Saturday, December 17, 2005

In Kalimantan - blog assault cometh!

I am now living in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, near Tangkiling village, 36 km north of the capital, Palangkaraya.

I've been settling into my house, writing everyday, doing a little teaching (film/animation)at a secondary school here, riding the 'transmigrasi roads' and canoeing the surrounding jungled rivers and waterlands.

I am preparing for another 'BLOG assault' by Feb. 20, 06.

The Comments Section:

A couple of people have emailed me a little confused about the comments section. So to be clear: No, that is not me posting within the comments section as 'Colonel Pumpy'. It is, I do agree, a little tiresome, and it may be time for this chap to get his own blog up and running under an original name and even more desirable, an original subject.

Cheers,and thanks for the comments - appreciated.
Mr Felix in Kalimantan

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda Pt.14 - Back on the road!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km
Narayanghat to Dumkibas – 63 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and found the Green Gibbon. After five days of rock and roll in Narayanghat, he resumes his journey west.

Part 14: Back on the road!

I roll out of Narayanghat at 10 am and Raja stands on the steps of the hotel waving me off. After almost five long days, the certified nut case in room 104 is finally leaving.

I ride past the bus depot and head down beside the market and can’t stop chuckling. Asia! If I was Raja, I’d be throwing rocks at Mr Felix as he pedalled off down the road to the next hotel and lucky houseboy, but no, he’s been attentive all morning and seems genuinely sorry to see me go.

I’d put my arm around him before I climbed on the bike and said, “I’ll never forget you, Raja!” and meant it.

I turn on to the highway into the morning traffic and weave through a long line of squeaking rickshaws carrying bundles of schoolgirls in crisp white shirts and blue skirts, and stand on the pedals and accelerate past gangs of wide-eyed schoolboys on bikes.

“Hello mister!” they chime, and I ring my bell, put on a burst of manly speed and feel the wind clipping at my cheeks.

I’m back on the road.

The highway out of Narayanghat is paved and wide and heads southwest for 60 kilometres, running just to the north of the Royal Chitwan National Park, before it crosses the Binai Khola (Binai River) and heads due west to Butwal, today’s probable destination, a further 60 kilometres on.

It’s a mainly flat run but I’m leaving today’s schedule wide open. If I flag or the weather turns bad, I’ll pull in and spend the night at one of the small guesthouses dotted along the road.

After the fun and games of the last few days, and especially last night, I know better than to be headstrong and antagonise the gods.

I stop for a late breakfast a few kilometres out of the city at a roadhouse of sorts, and when leaving almost skittle a lone brown duck that’s taking it’s usual, I guess, leisurely morning constitutional between the petrol pumps. “Sqwak!” goes the duck, highly indignant, flapping its wings, and it pays to concentrate.

I look over my shoulder to see if the owner isn’t standing on the driveway shaking his fist, also highly indignant, but no, it’s Asia, and they don’t do that sort of thing, so on I ride.

Twenty kilometres down the road the traffic drops off to a trickle. There’s dense forest on both sides of the highway and I sit high in the seat, coasting down the centre of a green tunnel while my front tyre goes ‘rrrrrrrr!’

I ride through a small village where young children call to their mothers from darkened doorways and arrest time in a squeal and a jig, and old men sit immobile under shady verandas and give me a quick salute, reminding me of my destination.

I cycle past a herd of cows and pretty girls in wrap around skirts turn their bright, hopeful faces in surprise, splashing light all over the road, and what is this landscape I move through?

There’s rain clouds up ahead – big, floating, white and grey hulks, expanding and billowing slowly upwards into a rich, blue sky, silent and as yet, benign.

On I ride.

Off to my right the thin blue line of the Himalayas comes and goes through the trees and every few kilometres I roll down sharp curves through crisp air into verdant, shaded river valleys, across sparkling streams or the odd wide brown river, and work my way over the bridge and up the other side, pushing on the pedals, leaning over the handlebars until the road levels out again, and I puff and sweat and settle back into rhythm.

Just after one o’clock I cross the Binai Kola and roll into Dumkibas. It’s a small, forgettable village with a few brick houses on each side of the road and a couple of earthen floor chai-shops.

Coming over the small crest down into the town I could see a steep, deep green ridgeline of mountains cutting straight across the road up ahead, and unless we’re taking a rather long detour, it looks like I’ve got some climbing in front of me.

It might be time to take on refreshments.

The chai-shop has the usual rice, dahl and chapatis laid out in pots and metal plates over the woodstove and after this morning’s brisk ride it smells like real food. Thank the sweet Lord for an appetite and a body.

While I’m sipping on a chai and waiting for the daal-baht to arrive, a small, thin man with wide, staring, fragile eyes wanders into the shop. He’s dressed in rags, says nothing and acknowledges nobody, and pads silently through to the back and takes a seat by the wall.

He looks about fifty or so and is possibly Nepali, but judging by his face, build and polite body language I’d swear he was Japanese, or had been at some point before he got deeply lost in Asia.
Nobody in the shop pays him the slightest attention, so I guess he’s a regular, and he sits, staring into the shadows, as weightless as a ghost.

After a few minutes, curious, I reach over and offer him a cigarette, but he looks blankly at the pack and turns away.

The daal-baht arrives and I spoon it into my mouth but in the face of such pointed human loss it’s hard to eat with any gusto. Still, I brought it on myself, so no use complaining, and thank God for Asia. If this was the West, we'd have cured the poor guy by now.

“Come now, Fujisan, you can’t go wandering all over the place like a madman!” says the nice man.
“No, please, leave me alone!” pleads Fujisan, as they drag him out of Starbucks.
“No, you’re lost and we’re just taking you…”
“But I like being lost!” he shouts in defiance, and so proves his madness.

According to the chai-shop owner, who speaks a little English, there’s a fruit shop over the road, a guesthouse just up the road, and right up the road there’s a steep climb through the mountains for either 7 kilometres, or 14, and I can’t decipher which.

“You mean seven up and seven down,” I ask, “or fourteen up and fourteen down?”

“Yes, fourteen!” he says. “Take three hours on bicycle!” he adds helpfully, which confuses me even more.

“Very steep?” I ask, and plane my flat palm at a ridiculous angle to the table and he says, “Yes!” whatever that means.

I can’t wait for iBlab, the portable digital voice translator to be released on to the market, but until then international cycling will remain an inexact sport, it seems.

By the time I get back out to my bike the clouds are hanging low in the sky and hugely pregnant, and if the ride up the mountain turns out to be the full 14 kilometres it’s going to take me over an hour, and from the looks of it I’m going to get dumped on real bad.

“Ah, no,” I decide. It’s a bit early to pull in, but so be it.

I cycle off up the road and turn right into the guesthouse, which is no more than a raw brick box with a few windows and a sign, but the owner is helpful and his wife flaps gently around making me comfortable, and this looks like home for tonight.

I take a quick, cold shower and by the time I emerge refreshed in my clean sarong the owner has kindly placed a comfortable wicker chair on the rough concrete platform at the back of the guesthouse under the first-floor overhang, and his wife is smiling shyly and holding a tray of hot black tea and a couple of biscuits.

It’s the Ritz, and I’m a fortunate man indeed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda Pt.13 - Kathmandu Day 2!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and found the Green Gibbon. He’s now on the roof of his hotel in Narayanghat, taking a 5 am tea break and thinking about how all of this began. It’s November 1974…

Part 13: Kathmandu – Day 2!

I wake up at 7 am ablaze. It’s my first morning in Kathmandu.

I was up in the middle of the night with the runs, stumbling around looking for the light switch to the toilet and finally giving up and squatting over the hole in the pitch black, which can sure bring you back to yourself, in a number of ways.

But why worry? I’m in Kathmandu on my way overland to London, with Abdul’s blessing.

The ticket I’d flown in on was a rock bottom, no frills, no-refund affair and I’d gotten it from Turkic Star Travel, deep in the ethnic enclave of Melbourne, on the recommendation of a friend.

“Go and see Abdul at Turkic Star, Feely,” said my friend Peter. “He’ll set you up and he’s a real character!”

“You’ll like him!” he added breezily, and the last person Peter had said that about was a friend of his girlfriend’s and I’d loathed her on sight - we’d loathed each other on sight. It was hit and miss with Pete.

Nevertheless, eager to save a few bucks, early one Saturday morning I boarded the tram to grubby inner-city Brunswick, home of Turks, Italians, Greeks, Lebanese, lost dogs and anything non-Anglo that walked the Great Southern Land.

“Feelexmyfrend, Calcutta ees dirty, steenking hole! Why you go dere?” said Abdul, about a minute after I’d taken a seat in his dingy little office and enquired about flights to India.

“Ah, well, Mister Abdul.. Abdul,” I said. “I wanna go overland to London, and I, ah, thought Calcutta might be a good place to start.”

The truth was I hadn’t done much up-to-date research and Calcutta was simply the former home of the East India Company, the current home of Mother Teresa and where the Black Hole had been. Throw in a few teeming millions and bingo, let’s start there.

Coming from the ‘positive thinking’ end of town - read: nobody had a clue, my flimsy plan had to date received all round airborne praise and nothing more negative than a blank stare and a ‘you gotta be kiddin!’

Certainly no one had challenged it with any authority, and here I was not a few minutes inside Turkic Star Travel and Abdul was already out with the club.

It was daunting, but everything about Abdul was daunting - his coarse three-day growth, rumpled suit and meaty hands, it all screamed, “I’m a Turk!” in a bulky, hairy foreign accent, but not bulky like Hulk Hogan, nor hairy like Skippy.

Even his bonhomie was bulky and hairy and he kept prefacing everything with ‘Feelexmyfrend!’ and what did ‘myfrend’ mean in Turkish?

On the back wall of his office just above his head loomed a large poster of a comely Turkish girl in a field of yellow flowers under the imaginative slogan: ‘Come to Turkey!’ and dotted around the room were peeling pictures of the Istanbul skyline, Roman ruins and Turkish mosques.

I felt like I was in deepest, darkest Asia already, with a bear.

