in a war zone as I turn around and see an arrowed formation of jeeps, raising thick clouds of dust into the rays of light oozing over the peaks as it hits the ground in a sickly shade of orange. Our driver comes close to a yellow jeep to our right and it's clear they both want to race, we are about 15 minutes away from the starting point of the on foot hike, when he starts maneuvering around the yellow car, and almost stacks ours in the stream. The other passengers, a German and a Finnish man stretch the necks of their shirts over their noses as respirators, all the while me and Zekee cheer and heckle the driver on in a mix of Spanglish. The driver is adamant to show his friends shiny yellow jeep that theres still life in his old girl. The German cries "Scheiße Haus!"(shit house) as we hit a crater an he cascades into the roof. A western couple sit on the back of the yellow jeep, horrified, gripping their fanny packs and sun screen as they are thrown in the air after each bump. The race soon ends after a heart racing stretch through the cobbled river bed. Victorious, I get caught in the moment and hang from the spare tyre on the back, pounding my fists on the roof. We all pat the driver on the back, mostly as a thanks for not killing us.
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After our joyride, we start the two hour hike up Mt.Pinatubo, and already the local Itah clan have spotted us, cheering and waving to us. Their camouflage huts are entirely crafted from their surroundings, with roofs made from giant leaves, hoisted up by bamboo. The tribes are protected well by the looks of things, the local military use the volcano for expeditions, transporting supplied and goods to the Itah tribe, hours away from any local village. As we pass each tribe I notice one thick stick of bamboo spurting water out from the mountain freely, mothers fill their buckets and was their young.
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This to me is one of the most beautiful things about indigenous culture in any country, call it naive but it's sometimes comforting looking at civilization without technology and the pure human interaction, emotion and love. Then I notice something extraordinary, the children use their surroundings as one giant playground, just as it should be. Their names etched into the walls of layered ash, with drawings and creative portraits to match. Some slide down dunes as we pass the halfway mark to the picturesque lake reserve of Mt.Pinatubo.
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The terrain begins to emerge as tropical, the streams shrink beneath the shadows of the Nara trees, the national plant of the Philippines. I'm told they are so dense and large they are used to craft tables and doors by the Itah's, we draw closer to the crater of Mount Pinatubo.
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Ronald hops down the steps with our lunchboxes, no matter how much we protested for him to let us carry them he refuses. I watch my tired feet tumble down the steps without paying attention, then I look up to see this pristine crater. Clouds whisper through the white tipped mountains, and turquoise clear waters toil in the valley below, reflected in it is the navy blue sky. It's worth the 2 hour trek, and even more so when we see the bittersweet sight of an 8 year old girl selling beers from an ice cream cooler. My photographers eye takes hold, and I fall into a trance with nature and my lens, snapping more pictures than the paparazzi on Kim Kardashian.

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We skim stones and loiter around the valley , eating rice that Ronald had kindly cooked for us all. Soon skimming becomes a major appeal and I start teaching crowds of Asians how to skim. We wanted to swim but allegedly a person suffered a heart attack just months before, after dipping into the warm water, better not this time eh?
I get so carried away skimming stones that I end up on the ground, kindly aided by three Asian kids ( my students), we begin to notice tourists pouring into the valley like the lava itself and decide its time to leave. But we take some shots with Ronald and the people we met on our ascent and head back to our banged up jeep with a huge grin on my face that the crater had left there.
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On our drive down I notice more and more Itah children emerging from the land. As we go around the last ashy barren corner, I spot kids playing in the stream, our jeep thrashes through the water mere meters away from the children and they barely flinch. Children's laughter echoes through the valley and they look as happy as ever, content with a sulfur soaked stream and some piles of ash; like I said, the west need to take notes. As we pass the kids grab for our hands and wave, as we leave the surreal trappings of mount Pinatubo.

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It had been a long day trekking up volcanoes, so we thought it was only right we brought our small trip to an end with some comforts and culture. The comforts being Red Horse, a strong Filipino lager probably capable of putting down a horse, and the culture being a delicacy that we in the west have only seen the likes of on shows like 'Fear Factor'. The delicacy is Balut, and I would always remember it's name. For those ill informed of Filipino foods, Balut is in short terms; an aborted duck embryo. Yes I know, a little harsh but Rico urged that we weren't crowned Filipino's until we had tried the traditional Filipino snack. We are led by Rico to a shop front, a woman sits with a basket covered by a blue knitted blanket; the two chatter in Tagalog and she hands over three eggs from the wicker basket. We gag at the thought, after much contemplation even. And I contemplate just how long it will be until I see it again after I've eaten it. I roll the warm egg around my hands and feel the weight of the chick. "Taste man taste, crack it like this and drink juice, then eat". B*llocks, I thought.
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So I cracked open the egg, and sip the warm salty soup inside, then I shed the shell from the egg and just throw it in. I try hard not to bite down and I feel the embryo slide down my throat, I chew the soft yellow yolk to keep down the chick. Rico laughs at our green stained faces and pats us on the back. But after all of it, it was surprisingly good, so I order three more and we head back home. Crowned as local Filipinos. A disgustingly funny ending to another great chapter and story of my life. Thank-you for reading and sharing this with me, I hope your stomach wasn't churned up too much by the end. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing and recounting it! It's back to Hong-Kong for now but Thailand has been giving me itchy feet... Thankyou to Zekee, Gia, Martina and Rico for this amazing adventure and a window to the Philipenes!

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If you want to check out the personal photography of my adventures, you can here!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/115189787@N03/ or https://www.facebook.com/BrightersidePhotography?fref=ts

P.S But our journey didn't end there, on our last day before the flight, we decided to drink up some history instead of the duck eggs. So we headed to the American Cemetery in Bonifacio, ventral Manila. The cemetery is 152 acres wide, with over 17,206. As much as I hate to say it, the landscape of the place was perfectly symmetrical, leaving no room for imperfection. The area was a dedication to those lost in the war of the Philippines in world war two. The area was so well kept by the locals in a bid of respect and gratification to the men lost. Tumbling greens hills were covered in gravestones, the stones lapped around old oak trees like crop circles, it was the saddest collaboration of art and devastation I had ever seen. Placards with nicknames of soldiers ran on marbles walls in a giant Colosseum in the center, with medals of honor averaging about 1 in 500. In fact, president Barrack Obama was there only a month ago on the 29th of April, should have gone a month later...

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Posted by Brighterside 09:40 Archived in Philippines Tagged philippines*jeepney's*manila*su Comments (0)

Tour of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur, or better known as KL; is the populous capital of Malaysia. It is a city that is moving upwards; friendly residents, stunning architecture including the icon of Malaysia; the Petronas towers. And of course the Batu Caves.


Australian soil was a yellow speck in the cabin window; Mayble, a local Malaysian visiting folks back home, hands me a working pen as mine sputters ink. Good old Mayble; and the scribbles start for the new chapter of my journey. I was bound for Kuala Lumpur; Malaysia, a nice little stop off for a week before settling in Hong-Kong.
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I get my first view of the Malaysian landscape; row after row of palm trees, perfectly placed in symmetrical perfection. With yellow graveled pathways entwined through the thick green scrub. Mayble tells me that it's the farming land for palm oil and I exchange a frown. For those not in the know; Palm Oil is an oil derived from palm fruit, and its used in 50% of the worlds products. For cooking oil, cosmetics,cleaning products and most demanding of all, bio fuel. Malaysia is the second biggest producer of the oil; following shortly behind Indonesia. At the time of writing this, Malaysia exports 19.2 million tons of the stuff each year; and clearly land was being cleared to make room for more. But among all the hype over this bio-fuel; pristine rain forests are being slashed and burned in the process. Sparking one of the biggest debates regarding alternatives to fossil fuel. But we aren't here for figures and lengthy debates; but if you want to find out more you can by clicking here: http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/palm-oil.php
Oh go on have a look; you might be interested.

Despite the lack of sun; Malaysia's weather conditions are perfect, low humidity and no rain, which is a big win for us British. A grey smog cloaks the green hills and surrounding buildings; the price paid to feed and fuel the heaving masses of Asia. After hitting the landing strip; I'm once again greeted with that familiar humidity, and a queue for immigration that takes up the arrivals hall. Mayble wishes me well and trots happily toward the empty gate of the Malaysian residents check-in. And I head towards the lengthy visitors queue; just in front of an Australian family of four, two screaming kids and all. A long day was ahead.

From the moment of landing; I realized that Malaysians are the friendliest nationality I had ever met in my travels. From a banter with the taxi driver; to the hotel receptionist calling me 'the handsome one'. My digs for the week were at one of the architectural icons of Malaysia; the Petronas towers or the Malaysian twin towers. Two chrome towers transcend towards the heavens; in the center, a bridge stands at 170 meters linking up the two chambers. Beacons flash on each floor at random; lighting up the low clouds and make the rest of the skyline seem insignificant. The towers were opened in 1999 by Mahathir Mohammed; the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia. With 33,000 stainless steel and 55,000 glass panels; standing at 452m above street level, 88 storeys high. I whip out my Canon and click away before I have barely checked out central Kuala Lumpur that night.
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I click away late into the night; dosed up high on my passion, and then head to bed. I managed to get lucky by staying with a friend at a 5-star hotel. Making the most of the comfort factor I stuff the free shampoo and soap bars into my backpack; old backpacker habits. At breakfast I spark up conversation with a waiter at the hotel named Sheeraz telling me to 'just remember the wine and you're fine'. I hate the whole waiter/customer scene; so I ask Sheeraz about his work here in Kl. Sheeraz was from Pakistan looking for as much work as possible; things were getting hard in the middle east. It was a sorry sight to see the Pakistan consulate next door to the five star hotel; being over crowded each morning with those looking for work. Days later I bumped into Sheeraz and his brother whilst passing through town; they give me tips and the best places to go on my journey. The power of conversation is a powerful thing.

