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]

Part 9 – Gay Pride, Berlin & Homer Simpson

Since my last entry I’ve travelled to 5 more cities in Germany: Bonn, Köln (Cologne), Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and, most recently, Berlin.

I’ve noticed recently a large improvement in my German and this was exhibited in Berlin. While in Berlin it was the annual gay pride march and I found it fun to translate all the slogans. Ended up covered in stickers of these too, when Jeff (an American from Rhode Island that I was with) and I had to cross the street through the parade.

Fick? – Want a fuck?

Nimm mich! – Take me!

Du willst es doch auch – You want it really

Rauchst du nach dem Sex? – Do you smoke after sex?

So if you need advice on how to chat up men in German, it seems I have acquired sufficient expertise.

What I found interesting was that it passed by the old Nazi headquarters. 70 years after Hitler’s regime murdered homosexuals there’s a parade in his capital, his “World Capital Germania”, filled with gay men and the slogan “DildoKing.de” on the side of the bus. What a fantastic image, Hitler turning in his grave* at the mere thought of that. Shows just how much Germany has changed since then.

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*I’ve since been corrected, through the medium of a meme (welcome to the 21st century), that Hitler doesn’t have a grave, by my friend Alex.

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Above is a picture of the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin.

The problem with designing something for such a grisly event in history would be that a grand, gaudily artistic monument would be just be wrong. Conversely it still needs to  be powerful, to do justice the suffering of the subject. And this monument is perfect. A sober, but effective, design with very little abject symbolism, leaving it up to the visitor to decide. I loved how all the blocks are all different shapes and sizes but have no discernible markings. Leaving them to just be an anonymous number. I took this to be showing how people of all ages, sizes and paths of life suffered and how the people lost their humanity by just being a number. When numbers become big they lose their impact, because our understanding wanes as numbers rise above our everyday experience and comprehension.

6 million dead people. It’s unimaginable. Literally.

It’s the same reason economies will always fail and these financial machinations will never be understand properly. When numbers enter cohorts of billions we cannot comprehend what we’re dealing with. And for the same reason we’ll never be able to understand the scale of the universe. When 100 countries in the world seem like a large number, when our holiday flights of a few thousand miles seem gargantuan, monolithic, how can we really understand the scale of a universe in light-years? We are limited by what it is to be human, a cage of proportion.

In the accompanying museum the following display truly touched me. It is a letter from a child, in the concentration camps, to his father explaining that he will soon be dead. The candid nature of the letter is what I found powerful. When I was a child the closest I came to death is when my PokeMon fainted on my GameBoy. Yet here, a child, someone so young, has already their fate. A departure from life through the mechanism of brutality.

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 “Dear Dad! Before I die I want to say farewell to you. We would really like to live, nevertheless they won’t let us, we will be killed. I’m so worried about this death, the small children are thrown into the pit while they’re still alive. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.”

Now here’s just a miscellaneous mix of photos

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The Reichstag

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Brandenburger Tor

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Checkpoint Charlie, note how German is the last language shown.

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I enjoyed this poster. It refers to the Germany Greece game in ongoing European Football Championship, which Germany won 4-2

Back to Karlsruhe. I’ve almost managed to fuck up a couple of experiments so far at work. A cultural German note of seemingly insignificant interest: Germans use commas for decimal points in numbers, not full stops. Yes, this is incredibly inconsequential for 99,9% of applications in life… Until you try to programme flowrates for a reactor…using full stops…hence 5.00 l/min turns, not so inconsequentially, into 500l/min…woops. Yep, this is the guy who wants to, potentially, work with nuclear energy later in my calamitous life. My parents reaction when I told them that?

This was it

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Apologies to all those who won’t sleep soundly tonight…

[DAS ENDE]

Part 6 – The Terminator, Jaundice & Not Living in a Cardboard Box

I’ve just spent the last week with my family until Xmas. My family is changing a lot at the moment after my parent’s separation, as you would expect.

A brief illustration of the characters of my family

Dad: One case of jaundice away from being Homer Simpson’s real life incarnation

Mum: Just 50 but has a 2nd degree black belt in TaeKwonDo

Chris: Owns hair far more violently ginger than mine. I’m surprised he hasn’t been stolen and sold for scrap with soring copper prices.

Dad has bought himself a wee house now that he’s moved out. It is such an entropic masterpiece of chaos that I adore it, mainly because it signifies a reversal of positions in life. For years my parents nagged me about my untidiness and now it is my turn to nag them!

This got me thinking about how my relationship with parents has changed over the years.

When I was young I was convinced that they were robots sent back from the future to make sure any sort of potential for joy was neutralised. Like The Terminator, but more mundane and with less muscles. Their arsenal of methods included: enforced vegetable consumption, early bedtimes and shoe shopping under duress. The brutality.

However, as I got older I realised that my parents were…dare I say it?…Human.  That once they were young and had dreams, ambitions…and dodgy haircuts (a particular one of my Dad’s moustache springs to mind… No doubt, if I have children, they’ll be cringing at pictures of my old ponytail in years to come).

That’s the thing about parents; you’re always out of sync with them, they’re always a stage ahead of you so you can never properly empathise with them. Like you’re a sine curve and they’re a cosine, always out of phase, rarely ever the same value. That’s one thing I would have loved to have seen, my parents at my age, before they accumulated that wisdom and assurance in life that separates you from them.

Discussing life matters with your parents; 90% of the time it’s like going to the cinema with someone who’s already seen the film. They know the ending and how it will probably pan out. And knowing the ending makes everything in life boring. I’m sure you’ll all have heard the immortally infamous line “I Told You So” at some point from your beloved folks. I do think as I get older I can appreciate them more though, as I accumulate  more life experience and have more shared experiences and you come to understand how they were moulded through the phases of life. Just as the same is happening to you.

Moving to the future, it is now only 4 days until I leave for Germany. 4 days. 96 hours.  And only today did I receive confirmation that I’ll have somewhere to live. Meaning I won’t be forced to live in a cardboard box, selling my teeth for use in the production of tiny piano keys or have to subject myself to some sort of medical testing, like having the head of another human conjoined to me, in order to survive day to day.

4 days.

Fuck.

[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]