“No!” said Abdul, opening his palms wide and grinning expansively. “Feelexmyfrend, I am telling you, you travel over by thee land to London, better you start Kathmandu! Calcutta steenking hole, Kathmandu many heepees! Yoolike!”

He arched his eyebrows, lent back in his chair and said, “Wot you tink?” lifting his chin in a short, sharp motion and it was clearly my turn to speak.

Abdul was obviously a man of wide experience and knew a lot about ‘heepees’ and, I guessed, a few other things, and it was plain to both of us I knew nothing, so what was I to say?

‘Wot you tink?’ was a challenge as much as a question on tourist destinations, and as I sat back and looked, despite the fact that everything in my brain was saying ‘leave now’, I felt myself warming to him.

I felt that if I stood up and threw a punch he’d take it, swing with it and laughingly throw it back. There was no need to fear him the way I feared a lot of other men.

Abdul was a good bet.

After a little while I said, “Sounds like good advice, Abdul!” as evenly as I could.

He smiled and relaxed. Despite the rather large Anglo handicap I labored under, I’d plainly made the wise choice.

He deftly unfolded a map of Asia and lent forward across the desk, motioning me excitedly towards him like we were about to go over the jolly plans for a bank robbery.

I leant in close.

“So!” he said, wriggling excitedly in his chair, “You fly Bangkok!” and stubbed a stocky middle finger directly on Bangkok. “And then you fly Kathmandu!” and stubbed again, and I looked at the map and thought, “All right! That’s where Kathmandu is!” but said nothing.

“Then you go Lon-don by thee land and we fly you back Mel-born,” he said. “Seemple!”

Abdul’s use of the word ‘we’ suffused me with a warm and unexpected glow, and I said, “Hmm, sounds like a pretty good plan, Abdul!” as evenly as I could.

I took out my passport and filled in a few forms, while Abdul busied himself with airline timetables and made a phone call, and just like that I was ‘in’ - and whatever ‘in’ was it felt a damn sight better than enrolling in ‘Advanced Reinforced Concrete Slab Theory’ at the university.

Roll on Kathmandu, roll on ‘heepees’ and bye-bye reo.

As I was getting up to leave, Abdul motioned me forward again and said, “Feelexmyfrend, I give you two piece advice!” and paused. Ah, the strange voice from a strange land speaks again. I lent in close.

“One!” he said, and abruptly lifted a thumb in the air. “Whatever you do, do not go to thee Greez! They are very bad peeple!”

I knew that Greeks and Turks hated each other with pathological venom, and I figured it was best to stay out of this one, so I nodded soberly and kept silent. (When you’re a piece of white tissue paper flapping in the breeze, go with the flow.)

“Two!” he said, and held up the other thumb so it now looked like he was giving me the ‘two thumbs up’. “Forget Ee-ran, forget Syr-eea, forget thee Lebanon!” which was somewhat mystifying as I would have to go through at least one of these countries to get to Turkey (and I couldn’t miss that) and on to Europe.

“T-u-r-k-e-y!” he said, slowly rolling the ‘r’ with great relish while his eyes glowed big and black. What the hell was he on about? I stared back.

He flicked his eyeballs up at the comely girl in the poster above his head and gradually his lips opened into a wide, lascivious smile, and as much as I fought the dawning, rising consciousness, I was moved.

Into my mind rushed an image I had seen a few months previous of a curvaceous, naked, Oriental woman with eight breasts.

I’d stumbled across the picture in a book on ‘medieval European myths of the mysterious East’, and one rainy afternoon had sat in the university library devouring the text and the engraved image of the mythical Oriental woman had made a big impression.

Naturally I didn’t tell anybody about it and had simply stuck it in my bag of secret desires along with the rest of the unacceptable, but here it was rising unbidden on Abdul’s desk. Who would have guessed?

Abdul followed me out on to the footpath when I was leaving, arching his shoulders and scratching himself through his crumpled suit, a man in control of his world.

“Well maybe, Feelexmyfrend,” he said, patting me on the shoulder, “Do not forget thee Lebanon.”
“But Abdul,” I replied, in a voice an octave higher than I would have liked, “Isn’t there a war going on there, and hijackings and killings…?”
“Pta!” he said and flicked his head back and waved his right hand dismissively.

I thanked him profusely, shook his hand and climbed on the tram and breathed out for the first time in forty minutes.

An hour later I was rattling through the suburbs of Melbourne, that endless run of neat plots and shining California bungalows, easy and familiar, clutching my air ticket, a long list of visa requirements and Abdul’s business card.

Despite the excitement of the moment, I still labored under the kitchen table idea that this impending trip was a boomerang; I’d go sailing out, whiz around a bit and then return to my point of origin, refreshed but unchanged, and then get on with building large, glorious, multileveled concrete carparks.

And what a fucking depressing thought it was, and why was I so angry?

I sat on the steps of my guesthouse in Kathmandu and wrapped my fingers around a glass of hot, milky chai.

It was still early in the morning and chilly, and in front of me, in a dusty, stone courtyard enclosed on three sides by tall, mud-brick buildings with their distinctive Newari style latticed bay-windows, Kathmandu was coming alive.

Little girls in pigtails played hopscotch under an arch and over by the wall of a small temple, noisy boys in ragged tee-shirts played marbles.

Old women were walking purposefully back and forth across the courtyard carrying bundles of sticks wrapped in cloth and a man emerged from a doorway, yawning and scratching his naked belly.

I was so absorbed in this people play unfolding around me that bubbling up came the words, “I love this…” but just before I mouthed them, cutting straight across from the right, I heard my father’s voice, loud and commanding, as if someone had turned on a loud speaker.

“Don’t love these people!” said the disembodied voice and I started in surprise. What, Napoleon was now telling me who to love and who not to?

And I’m hearing voices?

Maybe it was just my imagination but it sure sounded real. I looked up and before me, in the air, hung two moving pictures, side by side.

To the left was a young boy of about 8 peering intently at me, and troubled - it was me as a boy.

I shifted my gaze across to the right and saw a picture of myself as I was now, at 21, standing sideways and looking down with an expression of what? Aloofness?

Whatever it was there was something wrong with the eyes, and as I puzzled on this, a deep voice I didn’t know started suddenly from the inside my head and said, “If you take the left path you will find your vitality, and if you take the right path you will suffocate! Choose!”

I looked back and forth between the two images a couple of times and knew instantly, quicker than I could mouth the words, just what the choice was: Did I want to live a life, or live a successful death?

Just as my engineering training was kicking in and I was about to say, “Well, let’s look at the options…” the voice in my head said with great force, and a hint of urgency, “Choose now!” and I said, rather meekly, “The left one!”

And then everything went back to normal.

The girls played hopscotch, the boys played marbles and the old women came and went, and I sat on the stone steps cradling my chai and knew there was no way back.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda Pt.12 - Kathmandu Day 1!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and most surprising of all, found the Green Gibbon. It’s now 5 in the morning, and he’s on the roof of his hotel in Narayanghat, taking a tea break and thinking about how all of this started.

Part 12: Kathmandu – Day 1!

I arrive at Bangkok International in November 1974 jumping out of my skin. I’m 21, green as all get out and as hungry as hell.

Asia – let’s eat!

The first thing I noticed when I got through customs and entered the main concourse was a man in uniform holding a machine gun who sidled up to bot a cigarette off me.

I guess he could see the large, brightly lit neon sign above my head flashing: ‘Newbie!-blink Newbie!-blink’, not that you’d have had to be clairvoyant to pick it up.

Well, you never argue with a man holding a gun and that’s one rule in Asia I’ve never wavered from.

I gave him a fag and he declined a light and wandered off without a word. No problem! Happy to help the Thai military any day, sir.

I climbed on a local bus and we took off down the highway like a bat out of hell, which was just fabulous.

The road from the airport in those days was a potholed wriggling mess, and the bus sped and wove and lurched, and motor bikes screamed by and wove and lurched, and the Thais standing in the aisle of the bus fell back and forth and I sat wedged into the rear seat with a couple of other backpackers and looked around and recognised a state of mind I’d almost forgotten about - unbridled joy.

Ah, Bangkok, what an entrée.

A few days later I’m walking down Freak Street in Kathmandu. It’s alive with hippies and a score of Magic Buses are lined up on New Road offering trips to Goa, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and all the way back to Europe. It couldn’t get more exotic.

One hundred bucks will get you to London, even.

Not bad, but I’ve got four months and I’m going to bus it, train it and hitch if I have to down through India, up through the Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan and Iran, and then one way or another make it into Trafalgar Square under my own steam.

That was the plan, and as I walked through the Durbar Square chatting to bearded Frenchmen in beads and kaftans, and longhaired Norwegian girls in beads and kaftans, it looked like a shining plan indeed.

I was so engrossed in this magical landscape of strange colour and form that I walked all the way back to my guesthouse past the Chi & Pie in Maru Hiti, a distance of half a kilometre, completely absorbed in smell.

When I got the door and woke up, I had no recollection of the short journey other than the pungent and mysterious aroma of Nepal.

I was in another world, close to heaven, intoxicated, and I wanted to be here, and what a difference that was to the forced march I was undertaking at home under Emperor Napoleon.

Of course it was all a dream, but I didn’t know it then, but dad, a.k.a. Napoleon, did, as I was soon to find out - but what would he know?

Dream-shmeam, it smelled like freedom to me and like your big Hollywood break, I knew it would only walk in the door once.

That evening I sat on the roof of the guesthouse and watched the sun go down over the Bagmati River and felt a great sadness welling up in me. Reality, that great leaden weight that refused to float away, was pulling me down again, and along with it my big Hollywood break (all 12 hours of it!).

I was in a very deep hole indeed, I realised, and shining plan or no shining plan, at the end of it all I was due back in the engineering department with the rest of the inmates come March 23rd, and the thought horrified me.

What to do?

Walk out on four years of toil and sweat at the university with only a year to go? My dad would never forgive me. Living with Emperor Napoleon you learned to withstand a lot, but cowardice? Gee, they shoot you for that.

I might as well tell dad that I wanted to be a poet as tell him that I wanted to leave the university and trip the light fantastic in Nepal.