If you head to Kuala Lumpur; be sure to head to the KLCC mall at the base of the towers. It boasts a designer outlet and a sweet place to hangout at the back. The botanical gardens and water fountains let you escape the chaos of the city and just kick back in a secluded spot. By day a busy hive of tourists; Asians, Malaysians, Americans, Saudi's, Sweed's and Indians; and by night the fountains light up the lake in an orchestra of color. The fountains ascend and descend; and jets of steam and water resemble colored flowers. The whole lake looks like a soundwave; and the skyline towers behind when the jets fall. I spent a lot of my nights writing; reading and watching the colors flow.
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Be aware of this though westerners; you may be asked to have a picture taken with your fine white self.
As it seemed I was the only blonde haired white man; one day I was sat at the park scribbling notes of anecdotes when an group of Indian women ask if they can have their picture taken with me; I happily agree and pose. But when I put my hand on her shoulder she shrieks; confused and violated I continue with my writing.

Doing the hurried research on Kuala Lumpur; I had read about the Batu Caves, located just 15km out of the centre of Malaysia. The limestone caves are thought to be over 400 million years old; the whole limestone hill is the most popular Hindu shrine outside of India. I had missed the Thaipusam festival by a couple of days which took place annually at the caves. The Hindu festival begins in the center of Kuala Lumpur; as a silver chariot passes through the streets and all the way to the caves; devotees celebrate and dance around the carriage the whole way; carrying silver pots of milk on their heads as a tribute. Some make further tribute; which I could never comprehend, I found out that some devotees pierce their skin with hooks, hanging fruits, garlands and statues of the Hindu gods. The silver carriage ends at the mouth of the cave. To get to the Batu Caves; you can take the monorail, then the train from Central Kuala Lumpur to the caves. At first look of Batu Caves; you are greeted by a giant green statue of Hanuman, the monkey god.
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Lo and behold; at his feet sit dozens of monkeys; rummaging through dustbins and picking food from the weak members of the tourist crowd. As I sit with a gang of the monkeys; one squeaking male takes flight from a stall and snatches a bag of donuts from an Asian man. A proud catch; the monkey hands out the loot among his chums, some with their young gripped to their chests. One pounds at the hands of two Indian men; snatching popped rice with both fists until it takes the entire bag. The Malaysian monkeys are far from aggressive with greed but it doesn't stop me keeping a hand on my camera and donuts. I start at the left of the Limestone valley of Batu caves; after my banter with the monkeys. The first opening is Ramayana Cave; costing just 10 ringgits, a quid. The Ramayana, is one of two of the greatest Indian epics, the other is the Mahabharata. Ramayana depicts the way life was in 1000 BCE. The hero of the epic is Rama; following the Dharma throughout his whole life, (Dharma is an important theme within Hinduism, and can be seen itself as a religion). This is why Indians consider Rama heroic. He was deemed the perfect son, and eventually the perfect husband for his wife, Sita. Young Indians have been taught for 200 years; " Be as Sita"and "Be as Rama". The Ramayana was formerly a 24,000 verses in several books. But since then as with any religion it has been condensed, shortened told and translated throughout South and Southeast Asia. The Ramayana is to this day told through many forms of dance, media and drama. And today I saw it through the eyes of the creators of the shrine.
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As I walk in the cave; it glows eerily with the light of nothing more than rope lights and candles. The entire ground floor is hand painted.The cave is filled with the scenes of Hinduism; I don't see myself as a religious man but the sheer craftsmanship and passion of the devotees can be seen in the faces of every Hindu scene in the Ramayana Caves. I stop at Hanuman ( the monkey god); the detail in the statue is so intricate I feel as though the soulless room is full of people. There must be over 200 statues all either glaring, smiling and pointing. Nobody else is in the caves; I find myself in the center of these pristine lively mannequins, young stalactites of a few million years old hang overhead; illuminated with green and blue floodlit lights. Cavern mouths twist behind the statues into a gloomy black in the facades of the caves. I feel culturally nourished; though my nerves would be more settled watching the food snatching monkeys. I'm engulfed again in the familiar feeling of exploration; as I climb a spiral staircase leading to the roof for a birds eye view of the cave. Despite not knowing what I'm really looking at; the cave is a work of art regardless. It is a labyrinth of colors and light; droplets fall onto a silver plate, I could have relished in the silence all day long. Exploring or embracing different religions is a key element to me which I would endorse to any traveller; even if we are just taking the sidelines.
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Then it was off to the Batu Caves themselves; a hefty climb for tourists up a flight of 227 steps. At the base of the stairs stands a giant golden statue of Lord Murugan; the Hindu god of war and victory, standing guard at the mouth of the cave. Small temples surround his feet; with more statues of the gods; the architecture is rich with Indian pinks, greens, and blues. I'm pretty fit when is comes to trekking but I was one among many of the crowd of Hindu's taking a second to catch my breath. At this point I'm about level with Murugans golden bonce and I look over his shoulder to see the Malaysian skyline, the Petronas towers peaking over row after row of sky scrapers. Evidence of the Thaipusam festival trails from the bottom to the top in the form of litter, marigold garlands and the odd speck of blood from a faithful devotee. Monkeys buoyantly hop from one staircase to the other; decorating the wheezing crowd of tourists with leaves and crumbs.
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It takes me a good 30 minutes to climb to the top; as others wheeze and gasp I can't help but snap my camera shutter at the monkeys on each perch. I snap a photo of a gang of Malaysians; a small celebration of the end to the pain in their calves. The city is a beautiful grey mirage on the humid horizon; and my brown shirt has now turned black with sweat. A devotee passes me with a silver chalice perched on her head; dressed all in yellow with marigold garlands, she makes the climb seem effortless.
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The mouth of the cave is jagged with brown teeth; a statue of Krishna stands proud to the right, greeting visitors into its dark depths. Inside there is no light; guidance remains only as a handrail on the right and the light from either end. I inch down the stairs with caution hitting more Canon camera's than I care to count. A cockerel bellows out like a trumpet from the dark; I react by swinging my club of a tripod into a group of tourists. I skulk into the darkness from shame. The cockerel barks triumphantly; echoing throughout the entire cave. Cockerels meander through the small shrines; clucking and picking at stray coconut shells left from the festival. The floor is carpeted with feathers and coconut fur. Another small ascension takes me into the center of a roof opening; vines twist around the rim above, with droplets of water pattering onto the cold empty bed of the cave. It's like being stood in the center of a volcano. Besides the clucking chickens; and the odd monkey here and there. Sitting among the coconut shells I people watch and marvel at the bowl of light above my head. The Batu Caves can't half make a man feel insignificant through their size and age; but can bring one forward spiritually in the silence of such a serene place of worship. You just have to sit and listen.
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Just to the right; half way down the grand staircase, another limestone cave sits waiting for tourists to dwell in it's darkness. But this 'Dark Cave' was a conservation cave; the home to the rarest species of spider in the world. The trapdoor spider. The guided tour costs around £3; taking you into the 'Cave of Life'. A small energetic Malaysian named Sha takes us through the 2km of surveyed passages, through the seven sections and into the great chamber. It is a must see for travelers visiting the Batu Caves; and with the government pushing to mine the site, the clock is ticking. The caves are among the most researched tropical caves in the world; hives of fruit bats swirl around the roof of the cave and into a small opening above like a swarm of giant wasps. The ecosystem inside the cave is so delicate that the paths are divided to minimize the environmental impact; some areas are so precious they are reserved for researchers and scientist. What makes this cave so unique is that cave is driven by a guano ecosystem; basically meaning the 100 million year old cave is driven by the rich resource of bat poo. The rich guano can be used as fertilizer and even gun powder; which gives the government reason enough as they see it to tear the place down.

After my tour; I descended down the flight of 227 steps and into the Indian Markets surrounding the Batu Caves. I buy a fist full of Jalebi; a sweet orange Indian pastry from Northern India. Shaped like a Pretzel; the pastry is deliciously sticky. The markets of Batu Caves are filled with all things Indian; Dhoti's for men, Sari's for women, portable shrines, and the freshest of Indian fruit and vegetables. You could almost feel in New Delhi. It was a taste of my journey to India in the future. I marveled a little more then bought some Ladoo. The sound of Malaysians haggling echoes with the sound of kids laughing at the monkeys. I spit my Ladoo in shock as literally hundreds of birds shoot up into the heavens as a white Toyota Yaris heard the cloud of pigeons; I cant believe my eyes and neither can the monkeys from the look on their faces.
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One of the top ten things to do in Malaysia is to try the national dish; Nasi Lemak. A fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. The red sauce is spicy with chilli and laced with raw peanuts. You can't beat a good Nasi Lemak; and at just about £2 a dish with a drink I was inclined to have my fair share. The cook tells me it's their family's first day running the stall; she sits and tells me everything about the Nasi Lemak and how her friends go crazy for her secret recipe. They offer me a second plate on the house; sitting and staring at me from the other table is their daughter, watching the funny looking white man shovel down the delicious food no doubt. "Might I ask, what your daughter looking at?" they look and laugh at me as the mother says "nothing we've just never seen a white man eat so much hot food before". I bid farewell to the happy Malaysians and the Batu Caves and head straight for the city bus about town. The day is still young.

