Part 13 – Religion, Chainsaws & Bangkok

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L-R: Linn, Kayne, Kush, Me, Anne, Wesley, Joey, Dirk, Vivian, Liz, Julia, Heather

Chaotic and seedy, yet simultaneously cultured.

Bangkok in Thailand was a breath of fresh air, acting as a pure antithesis to the rigidity of the westernised womb of safety that is Singapore. Hundreds of street food dealers yelling. The foul smell of durian. Haphazard stalls with various juxtaposed wares… A cauldron of chaos.

In total a group of 11 of us made the turbulent journey across to Bangkok. 11 is a very difficult number to co-ordinate. Much like atomic elements, when groups hit a certain mass they are often unstable and usually decay into more stable components.  The more people you have the more compromises each individual has to make, hence for a lot of the weekend we existed constantly diffusing between various combinations. This made it all the more fun though.

Now, we all know Thailand is famous for one thing in particular.

Nope. Not temples…guess again?

That’s right!

Ladyboys!

We encountered this phenomenon of genitalia in a café, firstly. A woman came over to take our order. Upon arrival “she” proceeded to ask what we wanted in a voice so low that it probably measured a healthy 7 on the Richter Scale. What was better was my friend Dirk’s reaction. He simply froze, seemingly unable to comprehend the mismatch of information that was flooding his brain. Like his brain was trying to shove together two wrong pieces of a puzzle.

>WOMAN’S APPEARANCE

>MALE VOICE

>COMPILING

>RUNTIME ERROR

Cue steam and smoke ferociously exiting the overburdened system.

The next encounter involved another friend of mine, Kushal. A complimentary part of our trip was a Thai massage.   Kush enjoyed his so much that he decided to go back later for another. It would be fair to say that his next masseuse was a tad more “rugged”.

To be fair to Kush, he was as unflappable as ever, his response being “but she did a good job”. What job? I’ll leave that clouded in ambiguity for the benefit of everyone’s mental hygiene.

Moving to the more cultured aspect of the trip…

I really enjoyed the Buddhist temples that I had the pleasure of visiting. I’ve never been a religious person and I never will be, yet I have always appreciated and loved visiting places of worship. Religion, as harmful as it has the possibility to be, has been the catalyst for some of the most beautiful and inspiring achievements of humanity. When I was in Strasbourg during summer I visited the cathedral there.

What a masterpiece it is. And what inspired it?

Religion.

It is definitely my second favourite cathedral after the Sagrada Familia* in Barcelona. It’s inspiring to think that many of these constructions predated such technologies as concrete and scientific aids like calculus. Faith is a powerful forcing function; everyone needs a vein of inspiration to achieve a life of value. For some people religion is the obvious fit.

* [That Gaudi was a crazy bastard. I’d love to reanimate his from the dead so he could design my house]

The Buddhist temples were beautiful and I enjoyed the contrast to the more solemn and sincere monuments of Europe. Their Buddhist equivalents were a riot of colour that exuded such energy and life. Bangkok is also the home of the world’s biggest Buddha statue. There was one fact that I particularly loved about it; that it took decades to build because they could only construct when they had enough donations from worshippers at the temples to continue construction. I thought that was incredible and must bestow upon the locals such a sense of ownership since they’ve paid for it as a collective. As a community.

Wesley in front of the world’s biggest Buddha statue

I could wax lyrical for hours about Bangkok, but so I don’t tire you all here’s some pictures.

Joey and Heather on an elephant. They’re strangely hairy.

Amazing buffet on the 81st floor of Bangkok’s tallest building.
Left, front to back: Heather, Wesley, Me, Kush
Right, front to back: Anne, Dirk, Joey, Linn

Me overlooking Bangkok from it’s tallest building. Balcony of where we had our meal.

L-R: Kush, Joey, Me
Eating grasshoppers on Khao San Road. Very crunchy.