No, I needed a genuine reason to leave, and one I could stand by, and I didn’t have one, dream or no dream.

Deep inside, when I tracked it along the echoing corridors of my mind, I knew this whole intoxicating world was a dream. The way it stood it may have been escape, but it wasn't freedom.

It didn’t have substance, and Napoleon wouldn’t be Napoleon if he couldn’t smell a ruse when it was served up at the dinner table. And that’s one thing about living with the likes of Mr Bonaparte - you may hate his guts, but he keeps you honest.

Yeah, I was in a bind, but I had four months to work it out, so I wandered off and got myself a large plate of daal-baht and spent the next two hours on the loo, and loving every minute of it, as fools do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda Pt.11: Under the Milky Way!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has ridden through Hell, died in the bathroom, been visited by the Ghosts of Lovers Past, fallen down a mineshaft and most surprising of all, found The Green Gibbon. It’s been an exciting trip.

Part 11: Under the Milky Way!

I open one eye and look at the clock. It’s 10 past 4 and wouldn’t you know - why do these things always happen around 4 am?

My bed is soaked. The sheet I’m wrapped in is sopping wet, and as I roll on my back the dampness in the mattress hits me like a wet towel. Yeech!

Raja, the houseboy, is going to be mightily impressed with this. “Mr Feeliks, pleeese!” he’ll say. “When you are taking a shower, please do it in the bathroom like the other guests!”

Ten minutes later I’m down in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea.

I’d sprung out of bed and into the shower like a man possessed. I don’t think I’ve ever risen so quickly in all my life. Besides the discomfort of sodden sheets, I had an overwhelming urge to get outside into the night sky and fresh air.

I needed space, but first a cup of tea.

In the shower I’d looked at myself. I’d sweated so much during the night I was white and wrinkly and I must have lost ten pounds. I was positively skinny.

My flu was gone and I felt clear and taught, and what? Capable! I was going to live! But as I looked at my body I realised I needed muscle tone and red blood cells and I made a note a note to eat plenty of red meat. “Goat should do it!” I figured.

While I was making the tea downstairs in the kitchen I looked across at Raja and the other houseboy. They were dead asleep on the charpoys in the corner, and even though I was making the odd clatter and the gas burner was going ‘whoosh!’ they weren’t moving.

And what was I doing in here anyway? I don’t normally walk into hotel kitchens and help myself to tea. But I was dehydrated from the night’s activities and falling down mineshafts isn’t an easy business, no matter what anybody says.

And what the hey! If Raja woke up I’d give him a big smile and ask him if he wanted a tea. “One sugar or two, Raja?” (Being Nepali he’d probably take four.) But no, he was off somewhere dancing with Krishna and the gopis, and good luck to him.

I sat on the roof of the hotel and sipped my tea and looked out into the night sky. It was clear and vast and ablaze with stars. There was a half moon pocking it’s head over the mountains to the east and the Milky Way was vaulting upwards from one horizon to the next, a great heavenly arch of diamonds and pearls, keeping it all up, holding the roof in place.

Yeah, God knew what he was doing when He built that one, but it’s amazing he got it through the bureaucracy.

“Hey, guys, I’ve got this great idea!” He says. “I’m gonna build a Great Circular Arch in the sky made of stars and galaxies and it’s gonna shimmer and shine and underneath it the earth is gonna move so it looks like the Great Arch is moving…”
“It’ll never work!” say the doubters.

I guess it helps being the boss.

The Green Gibbon. The bright Green Gibbon! What the hell had I just run into?

When I was at university many years ago I’d taken a trip to Kathmandu. I’d been at the books for four long mind-numbing years and I needed a break.

I had one year to go to finish this engineering degree I was chipping away at (like a man with a chisel on a concrete block) and I was 21, miserable and didn’t have a clue.

Well, maybe half of one.

Christ! All my life I’d wanted to be an ‘artist’, and here I was studying freaking engineering, and I hated it.

I’d wanted to be an artist ever since I was 8 years old, and although I admit there was a certain romantic element in the idea, it was what I loved, and as far as I was concerned, that was it.

Roll on Rembrandt! Roll on Andy Warhol! Roll on Mr Felix!

But dad was having none of that.

When you’re born into the aftermath of the Great Depression, watched a world war rip the planet apart in your formative years, and just when you thought things were on the upswing, along come the Beatles singing ‘All you need is Love!’ and to top it all off, there’s a bunch of pansies dressed in flowers tripping the light fantastic and telling everybody to head to California where everything’s free and we’re all going to Heaven and bypassing Hell.

And they’re taking over the world!

Well, Charlie Manson woke us up out of that dream, but I couldn’t see it. But dad woke me up.

“The word is ‘no’, Felix!” he said, when I laid my carefully sculptured plans of a shining and brilliant art career before him on the kitchen table.

“But, dad!” I wanted to say, “This is how I’m gonna climb up on that big White Horse I saw in my dream. It’s the only way I think I can make it!”

But dad didn’t put much stock in dreams; not the kind you have in the middle of the night, anyway, and certainly not the kind that lead grown men to dance around in bear suits and burn down the learned institutions that had taken Western civilisation thousands of years to put together.

I’d never told him about the Great White Horse dream, and when my father said ‘no’, the word was ‘no’.

In my cosmos at the time, dad and God were interchangeable personages, and God's Will be done on earth, as it is heaven, or you’d get hit with a lightening bolt.

I took it real bad.

‘Sullen’ is a state of mind that many teenagers experience, but I do feel I moved this long and august tradition forward a quantum leap.

What Rembrandt did for portraiture and Andy Warhol did for Brillo Boxes, I did for ‘sullen’. It became my new art form.

And so, as these things go, some years later I ended up at university, studying engineering and failure was not an option. General Irwin Rommel, I have read, was a great motivator, as is fear.

Hell, you can even learn to smile, almost, if you work at it, even though you don’t want to, as you can learn to half believe what you’re doing is the right thing, even though you know it isn’t, if you’re confused enough, if you can follow that.

But underneath it all, under a sea of alcohol and a neatly crafted devil-may-care attitude, I was miserable, and the only thing more alarming than my misery was the fact that nobody seemed to notice.

Not my friends, not my girlfriends, not even my mum. I used to wonder whether they were all blind, but I hid it too well, and learned not to talk.

“Yeah, that Felix, he’s kicking goals! That boy’s a winner!” The world loves a winner all right.

I’d go to parties and in the middle of the testosterone and estrogen fuelled late teenager and early twenty-something frenzy, I’d simply not be there. It was weird.

The music would be thumping, the boys would be knocking back beer and weed and the girls would be shaking it out for the quick and the lucky, and the floor would drop away on me. I’d suddenly be stone cold sober and standing in a room full of grotesque phantoms.

In the middle of the night I’d lie on my bed and think about this strange phenomenon, and always, always, up would come the memory of the Great White Horse and the mineshaft.

It was scary.

Looking back now, it was amazing I held it together, but underneath it all I knew something, instinctively. My dad was the most merciless, hard-headed bastard on the planet, but I knew he loved me and I knew he would never intentionally damage me, and it made all the difference.

There had to be a way out of this mess. I needed an exit strategy and one that would hopefully not bring the Wrath of Khan down on my head.

Damage or no damage, dad could be formidable when he wasn’t happy about something, and we were talking big biccies here – my future, and his investment in it.

But which door? What door? Was there a door?

These things I pondered, along with how many pairs of socks to take as I packed my rucksack and prepared for my first big OS trip.

A few days after they let us out of the university, I was on the aeroplane bound for mysterious, exotic Kathmandu.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.10 - The Cave!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
On his search, Mr Felix has recently ridden through Hell, died (momentarily) in the bathroom, been brought back to life by the Ghosts of Lovers Past and has just fallen down a mineshaft. It’s been a busy couple of days.

Part 10: The Cave!

I am in a boat, on a pond, in a cave at the centre of the earth. I have just fallen down a mineshaft, and have arrived at the bottom.

I am calm, the pond is calm, and the little wooden boat is drifting over the black water through the silence towards an opening in the cave wall up ahead.

The boat slides through the opening into a bigger cave and a bigger pond, and drifts further out towards the centre.

I am sitting on the wooden cross-seat of the boat, towards the back, looking around at my new surroundings – there is a strange half-light in the cave, coming from where I don’t know, but everything is crisp and clear, and I’m content.

Just then I hear a splash and suddenly I feel something grab my right ankle. I look down and there’s a long arm extending out of the water and into the boat and a large hand has forcefully clasped on to my leg.

I just have time to realise that it’s a hairy arm, before there’s an even bigger splash and up out of the water rises a… well, what is it? It takes a moment for me to realise it’s a large hairy gibbon, the size of a man, and most startling of all, it’s bright green!

It all happens so quickly I don’t have time to be afraid, and then the gibbon, who’s standing waste deep in the water beside the boat and staring intently at me, announces in a deep voice: “You’re mine!”

For some strange reason this strong male voice, these words and the sure grip of the hand on my ankle calms me, and I relax back onto the cross-seat of the boat and take a look.

“Well, my, my, my!” I say to myself. “A bright green gibbon!”

I love gibbons. They are, without a doubt, my favourite animals on this good earth, and they’re the only animals I actually pine for.

I also love dogs, but who doesn’t? I enjoy romping with them, miss them when they’re not around and having a dog as a friend is something very special indeed.

But dogs are easy to love, and by saying that I take nothing away from them.

Kids and dogs, way to go, and dogs fit in. They are social, understand hierarchies (read: They know who’s boss!) and their capacity for forgiveness is almost christlike.

They’re a gift, and thank God for hairy, happy gifts that go ‘bow-wow-wow!’

But there are other animals in the pack that take a little more work to embrace, especially considering our penchant for torturing them.

I once saw a large, male, black panther in the Colombo Zoo and sat and watched it for an hour.

It was heart breaking to see this magnificent beast, with paws the size of rocks and leg muscles forged at the Krupp factory, locked into a small cage.

It paced relentlessly, hopelessly, back and forth without break, and without surrender. That thing was going to walk and walk, until it’s pilot-light simply extinguished, and then it was going to drop dead, and there was nothing I could do.