I'm not one for tourist tours; but in Malaysia you are better to just hop on the hop-on hop-off bus service. I head to the Kuala Lumpur bird park; the biggest walk around bird aviary in the world. It was time for some fast paced photography and some natural inspiration. Peacocks wander the grounds flaunting their feathers in contest with the other males. A plump peacock drops just in front of me; and starts what looks like a burlesque rehearsal; wavering its tail feathers until all of its feathers are quivering. The female wanders the front taking a good look; and heads to the next contestant. I can't help but laugh as a group of women in Burkas run past me with a gang of green cockatoos flying closely behind.
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A white fluffy bird I can't pronounce lines the hedgerows like a line of frail old women waiting for their pensions; backs hunched and beady eyes peeking forward. Cockatoos of all shapes, sizes and colors soar just below the overhead netting; stalking tourists for seed and eating the fruits in the trees. But among all of these species one stands out that I had never seen before which stops me in my tracks. As I clamber over the winding path through the park; a red bird elegantly strolls across the path and into the foliage.
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The crimson Ibis is found in South America and parts of the Caribbean and is one of the most striking birds I have ever seen. But there were birds with purple quiffs; blue bellies, chubby pelicans and sneaky storks. Stands filled with papaya are massacred by a flock of starlings; the grounds are photographers paradise. As the grounds are so big; a green cobweb of a net hangs over the entire park. An American woman, I now know as Sam; struggles with her camera as the elegant ibis waddles on by. So I step in and we shoot every bird within a miles radius (with our lenses of course); we exchange ideas, plans, and head our own ways. The beauty of travel eh? Waiting for the bus after my triumphant shoot; I am further questioned on my nationality by locals. A gang of taxi drivers ask me where I'm from after I frantically run for a quick visit to the Lilly Gardens next door. After I catch my breath they ask me which part of the UK I am from; being closer to Nottingham, I give the universal symbol for Robin Hood, the drawing of a bow and arrow. 'We speak English you know, I know who Robin Hood is'. I swiftly put down my imaginary bow; the man reels off more facts about the price of London underground and transport services than David Cameron when making his cuts. I give a standing ovation; only for the man to tell me he never lived there; his cousin did. Just 5 minutes to go I think to myself; then two Saudi's come asking for directions from the obvious backpacker, convincing me to share a taxi and head out for a beer. I'm always up for spontaneous plans and finding the potential in conversations; but beers with two Saudi Arabian men is a tad too far. I kindly refuse their offer and head back home for the night.
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That morning; the usual humid grey skies were cast away and in their place a rich indigo glazed my eyes. The golden hours rays licked my arms; my last day of exploring Malaysia was ahead. I stopped first at the base of the KL tower; a 5 minute walk from my hotel. The KL tower is the seventh tallest communications tower in the world. I stand at the base looking up at the 421 meter tower; at its base remains the last hectares of rain forest left in the center of Kuala Lumpur. A stone lotus flower shimmers in the morning sun; droplets run down the gold and blue flecks of the mosaic tiles. Traditional Malaysian architecture lines the base of the monument; a model village with the odd monkey here and there. But if your tastes are set more in the arts department; the bus can take you to the Malaysian Art gallery. You can meet the artists themselves; and even make an offer on their work. I was never the talented one with a paint brush so I stuck with my photographs. Passing through the museum I hold up what looks like a Chinese straw hat; Saji Piring it's called. But it's made for food, not as a hat. I'll stick to my photographs.

Around the corner from the Museum of art was 'Little India'. The Indian district of Kuala Lumpur; I hadn't yet been to India, but upon arrival it felt pretty close. Bollywood scores rattled through the air and the locals flaunted around in their Sari's and Doti's; I move at a snails pace snapping photographs of the archways lining either side of the street. Little India is really just one long street; with Indian clothing stores on either side. In the center of the roundabout; a fountain with dozens elephants spray water through the incense scented air. Through the open glass facades; shop owners boast their endless palettes of colors to passers-by admiring the rich fabrics. I slip down an alleyway to the right playing Indian music; men, children and women of all ages are sat in small metal shuttered sheds on either side. They trim the marigolds they have in their hands; threading a fine red needle through the center, these were marigold garlands. The saffron hoops of flowers are popular in Indian celebration and weddings; and are the key element of color to any festival. And here I am seeing the makers craft them from scratch; a sweet smell of buttercups and pollen intoxicates, and I take a seat next to one of the artists at work. They trim the edges with scissors; wielding the blades with such precision as they sever more heads to be added to the chain. The dedication is inspiring. But time was short; so I tried my luck at the Dhoti store; but my skinny blonde frame supports none. The shop owners giggle as I emerge from the changing room engulfed in the clothes; I eat more sweet Ladoo as comfort food and head to my final stop before my departure from this serene place. Chinatown.
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China town located on Petaling street; a 5 minute taxi ride from central Kuala Lumpur. The four connecting streets host stall after stall of the best Chinese cuisine; fresh fruit and poultry and of course, more knock-offs than you can possibly imagine. A man stirs a pot of roasted almonds as another flips homemade pancakes a to a frenzied crowd. Like any China town in the world; red chinese lanterns line every inch of the streets. Giving a sweet red ambient glow to the scene. Among the top ten things to do in KL is to haggle with a Malaysian. I spot a sweet knock off pair of Ray-Bans; 40 ringgits, challenge accepted. I feel like a native speaker as me and the vendor go into a set of clicks and heckles at one another until I get him down to 30 (£5). If you ever find yourself here; be wary that you will have to force your way through dozen upon dozen of vendors offering you the exact same thing as the last. The narrow walkway through Petaling became even more narrow; to the point where only one person could pass through. The two lanes became a one way road; but there was only so many times I could be struck in the face with Gucci knock-offs. But I had been given my warning and heeded it well; 'Hand bag time sir?' no 'You like watch?' no, 'how about lovely purse for wife?' I'm 21 I can't afford one I laugh, 'go around corner you can buy good wife for the night'. Oh dear. On the subject be careful of the growing prostitution here in Malaysia; only when I was being warned did a lady in her 60's offer me her "warming experience; make you feel good". She hands me a card with the name Michelle on it; tiny love hearts and a number decorate the bottom. I'll pass thanks Michelle.

Disturbing topics aside; I decided to take all the alternative food experiences from Malaysia's markets that I could handle. Most fast food joints in Chinatown hold the personal title for me as of the best Asian food I have ever eaten. I start off with frogs legs; after looking at the poor yellow and green blobs hopping around only moment before. Then onto sharks fin soup; I was unaware of the controversy behind this delicacy and assure you it will not happen again; followed by a full honey crab, and finishing off with sweet and sour chicken feet. The whole lot came to around £15. A buffet for me and my cockney friend Micky. Red and yellow umbrella's led from one side of the street to the other above our heads, each with a chain of Chinese lanterns hanging below. It was a taste of things to come; a taste of Hong-Kong. So I sat; people watched, wrote my notes and brought a close to my beautiful time in Malaysia. Hoping that the frigs legs wouldn't make a return. It was a lonely; thrilling and inspiring beginning to the start of my new chapter. I would take with me the culture of Hinduism, the friendly spirit of the Malaysians. And the colorful inspiring color of the Indian culture. As I write this I sit on the rooftop of a complex in Hong-Kong; in a box of scaffolding made entirely of bamboo poles; looking over the pulsing city of Hong-Kong beneath me. It was the start to a new journey. It is Chinese New Year after all...

Thank-you to all of the folks back home and the jolly folks I meet on my travels reading this. I feel truly grateful to have such a big audience following my travels; and taking the time to read this. Thank-you to those who inspire me; pushing me to carry on this hectic journey. And a thank-you to those who might not be here with me; but continue to inspire me and my work always. And a huge thankyou for the unfathomable kindness of Micky. This trip would not have been possible without your help. Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy Chinese New Year!
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Posted by Brighterside 04:32 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia*kuala_lumpur*southeast Comments (1)

Tour of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

A cosmopolitan city oozing character; diverse atmosphere and endless dining opportunities. It is a concrete collaboration of Australia, Asia and Europe. Circulating all seasons in one day. Oh and it's been voted most livable city three times in a row!

all seasons in one day 24 °C


I stepped from the plane after almost missing my flight; the sticky humidity of the East Coast of Australia was now behind me. The crisp cool air of Melbourne rolled against my cheek, it felt welcoming; familiar even. Like being by hugged by the cold climate of Europe; whilst being kissed by the hot Australian sun. No longer feeling in Australia, the passion for distant lands gripped me once again; independence and exploration were my carry-on luggage.

A brass band hummed and tooted Jingle Bells at the arrivals terminal. The airport district of Melbourne appeared to be the same as any other city as I hopped on the bus to my new home. Cities to me have always felt cold, melancholy and often intimidating to me as a traveler. As all those commuting sit staring, lifelessly; co-coordinating their eyes between the screens of their phones and the glass of their wristwatch. I look away to see the crumbling concrete facades and rusted cranes fade away to colorful banners for festivals, shows and art exhibitions. Drivers force their way past one another into the colorful catastrophe of Melbourne; sky scrapers ahead pinch the thin bank of clouds above. The eureka tower the most boastful. For those who may not know of the Eureka tower in Melbourne; it stands at 985 ft and hosts a 'Skydeck, allowing tourists to stand and observe the entirety of Melbourne as the ants of the city scurry beneath their feet below the glass floor. I would no doubt force myself into the state-of-the-art elevator at some point. It would help if I hadn't learned it climbs at 9 meters a second! Making it the fastest elevator in the Southern Hemisphere. And it starts at just $18 for adults! I ended up going to the 'Eureka Tower Sky Deck 88' shortly after. There is simply no better way to see Melbourne. Measuring at 300m high(985ft); you can see every orifice of this heaving city. The 'Sky deck 88' which you roam comes with a drinks stand and periscopes aimed on landmarks throughout the city. Melbourne is the second populous city in Australia; just thought I would throw that in there. Despite being pushed against the glass by a heaving sea of tourists I was able to assemble my camera and capture this HDR image of central Melbourne. On the bottom right is the infamous 'Federation Square'. Moments like these don't come often enough; awe-inspiring.

