Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Struggles with Police and Losing my Shit in China

The spot where I was dropped off
 First blog for a whole year..

 This ordeal happened to me in China recently after I left a bag containing my laptop, tablet and other precious electronics in a taxi as I was dropped off at my hostel. It was something that's easy to do and extremely difficult to remedy.. 

French, Pokemon addicted doctors

It started on a delayed flight from Xi'An to Kunming. I was deep into conversation with four trainee French doctors. They caught my attention because they were the only other Westerners on board and they all played Pokemon on old-school Gameboys.

It transpired we were all staying at the same hostel and they generously agreed to find a vehicle that could fit us all.We haggled at the airport exit gate with a gang of slightly dodgy looking characters until we settled upon a price. Our driver was a Chinese man in his late 50's who could speak very few words in English. He led us down to a basement car park, we piled into a modern grey minivan and took off.

One of the four French dudes
The world cup match between French vs Nigeria World Cup was about to start and at 11.58pm the lads started passionately singing La Marseillaise.

Losing my shit

At exactly midnight we rolled up to a spot near "The Hump Youth Hostel" (seriously). After we collected our stuff from the car the driver asked "Okay?" We all nodded said thank you and walked away.
I had walked around twenty metres when I looked at the four Frenchmen before yelling: "FUCCKKKKKK!" There have been few moment in my life where I've felt a sense of sheer panic but this was one of them. I sprinted back to where the minivan had just been.. but it was gone.

I'm not saying it was exactly like this but close

Getting it back: Disinterested Police

After a sleepless night thinking about my lost photos, the next morning I arranged to go to the local station with a staff member from the hostel. They assigned me a fresh-faced teen called Danny who was a local but had lived in the states for a few year so could translate.

The hero of the day..looks and acts older than he is
On arriving at the station I saw a small office room in which several officers were sitting around. It wasn't the most professional looking outfit. One was sleeping, one had her cellphone out and others were tapping away on computers. Danny advised me that police in China were quite different to the West so we'd be lucky to get help and we'd need to be patient. He said: "They are so rude, they just don't wanna be bothered."

We made the report but were told that it was impossible to find my bag without the number plate and we should forget ever getting it back. The police we were dealing with could not have given less of a shit. I know there are plenty of more important crimes than a stupid white guy who forgets his stuff but it wasn't a
difficult case to solve!

I couldn't help but think while looking around the station; the filthy toilets, ancient computers and generally poor facilities - that police in China might be under-resourced.
If only I had encountered
cops like this..

CCTV Cameras not so bad? 

After insistence and patience by Danny and myself, some of the police agreed to review CCTV footage with us from the night before (eventually they just let me do it while they looked on). In Sherlockesque fashion, we trawled through video after video, angle after angle... pausing, rewinding and trying to find the car. Eventually we found it but unfortunately the video quality wasn't good enough to see the car's plate.

We were referred to another station who were said to have better quality cameras but they just sent us back to the original station!

The car in question.. what's the number plate though?
Round in circles

We returned to the original station to get permission from the airport police to see their footage. Again they said: "Give up."

We waited another hour before a kindly middle aged cop said he would drive us out there in his own car (I paid road tolls). He smiled and wasn't rude and that was a big difference compared to most of the police I dealt with. 

After 40 mins we arrived at the airport and continued to be ignored and rebuffed. Even with a policeman accompanying us, security at the airport said the cameras were poor, nothing could be done etc
The police's attitude
Feilock Holmes

I explained that the previous night, the only five white dudes in the airport all walked into the car park at the same time and that must have been captured somewhere on film!

After waiting about an hour at the car park some airport cops turned up. 

They escorted us to a big-brother control room where there were many monitors and several people sitting at control desks.. I knew our arrival time and I remembered that our driver had used a tag to buzz out the gate. This was a crucial clue.
How I felt most of the day

One of the airport staff switched to camera view of the whole carpark and fast forwarded from 11.10 pm to 11.26pm when a pack of white fellas strolled to a car.. Booyah!

He switched to another angle for the gate camera which staff use and at 11.31pm, the car we were aboard was shown on camera. Number plate and all!


We had the number plate. We went to another station waited another 30 minutes. The police got the details and took us back to the original station.