It felt bad (that’s an understatement!), I felt bad, so the only thing I could think of was to just sit there, beside the cage (safely on the outside, of course) and acknowledge the damn thing, as was.

And you know, interesting things happen when thoughts slow down.

I sat there for the first thirty minutes brushing away kids with ice-creams who came too close and stood on my feet and ignoring young men, with laughing girls on their arms, who threw peanuts into the cage.

The clock ticked on, and then, for a moment, when there was nobody else around, the great beast stopped its relentless pacing and looked at me.

I guess it was thinking no more than ‘who’s this turkey and if I could get out of this cage I’d rip his bloody head off’, but it was enough. I’d been noticed and for a second we looked each other in the eye.

Perhaps it’s just my mind in low gear, or maybe I’ve watched too much David Attenborough, but on some visceral level I felt something dark and immensely strong suddenly and unexpectedly punch into me, and it knocked the wind out of my chest.

I felt a short, sharp pang of intense fear - I was a mouse, frozen like sorbet. But I'm more than a mouse, I’m also a man with a heart and I said, unbidden (albeit in a small voice): “It’s ok to eat me!”

It was the least I could do.

And the great beast just turned away, without a flicker, and went on pacing. And what else would you expect from a king under the circumstances? Nothing! He’s a king.

But it changed me.

I felt a flood of grief go out of me like a wave. Whatever had been locked up, whatever guilt and shame I’d felt over what we’d done to this peerless brute force of nature, just left me.

Where it went, I have no idea, but I imagined it sliding outwards in all directions, entering forests and mountain retreats all over Asia where great beasts live, breathe and die.

I then got up and left.

An hour later I opened the door to my guesthouse room and it was like walking into a cave, and I looked around, puzzled, trying to work out what had changed.

Eventually I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my face, and I simply couldn't place it - it wasn't the same old gung-ho face I'd left with this morning.

It was pale and grave, and there was a clear, dark light in the eyes I'd never seen before, and it was coming from where? I kept getting the words in my head: "This light is coming from beyond the grave!" and it made no sense. What the hell does that mean? Where's 'from beyond the grave'?

And I remembered the black panther, and I thought: "What's a panther?" It was scary.

But I knew this: whatever the hell this dark light was and wherever it came from, it was the most majestic, albeit frightening, thing I'd ever seen in my whole life and it spelled freedom.

And it was shaking my foundations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.9 - The Tomb!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix has just fallen down a mineshaft, but we wind the clock back a few hours for a bathroom interlude.

Part 9: The Tomb!

Just before I fell down the mineshaft, I went to the bathroom.

I was physically drained from the morning’s outing, and reading Dante’s Inferno had somewhat miraculously, and unexpectedly, collected all of the waring parts of myself into a coherent whole, and the coherent whole, I’d discovered, was empty.

I was The Hollow Man, alas.

“How ironic!” I thought to myself. Throughout my adult life, rightly or wrongly, deluded or on-the-ball, I'd relentlessly pushed for content over form. I worshipped the flame, and now the gas supply had been cut-off.

Maybe I'd forgotten to pay the bill?

A year and a half ago I’d walked out on a secure job at a university in Melbourne. I taught in the Creative and Digital Media Department, and what had begun as an exciting and stimulating job had, to my mind, degenerated under new management into a farcical parade owned by the forces of globilisation and ruled by political correctness.

It was the Emperor’s New Clothes, and we were living it.

The new order seemed to be: if it looked good and attracted paying customers, it was ‘in’, if it created waves and scared people off, it was ‘out’.

“But good art naturally scares people!” I said to the director, somewhat naively one day at the end of a rather heated discussion on ‘where we are heading’.

“Yes, we understand that, Felix,” replied the director evenly, "but we've got to keep the doors open and it's a new world blah blah blah blah..." He leaned back easily into his chair, a man in total control, and filled up the room with fine words.

Above his head hung his latest artistic gift to humanity, a glossy oil painting of the Space Shuttle Challenger just before it blew up.

"What's with the new painting, boss?" I'd asked him the week before. (He winced everytime I called him 'boss', so naturally I kept doing it.)
"Well, it's the Space Shuttle Challenger, just like it says on the label!" he said, slightly puzzled, as though overnight I'd turned into a moron, as well as being a pain.
"Yeah, but what's with the numbers?" I asked. Over the image of the Shuttle he'd painted strings of bright green numbers running horizontally across the picture.
"Why!" he said, obviously happy that someone in the department, other than the flunkies and boot-lickers, had finally taken an interest in his beloved art career. "That's the computer code that the Shuttle was spitting out just before the O-rings failed..."
"And the major malfunction happened!" I interupted brightly.
"Exactly!" he beamed.

I tell you, it's great to be on the same wavelength as the boss, especially one as well thought out as mine was.

And everything he said was all very reasonable of course, but you know it's a sham.

It's a bull without balls, a lion without teeth, a woman without a heart - and what's the point? How can you give yourself to something you no longer respect?

It stank and in the end I walked, and now, unfortunately, I was in the same boat as the people I so passionately despised; different path maybe, but same end-point.

I lay back on the bed and contemplated some well worn cliches: there are many paths to hell-on-earth, pride cometh before a fall and how wrong you can be.

But at least I knew I was in Hell and that was something, and the pilot-light on my once beloved (to my mind) roaring flame seemed to be still sputtering with some life - not enough to light a cigarette maybe, but still.

What was it that I’d betrayed so badly? What was it I wasn’t getting?

I lay on the bed without moving for over an hour. Whatever was at issue here, I realised, wasn't going to get solved by my on-board computer. I needed perspective. I needed a gun.

Time slows down. I am alone in a barren room, under a white sheet - a grey carcass of dried bones. Silence descends like a fog, filling every crack and corner of the room. I am suffocating under a sinking weight....

... and I need a pee, badly.

I then realised why God had built the ‘eat, drink and waste product’ mechanism into living organisms. Without it our pilot-lights would simply go out and we would sink inexorably into despair.

“Clever!” I thought. “Who would have guessed!”

Inside the bathroom I lent against the wall to steady myself and after I’d finished at the toilet, I went to the basin to wash my face and hands, and looked in the mirror, and what a sight I was.

It was a face I hardly knew – drawn, pale and without life. “Jeezus!” I said, “I’m dying on the inside!” and a knot formed in my belly and the fear of death rose up like a white sheet and I fainted.

I don’t know how long I was out, maybe a minute or two, but it’s hard to tell when time has stopped.

Slowly I became conscious of lying on the cold floor, and the right side of my head ached where it must have hit the tiles, but apart from that there seemed to be no damage.

I opened my eyes, groggy, and standing together before me in holographic splendour where the only two women in my life I have really loved.

I closed my eyes and shook my head, just to check I wasn’t hallucinating, and when I opened my eyes again, struggling to come awake, they were still there.

And they were radiant. They were the most radiant creatures I’d ever seen in my life, and they were looking down at me and smiling, and the kindness in their eyes just broke me.

And I started to weep great sobs (and I could feel my sinuses clearing up!) and I said, out of nowhere: “I’m sorry I lost you! I’m sorry I didn’t hold on! I just didn’t know how to reach far enough!”

And both of them broke into broad grins, and then they left, so I hoisted myself up off the floor, took a cold shower, went back into the bedroom, lay back down on the bed and fell down a hole.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.8 - The Mineshaft!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix continues his search for the lost divine spark. After a ride down through the mountains out of Kathmandu, he’s stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu and a state of mind that’s approaching terror. He’s been down to the internet café to read about Dante’s Inferno and has chucked away his dope. Night is closing in, he is laying on his bed and things are rapidly coming to a head.

Part 8: The Mineshaft!

I am falling, falling down a mineshaft. I look back up towards the light and see the world of the familiar slipping away.

Below me I can see nothing. I am alone, hurtling downwards inside black fear.

“You’ve done it now, boy!” I say to myself, and I know with a cold certainty that whatever is at the bottom of this shaft is what I’ve been chasing for decades.

There’s a hard nut forming in the centre of my chest and it’s pushing its way outwards through my sternum. I wince with the pain and crouch forward as I fall.

I talk to myself: “There will be no way back. How bad do you want this? What the hell's at the bottom of this shaft that attracts you so?”

When I was at high school, many years ago, getting all set for a life of successful boredom, I had a dream about a Great White Horse.

In the dream I was a young boy, cradled lovingly in my father’s arms. We were in a green field and my father was standing, with me in his arms, by the entrance to a deep mineshaft, looking across to a big white draft horse that stood across the way.

“See that horse over there, Felix?” he said. “Your job is to climb on to it and try and get to the top!”

I looked across at the Great White Horse (for that seemed to be its name) and saw that it was surrounded by men, some of who I knew, and all of who were trying franticly to climb onto the horse and get to the top.

There were men hanging on to its sides, men hanging on to its tail and some were even clamping themselves upside down to its belly.

All the while the great beast stood stock still, turning its head every now and then, flapping its ears and flicking its tail, but ignoring the men. It was as happy and content as a Hollywood movie star on opening night.

The most successful men were sitting in a tight line on the great horse’s back, but they were also franticly pushing and shoving at each other and standing on the faces and heads of the men further down, who they attacked without pity.

The whole scene was one of chaos and desperation, and some men, the losers, the weak ones, were standing around disconsolately on the ground, waiting for an opening, or simply having given up.

But the most alarming thing of all was the man sitting on the Great White Horse’s head. He was obviously ‘the king’ because he wore a crown, which was made of tissue paper and coloured red, similar to what children wear at birthday parties.

He was small, wiry and nervous, lashing out repeatedly at those behind and below him, and he smelled of something rancid, something bitter. If he was a king, he was sitting on an uncomfortable thrown indeed, and he reminded me of a monkey.

I see a lot of monkeys in Asia, and I'm extremely wary of them. They can be vicious, unpredictable and opportunistic. They hunt in packs, attack without warning and act without reason; none that I can make head or tail of anyway. I avoid them, always.

“Climb up on that thing?” I thought to myself doubtfully, and with growing alarm.