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But going back to my first day I exited the free bus ride to the Hilton; only to dismiss the baggage boy with a wave goodbye. Vanessa was still working; unknowing of my intention to arrive on Christmas Eve, so I took it upon myself to explore a little first. The city began to unfold before my eyes; the industrious ramble of the docks was replaced with laughter of locals, a Chinese man busks on his Jinghu (Chinese bowed string instrument). The blue Australian sky above has now been replaced with those familiar dark heaving clouds of grey; swollen with rain. I was told before arriving in Melbourne that it's the only part of Australia you could get four seasons in one day, the facts became apparent. The rain came down in droplets the size of marbles as I crossed a bridge shaped like the carcass of a whale; its ribs were wire ropes, all lined with signed padlocks just like the 'Pont de l'Archeveche' or 'Lock Bridge' in Paris. I was then reminded of New York despite never being there; another postponed trip. A tram whizzed across the corroded green bridge as a cloud of yellow cabs passed the road in front of me. Melbourne was perplexing; delightfully dynamic to my photographers eye as the over hanging skyscrapers formed diamonds of silver from my vantage point.

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I soon surprise the naive South American; having dug out an address of her workplace from close friends, I picked her up in the midst of her work, hugging one another in the fathomless crowds of Asians. It was clear that Melbourne was indeed heavily populous with Asians; but their tastes seemed to craft and shape the cities high streets, having their own China town in the center on Little Bourke St. You can dine in every different Asian cuisine from Hong-Kong desserts to Thai dishes; including 'Bubble Teas', 'Nitrogen Cooled Ice Creams' and noodle bars on every corner. One could even be fooled into being in Asia on some streets; especially on the one with the chap playing traditional chinese songs on his Jinghu. It is in this sense to us British that the city seems to lose it's European allure. However this is compensated for with a huge array of European Bars; Italian restaurants, Belgium beer holes and of course, a traditional English pub; 'The Elephant & The Wheel Barrow. A blatant dig at British pub culture. Think of the many dining possibilities as extensive and cosmopolitan as Disney Land's: 'It's a Small World';annoying anthem revoked of course. And compared to the cost of living in the rest of Australia; Melbourne, Victoria; is significantly cheaper. So those dining connoisseurs wishing for a cheaper dining experience should head here no doubt. In every restaurant, bar and outlet I visited; no matter how confined, tiny sparrows would find their way through the doors and inconspicuously inch their way under the tables, crumb by crumb; the clever devils. I would protest at the no feeding signs and laugh as diners carried on their conversations; completely unaware of the plan afoot. The birds could turn an all-you-can-eat buffet into a scene from Snow White; I was anticipating singing squirrels to wander through the rotating doors.

Every Wednesday night (check for the holidays); Melbourne hosts it's own 'Night Markets'. Boasting even more different foods; the likes of which I had never even seen before, Afghan cuisine, African, fish disguised as sweet desserts and crab burgers; shell and all. Macaroons of every flavor you could possibly imagine. Had it not been for my sickness I would have dabbled in something a little more exciting than plain rice and bread; typical luck of mine. Smoke from each food stand gathers high above my head and presses against the small windows; the setting sun turns a sickly sweet yellow as passes through the smoke; with the old lamps hanging overhead, the whole market begins to look like London Kings Cross station, all that's missing is the trains.
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I see a sign for dog soap and high tech speakers crafted from the corpses of old suitcases. You can buy and eat almost everything at the Queen Victoria markets so I can highly recommend it to those passing through Melbourne looking for something different. Contortionists; fire twirlers and acrobats hold public shows at the front of the markets, giving some top notch entertainment as you chomp through a claw of your crab burger. Alas, they may pull you up and continue to humiliate you as their performing guinea pig. Food for thought. All the while; the sky scrapers of Melbourne reflect the colors of the descending sun in their mirrored windows. Some buildings touched so close the neighbors could shake hands.

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As previously mentioned; Melbourne is so diverse for it's public art works. From indigenous dotted canvases to chalk paintings which take up the whole walkway; but for good reason. To feed the creative mind; the city holds ownership to many art galleries, like the 'Melbourne Art Precinct'. We explored the 'Melbourne Now' exhibition which was running from November 22nd 2013 until March 23rd 2014. From contemporary artworks to collections of articles associated with air; and lots of other interactive pieces were enough to inspire any creative cranium. One room burst into life as you walked in; crackling as loud as thunder over the hundreds of sub woofers, spotlights by the hundreds turned the room a blinding white. Another room shows photographs of attractive female teens with nothing but t-shirts on with 'slap stick' comments scrawled over the front; I find most pieces in the exhibition consist of post modernism's, and the dissolving of Aboriginal culture; crippled under the weight of alcoholism and stereotyping, I haven't seen one black Australian since I have arrived. A tumbleweed of RBG acrylic dangles from the ceiling; casting a surreal shadow on the ground. The city obviously sparks creativity; and the majority of my documenting is based on asking why? With all due respect compared to the rest of Australia; this city is exceedingly more creative, I am convinced.
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A building shaped like a golf tee looms over the art precinct; looking something of a skinny Eiffel tower. Horse led carriages trundle through the city; dropping their poo all over the road as taxi drivers behind curse in tribute to their newly polished alloys, now soiled by the horses deposits.
As I cross Princes bridge towards Federation Square; people from all walks of life stroll past. A sad looking man in a pin-striped suit, Chinese girls dressed in pink tutu's and struggling artists sit in doorways with plaques listing their name, age and needs with a skillful scribbling next to them; I donate to their upsetting story. A man passes me and asks for money to buy food; I feel the privilege of looking like a wealthy man; 'Reece Pickering, helper of the homeless' doesn't quite have a ring to it. A woman makes me smile as she hands a bag of food to a homeless man; small things like this make my journey more beneficial to the soul.

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Federation square is a civic and cultural center disguised as a green and tanned rubix cube. After reaching the square I was faced with tons of British and Australian cricket hooligans wearing war-paint, projecting heckles and cheers at the life sized screen playing the match. As the ashes had been reclaimed by Aussie soil; I kept my accent hidden under my scarf.
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But the art galleries of the precinct were not the center of attention for me; the street art of Melbourne was just as compelling. Located on Hosier and Rutledge Lane, just opposite Federation Square. I go back to the same place sometimes three times a week. Taking tons of images and collapsing them all together making collages and triptychs. On the odd occasion I see some graffiti artists searching for any spot on the covered facade. Some artists had even placed 3-D shapes high up against the walls; making the very bricks look as though they're emerging from the foundations, once again I find myself in a sea of tourists. Camera shutters sound in my ears like a swarm of crickets; the street art is becomingly increasingly well known. Butterflies of all shapes and colors are glued at random to different walls; one has a glaring pair of eyes, the walls look alive. Bars over windows are covered in a hand knitted pattern; making the cold steel bars the impression of a huge tea cosy.
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A huge depiction of the elephant headed god; Ganesh, stands tall to the north entrance of the street. It's colors are mesmerizing. The detail is so refined the painting seems to be stepping from the brick work. I love this place; and find a new appreciation for street art, it is timeless and is crafted solely from the public. I take more photographs than I can bare of these animated alleyways.

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If like me; you feel a little overwhelmed by cities and desire a little peace and quiet, Melbourne's more 'natural scenes' can be reached by the tram network in mere minutes. The route 96 from the centre of Melbourne can take you to St. Kilda beach in no time. St. Kilda is a kind of seaside village; hosting markets every Sunday. It also features the gigantic creepy clown gates of 'Luna Park'. Which seems like a bit of a rusty deathtrap so I didn't venture too far in. The gaping jaws of the entrance make for a good photo opportunity. If you head there on a Saturday; as we did, prepare to be battered by passers-by, the flocks of tourists will see to it that you miss every photo opportunity. St. Kilda carries on Melbourne's variation of cuisines; you can actually enjoy a decent fish and chips by the sea, one could almost feel in Skegness on the shores of Britain. Especially when a hot summers day evolves into the grey proceedings of a storm. Then we were shoved back onto the route 96 tram like sardines. The seaside village seems to have the makings for a good few drinking sessions; live bands and acts and every form of fast food you could possibly imagine. But I surprisingly miss the heaving metal and hustle of Melbourne central; so I head back.
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I do photographs all hours through the night; capturing the life of Melbourne by night. The streets feel safe; Flinders Street railway station glows behind me in the background of the cars and trams; one of the busiest railway stations in all of Australia. I shimmy between two bins away from the easing crowds; perched with my tripod, clicking at the night time scene passing by.

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I move across the road to the courtyard of Federation Square; it's almost midnight. As I float through my trance of taking photographs and listening to music; a lanky figure shadows over my lens, a man who I can only describe as Salvador Dali. As he boasted the exact signature mustache; he asks me if I like taking photographs and I tell him of my passion for long exposures and nighttime life. "Do you video people?" he says gripping a microphone attached to his camera; I nod lying through my teeth as I agree to film interviews for his You tube channel, I am intrigued by the mustached man. I'm led to a small ring of late-twenties Aussie guys; a couple of European girls hang by talking to them. Allegedly the man is in charge of a 10,000 man flash mob; desperately pulling together recruits for a flash mob at the gates of Luna Park, St.Kilda. I still ask no questions and follow the mustached man; I stand by filming the passers-by he interviews, asking about their daily routines etc. My lower arm trembles from the sickness in my stomach and no doubt the $1 latte I just necked 5 minutes ago at the servo. The mans target audience soon becomes apparent, all young attractive women; he gives a creepy grin as he raises an eyebrow and plucks at this whiskers; I pretend to be taking a photograph and wait until him and his hapless goons wander away, then I leave. Passing trams trundle by; some old some new, their lines crackle and flashes of blue light up the roofs of the carriages, like small angry clouds whizzing by.

