Part 13 – Religion, Chainsaws & Bangkok

Image

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

Image

(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 12 – Fireworks, Durian and a T-Rex

Image

Greetings Earthlings from Singapore!

So I’ve managed to survive almost 2 weeks now without being caned or having melted into an orange puddle of Irn Bru in the ferocious heat. Though with such a plethora of tasty, cheap food available coronary disease will surely succeed as the new favourite for the mechanism of my demise. 

Singapore lives up to its reputation as a culinary paradise. Hawker centres (think an Asian food court) are amazing, affordable and such an incredible range of cultural cuisines. Everything from chicken’s feet to crab to frog to fish that look like a Chernobyl speciality. All delicious. I’d still quite like to try dog. Just to create that awkward moment.

“Awww your dog is so cute. Dog tastes great y’know?”.

In the same way I’d love a picture painted by Hitler so guests would ask:

“That’s a lovely painting, who’s it by”

“Oh it’s a genuine first edition Hitler piece, gorgeous no?”

One culinary object that is rarer in Singapore than a dancing, golden unicorn with four heads are knives. You can get spoons, you can get forks, but finding a knife in Singapore will probably be the focus of Indiana Jones’ next mission (after the plot of the last one, doesn’t seem so ridiculous…). I’ve also tried chopsticks and my prowess wielding these weapons for my assaults on Asian cuisine is improving. My original attempts were as graceful and co-ordinated as a one legged Tyrannosaurus Rex in a tutu trying to perform ballet.

N.B. In Singapore, in culinary terms, “not too hot” translates as “will still give you third degree burns”. “Hot/spicy” translates as ” a degree of burns that scientists have been unable to classify because they’re still too petrified by the horror of witnessing its effects”.

Image

Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Where I will be studying for the next 9 months.

One thing that I almost immediately bought as a necessity was a guitar. Everyone has certain things that keep them sane. Things they don’t feel complete without. Like a Glaswegian jakey without a bottle of Buckfast.

Mine is a guitar.

Whenever some frustration, happiness, sadness needs expressed there is no better way for myself. Completely amazing how much you can express yourself with only 12 notes. It’s why I think John Frusciante is my favourite guitarist. He improvises so much live. It’s not a matter of playing a song back that he’s written, but expressing what he feels then. It’s personal. It’s pure expression. Though, admittedly, his face expressions when he plays do look somewhere between trying to pass a kidney stone and an orgasm…

Case in point.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG7YDCJ8Ad8

I was present at the Singapore National Day where I witnessed the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen. My description at the time was that it “was like a declaration of war on epileptics”. Was amazing to see all the Singaporeans outside watching messages about how great their country is, all dressed in red. (A friend here, Joey, made the mistake of wearing a red t-shirt this day, making it almost impossible to locate him at times!)

Image

L-R: Ann, Armanda, Kush, Me, Joey and Eva

In Singapore you can be fined for anything. I’m going to assume this is why the Asians have such a prowess for mathematics and that their textbooks go something like this

“If Qing Bo smokes twice on the train, £1000 fine, while eating a big mac, £500 fine, while smearing durian all over his face, £500 fine, how much does he owe the government?”

It is quite intimidating seeing these signs everywhere reminding you of the penalties. Singapore has so many fines for things that could be considered petty that you’re often never sure which side of the line of legality you inhabit. One I am totally in favour of, however, is that of durians on the subway. Durian is an extremely smelly fruit they have here. The effect they have on your breath is similar to that of a small rodent crawling into your mouth and dying there.

Image

Finally I think I’ve unearthed my first signs of homesickness.

Over the past few days I’ve been desperately craving a burger. Not a McDonalds “burger” where the main meat is most likely from some sort of arachnid but a proper one, basically a cow enshrined in a roll. Something like the one Graham and I made before I left Scotland…

Image

Go on. Take a bite. Y’know you want to.

[DAS ENDE]

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 10 – Geography, Exploding Falafels & Al Qaeda

Since my last entry I’ve been to 3 more places:

  • The Bavarian Alps, where, at 31 Celsius, my only probable souvenir in the post is aggressive skin cancer
  • Bretten for a mediaeval festival, where I felt right at home with archaic technology, coming from Elgin in north-east Scotland (putting that in there before Graham does…)
  • Finally, and most recently, in Heidelberg for a massive meeting of all the students in Germany.

One thing I’ve learned is that nothing promotes friendship like a mutual need. Being in a country where your knowledge of the local linguistics is poor means that any other native speakers of your language are welcomed with open arms.

They have a bad odour? Doesn’t matter.

They have links to Al Qaeda? Will you shut up? I’m trying to speak English again, at last!

They love Justin Bieber? OK, maybe I’ll reconsider…

Of course, I could speak English with the Germans that I’m not so familiar with, but that promotes guilt far too easily and establishes an obvious linguistic hierarchy.

In fact, the only comparable ecstasy to finding another native English speaker is getting a straight line in Excel for your experimental results. This is a clear indication that you, despite whatever divine force it is that likes to bully academics, have carried out the experiments successfully.

The United Kingdom has always had that advantage within Europe of being an island, that geographical veto it can use when it’s convenient. If we want to interfere in the EU, we’re European, it’s our continent too! However if we want to avoid it, oh no, we’re an island, we’re not really European.

Anyway here are some pretty pictures of Fellhorn, the peak in the Alps where I was.

It is glorious axioms of life that standing at the top of a mountain makes anyone feel more awesome. So here I am feeling awesome.

My favourite photo because I took it and managed to get the cow and the beautiful panoramic landscape…only to discover, to my hilarity, that said beautiful cow had taken a massive, wet shit in the bottom of the photo.

Also I’ve had a valuable lesson reinforced in the last week: never become a vegetarian. I was cooking for a vegetarian, so I decided to cook falafels. This was borne out of the Scottish philosophy of “everything tastes better deep fried” , so at least it was unhealthily vegetarian.

So I threw the first falafel in the pot of oil.

It exploded with the synthesis of a large volume of black, possibly carcinogenic smoke.

Graham assures me this is due to the black magic that is involved in the production of vegetarian cuisine.

Never again.

I may get a few extra exotically named vitamins by following a vegetarian diet but I’d probably blow off my arms while making a salad.

The following weekend I was in Heidelberg for the RISE Conference. It was a fantastic weekend. I have also acquired a new name: Seamus McMotherfucker. Cheers Derek for that one. Now, some pictures.

Myself, M for “Milne”. Or “Moron” as my brother kindly suggested. Wee bastard that he is.

L-R: Derek, Kevin, Myself, Ruben, Sara and Vishal. Audrey had deserted us by this point.

View from the castle of “Der Philosopher Weg” – “Philosopher’s Way”, where some of the most important philosophers of the day used to come to think.

Derek with the funniest sign I’ve ever seen.

Heidelberg is the oldest university in Germany (1386 gegründet). The Americans I was with found this pretty amazing, a university that predates the discovery of America by Columbus, let alone the colonisation of their country!

For anyone that has done a chemistry class ever also has Heidelberg University to thank. We all know that most of the more interesting lessons always involved a Bunsen Burner and hence the ability to BURN SHIT JUST BECAUSE WE CAN.

And there, pyromania, I believe, is an excellent place to finish.

Next Time: Amsterdam & Switzerland

[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.

Image

*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.

Image

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.

Image

 “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

Image

The Reichstag

Image

Brandenburger Tor

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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 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:

Image 

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!

Image

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]