I studied the horse for a few minutes looking for a path through the men, and I figured I could make it about half way up the beast’s side if I worked hard, and then, I guess, I’d have to hang on to its mighty flank for the rest of my life and hope nobody further up stood on my face.

But there was something even more disturbing. I felt sorry for the lot of them, even the vicious ones at the top, even the mad king. It was a half-life, a half-truth they were living, and it had driven them all half-crazy.

“Surely there’s more to life than this?” I thought. “Surely there’s a bigger truth to be lived?”

Just then my father interrupted my silent reverie and said, soberly: “But whatever you do, Felix, win, lose or draw, don’t go near that hole!” and he pointed to the entrance of the mineshaft at our side.

I looked down at this black hole in this bright green field of men’s labour, and back at the horse, and back at the hole, and felt myself slipping out of dad's warm arms.

I am hurtling downwards into the black.

The pain in my chest is persistent, relentless, and fear is turning cold. An icy hollowness is clawing at me, struggling upwards from my feet, snapping at my belly.

What’s at the bottom of this shaft? Death? Or worse... madness? A monster? A life of hopelessness?

Just then I know I can pull out. I can stop this freefall with a simple act of Will. I have a moment of doubt, and this is the slipperiest fear of all - the yawning fear of failing myself.

I struggle to get a grasp. I’ve come too far to turn back now and it’s cost too much. Home does not exist. I am alone.

Quietly, slowly I come back to myself. “Fuck it!” I whisper. “Let’s do it and be damned.”

There’s a sudden, sharp stab of pain in my chest, and I clench my jaw and curl into a ball. I can’t take any more, and I'm about to break.

I groan, and hear the nut in my chest crack open and it feels like a bone breaking, and out slides a small piece of white tissue paper, and I watch it float quickly away.

And out of nowhere, because it's the last breath I've got, I say the words: “Oh, Jesus, help me!”

Immediately, I feel a breath from behind and I hear the words, right in the centre of my head, clear and strong: “The Truth is in Surrender!” and without thought I arch my head back, open my arms and give in to my Fate.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.7 - Will it float?

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix continues his search for the Lost Divine Spark (LDS). After a ride down through the mountains and the rain out of Kathmandu, he’s now stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu and a state of mind that’s approaching terror. He’s recently been down to the internet café and has been checking out Dante’s Inferno on the web, in one last-gasp effort to confront his spiritual condition head on.

Part 7: Will it float?

I feel a lot better after reading Dante’s Inferno, and back at the hotel I make a resolution: The dope has to go!

There’s no point working out where you are and then getting stoned off your gourd. It’d be like shooting yourself in the foot, which is one way to exit the war zone, but I’m a cyclist and don’t like holes in my feet.

I will go down with this ship,
And I won’t put my hands up and surrender.
There will be no white flag above my door,
I’m in love and always will be.


While I stand over the bowl and watch the plastic bag gurgle down the hole, I offer it up as a votive sacrifice just to make it official and maybe score a few heavenly frequent flyer points.

Scene in heaven: St. Matthew, the tax collector, and assistant, in charge of assessing votive offerings.

Assistant: We’ve got another incoming from that Mr Felix, Matt!
Matthew: Oh, gawd! What is it this time?
Assistant: It looks like about 38 grams of prime quality Nepalese Brown, dripping with water or something...
Matthew: Kee-riste, this guy kills me! What was it last time? A complete set of logged, ordered and numbered URLs on ‘Hot Babes on Bikes with Vegetables!’. All right, sigh… let’s dunk it!

(The 'dunk' or Votive Sacrifices Test (VST) is very similar to David Letterman’s TV segment ‘Will it Float?’ where Dave’s lovely assistants drop objects into a tank of water - a bicycle, for example, to see whether it floats or not. It’s gripping stuff!)

Matthew’s assistant drops the Nepalese Brown into the large font of holy water.

Assistant: No, Matt, it’s gone to the bottom! Feet of clay, mate. No points for Mr Felix today!
Matthew: Yeah, I thought so…
Assistant: Wo! Hang on! The placcy bag’s split and the hash is leaking out all over the place! Oi vay! We’re gonna have to drain the water and clean the font!
Matthew (coldly): 200 penalty points! What’s his score now?
Assistant (checking the book): Let me see, that’s, ah…205 minus 200… that gives him a grand total of 5 points.
Matthew: What’s his I.S.?

(I.S. stands for Inferno Status, and dictates where and for long you’re going to stay in Hell after you die.)

Assistant: At the moment he’s looking at a life sentence in Circle 2. That’d be 25 years, maybe out in 10, 15 with good behaviour. Heh, heh! Fat chance of that, eh, Matt?
Matthew: What’s he need to beat the rap?
Assistant: Rough figures? About 8 billion points.
Matthew: Sheezus! Some people are beyond help…
Assistant: Hang on, Matt, we got another incoming from a…Miss Julia Roberts!
Matthew (brightening): Ah, Julia! What is it this time?
Assistant: A 1962 Volkswagen Beetle in mint condition with a pink bow and a 'Save the Whales!' sticker on the back window, also original.
Matthew: What colour is it?
Assistant: Kind of a nice cherry red…
Matthew: It’ll float! Give her a billion points, and ah, can we pull a few strings and arrange another Academy Award for her? I loved that movie she did with that Hugh fellow, what's his name?
Assistant: Hugh Grant. Another bad egg, Matt. We've got him marked down for the cell right next to Mr Felix's. Another long-term stayer. Anyway, I'll see what I can do about the Academy Award. Shouldn’t be a problem.
Matthew: Great, let’s do lunch, I’m famished!

Back on earth I lie down on my bed and look at the ceiling.

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.6 - Lost in Circle 2!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:

Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:

Mr Felix continues his search for the Lost Divine Spark (LDS). After a ride down through the mountains and the rain out of Kathmandu, he’s now stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu and a state of mind that’s approaching terror. He's just left the hotel room for the first time in two days, and is at the internet cafe.

Part 6: Lost in Circle 2!

You have come to a place mute of all light, where the wind bellows as the sea does in a tempest. This is the realm where the lustful spend eternity. Here, sinners are blown around endlessly by the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire…

I'm reading about myself on the web in a little internet café in Narayanghat.

I set off from home over 12 months ago in search of the lost divine spark, the reason to live again, and now it’s come to this: stuck in Narayanghat with a bad flu, and in Hell.

I find it laughable when people say they don’t believe in Hell. They must be looking around with their eyes closed. I once spent six months in a small hut on an island in Sri Lanka staring at the wall and let me tell you, Hell exists and you don't have to die to get there. All you have to do is stop running.

...the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire...
...the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire...

I’m searching through the Dante’s Inferno pages on the web, trying to get a little perspective. I’ve been stumbling around in the dark for over twelve months, beset on all sides by demons and monsters, and it’s high time I looked at a map.

I guess I have that very male thing of: "Hey, I know where I’m going, no need to look at a map! Klunk! Thud! Hmm, maybe I’m lost."

For my money you can’t beat the Inferno (originally published as Commedia by the Dante Alighieri Company) for a good map of Hell. Decent scale, all destinations clearly marked, easy to follow.

It seems I’m lost somewhere in Circle 2 where the ‘infernal hurricane never rests’ – yep, that sounds about right, and ‘whirling and smiting’ – yep, yep, tell me about it, and ‘you have betrayed reason at the behest of your appetite for pleasure, and so here you are doomed to remain.’ Jesus! Is that how I got here! Hmm, bad road, Feely.

The good news is that Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, two of my fave people, are down here with me, but I do wonder where Janis Joplin is.

I passed briefly through Circle 5 with the ‘wrathful and the gloomy’ and I didn’t see her, so maybe she’s in Circle 6 with the heretics. Woo! That’s a place I avoid like the plague, like maybe Sierra Leone, or Starbucks.

Being burnt at the stake is not my idea of a fun Sunday ride with the family.

Note: For those of you who would like to know which Circle you’re riding on, there’s a fun, and surprisingly accurate in my case, little multi-choice test at:
For a summary of Dante's Inferno go to:
See you 'round!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.5 - An Interlude

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India:
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:

After a ride down through the mountains and the rain out of Kathmandu, Mr Felix is down with the flu, and holed up in a hotel room in Narayanghat.

Part 5: An Interlude in Narayanghat!

On the morning of my fourth day in Narayanghat I mount up and go for a ride. I haven’t left the hotel in 48 hours and you don’t have to be a Rhodes' scholar to know I wouldn’t handle prison very well. I make a mental note to never break the law again.

I pedal slowly across to the bus station and turn left off the main drag.

Narayanghat is a surprisingly laid back town for it’s size. It sprawls out along the Trisuli River, rag-tag and dishevelled, but there’s a predominance of rickshaws over motorised traffic and the people seem friendly enough.

“Nepalis, not Indians!” I note. And thank god for that. When you’re as sick as me, the last thing you want is to be in India.

But India looms, just 'over there', and I'm heading that way and I can smell the fear. It must be a little like being a coalition soldier, waiting, waiting to go into Iraq. Yeah, Operation Mr Felix Freedom and 'we are committed!' Oh, dear.

I stop at a small general store, buy a litre of orange juice, open it up and suck it down on the spot. With luck it’ll have some vitamin C in it, but you can never be certain.

The lady behind the counter is short, sweet and smiley and surprisingly, speaks excellent English. She comes out on to the pavement and asks the usual questions and introduces her two kids, and ‘please wait a minute because they just want to show you the school project they’re working on.’

And wouldn’t you know, it’s about kangaroos. ‘Jackpot!’ for the kids, and it’s not what I had in mind but I won’t have to think too hard, so I guess I can handle it.

“Yep, I’m a genuine Ozzie, and I know ALL about kangaroos, kids!” I say, and suddenly their headlights turn on and I’m bathed in light and it’s the best I’ve felt in days, possibly weeks.

I tell them about great mobs bouncing across the Australian plains and how you can feel the earth go ‘thump! thump! thumpity thump!’ and how wonderful it is to stick your hand in the pouch of a mother kangaroo but you’ve got to be careful lest she rips you into six equal slices with her great hind feet – and I rise up and look ghastly and threatening, and then frightened, and the kids fall back and laugh, and gee, doesn’t it make you homesick.