I carry on about my business observing the thunderstorm of tram carriages; now taking shots of federation square by night. The courtyard is tranquil; couples sit humming to one another in conversation at a bar close by; the walls of federation square pulse light as colored banners scroll across the front advertising what it's interior has to offer. A skyscraper in the background attracts herds of seagulls; they buzz around the antenna like flies, the scene seems surreal as the moon rises behind the flocking gulls. If you get the chance; head to Princes bridge at night; the reflections of the skyline turns the water into a sea of rippling colors.

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But if you've had enough of the city life. The great ocean road is just 3 hours away (not long in Aussie driving standards). We head out the next day; courtesy of Vanessa's good friend Luis. We drive across the coast; I clutch onto my seat as the small silver Yaris speeds around the cliff edges on the small skinny road. The silver shell of the car and a frail fence is all that stands between me and the ten foot drop to the rocks of the ocean line below. I feel as though I am on a scalextric track the kind we all played with as kids. The sea thrashes in a foam of jade and turquoise below; I still can't believe how dramatically the landscape of Australia changes. We never made it to the twelve apostles; now probably six thanks to erosion, but we do end up in a quirky town named Lorne. It just so happens that we arrive when the locals are holding their annual 'pier to pub' swim, thousands of swimmers compete in a 1.2km swim from the old pier to; yes you guessed it, a pub. I love finding random events like these. We arrived just to see the first contestant cross the finish line, the man is by no means athletic; his wet suit smuggles what looks like a basketball, the beer belly is thirsty underneath. Swimmers of all ages, heights and nationalities emerge from the water like deserted seals; panting as they unzip the black skin from their own, a sea of hands and faces breaks the waves, it is a delight to see.
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One Hercules of a man swats through a gang of men and children with the pace of Usain Bolt; it was hard to believe that children as young as 9 swim against men of that caliber. We watch the last stragglers; then head to the beach to relax. The Victorian sea is enough to make my nipples cut through glass; women stroll wet and anxiously covering their front in the chilling wind, for good reason of course. But the sun is still intense, still Australian; low flying clouds swirl around in the sky like cotton balls, the shallow ones churned by the three helicopters patrolling the beach below, the scene is bizarre but the atmosphere is more than welcoming. This was my last beach in Australia; for the final time I let the salty air fill my lungs and pressed my hands into the warm soft cushioned sand beneath. The scene reminds me so much of Cornwall; the seaside town in the south of Britain. In the moment I remember and relish in the anecdotes of beaches I had visited throughout my tour of Australia. From the West on beautiful cable beach; to the East on the nudist beach of magnetic island.For the last time (at least for now) I head into the ocean; the cold relentless ocean. To top of this side of the coast; we even head to the beach where the end scene of 'Point Break' was filmed with Keanu Reeves back in 1991. The beach is called bells beach; the scene at the end where the 'storm of the century' is taking place.
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The great ocean road is heavy with greenery; no dry desolate singed land here. But like the rest of Australia, the terrain is forever changing; green mountain sides swollen with hanging trees and shrubs begin to disappear and the land becomes flat. Eucalyptus trees vacant of their Koala residents become mere match sticks on the horizon; the climatic sunset encourages this change, a saffron haze sets over the gold of the crops. There is now nothing but rolling yellow hills. The sky changes from a warm golden hue, to a cold azure as a full moon rises to my left; the cows follow the sun and begin to stroll back to their pens. In my mind I say goodbye to Australia; remembering the many sunsets I witnessed as a photographer on the beaches of Broome. And so came a close to my tour of Melbourne, Victoria. Concluding this life-changing tour of Australia.

The country had been good to me; the countless hours of driving, barely crossing half a state had shown me the unfathomable size of Australia, and what it truly means to be lost in the outback. The country's rich array of tropical, dangerous and fluorescent wildlife added some enchantment to my journey; and didn't half keep me on my toes. Just about every aspect of Australia made me feel most insignificant; from being a meter away from a 80,000kg humpback whale, to standing at the base of Uluru; a towering 1,142ft. But since I started this journey, I have always vowed to 'see the Indigenous side of Australia; not the white mans Australia' as recommended by an Irish man in Broome West Australia whilst discussing Australia's economy over a lengthy pint of Guinness.
In a way I feel that the country has failed it's first people; unfortunately. But count myself lucky to have seen the cave paintings of the 'creation days' or 'dream time' from the aboriginal ancestors in the caves of Kakadu National Park northern territory. This country truly is wild; they live a completely different lifestyle to us Europeans and despite their detest towards us former ashes snatchers, they are a good bunch (we have to let them win at sometime eh?).

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At the point of writing this; I am now just under 4000 miles away from Melbourne; in Southeast Asia, back to the humidity. I'm currently sat at a desk twenty-one story's high looking over the city of Malaysia in a five-star hotel. Not sure how I got this lucky really.

If you're sat there reading this blog, then good of you. Thank-you very much for taking the time to read about my adventures; all of this travelling is made twice as enjoyable knowing that I have such a good audience to share it with!

If you would like to take a look at some of my personal photography work beyond the blog; you can here@

https://www.facebook.com/BrightersidePhotography?ref=hl

Posted by Brighterside 20.01.2014 00:39 Archived in Australia Tagged melbourne*art*culture*food*anec Comments (0)

Tour of Mackay, Queensland. East Australia: Trouble Pt 2

Since entering Eastern Australia I have been lavished in its rich countrysides; white sandy beaches and distant islands, and narrowly avoided a beating. Who knows what will come next? This is part II of my 'Tour of Mackay, Queensland.

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Queensland was much like Darwin for it's Bird life. Green Lorikeet's weaved in and out of the veranda of the cafe as I sat writing my notes talking to family. Whilst drinking my Chai in the ferocious 90% humidity with my black shirt, blue washed chino's and glasses peaked at the end of my nose; collecting a reservoir of sweat. The passing Lorikeets would flap their wings at such tremendous speed; splitting through the treeline in green and orange formations of fluttering arrows, passing the nearby whistling ducks. The ducks would sit outside and sometimes venture inside to beg for stale bread from staff.
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When feeding the orange and brown plumed feather balls; an entire array of wildlife in the park would gather by the masses outside the cafe. Blue faced honey eaters; Lorikeets, Magpies, Raven's, Masked Lapwings and doves in all shapes and sizes; some birds with capes,mohicans and some with yellow masks. The birds would gather looking like something of a Venetian masked parade as they pecked and pushed their way through bags of bread. A straw necked Ibis with one leg would always tower over them; stealing the majority of the bread thrown to the group with its tweezer-like beak.

I could see Brampton Island in the distance on the misty horizon; it's aggressive occupant no doubt looking back at me as I threw the last crumbled stale scone to the birds; sitting back down with Vanessa and my family. We worked like a crack team of job seekers; looking for farm work for myself in the area. As I had mentioned previously; one of the reasons we had came on the road trip in the first place was to find regional work.
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Definition: Regional (Re-Juh-Nul)
of or pertaining to a region of considerable extent; not merely local

In addition to this; the work is to be accomplished in these outcast areas over a period of 88 days or three 'calender months'. The completion of regional work in Australia would grant me a second year visa to remain in Australia. Types of work acquired were simple; which consisted of two options, the first being fruit picking or the second being farm work; the latter being the mustering and slauightering of cattle. I picked the former work option for obvious reasons. The stories of a cattle station worker would have no doubt been glorious. But I had once been vegetarian for 8 months; after being frequently exposed to the glutenous aftermath from corporations such as McDonald's'. These personal''exposures' being low budget television ads with annoying jingles trying to pass the inedible dog meat off as the 'quick healthy option', all the while these were being broadcast did I see chubby children chowing down on those budget burgers; on my travels from the UK to Venice. The small stretch of obesity and that new found feeling of gluttony was enough to put me off eventually from my fresh bowl of tagliatelle bologna as I sat in San Marco Square; the timing for change of diet was atrocious.

Dieting habits and personal quarrels with big corporations aside; I searched for fruit picking in the Mackay region, so Vanessa and myself would still see one another and live comfortably. Internet searches; pamphlets and endless phone numbers provided nothing but a dead end, the denial of my second year was sealed and assured at this point. That was until I felt the urge to try a town named Bowen; about 300 kilometers North of Mackay. I called every hostel; every farm in the area, nothing came back. My determination was fathomless; I felt this drive was from a lot of things, my return to Broome the following year relied on it, to see my dear uncle and his family again, the money Australia could provide was much higher than the UK by any standard; even the lowest paid job in Australia would probably outweigh that of an averagely paid job in the UK. But the cost of living in Australia is significantly higher. I called the same number I had tried a week before; it was called 'The Bogie River Bush house. A man with a distinctive accent answered the phone, South African Maybe?. The mans name was Ernie; "There is work for your regional mista' you come here and get signed off three months; you pay $165 for your accommodation that is it; your girlfriend will not have work on the mangoes for two weeks ay? no work yet. She can clean bush house for rent yes? Then two weeks she have work. Oh and you? you will be picking melons. I understand if work is too hard and you want to leave. Be here Monday, please, thank you; goodbye mista' Pickering. The 'T's rolled off his tongue like the plucking of an acoustic guitar with an untuned sound. No sooner did I make the call did I find myself saying goodbye to my family and on route to the 'The Bogie River Bush house . Mackay's lush green cane fields became nothing more than a speck in the rear mirror.

We set off just after 2:30pm; an Irish receptionist named Katie had provided us with directions beforehand, as we passed into the dry dusty outback my expectations began to drop faster than the service bars on my mobile. The house was 30 kilometers away from any civilization at all; it was a 45 minute drive to the nearest town. The surrounding high hills in the distance were Iced with thick oval clouds; like UFO'S casting their shadows over the peaks. The trees were skinny and white, scattered across the land, yet all eerily corresponded to the same height; those days spent there in a morning I would see the light of the sunrise and sunsets, leaking through the blank curtain of bark in a sheet of golden hue.