The driver was called and was defensive saying that he was no thief and that he just hadn't gotten around to calling the police yet. He agreed to come directly to the station with my bag.
On the case at the airport.. Finally a breakthrough


Finally the driver arrived. He offered the policeman a cigarette but seemed angry. Apparently he was worried he would lose his job because his boss thought something dodgy was afoot when police asked about him. The friendly policeman called the airport boss to clear things up. I offered the cab driver some money for his troubles. He asked for triple but I maintained my original offer and he took off.

I was very lucky. Nine and a half hours with Chinese police was a small but frustrating price to pay for being forgetful.

Lessons to be learned from this chapter when dealing with Chinese police: 
Success with friendly cop!After 9.5 hours

*Whether you are robbed, lose something or are scammed - when dealing with Police in China - timeliness is important. You also must be persistent .

* Be extra super bloody vigilant with your belongings when in foreign lands, especially while in transit. I'm usually so careful but on this occasion I slipped.

* If in China either learn Mandarin or have Chinese friends or associates when you get into trouble. Very few people can speak English.. I would have gotten nowhere without a translator.

*Take photos of the number plates or ID's of the cabs you are in.. That way, you are covered if you do accidentally leave something behind.

*Don't carry around too much stuff. Having loads of possessions and moving around all the time means it's easier to misplace an item.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

On ages and stages (Inspired by Seven Up!)

Pictured: NOT me
Author's note: In the spirit of extremely sporadic writing on random topics here is another fleeting hodgepodge of brain articulations (or ejaculations -not the naughty kind) written between 12.00am-1.45am on Monday 3 June, 2013.

This blog is NOT brought to you by Pepsi (who make 7Up), although I did consume other stimulants during it's production ;)

Aging - something we all go through and something consumers of beauty products spend billions of dollars attempting to fight. Love your tight, well-defined young skin? Well - aging doesn't care much for your vanity! 

During the process of aging your skin gradually separates from your bones and heads south. As much as you might wish you were like Peter Pan and stayed forever young- aging will relentless stalk you and when it does eventually catch up - it will take your looks, body and faculties and make them all just a bit worse. Oh sure, some things will get better - you'll get a bit of wisdom and some people might call you a silver fox (if you're lucky). But if youth is the opening act, getting old is the third and final act and the prelude to the end - death.

I haven't felt the ravages of age too much yet and thank fuck for that. At 25, I should be in good health.

On this topic, if you haven't already check out the  brilliant documentary series - Seven Up!

How to age both gracefully and disgracefully
Why should you watch Seven Up!

If you are someone who like me thinks a bit about life and your general direction this is a really interesting look at how people's choices and circumstances affect the direction of their lives.

The Up series began in Britain in 1964. It interviewed a group of 14 seven-year-old children from different locations and socioeconomic backgrounds. The original intent seems to have been critically examining the class system in Britain (and public vs comprehensive education) and how it affected the opportunities and lives of the children they follow.

Up is now into it's 5th decade and in 2012, 56 Up was released.

I find it perversely fascinating to survey someones life in short seven year snapshots. We get to see them as cute little seven years old, shy teenagers, in their thirties as parents and now as people in their middle age moving towards retirement. While it's not a complete picture of their existence, it's a glimpse and that's all we need.

Up! participants have had varied and interesting careers: teachers,  a lawyer, a nuclear physicists,  a vagrant turned local politician, a stay-at-home Mum and so on.

During University I became obsessed and watched from 7 Up til 49 Up in a few days. Each of the eight iterations is about 2 hours long.

What I found particularly interesting was looking at what people predicted they'll do in the future vs what they actually end up doing. E.g At 21, one of the ladies says: "I don't want to have children." Nek minit (seven years later) she had two babies running around. It's fairly obvious that our plans change and lives often go in a completely different ways than we might have expected. 

I enjoy people expressing their ambitions and thoughts on life. At 56, some of the adults talk of frustration about things that didn't work out as well as they'd like. Some have had multiple marriages, most had children of their own and many had grandchildren also. One subject moved to Australia when he was young so between 7 Up! in 1964 and 14 Up! in 1971 his accent changed from a cutesy English lilt to an Ozzie twang.

When reflecting on their lives, nearly all the participants emphasised the importance of friends and family in their overall sense of purpose and happiness.