And suddenly I’m drained. I feel like yesterday’s slice of bread, and I’ve got nothing more to give.

There’s an internet café across the street, and it’s easier to get to than back to the hotel, so I say my goodbyes and wheel the bike slowly across the road, dodge a few rickshaws, and go in.

Maybe some emails will pick me up. God, I hope none of them are abusive. When my emotional buffer is down I can handle my own demons, but external attacks are harder to absorb.

I settle into the small, grubby cubicle and Raja the owner looks pleased and turns the fan on ‘11’ and it’s nearly blowing me off the chair, so we sort that out, and he’s just about to go and get a cup of tea and 'would I like one?', and it could be worse.

Ah, the internet, what a release it is. Explorer’s opening up, and Google is coming online, and I’m floating free.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda! Pt.4 - On ice in Narayanghat!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India!
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
After a whizzy ride through the mountains and the rain out of Kathmandu, Mr Felix is down with the flu, and holed up in a hotel room in Narayanghat, alone. And he’s trying like the blazes not to lose the plot (whatever that is, because he’s forgotten.)

Part 4: On ice in Narayanghat!

I loathe Julia Roberts with a deep and abiding passion, and I’m half way into my second day in Narayanghat and three quarters of the way through her fourth totally forgettable film. Do they pay her for this crap?

Christ! Cable TV in Nepal, beaming in from India, is designed to make cyclists go mad, I’m convinced of it.

I switch across to Star Movies, Rupert (a pox upon him!) Murdoch’s approximation of a TV station, and there’s Tom Hanks in another poor excuse for entertainment, but it’s either that or the cricket on Star Sports – India versus Sri Lanka, and who gives a toss, so Tom Hanks it looks like it is.

The weird thing about both of these actors, though, is that you can’t take your eyes off of them. You’re lying naked on the bed and grinding your back molars into powder, out of sheer mind-numbing boredom, but still, you're compelled to watch. Which is why they’re ‘stars’, I guess. There has to be a reason.

I haven’t been out of the hotel in 36 hours and I haven’t left the room for the last 12. I’m feeling so wretched I’d join the Nazi Party if it guaranteed release.

I go into the bathroom again for the umpteenth time, clear the snot out of my nose, take another codeine – crickey! I better start counting them, I might OD! – and look in the mirror.

“I hate this! I hate this! I hate this!” I say, like a mantra, and go back to the teev.

My muscles ache, my bones ache and now my bum’s gone numb from all the Julia Robert’s films, so I rearrange the pillows and lie on my side and hope Tom doesn’t make it back from the dark side of the moon this time, but I know he will, because he’s rich and lucky, and people like to look at him, unlike me.

Are we having fun yet? Fuck, I’m not sure I’m gonna make it.

It's 2 AM and I’m wide awake and Tom’s climbed into the LEM and now I’ve got red-hot pokers sticking into the backside of my eyes from too much TV. I mean, really, fuck me, what now Lord?

When I was young and hopeful at St. Bridget’s Primary in Melbourne, way back before the Beatles broke up and the world still made sense, there was a joke doing the rounds of the playground, and when you’re young, cute and Catholic, it was a killer.

It went like this: A man walks into the church and his leg falls off. He looks up to the alter and says: “Why me, Lord?” He hops a little further down the aisle and his other leg falls off. “Why me, Lord?” he calls out again. He shuffles forward on his belly and then his arms fall off, “Why me, Lord?”, so he wriggles closer and his torso drops off, and finally, in one last desperate lunge for deliverance, he rolls forward, just a head now, and bumps into the alter steps – thunk! - and comes to a stop.

He raises his eyes to the heavens one last time, and calls out, pleading: “Why me, Lord? Why?”

And then there’s a flash of lightening and a crack of thunder and a big voice booms from on high: “Because you give me the shits!”

And I never, in my wildest fucking dreams, thought I'd be in the movie.

But there you go, and now I’ve got David Attenborough on Discovery Channel rabbiting on in his insufferable, wispy, pseudo-intimate animal molesting voice telling me about polar bears.

I’ve watched so much Discovery Channel in Asia I know more about polar bears than I do about cycling, and I’ve never set foot in the Arctic. And I love them, I really do. They’re wild and free and beautiful, and they’ll rip you to bits and eat you, and good luck to ‘em, but I’ve seen enough. Surely there’s something else out there on the frozen wastes we can look at.

How about another angle? How about gay polar bears? Some lesbian action? God, anything but this Disney-esque ‘and now the mother polar bear is teaching her young ones how to fish’ crap.

How about teaching them some real survival skills, like changing a tube, or downloading MP3s for nothing?

I go into the bathroom and blow out some more snot and take another codeine, and now there’s nothing else for it; I know it’s stupid, but I don’t have an internet connection, or an animal porn channel, so ‘drugs’ it looks like it is.

I roll up the biggest, fattest joint this side of the Kathmandu Valley. I literally pour the hash in, and then top it up some more. It’s top quality Nepalese Brown, light and powdery, and I got it for a song after a week of hard-arse bargaining in a dank little café in Freak Street, next to the slaughter house.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m not sure which, seeing as I’m only a few days from the Indian border, I had to buy 60 grams worth, which is a very large fistful (indeed!), and I’ve only managed to get through a quarter of it in a month.

Hell, for a couple of weeks there I was the hashish king of Kathmandu. I sat on the roof of the Tibet Guest House with Todd and Dawn, a couple of American friends, and we played cards and blew the back of our heads off like Cristopher Walken in the Deer Hunter.

Yeah, sunsets over the Kathmandu Valley, pure orange octane.

I lean back on the bed and suck the smoke in, and feel it run down my throat, and I cough and gag, but I keep at it, and I feel better already.

And it’s all making sense now. Julia, Tom and David, they’re all part of god’s big plan, and it’s my mission to kill to them. It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of it before?

The smoke is rising and turning slowly up towards the ceiling, curling around the fan, and the red-hot pokers behind my eyes are withdrawing, gently, saying: “Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!” as they go, like demure Japanese schoolgirls, and I forgive them.

By the time I get to the end of the joint, I can even forgive god, almost, but he’s tricky, and holds the Death card, so you gotta keep your eyes open, even when you’re flat on your back, stoned immaculate.

Let me tell you about heartache and the loss of god
Wandering, wandering in hopeless night
Out here in the perimeter there are no stars
Out here we is stoned

(The Doors)

I'm with you, Jim, and it’s 5 AM, and Narayanghat is waking up outside my window, and I may never move again.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda: Pt.3 - Good morning Narayanghat!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India.
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 636 km

The ride so far:
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat – 34 km

The story so far:
Mr Felix has ridden out of the Kathmandu Valley, down through the mountains, and is now onto the plains of the Nepali Terrai. Unfortunately, it's been raining, and he arrives in Narayanghat cold and wet, and it's not looking good health-wise.

Part 3: Good morning Narayanghat!

Bang! Bang! Bang! (Pause) Bang! Bang! Bang!

Holy shit, there’s someone bashing the door in! I’m half awake, stumbling out of bed, grabbing for a towel, standing at the foot of the bed. Where’s my glasses?

Bang! Bang! Bang! There goes the door again. It’s gotta be a drug bust! Where’d I put the hash? Where’s my glasses?

Shi-it! Dunno! Jesus, it’s 7 in the morning! Kee-riste! What’s going on?

I open the door an inch and peer out. “Your coffee, Sahib!” says Raja the houseboy, cheerily. I’m dumbfounded.

I fling the door wide open – th-wump! It cracks against the wall and in one grand sweeping motion I lift both my arms to the heavens and say: “Wot the fuck? Wot the fucking, fuck, fuck!” and then finish this grand morning welcoming speech with a breathy and frustrated: “Jeezus! Jeezus!”

My heart is pounding and I’ve got a headache the size of an elephant and my sinuses, oh god! Somebody’s come in during the night and shot spak-filler up both my nostrils and it’s expanded and hardened, and it’s now pushing both my eyes forward from the back, out of their sockets, and it feels like hell in a box.

I take a breath and let my brain settle in my cranium for a second or two.

Oh, boy! I’m down with a very bad flu, and it’s 7 in the morning and now Raja’s standing at my door with a coffee, looking dumbfounded.

“Your coffee, sahib!” he says again, a little less confidently.
“Ah, I didn’t order coffee!” I say.
“You don’t want?” He looks puzzled.
“Well, yeah, I want, but how much is it?” I say.

I’m instinctively suspicious of room service, and even though (now that I’m up and wide awake) I really want a coffee, rule number 1 in Asia is ‘ask the price before you partake’, no matter how you’re feeling, or how good it looks.

“OK!” he says, cheerily, and abruptly turns and walks off down the hall. And I know, even in my half delirious state, I should just let it go, but I’ve now gotten a whiff of the brew, and I really want that coffee.

I take a few steps down the hall, clutching my towel roughly over my private parts. “Hey!” I yell. “HOW MUCH IS THE FUCKING COFFEE?”

He stops and turns. “You want?” he says, and tentatively holds the cup out towards me like I’m deranged, and possibly dangerous, which would be reasonably accurate.

“Yeah, yeah, just give the coffee! Fuck it!” I say, and snatch it away and turn back towards my room.

As I’m going back through the door he’s still standing in the hall, looking at me, expectantly, so I turn and throw my free hand in the air in one final gesture of grand idiocy: “And don’t expect a tip!” I say, and slam the door.

Holy shit! Why is it so hard? Why do I feel so bad?

Alright, just settle down, drink the coffee, hang the cost and think about the oncoming madness.

I’m really ill, and I’m stuck in Narayanghat by myself; in here, with these four walls, and millions of Rajas out there, beyond these four walls.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Kathmandu to Gonda: Pt.2 - A Raksi Party!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India

Part 2: A Raksi Party!
Mugling Bazaar to Narayanghat - 34 km

KTM to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km
KTM to Narayanghat – 144 km
KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 635 km

Just beyond Mugling Bazaar the road splits, one leg heading due west to Pokhara, the other turning south through a tight valley, following the Trisuli River and eventually easing out onto the forested plains of the Nepali Terrai at Chitwan National Park, and the Indian border.