We had the old fashioned holiday experience of hoping which accommodation would not be ours; after seeing abandoned cars scattered like rusting corpses on the lawn of each home we passed, we weren't feeling too optimistic. The corrugated roads were like a casual earthquake passing through. The road was barely manageable for our fragile van, she rocked and tumbled like an empty oil tanker filled with pebbles.

The pale dust rose and hugged the golden flecks of the sunset passing through the surrounding forest. Kangaroo corpses were scattered in their dozens along the roadside; a daunting reminder to drive carefully.

After a few miles of seismic activity in the travelling oil drum we came across an old fashioned horse box. Painted lime green with child-like kangaroo illustrations with red and yellow flowers; with the words 'Bogie River Bush house' scrawled along the top in an old circus font. The sign boasted 'Pool, TV, and Wildlife Available.' As though the forest felines could be summoned on request. Later did I learn it was in fact the case. Worry struck my head in darts of doubts; my mind was the board and the bulls eye my ambition, questioned in those fatal strikes. THUD 'why am I doing this' THUD 'is it really worth it to be granted a year?, that's if I even meet the criteria'. And finally; 'Why the hell are we'? Bulls eye.

Sign's were sloppily written the the right of the entrance; stating 'NO ALCOHOL' and 'TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT AT, THEN PROSECUTED'. This was quite a contrast compared to the sickly sweet horse box to the left. Unaware we were as those bold black flicks of paint were only a mere indicator of the owners attitude.

It was deathly quiet; so quiet I left the headlights of the van aimed on us and the front door for added protection. Peeking through a stain glassed window I could see nothing but darkness besides the odd antique clay lamp, illuminating the outlines of oak wood furniture; furnished with silks and fabrics. All in all, it looked warming and inviting; a small figure with a pony tail emerged below the glass and opened the door. It was the housekeeper and receptionist. Katie was a small friendly Irish lady with a welcoming smile to match the interior. Before we had barely exchanged pleasantries we had signed our 'contracts'; and handed over our passports for security checks. We were then toured around the grounds and shown to our new home for the next three months. We started in the gardens; there was the 'Kangaroo Courtyard' where dozens congregated, hitting one another as some hopped and fed there young. The kangaroos didn't seem to mind our presence though; the number of people passing by everyday had made the kangaroos more accustomed to human presence. I leaned in to pat a mothering Sheila as her young was getting comfortable in her pouch; not a flinch came from her as I stroked the furry warm chest. When inches below sat its tapered ebony claws; limp and unprovoked; knowing full well that at any moment it's razor sharp claws could open my stomach like a can of tuna.
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The pool area was decorated as one with the outback; white stone paving lead from the bar to the poolside, the water as clear as the Maldives; the same oak furniture as the first room, laced with fabrics and a thick red rug beneath for watching TV, only to be told we weren't allowed to sit there. A games room sat to the right of the bar; with new pool tables, dart boards and ping-pong tables. Bamboo curtains fenced the entire complex to stop mosquito's.

The first room had seen was for the proprietor of the property and the guests for bed and breakfast. But despite it's immaculate upkeep; the house had no guests. The grounds were indeed tranquil and well furnished, the rest of the place was as well kept as the first room we had seen; all besides our living quarters that is.
We were led away from the glow of the bar area and down a dark path about a quarter of a mile away; back through the shadowy foliage of the pale trees, down and up from a dip in the path where a river had once been, and up into the 'Workers Housing'. Whether it was from darkness or the fairy lights at the entrance, the place did seem inviting; a small bald Frenchman twiddled his long black pointy beard through his finger as he swayed in the hammock at the entrance, "Bonjour!" he said, "Guten tag!" said a bunch of German's around the outside dinner table; all seemed to be smirking, and by no surprise all captivated by Vanessa as we walked up the steps into our new home, I noticed there were no other women.

The floor was an overlaying sheet of fake tiling covering the no doubt withered floorboards beneath as they creaked and cracked under our weight. I passed through feeling like I was on the deck of a pirate ship, expecting to fall through and into the dark depths at any moment. The kitchen glowed a luminous yellow from the mosquito deterring bulbs; dirty dishes laid around the dry dusty sink. We then passed into the ' wash room'; a single shower cubicle and toilet, right next to the kitchen. Opposite was the washer and sink for hand washing our clothes. Several fridges and freezers lined the room that emerged into one; some were broken and used as cupboards, a set of green plastic outdoor furniture worked as the indoor dining room. One space was dubbed as the living room as it hosted a TV from the nineties as a center piece, and it's accessories a green three piece lounger with cracks and gashes as thick and deep as the skin of a crocodile. It was that sofa that I stuck to with sweat after a hard days work in the fields. Our bedroom consisted of two single beds; a broken ceiling fan and a small cupboard with the same height and width as a grandfather clock. We looked at one another; bid farewell and thanks to Katie, and slumped onto the bed in a fit of sighs. "We can't do this for three months Reece." Vanessa said. The ceiling fan squeaked as though proving her right. I sighed," We haven't even started the work yet."

I wrestled under from Vanessa's tired arms and shuffled out the door; passing through the neighboring dorm of Germans. Some fast asleep by only 8:30pm; I introduced myself and all occupants did the same in turn. There were two Frenchmen; the first named Pierre (Yes I'm not generalising) and 'TT' short for Tatien being the second; the small man extended his tanned arm from the hammock with a hearty handshake as his pointy beard protruded from the side of the yellow and red cloth; the cigarette burned to the filter still hanging from his lips. Then there were the three Germans; Sven, Max and Sam. Lowe and behold were the last two occupants of my own Nationality; Luke and Jake. I made myself known to the group and that I intended to start work straight away in the morning; 'morning' was 4:30 am and the days work finished at 5:30 pm. "Mate it's hard graft" said one of the Englishmen, "Like nothing you've seen before; overworked and underpaid." My stomach sank but I was by no means put off; most of these men were either obese, young or smokers. On my way back into my room I picked up a melon sat on the kitchen counter observing the green boulder; it was the size of two footballs glued together; and it was allegedly a 'small one'. I wasn't a big man but I would put my body through whatever I had coming my way as I always had and will through life. So they gave me the details and I gave them my farewell for the evening. I thought little about the work that night but what the future would bring and what it could take away; I turned off the whimpering ceiling fan and feel to sleep.

A crisp cold breezed clutched my bare torso as I woke up to my alarm at 4:30 am, it was the first time I had felt cold in Australia. Shuffles and groans came from the hoards of backpackers next door as they fumbled for their sunscreen and straw hats. I kissed the forehead of the slumbering Vanessa and left. By 5am I was fed, watered and waiting in the gravel stoned car park in a blue singlet; denim shorts and straw hat. The moonlight from the crescent moon still shone through the aligned trees; shimmering on the water of the 5 liter bottle I used as a seat. I began to get nervous as I saw the aches and pains vent through the faces of the other workers as they struggled up the small incline and into their cars. The owner charged us to use the vehicle to and from the farm and so we used our own method of transport; my car was of course exempt.

A German chap named Max kindly offered to drive us in his four man van; the drive was a scenic half an hour to the farm, passing mountain ranges and the waking cattle. Nobody said a word; some of the group had been drinking until eleven at night which may seem a petty time to call last drinks but I assure you; thirty-five degree heat for ten hours straight will make it feel like twenty-fours. The last stretch of road had more craters than the moon; Pierre was tossed around the van like a rag doll. I quietly chuckled under my straw hat as the Frenchman was launched into the roof after every pothole. He should have carried the melon to weigh himself down.

Warehouses appeared to the right; tomato fields outlined them as far as the eye could see. Farm machinery stood static over the swarms of Asian workers; a sign with a grinning tomato stood to the left of the entrance saying 'Donmore Farms; The Happier Option'. The tremor of the cattle grid woke me from the bedding of my straw hat. The night before when the workers gave me their 'briefing' they had included details on a man only described by locals as 'Angry John'.

It was as I remembered this that I saw a skinny small man, pacing up and down the car park. Scraggly black hairs stuck out of his navy cap like straw on a scarecrow; tattered trainers covered by gators hung at the bottom of his skinny freckled legs. Half covered by matching navy shorts; his blue canvas shirt screwed up into the mud smeared cargo pants, barely containing the bulbous beer belly which wrestled with his black buckled belt. His eyes were covered with a cheap set of sunglasses; the plastic clung to his purple snout as he shouted. His skin was aged from the long days in the sun; done so to a leathery texture which would have looked fine in a packet of beef jerky at a roadhouse. I grabbed my things and followed suite of the others; "Better be more fucking useful than yesterday; or nobody gets a day off this week, well get in the truck then you useless arseholes!" he said as he adjusted his shades with his middle finger; giving the insulting gesture. Our 'lift' to the farm was a steel giant of a lorry; the back was a roofless, empty steel box; ten inches thick. The sides and floor were powdered with rust; I threw my back pack and water on the ground and sat with my head in my hands, as we were all lurched from side to side like cattle awaiting slaughter. The melon fields were a couple of kilometers away. The steel was freezing cold to the touch; our belongings we churned together as the lorry passed up and down a small valley. We passed a sea of the mago trees that Vanessa was due to pick; non looked ready in a fortnight by any means. Two thwacks on the hard steel with the drivers leathery fist indicated to get out the van; we clambered out one by one onto the dry dusty mud, trying to recliam our lunch and water in a disorganized cloud of orange dust.