If you strip away all the other factors in your life: work, money, influence, ambition, pride, lust - the most important thing left is your relationships with others. We all depend on each other to get through life and having close friends and loved ones to be there and support you is most important than can be put into words.

The subjects' of Seven Up!
I have spent a lot of life in my head imagining things that I'd like to do or things I could do "if only (insert circumstance)."

If there is one lesson I take overall from the show is making the most of opportunities. A wise person once told me that one thing you notice as you age is you increasingly live with the impact of decisions you made in the past. (Basically - some doors are closed to you as you age)

I just hope I make the right choices and don't end up old and full of regret. Currently I think I'd doing alright.

So what's changed for me in the last seven years:

*Where I live:

Then: Dunedin
Now: Wellington (with a year overseas in the interim)

Who I date:

Then: F (nearly two years together)
Now: W (nearly three years together)

What I do:

Then: Start of second year of university at Otago (Politics and Film)
Now: Work for Victoria University as a Liaison Officer (with many jobs and travel in between)

That's just things on the surface.

Some of my views are different, I've travelled, I learned a foreign language, sky dived, learned to Scuba etc. My body changed - I filled out.

I'm really not sure what I'll be doing in another 7 years and that's kind of exciting. If there's one thing I wish, it's that I still have a full head of hair in 2020. 

Six years passed. January 2007 and January 2013. Things with the penguin just didn't work out..
One last thing, if you want to see a film a superb movie tackling the choices we make in life and how they affect us - check out Mr Nobody.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Unrealistic New Year's resolutions and beating my "crack" addiction

Anything that can be exemplified with a kitten should be
For Santi

 It's 2013 and I wrote a grand total of 4 blogs in 2012! That probably works out at a couple of words a day!

I still feel like writing is a big part of my life but with everything else going on, it's unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

Finding motivation to write (or do anything creative) can be quite difficult sometimes.

I blame entertainment technology. It's both a fantastic tool and a terrible curse. It gives hours of joy and in my case often squashes my creative impulses.

My heart - "It'd be good to (run, read, climb a mountain, go to the gym) today"
My brain - "You could do that.. or you could just have one more hour of (Tekken, FIFA, YouTube)"
And of course everyone plays games exactly like this..

Screen addiction is this generation's crack.

Try swearing off computers, TV's and cellphones for a week - you'll be sweating and shaking in no time!

When you actually fight your urge to do something you know is not really good for you and go for that run or write something - it feels good!

New Years resolutions are a good yard-stick to measure your life against. It's like a theme for your year.

2012 was year of the job-hunt.

All the way back in Jan 2012 ny major aims were to settle in Wellington with my girlfriend and find a good job. I was fortunate to achieve those things.

The bottom of my feet
As far as itchy feet are concerned - my feet are past the point of itching they are on fire. Thankfully I'll get a month of travel this year. Hooray!

New Years Resolutions Fail

A few years ago I pledged to drink 8 glasses of water a day. It was working out great for the first two weeks, my skin was looking better and I did feel a difference.. But my fucking god, drinking that much water on top of all the other beverages I had throughout the day was difficult. I lasted about 8 days.

You have to be realistic about what you want to achieve.

It's be nice to have:

"Get discovered by a writing scout for Lonely Planet. They will quickly realise my supreme awesomeness and pay me to travel the world in a golden Learjet"

But more realistically I could write:

"Get some paid writing work this year and submit a few articles for publication"

Here are the things I hope to achieve in 2013:

Try Scuba Diving (will try end of Jan 2013)
Try surfing (can't believe I still haven't done this)
Pay off my student loan (done)
Save $20,000
Travel somewhere I've never been before (having a trip in July)
Take guitar lessons (will start tomorrow afternoon)
Go to gym 3-4 times a week
Read an hour a day 
Take a creative writing course

I basically want to do well at my job and find a another nice place to live with Wim for the coming year. Earth shattering huh!

What do you want out of 2013?
If you read this and have any comment what-so-ever please write.


Monday, August 13, 2012

On finding a job, settling in to working life and some other shiz

Last time I wrote a blog on here, I was in a completely different head space to where I am today.

After an epic struggle against underemployment, I finally found a job.

Stable employment with a decent salary, variety, a fair employer, and room to move around have been good for me.

There's been a lot to learn as well. Plenty of duties to get on top of and shit loads of names to remember, but I'm lavishing it and I feel very fortunate.