I head out of Mugling at 10 in the morning in bright sunshine and take the road to the left towards the Indian border.

I spent half the night coughing up phlegm and I'm full of gunk. Egh! Bronchial problems. Who’s a stupid cyclist?

When your body temperature drops, you stop and take on food. It’s ABC stuff, but I was having so much fun freewheeling through the mountains, who’s got time to eat a chappati and change a wet teeshirt?

I really should know better, but let’s see if I can’t ride it out.

I push on over the bridge out of Mugling and on my left the mountain rises vertically, beautifully, into the mist above and down on my right, a hundred metres below, the Tusuli River, fed by uncountable bursting mountain streams, has grown wide and massive.

It’s a now pounding torrent of white water, powerful as a god, sending giant shoots of cascading water up over boulders and into the air. This is a landscape on a big scale: a great opera, powerful, energising, full of wonder.

The road continues to sweep downwards, but as soon as it turns up and I need to pedal, I start coughing and wheezing, and my legs feel brittle and empty, like rice-cakes. And then the rain steps in, big time. Shi-it! Water is sliding off the mountain onto the road at unexpected spots, and one slip and I’m dead, or worse.

It’s time to pull in.

I sit close to the fire with ten other steaming Nepalis and sip hot milky chai (tea). The teashop is perched on the side of the road overlooking the Trisuli Rover, and is the usual dirt floor, thatched roof affair with no back wall.

The old guy to my left is nodding and patting me on the knee (a sign of filial affection), and the guy on my right is smiling so much he has to be drunk.

“My sister beautiful?” says the drunken man, pointing at a grubby young woman in plaits and traditional dress sitting on the bench at our back. She gives me a shy smile and everybody laughs.

“Sahib, my sister, she like you!” he says, leaning over, putting his arm around my shoulder and breathing alcohol into my face. His sister (?) grins, and for one small moment I’m at one with the mountains, lost to the civilised world, but I make it back.

I raise my arm in the air and let it fall limply at the elbow, and make a joke about not being up to it, what with the cycling and all, and this goes down a treat.

The old guy on my left is laughing so much he breaks into a coughing fit and spills his tea, and somehow, magically, the raksi (rice wine) appears.

“Make you strong!” says the drunken man, and hands me a glass.

I once attended a raksi party in a small village way out in the western Himalayas of Nepal, where I was doing some work.

We sat on the floor drinking out of small clay cups (which miraculously never empty), and we drank, and we drank, and by late evening I was howling at the moon (so they say.)

They also say that the howling – god knows what it sounded like - scared away a band of robbers, so in the morning, despite a crashing headache of Himalayan proportions, I was something of the village hero.

Raksi, dangerous stuff, but maybe it’ll fix up my cold?

I knock back a couple of glasses, and lean easily back, and someone turns on a radio, and the world falls away once again. The booze is soaking into my bones and rushing to my head, and it's too late to turn back now.

I float upstream with another glass and nestle in beside the laughing girl and show her my passport. Life is good! And this smoky, gritty room of dank smells and jostling people is home, and it's about as earthy as it gets without converting.

I wake up a couple of hours later slumped against the wall, and the rain has stopped, and the party is over, which may be a good thing. There’s no sign of the drunken man and his sister, so I drink a tea and go outside in the fresh mountain air and stretch and cough, and try to coax some life into my limbs.

According to the map it’s only about 10 km to Narayanghat, and the teashop owner assures me there’s a hotel, so that might do it for the day: 34 kilometres, a few drinks and some new friends, and that’s an OK day’s work, no matter what anybody says.

A kilometre past the teashop the road flattens out, and I’m suddenly out of the mountains, and so much for rolling downhill all day. From here on in it looks like I'll have to work.

It’s up and down into Naranyaghat, and my legs feel like lead and rice-cakes at the same time, and I’m coughing and wheezing, and nursing a headache, and debating that age old question: is biking hell?

Kathmandu to Gonda: Pt.1 - Out of the Valley!

A ride through the Nepali Terrai into India.

Part 1: Out of the Kathmandu Valley!
Kathmandu to Mugling Bazaar – 110 km

KTM to Nepalgung (Indian border) – 508 km
KTM to Gonda (India) – 635 km

It’s an easy 7 kilometres up out of the Kathmandu Valley to the small village of Thangkot. I stop for a tea and then work my way another kilometre up the hill to the police checkpoint perched on the top of the mountain, and look down the other side.

Check out the road!

It rolls straight off the mountain and plunges almost vertically down the other side; a contorted, looping ribbon, flipping left and right, going down, down, down until it disappears into the valley mist three thousand feet below.

This should be fun!

I check the brakes, jostle the panniers, pull my cap down hard on my head, and roll forward.

Go down, go down, pick up speed, tighten your hand grip, focus, lean left, lean right, go down, down, down, pick up speed, feel the fear, focus, easy on the brakes, listen to the tyres, shift in the seat, pedal one two, lean left, lean right and down you go again.

Cycling is good.

You go past wooden teashops, across a bridge and straighten out beside a line of trucks parked by the roadside. The guys standing around shout and give you the thumbs up, and the road falls away again to the right, and you follow it down and the cold mountain air cuts at your cheeks.

How long can this go on?

On both sides of the valley the mountains vault straight up into the sky, vertical and deep green. To the left and right, up above, there’s small brown and yellow mud-brick cottages perched on the cliffs, alone and in small groups, with wisps of silver smoke swirling around their thatched roofs.

Keep riding.

Thin white footpaths lead away from the road and wriggle painfully up the mountainside beside snapping, rushing creeks of silver water, and terraced fields sweep impossibly up the slopes, one horizontal cut after the next, and Jesus, I don’t want that job.

A thousand feet below the Trisuli River is thumping white water over boulders the size of two story houses, and I can see the road up ahead, cut into sheer vertical rock, twisting and turning, following the river and disappearing through a tight gap in the mountains some ten kilometres away. Oh, happy day!

I make it into Malekhu (70 km) for lunch, just as the clouds roll in, and with it the rain. This is the monsoon season, and a bad time to be riding, but what to do, and who cares?

This is riding as God intended it, and I am but a humble servant of the Lord, on a bike. However, if you were going the other way, east up the mountain into Kathmandu, you may need to know where you can stop and curse the Lord for his all-knowing perfidy.

There’s a guesthouse at the small village of Baireni, 49 km from Kathmandu, one at Adamghat, 56 km from Kathmandu and four at Malekhu, where I am now, 70 km from Kathmandu.

From Malekhu you’d be cycling pretty much 70 kilometres uphill to Kathmandu, with the last 15 or so kilometres before the start of the valley extremely steep.

Best of luck, but you really are going the wrong way.

I eat some dhal bhat (standard Nepali food, consisting of curry, dhal and a small mountain of rice), chat to the girl and push on.

I ride for an hour through drizzling rain.

Mercifully the road’s paved and in great shape, but it’s greasy and I’m on full alert. Trucks and buses pass in bursts, and I’m forced to the side of the road at times, holding my line, waiting for clear road, praying for deliverance.

Toot! Too-wooot! Another painful air-horn blast to the ear, a wave from the smiling jockey, 'the finger' from me and the truck is past, and I'm going downhill along with my mood.

Mugling Bazaar (110 km from Kathmandu) is a regional sized, non-descript town straddling the highway. By the time I arrive I’m wet and drained and just give me a tea, Raja, and don’t ask questions.

“Hey, you there, in the shorts! Leave the bike alone!”

I check into a hotel (Mugling has numerous hotels), take a cold shower and go in search of food. Dinner will take about forty five minutes if I stretch it out, lean back in my chair and look cool, and then it's a four walls and six (maybe seven) demons for company until morning.

Yeah, cycling, it's a trip.

Friday, June 10, 2005

MBA Pt.9: Riding into the light!

My Bung Arm Pt. 9

The story so far: Riding out of Phnom Penh and Kampong Thom, Mr Felix then cycled north through the forest to the Thai border at Preah Vihar. Further west near Anlong Veng he visited Pol Pot’s grave and that night was bitten on the right elbow by a spider, or something - Mr Pot’s revenge. A few days later his badly swollen arm was cut open to by the Butcher of Sisophon (aka the local Cambodian doctor) which renewed his faith in the beyond (seeing is believing.) He is now undergoing for five day’s outpatient treatment at Aranyaprathet Hospital (with Sister Supachai) on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Aranyaprathet on the Thai-Cambodian border:

Three days of antibiotics, Japanese girls and the magnificent Sister Supachai and my right arm is on the way to full democracy.

The swelling is down, the 5 cm slice (I measured it) that the doctor in Cambodia made along the elbow has magically disappeared (along with the puss), and I’m having clearly defined moments of not feeling sorry for myself.

I’m a Third World success story. Sterling stuff!

But as the late George Harrison (Peace be upon Him) tells us, ‘all things must pass’, and when I return to Aranyaprathet General Sister Supachai is not there. Johnny’s also gone, and the room is hollow.

Where’s my world gone?

“Where is Sister Supachai?” I ask the new nurse behind the desk.
“She not here!” she says, and smiles.
“Yes, but where she go?” I’m a hungry dog.
“She not here!” she says, and smiles.
“Yeah, but is she coming back…?” I’m stepping on my voice to keep the alarm out (which is of paramount importance when dealing with the Thais) but I guess the hungry look in my eyes is giving me away, because the new nurse has got that ‘I’m looking at a crazy farang’ look and is sinking backwards into her cranium, where it’s a lot safer.
“She not here!” More smiles, but now she’s definitely inside the mystery of the brain, and the question on both our minds is ‘am I coming in after the bunny?’

“Yeah, but…”

I used to go rabbit hunting with my grandfather, and when you’re twelve and male, or a dog, death is very exciting.

My grandfather was a farmer, and we’d make our way into the forest that bordered the back paddocks, him holding the gun and me trotting happily behind with the rabbit bag, and the dogs, Dave and Wooty, doing their thing; sniffing, widdling, growling and running about.