Back at NTU (my university here) I’ve picked up Arabic language as an elective. The best part about this so far has been doing my homework on the plane Bangkok to worry the passengers around me. Arabic, from my extensive knowledge of 5 lessons, is a great language to listen to. It’s so guttural that it can sound like a conversation between a blender with gravel in it and a chainsaw (1), which is one of the reasons I like it. I much prefer German to the French I learned in school because it feels like a much more powerful language when it’s spoken. And damn scary. I think the Simpsons (2) summed it up best when discussing Russian. I couldn’t find the video, but it basically consists of Lisa asking some Russian men for directions. The gesticulation and sound appear very angry while the subtitles contrast to show helpful they’re actually being! My Arabic lecturer from Morocco does this too, wildly gesticulating so much that I’m sure that if I connected his arms to a turbine I could solve the world energy crisis. Now, another bit of linguistic satire with regards to German for y’all, before I retire from procrastination for the good of my future

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(1) – Speaking of chainsaws, I remember when I used to work in Argos when we sold two chainsaws in one day. On Halloween. Creepy as fuck.

(2) – Rule 1 of Life: Any act that occurs within the universe can be referred back to The Simpsons

[DAS ENDE]

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Part 11 – Academia, Spaghetti & Liquid Nitrogen

http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=17

My experience in research has been pretty brief. A mere 69 days (chortle chortle).

Nevertheless it has definitely been an enjoyable and insightful, if infuriating, time.

One of the best things is having a project that is yours. Ownership of anything work related makes it so much more bearable. It depreciates the sentiment that you’re doing it for someone else and that you could care so much less. The fact that it’s yours means you take pride in it, because ultimately it is YOUR work and people will judge YOU on it, no one else.

However, academia itself can be, predictably, infuriating.

Researchers have a euphemism for “infuriating”.

It’s “interesting”.

“Those results are…interesting”

It’s almost like a defence mechanism against the constant barrage of unclear, confusing and, occasionally, just damn wrong results. According to my results at times I’ve violated such laws as the Conservation of Mass and Gravity. I’ll just assume that the Noble Prize is in the post for these advances…

Eventually though, those good results do come around then it’s fantastic. But it’s made all the more fantastic because of all those terrible results. Those supposed straight lines of data points that instead look a bowl of spaghetti.

That’s something true about life, that we cannot have Good without Bad. We all wish to nullify all the unpleasant experiences in life but without them, what’s left? If everything in our life was good then the thing that was “least Good” would become, by definition, Bad. Good and Bad are not absolutes, but are relatives. It’s the same reason that finding a pound coin on the street would inspire nothing but a passing smile. However, if someone in the depths of poverty found one, then it would be almost a miracle.

Hence as we gather experiences we begin to reassess what is “Good” and “Bad”.

Just one of the reasons that we’re in a constant state of flux. People don’t suddenly “change”; they accumulate change, which we don’t notice until something triggers our acknowledgement. Why so often outgrow people for seemingly no reason. We are merely an accumulation of experiences.

Finally, there is one more advantage to working in academia.

When it’s 30oC outside, you can make ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

-170oC of pure joy.

 [DAS ENDE]

Part 5 – Evolution, Marie Curie & Llamas

Since I left you last the manky monstrosity of our oven has been somewhat rectified. The following is an account of part of the titanic struggle that will one day pass into legends of antiquity.

Firstly, do you remember PokéMon? If you do not, then kindly proceed to Option 1. If even the mention of PokéMon subjects you to a euphoric invasion of nostalgia then read on to Option 2.

Option 1:

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Option 2

If you do, do Muk and Grimer awaken childhood memories? Yes? Well this is how it went…

A wild MUK appeared!

MUK used SLUDGE!

It wasn’t very effective!

GRAHAM used CLEANING PRODUCTS!

It was super effective!

MUK used POISON GAS!

But it failed!

GRAHAM used DISPOSAL!

It was super effective!

MUK fainted!

GRAHAM reached Level 41! What? GRAHAM is evolving!