Writing about problems, it seems, is easier than singing from the rooftops about life being good.

(Note: I was singing from rooftops for a while but the neighbours kept complaining) 

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anym.. oh wait
I've been thinking about topics that would inspire me to write more often..

Strange random rant:

I'm a bit of a news junkie, despite being out of the journalism game for quite some time. I am strongly opinionated but I've scarcely written about anything political. That would take this blog in a very different direction. For example, how come climate change hasn't been in the news as much this year as in previous years? Is it that it's no longer news? That everyone has accepted that this is inevitable?
And what about the GFC (Global Financial Crisis)? Have the underlying causes of it been fully addressed? Will it happen again? - Anyway, you get the idea. These are some things I'd like to explore in more detail.

Back to my original thought:

It's one full year since I got back from Indonesia. One full year without leaving New Zealand!

Travel occupies a space in the back of my mind and once in a while I access that compartment, clear away the cobwebs and think of new places I might like to go to in future.

Working life gives you much more money, stability, ability to buy the things you want.

My brain
Fortunately my new job also involves a lot of travel. I'll be on the road a couple of months each year.

On the other hand - full-time work makes taking long, exotic holidays much more difficult than when you are a student. You have to be much more picky about where you want to go because you don't have the long expanses of time to meander around many different countries.

Perhaps I have to bring my focus closer to home and think about exploring more of NZ..

Some future blog topics:

* Life in Wellington
* Getting things done before 30 - does a child spell the end to travel?

Comment or questions always welcome, random abuse will also be acceptable, if properly formulated. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rant: In search of work and meaning in a time of austerity

Searching for meaning and questioning the system is what a lot of people in their twenties do, right?

At least that's the case with me.

I'm an atheist, so I feel that this life is all we have. That makes your time more precious, because when you die, that's it.

A job doesn't have to be the only thing that defines your life, but because you spend most of your time doing it, it becomes an identifier  - something that people will immediately ask when they meet each other: "What do you do?"

I've been temping for a while now and it's not terrible but just not particularly stimulating. I've had a crack at various jobs in the public sector and been luckier than some by being short-listed for several pretty great jobs.

Unfortunately I haven't sealed the deal and have missed out when employers have chosen more experienced people (usually older) than myself.

If my only hope is to continue doing average work, that I don't enjoy for average wages then I'll either.

A: Leave NZ and go to Australia or elsewhere
B: Retrain in a different field

I decided a while ago that I wasn't very interested in mainstream news journalism, which is what I was trained to do and the internship I received. Even if I was rearing to go - there are few jobs available in NZ and the pay is rather lowly.

One thing that occurred to me is how little control we have over our ability to choose how we work. We may be able to choose the field we want to work in through our training and studies but when the economy is down, there might be few jobs available in our field.

Westerners are in a privileged position compared to a lot of the world in terms of what jobs we do, but still, think to yourself about how many people you hear say "I love my job."

I think many people settle for work that "pays the bills" or is "not too bad" rather than something they feel passionate about. Maybe it's just easier to live life that way. Not everyone can be a presenter on Top Gear or have millions of dollars and loads of free time.

You vs the prevailing economic circumstances
Is it too idealistic to think that people should work in jobs they love and that us their abilities? Wouldn't that ultimately be more productive.
When I reflect on most of the office jobs I've done, and it's been a few now - people just look a bit blank as they sit at their screens. It's not a very natural way to be - sitting still for eight hours or more per day.

The competition for the most prestigious jobs and highest pay, and the measurement of self-worth in material possessions leads us to dissatisfaction.

We are still lead to believe everything is all right, that the dream is alive. That our pursuit of money and stuff is right.

I have learned that money doesn't bring you lasting fulfilment.

Even if we train in a particular field and get a good university education with good marks, that doesn't guarantee you will be able to find a good-paying, satisfying job.

Our system demands that you work to earn money to live. - That's fair enough, but if the economy is shit, your choices over what kinds of jobs you can get are quite restricted. The ups and downs of the capitalist system are something that we mostly accept, but when you really think about it, the whole money system on which are society is based on is just pretend isn't it?

Most money in the world doesn't physically exist and isn't backed by something of concrete physical value like gold, or assets. Banks issue far more loans than they actually physically hold in cash. They can do so because they are legitimised by Governments to do so. Borrowing helps growth, or so the theory goes..