The morning sun was becoming intense against my skin; the exposure crumpled my eyes into a squint. As they closed I saw dark contempt and heard nothing but the shouts and wails of the man named 'Angry John'. We were led to a field by the second in command; 'Sven' the German; who was one of our own. But had been given the task of coordinating us simply due to how long he had been there. John drove back to the farm after an outburst of random insults on Europeans. In his six weeks of picking melons; Sven had earned no extra pay in this role, just less abuse from the one named John as a reward; if he did a good job that is. We stood in the first melon field in a diagonal line of five men; the first was TT being the picker, then me; Pierre third and the two Germans Max and Sam. Sven wasn't accounted for as he strolled ahead doing the 'pre-picking' for TT. I could only describe the scene as a prisoners labor line; without the armed guard, and the shackles replaced with melon vines. As we walked forward through the 600m field; the man to my left would toss the melons picked from the three men's lines before him. All the while I was to pick mine, checking for brown stems, this confirmed that the melon was ready; as opposed to a green stem and a small melon which were not. Although if some were 'big enough' and had a green stem, we were permitted to pick it. Although the size criteria was forever changing in the eyes of angry John. I picked my first melon; sweat dripped on to the green marbled ball as Pierre let out a piercing shriek.

I looked up; just as a 15kg tiger melon soared past my skull, smashing against the twisted green ground in a pink splash. Seeds dripped from my straw hat in pink droplets. "Eh man, that was how you say; a close one no?" "Yes Pierre, very close indeed".
So as well as picking my row and hauling them over to TT; I had to catch melons from the left and ensure my brains weren't among the pink mush on the ground in the process. Each melon weighed around 10-15 pounds on average; that was seedless, the oval shaped tiger melons were by far the most agonizingly heavy after a while. These weighed around 20 pounds and had to be handled with both hands.

The green vines almost seemed to writhe in the ripple of the suns rays. Tiger melons would hide inches deep beneath entanglements of the prickled foliage, which after a few hours began to itch and irritate the skin to a red blotchy canvas. Itching was near impossible as every distraction invited a plundering watermelon to the torso. After two hours of picking three fields; a van came over the horizon, loaded with cardboard boxes a metre deep and a metre wide. "That's early". Said Luke. Knowing the routine too well. An obese red bearded man sat in the drivers side in his orange overalls; with a more fitting description as a chimpanzee. A skinny woman sat in the passenger side; with a small chihuahua sat on her lap, her blonde bob cut flopping from side to side as the van made it's way towards us.

"Get on, on get packing; tigers this side". The ape gestured with his hairy fingers towards the right of the truck. Loading the melons onto the truck was the quickest and hardest part of the day; and was accomplished through three roles. The first picking, the second throwing and the third being the catcher on the van; we would rotate each role when a box was full. Me, TT and Pierre took the left side; I chose to be picker first, using a lifting technique my Brother-In-Law to be had taught me when being my personal trainer. Taking the full weight with my legs and keeping my back straight. I squatted down; threw the melon in my air to Pierre who threw it up to TT catching on the truck. The truck began to move at a slow pace. I repeated this a few dozen times; my back was already feeling the strain, I looked down the seemingly infinite line to my left; a green haze of melons lined as far as the eye could see. We swapped when one box had been filled; the melons often slipped from my grasp due to the amount of my sweat falling onto it. A heckle to 'change would force the driver to stop and let us re-organise to our next role. A basketball stance to the man catching on the truck was a good way to pass the melons; bouncing with my legs and pushing upward like a spring coil to save my back. And finally it was my turn to be catcher; which was classed as the easiest part, I classed it as the most dangerous. As catcher; you caught the melon, and had to place it gently in the cardboard pen. But these pens were about 1" inch thick, on many occasions we risked chopping off a finger as the weight of the melons landed on stray fingers; which were floating centimeters above the cardboard. On one occasion; Pierre had thrown a Tiger to me as I was stacking another inside the pen, trying to be fast and stop the melon striking my rib cage, I gripped to end of the melon, the weight and speed forced my index finger against the thick cardboard like a guillotine. I struck the glass of the drivers window with my bleeding fist to stop. Whether it was the blood smears or shouting; both brought him to a halt, the pompous woman gasped. But TT and Pierre did not stop; a stray melon smashed into the container; the driver howled a command for me to clean up the mess, so I shoveled the mess of blood and melon mush with my crippled fingers. I took my underlying bandanna and used it as a bandage; and carried on my role.
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This same process of loading the trucks would occur five or six times a day with no warning; the trucks would appear spontaneously. Then to more picking as soon as the truck had left. This continued for ten hours straight with a half an hour 'break'. Breaks consisted of hiding under anything remotely shady; which was often either the combine harvester left by farmers or shadows of the stacked beehives; used for pollination. We always chose the former, on the odd occasion the driver would stay for a smoke and we would hide under the truck for shade.
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My first day had almost broken me already; the guys said I did good for a newbie. Due to there being a little more cloud coverage, and no John around; they classed the day to be 'one of the easiest yet'. My back felt like a man was standing on my spinal column; the blisters on my hands pulsed and burst, the only pockets of moisture on my dry prickly skin. After being loaded into the rusty container at the end of the day; we had to sign for our hours and de-briefed by Angry John. Whose dismissal extended past nothing more than "go on, fuck off home and rest".

I remember standing in the cold shower; plucking the needles from my skin and scrubbing the dirt from my hands, seeing to the cuts from the cardboard. Despite all efforts against the Australian sun, my skin had burned to a crisp cherry red. Every part of my body ached. I fell against Vanessa in bed and passed out; until 4:30am the next day. This process of under paid over worked borderline slave labour continued for six more days; the night before my seventh, I had vowed to the guys I would be leaving. Two Belgians had joined the group; one well built and strong, the other skinny but tall and also quite lean. They apparently lasted four hours after bidding to stay three months; both had thrown up and been sent home, the outcome was a days pay; barely enough to cover the $165 loss of deposit. Right after they had just lost $165 dollars deposit at the bush house. As the days past I grew more used to the work; muscles healed and pains grew less over the days. But the biggest strain was not from my tired back or arms; but of my mentality. Vanessa was not being paid or been given work as promised as the farmer had told me the mangoes were not to be ready for at least five weeks, when we had been told two. Vanessa was having trouble with the manageress of the bush house; who had made every attempt to bring her down for no reason; calling her lazy was the most insulting. As the hazy eyed hermosa had always worked hard in her previous jobs.

I told Vanessa I had enough; showing her my cuts and bid to state our leave tomorrow night after my last day of work. That morning started the same, we joked and laughed as we trundled toward the farm. John was more agitated than ever; looking as though he still hadn't changed his clothes from my first day. He removed his shades, tired bags of flesh circled around his eyes like the markings on a tree stump; the black pimples of his eyes hidden in the grey caverns. His tousled black mustache barely covered his gnarled yellow and black teeth as spit and profanities projected from his mouth like bile.

Apparently we were too slow in our line of work the previous days; a new batch of workers arrived on what looked like a school bus to the right of us, a young crowd of boys got onto a truck and were taken to the melon fields. He threatened that the progress of these 'boys' would determine our employment. For the sake of the younger audience I will not list what was said by the wretched man. He instructed every one to get in the truck; and two to ride with him as he had room. Myself and Pierre were the slowest to run away to the comfort of the rusty lorry as the others had; and so we shared a cabin with John, agitated socially awkward John. Energy drinks and beer cans lined the floor of the truck, silence filled the cabin; myself and the Frenchman said nothing as John tried to make small talk despite threatening our jobs only moments ago. I still said nothing, the man repulsed me; I wouldn't wish that kind of attitude on my enemies. His anger ridden self returned as we arrived at the fields; only this time he joined us. This meant an extra set of hands but also meant a quickened pace, shorter break; and a loss of nerves. Everybody's voice quivered in replies of 'sorry' when the man addressed their mistakes; I said nothing, tilting the straw hat over my brow when he tried to address me. But of course when he wasn't looking or was too far ahead; we would smash a melon for sustenance and have a good laugh despite what was happening around us. Bad melons would feel the force of my converse ; as I plundered my foot into the mush out of pure annoyance at the fruits that caused so much pain to my aching body.
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That day I was the pre-picker; and John was the person I was pre-picking for, regrettably. "That's a fucking green stem what do you think you are doing you prick?" he squealed at me, though I still said nothing. He picked up his pace and began walking toward me with a stem, throwing the small piece at me, then he turned and carried on ahead "i'll fucking do it" he said. The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee clung to the wind and across my path despite the twenty meters between us; with every command, a whiff of the potent mix would fill my nostrils. He was a miserable man; working on the farm for the most of his life with no other company than the 'kids' he shouted at for a living; the other farmers mocked him. To this man we were just dirty backpackers. "Don't you speak?" he gestured to me. Still, I remained silent coaxing a reaction from the angry little man. He continued to find 'mistakes' of ours throughout the day.
Trucks came one after the other at least 7 or 8 in a row this time. By this point it was 5pm and I was exhausted more than usual, I was quivering and shuddering with the wind despite the 40 degree heat. The last truck came, a man pulled up; left the vehicle and jumped into John's Ute, he then presumably drove back to the farm.

Screams and heckles came from the raspy vocal chords of the slack jawed neanderthal as he lit another cigarette; " that was my fucking car!" he said over and over. He ordered TT to drive the truck, then Sven; both failed miserably as I later found they had lost their licenses for illegal reasons. I watched the stray melons pop under the weight of the truck; replicating my thoughts of hope at the time. Then I climbed into the truck without saying a word; dismissing Sven. I lifted the faulty clutch as gently as I could, the poor girl was as rusted as the bottom of the titanic. I prevailed and went as slow as I could for my colleagues loading the truck. Despite his heckles toward me as 'A fucking pom' which I disregard as an insult; I checked the broken mirrors to see if my friends were coping with the pace, catching Johns eye in the mirror. "Don't look at me you twat" he said. I stalled the van and dropped out of the cabin. My last nerved had popped like one of the underlying melons; with no trace of my former self. I felt the sickly shade of red had haze over my eyes, the desperate degraded version of myself had taken enough. I lifted up a tiger melon the size of a small child over my head; addressing the stale cloud of smoke around John's head. "I'm not looking at you! You cretin! you miserable excuse for a human being!; why don't you attempt to drag your wheezing sorry ass into that van and drive it yourself my good sir; if you are physically capable of course? thank you good day."