 *cheesy and repetitive Japanese game music*

Congratulations! Your GRAHAM evolved into AN EVEN FILTHIER BEING THAN HE ALREADY WAS!

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Credit to Chris Milne

Oh PokéMon games and their one dimensional punctuation…

With part of that gargantuan task complete I’ve decided to take the train back to Elgin for a last visit home before going abroad. The only thing more predictable than Scotrail’s (Read: ScotFail’s) atronomical beverage overpricing and grumpy, soulless staff on the trip was my meeting of a weirdo. I’m not sure whether during the last couple of years, due to government austerity measures, if the Glasgow to Elgin train line has been transformed into a looney bin on rails or not but I always seem to meet some colourful characters on the locomotive.

  • The Earl of Thurso’s son, with whom, from all the kingdom of beverages, I drunk Buckfast.
  • An American actress who had a tiny part in the film “The Day After Tomorrow”
  • A woman whose great-grandfather in Paris had water poured over his head by Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize winner
  • An American whose father invented the plastic formica

Anyway today’s character was an American from Minnesota named Brie. Yes, like the cheese. However, after having an ex whose first names were Panacea and Reality I would probably have been rendered incapable of feeling any surprise even if she’d introduced herself as Duchess Pippington Dustbin Childtoucher.  She also had a pet llama. So I spent my journey learning about llamas. Standard.

Makes you realise how practically everyone in the world has some strange story or claim to fame. Not surprisingly considering how often we interact with people on a daily basis. It’s just a statistical outcome that we’ll meet these people.  Everyone has a tale to tell, if you’re prepared to excavate their consciousness a little. So, my advice to all of you, next time you’re on the train talk to that person across from you, they may well be most interesting person you’ll ever meet*.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Mr Andrew Milne takes no responsibility if the character’s “interesting” trait turns out be that they are: a murderer; terrorist; molester etc.

 [DAS ENDE]

Part 4 – Death, His Steed & That Funny Greek Alphabet

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Image courtesy of: http://aboutcoolness.com/

Exam time, as strange as this may sound, is often one of the best times as a student. This is simply because you can justify, legitimately or not, deprioritising every single responsibility you have in favour of studying.

  • Am I eating too much junk food? Who cares, need to study.
  • Should we do the washing up since the dishes have now reached a state that resembles a putrid game of Jenga? Nope, don’t have time, must study.
  • Should I care that a horde of Genghis Khan’s Mongol warriors has arrived through some portal in time and space in my kitchen? Not important, the Second Law of Thermodynamics on the other hand…

This is because, as a student, there are only two real responsibilities.

  1.   Don’t get into so much debt that you, or a kind parent, has to sell a kidney to regain financial liquidity
  2.   Don’t fail

This is one of the reasons that being a student is so good. If you were to graphically plot responsibility and independence against time one would decrease, the other increase. And that perfect intersection when life is easiest would be the time when you’re a student. Apologies for the mathematical analogy, a further example of how studying has turned my brain into a thick mathematical soup of graphs and that funny Greek alphabet…

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have extra pressure on my exams this year. Mainly that my exchange place at a Singaporean university depends on my passing everything. In tandem with circa £2000 worth of plane tickets to and from Singapore twice, already purchased. Failure is not an option, meaning that I have even more reason to become a study monster than usual and relegate all other non-essential responsibilities.

Saying this, one household task has emerged recently, that even we, as a flat, cannot ignore.

Cleaning the oven, a task for no mortal man.

