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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Trains, Planes and Becaks

I'm currently sat on the Stevenage to Doncaster train having arrived back in the UK yesterday. At Doncaster I'll switch trains and complete my journey to Northallerton where my mum will meet me in the car and ferry make to Leyburn. As I sit here though, I can't help but reflect on the differences in train travel in different countries I've visited.

The first key difference is comfort. The UK invented trains and as such we have a long and glorious history of train travel. Old steamers, working their way around the country were replaced by diesel engines and now electric. But, as long as you can get a seat, they're comfortable. I'm sat at a tabled, four-person seat and I have access to free wi-fi and an electricity point to charge my laptop. The next carriage is a buffet car and apart from the brattish six-year old sat at the adjacent table it's a pleasant journey.

two hours ago at the ticket office that wasn't the case when I paid £91.00 for this single journey. Let me try to put that into some context for you. I can fly to Bali and to Belitung for that money. Return.

This is the current problem with UK trains. They're reliable, clean and have plenty of facilities, but they're expensive.

Train journeys in Thailand, Indonesia and India don't have the level of cleanliness or the amenities, but my experience is that they're pretty reliable and most of all they're cheap.

UK trains used to have a 2 or 3 class service with first class being the dog's nadgers with tablecloths and cutlery and wine glasses and this classification system still exists in Asia (although without the tablecloths and cutlery) making mass transport for the masses affordable and convenient as well as being classified to make the better off passengers feel, well, better off.

What i find more surprising is that the train seems to be virtually full but this may have more to do with the promotional pricing policy used to encourage people to book earlier. This same journey, booked the day before, would have cost £32.00 (However I consider this to be still expensive when you look at the cost of a tank of petrol).

That these prices are available suggests to me that they could be offered all the time and, if the environmentalists are to be believed, would encourage people to be even greener in their travelling arrangements.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Smoke and Mirrors

I may have posted something about this before but I wanted to go into it in a bit more detail. Let's clarify something, Indonesia is a conservative country, at least that's the official position anyway. But it's also a country on the cusp of big changes and will choose to go one way or the other. The current position, sat on the fence, refusing to choose one way or the other, is confusing and not unlike head + sand + burying.

In the far north west of Sumatra you will find Aceh province, an area torn apart by the 2004 tsunami and, as a way of stopping the decades long internal struggle, allowed to operate Muslim Sharia law. This means an extreme, and often somewhat bizarre point of view, when it comes to censorship, read the extract from a recent article in the Jakarta Globe to see what I mean...
Extreme views are rife in the province where there are no cinemas, music concerts are few, and billboards depict females in headscarves.

“Women who don’t wear headscarves are inviting men to touch their breasts,” said 47-year-old teacher Tarmizi Mohammad.

“I think we should enforce Shariah laws further and stone adulterers and chop off the hands of thieves,” he added.

But the morals police faced a setback in 2010 after two officers were jailed for gang-raping a woman in custody.

Conversely, western influence is all-pervasive and can be seen in many aspects of Indonesian life. It nearly goes without saying that you can't drive more than a kilometer without seeing a reference to western fast food in the form of the ubiquitous 'Golden Arches' or other logo.

In the shopping malls, western brands are dominant and the UK is represented by Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, Top Shop and a newly opened Mothercare to name but a few.

On tv, western shows and movies are popular, if only as a way of learning the language and in music the likes of Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Katie Perry dominate with a musical blandness that is all encompassing but with enough suggestiveness to capture imaginations, both young and old.

Interestingly, it is in the medium of tv/movies and pop music that this influence surfaces more and more. Teenagers are encouraged to emulate their idols in their forms of dress, speech and habits, rarely understanding the provocative nature of the lyrics of the song, dialogue of the movie and clothing choices. Walking along the street can leave you scratching your head as to the choice of t-shirt logos that the wearer (or more often the parents) are oblivious to. The most extreme example being an under-ten year old wearing a t-shirt reading " I'm a s*#t ".