Dave was a kelpie, an Australian cattle dog, and smart, but Wooty – I didn’t choose the name – was a black haired miniature poodle, the ‘house dog’, and didn’t have a clue.

The strange thing was that we’d sometimes bale a rabbit up in a hole, and the dogs would be beside themselves, yelping, lathering, dancing in circles, ripping at the dirt around the hole, and we’d pull them off, and dig the rabbit out, and it’d be stiff with fear, like a furry toy.

Crack! there goes it’s neck, and grandpa is stuffing the dead thing into the sack, and we’re taking it home for grandma to skin (she was Austrian) and we’re going to eat it.

And Wooty would hang back, and whimper and crawl on the ground and make squeegie bottle sounds. And when we’d get home he’d cower under the table, and wouldn't come out, and make more squeegie sounds.

Yeah, bunny death, it's freaky, and it hangs around.

I let the interrogation go and submit, and I must be improving.

Two days later I’m back in the saddle cycling west out of Aran on the way to Bangkok.

Status report:
Short term goal: Cycle to Bangkok.
Long term goal: Cycle to the south of France.
Personal goal: Find my Inner Ape.
Arm: Bandaged, prognosis good.
Personal future: Uncertain, prognosis unknown.
Personal past: Forget it.
Faith and hope: Holding on.
Charity: Forget it.
Favourite colour: Blue.

It’s not a fun ride from the Cambodian border; the roads are flat, the scenery boring and the traffic heavy, and it gets heavier the closer you get to Bangkok.

I set off early, put my head down and count the klicks.

Push the pedals, one, two, look up at the road, look down at me feet, check the back panniers, push the pedals, one, two, listen to the tyres go russsh-russsh-russsh! on the asphalt, sweat, breath, push down, move over, let a truck through, push the pedals, one, two.

Jesus it’s hot!

It’s 2 PM and I need lunch, but I can’t find a food stall. The paddies stretch out green on both sides of the road, low and flat, and the sky is big and blue; an open, empty space, with no limits.


I’m back at the university in Melbourne where I was teaching, twelve months ago, just before I quit.

I have to go and see the new director’s personal assistant. She’s part of the lesbian brigade at the university, and I know she doesn’t like me, but I need a piece of paper.

When I walk in she’s leaning back in the chair stuffing a potato wedge into her mouth; knees up, head back, feet splayed out at ear level on the top of the desk (lurching towards me) and a large dob of mayo that’s slipped off a wedge and fallen in her lap.

I stop short three steps from the door, and no man should have to confront this.

It’s Niagra Falls, and I don’t have a barrel. It’s the Dualagiri Gorge, and I don’t have a rope. It’s the Khumbu Glacier, and if you fall down a hole, boyo, you’ll be deader than road-kill and twice as ugly.

(And 236 years later they’ll dig you up, call you the Ice Cyclist, stuff you, put you back on your bike and posit you in the Melbourne Museum next to Phar Lap.*)

“Wadayawant?” she says, and thank god she’s wearing blue pants.

I get my bit of paper and leave immediately. I walk up the stairs to the café on level 3 and order a scalding hot coffee. I’m hoping it’ll burn my insides out.

Cycling, yeah, it’s something. Newbies take note.

A little further along I spot a dusty food stall and pull off the road without thinking. Anything will do at this point.

There’s a middle aged Thai woman in a yellow sarong waving me in, and her young daughter, who must be about eight, is beaming and wiggling and showing me to my chair, and they don’t sell potato wedges.

I order noodles, and grab a Coke out of the icebox and a small packet of Oreos off the shelf on the way through and the little girl is so intrigued with the hairy half-baked monkey that when I sit down she comes across and rests her chin on the table directly opposite me, eyes ablaze.

Her name’s Noi and she’s a little pixie, and how I love these kids; no fear, no fear. I pop the straw into the Coke and slide it across the table and smile and tell her to ‘drink up!’ and mum smiles so we open up the Oreos and have a little picnic.

And Noi keeps hitting my brain with her eyes; I can feel the light opening doors and I’m coming awake in stops and starts.

I get out on the road an hour later, and set off into a big sky, and ride fast, and every time I slow down I see those eyes, and pick it up.

I’m riding into the light, Lord, out of the darkness and into the light!

* Phar Lap is a Thai phrase meaning 'wink of the skies' or 'lightning', and is also the name of Australia's wonder horse from the Great Depression, considered by Australians as the greatest race horse ever. He conquered the local racing scene—36 wins from his last 41 starts—and then they took him to the USA, where he won North America's richest race, the Agua Caliente Handicap, in 1932. Two weeks later he was found dead in his stall, and for a while there we thought about launching a pre-emptive strike on America. (We would have beaten the Japs to it by 10 years, and just think about the possibilities!) They brought the great beast home, sadly, and stuffed him and put him in the Melbourne Museum, where he stands today; proud, red (his nickname was 'Big Red') and huggable.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

MBA Pt 8: Great balls of fire!

My Bung Arm Part 8

The story so far: Riding out of Phnom Penh and Kampong Thom, Mr Felix then cycled north through the forest to the Thai border at Preah Vihar. Further west near Anlong Veng he visited Pol Pot’s grave and that night was bitten on the elbow by a spider, or something - Mr Pot’s revenge. A few days later his badly swollen arm was cut open to by the Butcher of Sisophon (aka the local Cambodian doctor) which renewed his faith in the beyond (seeing is believing.) He is now undergoing for five day’s outpatient treatment (with Sister Supachai) at Aranyaprathet Hospital on the Thai-Cambodian border.

Evening, day 3, at Aranyaprathet

While I’ve been off slaying dragons, Yoko and Kayoko, the two Japanese girls at the guest house, have been out scavenging for Japanese food, or the approximate.

They stumble in to the lounge room laden with ingredients, mostly from the 7-11, going by the plastic bags.

"Can I help?" I say, and no, no, Felix-san, you just sit there and make paper aeroplanes with Lek, the young daughter of the Thai owner, which is super-fine by me. I love paper aeroplanes, and Lek’s an enthusiastic test pilot.

We’ve got aeroplanes stuck in holes and crevices all over the room, including one going around on the overhead fan, which is just killing Lek for some reason, and we are busily trying to land another, unsuccessfully, when mum finally calls her into the house for dinner and I’m left to clean up the mess.

We’re not ‘going sushi’ tonight but what we are getting is apparently (almost) authentic ‘southern Japanese rustic style’, whatever that is.

"Have you had southern style Japanese food before, Felix?" asks Yoko. I tell her I’ve got no idea, but I love ‘Japanese food’ and hold up my fingers and make ‘inverted comma’ signs in the air, as you do when you haven’t got a clue.

It seems ‘southern style’ is going to be a whole new experience, and Yoko looks pleased.

Just then Kayoko comes out of the kitchen with a small vase of purple and white Thai orchids and places them in the middle of the low wooden coffee table, right in front of me.

She sits down and turns the vase a couple of times, and adjusts the stems, back and forth, and Yoko comes across and sits down, and as if on cue, they both say "uh!" and lean back in their chairs and look at the flowers.

And they’re simply gorgeous!

I sit and look and for a few precious seconds all movement stops, and the universe is spinning around a small vase of Thai orchids at the centre of our table.

Yoko says: "Beau-tee-ful!" and turns and smiles, and as if on cue again both girls get up and go back to the kitchen, without another word, and I’m left with the flowers, speechless.

What is it about Japanese and flowers?

The same thing, I guess, as Japanese and animation, and I’ve got ‘just the ticket’.

I slip off and get my Ipod and plug it into the stereo speakers, and ask the girls if they’d like some music and yes, that’d be nice, so I hit the button and the opening bars of the ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ theme song come flooding into the room.

Japanese girls really know how to scream, I tell you, and there’s a certain pleasure in being the cause of it.

‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (Tonari no Totoro) was a hugely popular Japanese feature animation made in 1988 by Hiyao Miyazaki, arguably the world’s greatest living animator. (He gets my vote!)

The theme song is a catchy upbeat tune loosely based on, and I shudder to say it, Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’. It goes something phonetically like: Ar-doo-ko, ar-doo-ko, wa-deshi-wa-keng-keee… and it’s a groove! I’m so in love with the animation I have the complete soundtrack on the Ipod.

And so we play it through.

Yoko tells me that when she was at school she and her friends would march home along the road in a long line singing the song, and I wish I had of been there. That song’s a winner!

The food hits the palate and it’s salty, and after months of spicy Southeast Asian food my tongue is doing cartwheels, but I’m into it. Kayoko tells me the names of the different dishes, most of which I’ve never seen before, and I nod and repeat the names (and retain nothing) and eat it all up, and just as well there’s no after-dinner quiz, because I’d get zero.

Who’s the happy idiot?

We sip on green tea and chat, and make the obvious ‘John and Yoko’ connection and ‘do you have any Beatles music, Felix?’ and is Pope Benedict a Catholic?

I’m one of those people who would listen to the Beatles playing chess (over and over) and so we play Abbey Road, but the girls don’t know the early stuff, so gee, what an opportunity; almost virgin Beatle fans!

I lead them back through the heady ‘psychedelic era’ and deep into the early Mersey sound, which they especially like, so we keep going and plunge into the crazy worlds of rock and roll and rhythm and blues, and eventually uncover Fats Domino, who’s up there with Miyazaki in my pantheon of high art popular culture gods and ‘do you know how to rock and roll, Felix?’

It seems Yoko has done a bit of dance, so let’s try a few moves. I turn up ‘The Fat Man’ to 11 and we kick off, and by the third run we’ve found the swing, and it’s turned into a party.

And one of the things you don’t have to worry about in Southeast Asia is noise, and we’re making plenty of it. Luckily also, my good left hand’s doing most of the work.

Jerry Lee Lewis is screaming ‘Great balls of fire!’ while Yoko spins out from centre and I pull her back in, and for the world's most boring border town, Aran is a happening burg.

They can probably hear the music over in Cambodia, some six kilometres away, and I do wonder what they’re thinking.