As far as I know; my employment as a melon picker at 'Donmore Farms' was terminated shortly after the occurrence. We laughed and joked about the days events as we chewed our way through a dozen tomatoes from a bad batch on the farm as we drove home at our usual time of five-thirty. My head felt swollen and ached with every pothole; I could barely keep my eyes open due to the sleep deprivation. The fever had raged on throughout the day; most probably being the cause of my outburst; but I was yet to address Ernie of our departure from the bush house that night. I woke up to nothing but darkness around eight in the evenin; I knew I was in the comfort of our bedroom when I heard the squeaking of the ceiling fan above; and the warm breath from Vanessa against my face. My cold skin was doused with sweat; I had managed to perspire through my shorts and singlet, through the quilt, and on to the mattress, losing copious amounts of body fluids. Determined that I had been bitten by a snake or spider I urged Vanessa to check my body for wounds; fortunately nothing appeared.
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It was apparent that I was suffering with sunstroke; despite my best efforts to stay cool through hydration and protecting my skin in the fields, it wasn't enough against the ruthless terrain. The sickness only made me more determined to get us out of there.
I threw myself upward; my abs and lower back ached with such tremendous pain I fell onto the floor; I was light headed, feeling as though my cranium was replaced with a melon itself. With Vanessa's help I pulled myself up and began to shuffle out of the house, and down toward the pool area; where an unsuspecting Ernie sat watching television on his three piece suite we were forbidden to touch.

I sat beside him on the sofa; placing my sweating shaking hand on the soft silk. Ernie regarded me as nothing more than a ghost as he took a sip of his beer and looked at me, then back to the television. "Sorry Ernie we can't do this anymore; we're leaving tomorrow before we have to pay another week in advance, as you said the work was too hard and I, we; wish to leave".

"Well that's tough mate, because you said three months". He said as he carried on staring intently at the television; as though reading a script from the screen. The thought of the man retaining both our passports crossed my mind as I started to talk. Kept in a safe with only him knowing the combination.
"You said if the work was to hard.." I uttered as he cut me off; "You backpackers are all the same; you leave me with no workers and when life gets tough you want to quit". Bearing in mind that day a Scottish fellow had lasted four hours before throwing up and getting hit in the testicles with a seedless watermelon. I had given them a week, no more I thought; it isn't worth it.

I tried to reason with apology and the fact that I had waited until two Swedish workers were due to arrive the next morning was reason enough for me. "You need to grow some balls mate..". After Ernie said this; all logic from myself was unaccounted for, the fever wrestled with my bones as I stood up over the man in his precious chair and began to walk away. "I need to grow some balls? It's you and that devil in blue cargo shorts who spend every day shouting at those who are just kids compared to you. LOOK AT ME!" Vanessa clutched at my hand, her sweet voice was all I heard to try and calm me. I slumped against the bar side to my right for balance. His eyes widened as he looked away from the screen for the second time.
"You need to grow some balls; give us our passports, we leave first thing tomorrow that's it, are you going to retain us here otherwise?"

"Not to mention the illegal pay; poor quality of working standards and the fact that you employ Asians illegally is something I will be taking with me back to the city for reference."
It is a well known fact that at the time; a farm had recently been prosecuted by the Australian Government for the hiring of workers who are not permitted to be in the country, creating employment under false contracts, any farm caught will face the same penalties of $75,000 per worker. This is an ongoing issue in the industry of rural Australian farming.

We left the room and Ernie opened another beer. Sven sat on the bench outside "Man I never heard anyone give that guy a piece of their mind before".
"That's funny because Iv'e never had anyone take me for a twat before". I said as I shuffled back to our room.

The next morning was like the start of a new chapter; fresh rays of golden sun flecked through the doilie patterned curtains. The smell of the woodland aromised the room. A series of paracetamol doses and fresh water had brought me back to health despite a twisted nerve in my neck from tossing the melons. I was nursed by the caring Venezuelan of course. We said our goodbyes to the short lived relationships with the other backpackers; fearful of what they might have to endure next. Some were forced to stay; turns out TT and Sven each had about $20 left to their name through embarking on drug fueled parties on the east coast. I took two melons after not being put off the taste and hungry for nourishment. But there was a chink in our chain as we drive away from The Bogie River Bush house. As Donmore farms used a clever system of paying their employees a week later, this encouraged backpackers to stay and claim there pay. I had previously watched and analysed Pierre; and most who lasted only a day or two trusted the Frenchman unquestionably with their pay. That and the fact that I had known the others to steal from the local supermarket when we did our weekly shop. Pierre agreed to send me the money the following pay day; I gave him my details and instructed him to take a small ammount for his generosity. True to his word; Pierre payed in the full weeks wages of $900 into my bank account later that week. And he never took a cent for himself. But before leaving Bowen entirely we decided to enjoy the nearby beautiful beaches; I felt reborn again. So after our ordeal as farm workers, we sat; ate fruit, laughed about the events and loved each moment regardless. That's what it really comes down to. After all of this farm work calamity, the notion that Vanessa had came with me; forced to clean the mess of the house, rake leaves in the harsh sun, and feed chickens meant so much to me than she will ever know. The attempt of regional work at the melon fields had forever pushed me from trying again; and it coaxed the final decision for me to not return to Australia for a second year. I had closed a door and opened another; I was made to stay on the move across the globe as I was born to do so. But I had brought the stories that would last a lifetime, and that is worth stacking any amount of melon trucks for.
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Shortly after we returned to Mackay; to sell our van and make the next step of our journey across the world. And now here I am at my new temporary home. I currently rent a room in the home of a wonderful Scottish lady named Shirley; her three legged dog named Topper sits at my feet as I write this. He is a Poodle/ Terrier cross which is soft as a brush but will take your fingers off in an instant if you make any attempts to pat him. Shirley treats me like one of her own and her 'close to home' ways are always comforting.

But with no partner and a Ford Econovan still sat on the drive way; things were getting hard. 'Buyers' came and went; taking my precious time with them. But regardless I remain contempt with the path I have chosen; eager to see my last destination in Australia; Melbourne.
I had learned a very important lesson on this part of my journey; that money was just that, a commodity, it brought stability but would never grant happiness. And I had seen it too many times here in Australia. And never to take shit from bitter men. So I was ready for whatever life would throw my way, as long as I always have enough to return to the ones I love; that much is enough. So I booked my flight for my Tour of Melbourne; just before Christmas; I doubt Vanessa still knows when. Here it goes again.

Thank-you to any one who is still reading this 'not so much travel blog but more of a novel blog'. This is due to me spending so much time in one place. But time will bring new surroundings and no doubt a new set of obstacles for my ever changing life. Thank-you to all of my subscribers and of course all the folks back home; above all else family and friends. Travel safe wherever in the world you are as you read this; and take care wherever you go. -R

If you want to check out the photography I coincide with my blog; you can here:
@ https://www.facebook.com/BrightersidePhotography

P.S Brampton Island Case Update:

This was never added to the entry for reasons of sheer ridiculousness; myself and Elliot were tracked and commanded by local authority's to give statement at Mackay Police Station. An $800 dollar fine and a court appearance kater; I was free to leave Australia as a free man, with no charges recorded. Although the judge looked up in confusion at his papers as equally disgusted as though someone in the room had called his mother a slut. Yes this is true; and the charges for the 6 year expired fire extinguishers came to just over $1500 dollars. The story itself made it to television; radio and best of all the local newspaper. From the insipid siblings of a local reporter named 'Janessa Ekert'. Who worked for the daily mercury, later dubbed; 'The Daily Mockery' by all who knew me at the time.

In addition to this; the naive Janessa had visited the cafe just weeks ago; unaware that the serving Barista was infact the creme de la creme of her no doubt most successful story of her bleak career. This flawless reporter who dubbed me 'Foolish Dueler'; turned up at the Cafe in tight pink shorts, the folds of her fat caressed by her long greasy blonde hair bubbled over the side over the tight fitted shorts. She slurped at her chocolate milkshake as I brewed my own thoughts. The fat suckling honey bee of media left for it's hive of tabloid journalism which is the 'Daily Mockery' reflecting every country of the world. No doubt a privately owned government paper. I wasn't angry as you will guess by my tone; just that I 'The writer' had been slammed by an obese barbie doll. Don't believe me? Check out the link below...

http://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/cousins-duel-using-fire-extinguishers-brampton-isl/2074102/

P.S.S My Restoration In Humanity

Remember Carolyn? The lady from part one of my Tour of Mackay? If you don't; this is Carolyn (Pictured with myself below). I want to share this with you because she is such an amazing woman I met on my travels. Carol is/was a complete and utter stranger who approached me some weeks ago at my work. With an envelope with my name on it. She went out of her way for me; a stranger in her life, to print photos of the staff at Broome Camel Safaris on her trip to Broome. Finding me in Mackay completely by chance after the staff told her I was there as I presume it is her home town. I saw Carolyn again weeks later at the cafe I now work; only this time she offers me a $200 trip across the skies on a WW2 'Tiger Moth'. A pleasure flights company she works for voluntarily. This woman made memories for me for no other reason than she genuinely wanted to. Today a 'stranger' made my day. Beautiful people. Here are a few photos of the East Coast from that amazing day:

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Posted by Brighterside 15.12.2013 03:54 Archived in Australia Tagged regional*farm_work*east_coast*s Comments (0)

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