Staring into it is to stare into a frightening, black, chemical abyss. We fear the grease may have gained sentience. Thankfully we have a champion equal to this Herculean task, the world’s most frightening oven cleaner. A succinct summary of the advice on the back: “Extremely flammable, causes severe burns, may damage the respiratory system, extremely corrosive, wear protective clothing while administering”

I’m fully expecting Death himself to come charging out of the can on his Steed of Darkness whenever we use it, it sounds that evil.  So if this is my last post, rest assured that Death himself has probably taken my soul as an evil trophy for his mantelpiece or a gift for mother’s day. Or, more likely, we forgot to turn the oven off before using “extremely flammable” oven cleaner…

[DAS ENDE]

Part 3 – Transformers, Biological Warfare & The Art of Spin

Sometime during my first year in Glasgow the three of us, pictured above, decided to live together. Left to right is: myself; Justice and Graham. Yes his name, well surname, actually is “Justice”. We think he should’ve studied law instead of engineering so in court he’d be “Lord Justice Justice” in a “Major Major” Catch-22 farce of titles. He also wants to do a PhD after undergrad meaning that he’d be Doctor Justice. With a name like that it’s almost a moral obligation to become a Bond Villain or Superhero.

Anyway, we did move in together but with my moving abroad to Germany and Singapore this is coming to an end. It’s quite easy to forget what you’re leaving behind when moving abroad, getting caught up in all the excitement and preparation. So here goes, a  few of the escapades of Maule Drive.

 Moving In

This is from the first day we’d moved in. After having a few friends round for drinks we decided to play a prank on a friend, Greg, by filling his shoes with water and freezing them. This taught me two things.

  1. This prank works surprisingly well. Greg’s shock when he tried to put his feet in his shoes was hilarious.
  2. Don’t fuck with plumbers. Remember what your friends do for a profession. Greg is a plumber and hence knows more about the intricacies and intimacies of my home than I ever will, meaning his revenge will always be infinitely better.

Davie (L) Me (R)

After a few drinks Davie and I also decided that we wanted to be transformers. Hence “Carling-tron” and “Mecha-coors” were born.

Christmas Dinner

This was the setting for our Xmas meal. Being poor students we didn’t have a dining table…or a dining room for that matter… Instead we just put down blankets in the hallway and called it a “Xmas Picnic”. An act of spin that I think even Malcolm Tucker or Alistair Campbell would be proud of! Graham and I managed to somehow cook a 3 course meal for 12 people in probably the world’s smallest kitchen. And no one suffered from food poisoning. Andrew and Graham: 1 , Salmonella: 0. We were also supposed to have a Xmas tree  but obtaining one turned out to be harder than a microscopic game of Where’s Wally. Hence the baubles we’d already bought were used as projectiles as we all descended into bauble warfare. Like normal battles, but more “christmassy”.

Who’s That Hot Bird?

A group photo from Xmas dinner. This is also, probably, the tidiest Graham’s room has ever been. While I am no saint when it comes to the mysterious art of cleanliness, Graham is next level. You get the feeling when you see it sometimes that it’s contravening a NATO treaty on biochemical warfare somewhere. Also some of the stuff Justice and I have found in there is probably more furry and hairy than Graham himself. To put this into perspective; Graham’s nickname is Chewbacca, from Star Wars.

Miscellaneous Others

Generally the three of us have what you might call a dysfunctional relationship, where giving each other abuse is everyday. I remember meeting a Canadian in Edinburgh last summer who was amazed at how mean us Scots were to each other. To us it’s just second nature. Graham and Justice’s two favourite points of attack for myself are that I’m an old bastard and that I’m from northern, more rural [read: sheep shagging], Scotland.”Are you so old that you shit Werther’s Originals?” I think is Graham’s quote of the week about my age. Abusing Justice is often a lot less subtle even than that. Above is a picture just after I got back after Xmas, where Graham and I ambushed Justice and wrapped him completely in a few rolls of clingfilm.

While out with Greg one night we met some absolute psychos from the army. During the evening one of them told me that I looked like Willy Wonka out of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Graham then decided to mock up this picture and post it on Facebook. I’ll leave it  to you, the reader, to decide on the quality of the resemblance.

A group photo from my 20th birthday. Many thanks to Francesca and Catherine for the fantastic cake you can see.

Graham broke the bin lid, this was the solution. As he put it afterward; “Strathclyde University engineering education at its finest!”

[DAS ENDE]