A trip to the movies can leave one just as perplexed. On a recent visit to the cinema to watch The Lady in Black, I found a big percentage of the audience to be in the "under-ten" category, for what is, in essence, a Hammer horror movie. The same demographic can be applied to all movies with children being taken to watch the goriest horror and action movies. But that's alright though as the Indonesian censors remove all traces of romantic interest. Yes, decapitation is fine for all ages of viewing but Harry Potter giving his girlfriend a peck on the lips?? I think not, cinema patron.

I believe in personal censorship. If something is not to your taste then you have the option of an off button with the tv or walking out of a cinema movie. Checking with the myriad on-line write-ups can inform even the laziest person of what to expect.

It comes as no surprise then to find this position being used as a political weapon aimed at confusing the public. This extremely obvious attempt at political sleight of hand is being used by the government to distract the populace away from the more important matters of the day. Any regular reader of this blog knows that this country is beset by many issues, including corruption, transport, pollution and poverty. So, with this in mind what do the government focus on? Well here's a headline that has dominated the news recently, nearly at the expense of all other news. It's certainly what alot of people are talking about ...

Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Task Force Considers Short-Skirt Ban

quickly followed by this.......

House Speaker Says Indonesia Should Focus on 'Mini-Brains' Not 'Mini-Skirts'

So now all of the people who were looking at the current President and his inability to answer the big issues, are distracted by the debate over skirt length. Clever if you think about it.....

There are many aspects of Indonesian life which seem, at first glance, to be odd. This applies when reversed and Indonesians look at western culture too. I am old-fashioned enough that I don't want the UK to lose it's heritage and I understand that Indonesia is the same. I just don't believe that extremism and the forcing of views on others is the way to go about it and I seriously belive that it is a weak government that would use it as a 'smoke and mirrors' policy to blind people to the most compelling problems.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Contract Break

I've now been working for EF for 3 years. In the last 3 years I've worked on one-year contracts that have been extended. This years meeting took place in January and I agreed a two-year contract which takes me through until 2014.

The difference this year is that I will take an unpaid break between contracts. Previously as one contract ended on the Friday, the next contract began on the following Monday. This year is different though. As regular readers of this blog will know my Dad is suffering from cancer so I want to go back to see him. My mum is also furthering her efforts to become Bionic by having a new knee fitted just before I get home so I imagine I'll be the chauffeur for a while too. Finally, my Nan died on Wednesday, a day before her 97th birthday, so as I won't be able to attend the funeral, it will still be nice to go and pay my respects when I get back.

I'm taking a month as holiday. I went back to the UK in December but that was just for a week and nowhere near long enough, with flight times I was probably only there for five days. This time I have chance to catch up with loads of people who I really should start to get in touch with to confirm plans.

I'm flying into London, arriving at midday on the 27th April and heading straight to Hoddesdon to catch up with friends there including Myles O'Neil who'll be returning the favour and visiting me in August in Indonesia. While in the South I hope to meet lots of old friends and work colleagues before working my way up North to stay with my parents.

Really I have no other plans than that. It's going to be just spending time with family and friends. No particular plans for sightseeing, it's all about the people. One thing I do know is that I'm going to miss my girlfriend Yohanna very much. It's my biggest hope that we can return to the UK together for a holiday this Christmas so we'll see what happens.

As great as it's going to be being abck in the UK I know that I'll be ready to get back and as the holiday is unpaid I'll need to get back to get some cash in the bank heheh.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

My Nan passed away last night

“Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life.”

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death.”

“A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.”

I’ve been considering the life that my Nan has lived and I think the quotes above are most appropriate.
For anyone who has the fortune to live a life so long, it can be blessed with events that fill each day, or it can be waiting for the longest of sleeps.

Even at the end, Nan was fighting to hang onto this life. I like to think that this was because she loved each day so much, she just wasn’t ready to forego the experiences yet to be enjoyed.
In many ways this fighting nature captures her sense of spirit, and it is that spirit that I shall choose to remember forever.

She was always the helping hand and the soothing voice, always there with a piece of pie or a cup of tea, wanting nothing more than to involve herself and be involved in the lives of her family.
I had the immense fortune to live very closely, for a short time, with Nan and my Grandad, her beloved Harry. Even though I find myself many miles away, the thought of them finally together again brings a smile to my face.

Love you Nan. Enjoy your rest, you’ve earned it.