 Economic growth which is always expounded by leaders as a great thing is what most Western societies strive for.

Here are a few reasons why debt is bad.
From my own experience paying off my student loan, it does sort of hang over you. The prospect of taking on board a massive mortgage to fund my first home is not something I'll rush into.

When you hear that the low growth and shitty economic conditions could carry on for many years you start to think.. Why the hell don't we all just start again?

Surely, if most of the countries in the world are in debt and the economic system we have is advantaging a small few at the expense of most of the rest of the world, then we, as a global society have to say - fuck this!
I'm not imagining that this will suddenly happen because the people who have a lot of money and power won't relinquish it easily and large change can be a scary thing.
Inequality is growing everywhere in the world and quite substantially so in New Zealand over the last 25 years..

The competition for the most prestigious jobs and highest pay, and the measurement of self-worth in material possessions leads us to dissatisfaction.

So what are the solutions?

It would be premature of me to think that I could come up with something that hasn't been thought of before.. I just know the way we are doing things now is not sustainable for people or the planet. We need to rethink a lot of stuff..

Will society continue down this road? If so, what are the consequences?


Monday, April 16, 2012

The art of staying put. When to lay down roots and stop travelling?

"And remember, no matter where you go, there you are."- Confucius

People travel for a lot of reasons. To escape, to discover new places, for a holiday, for pleasure, for business etc.

Sometimes people move to a new place to escape how they feel about their own life. I once read a book "The Art of Travel" by Alain de Botton.  In the book, Botton describes how people tend to grossly overestimate how much of a difference travelling to a new place will make them feel. A person may fantasise about all the wonders going to a new place will bring.

"But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams. The tragi-comic disappointments are well-known: the disorientation, the mid-afternoon despair, the lethargy before ancient ruins. And yet the reasons behind such disappointments are rarely explored."

Our thoughts, our emotions and desires will come with us to a new place. We'll still feel hungry, tired or frustrated like we would at home.

I often imagined that everything will be different once I got to a new city or country. While my exterior circumstances did change, my internal feelings and state of mind remained quite consistent.

I recently moved to a new city and decided to settle here with my girlfriend in an attempt to get some stability and routine in my life.

Some of the advantages of staying put are that you can network, join clubs, regularly see friends and family and, importantly, find a stable job where you can earn money.

Thankfully, I'm finally in a place where things in my life are coming together. I've found a cool flat with a great group of people (nearly all Couch Surfers) and job opportunities are gradually presenting themselves.

There are disadvantages to settling down too.
You face a kind of groundhog day - constantly seeing the same people and doing slight variations on the same thing. Settling down also means finding a job and potentially a shitty job, especially in this tight-economy of ours.

Life as Bill Murray wouldn't be so bad..
A question that has crossed my mind is what if settling down just means a mediocre life? If you spend most of your time working and if your job is crap and the money isn't that great, what is the point of it all?

I'm starting to get the impression that a lot of people just switch off when they go to work and concentrate on their other pursuits outside of the office. The fact is, staying in work you are indifferent to, or worse, hate is bad for your health.

Status plays a big part in Western Society and it's hard not to join the rat race when you are trading so much of your time in to do something that you are not necessarily passionate about. If you don't feel fulfilled by your work then it would seem ones only measure of value is how much you earn. If my life was just all about earning dosh that's a pretty empty approach to life.

I've had periods where I had comparatively large sums of money and while it made things a bit easier, it didn't magically make everything perfect.
If I knew that I wasn't really going to find a job I really loved in the long-term then my attitude would be, fuck it, may as well get as much money as I can and take a career in something I feel is a bit soulless such as advertising.

What should you do in a tight economy? Knuckle down and keep trying to find that special job or just fuck around and do what you want?
I guess staying put and travelling are not entirely mutually exclusive but having a job is going to pretty much limit your holiday breaks to a month a year. If you want some serious travel, a month doesn't suffice!

I'm staying put for a least a while but travel always beckons.. When I was in Europe and Asia, there were always places I wish I could have stayed longer or new cities that I wished I could have seen but it didn't fit into my schedule.

I'll be back on the road someday and next trip, I'll book a round the world ticket and be gone for a year or more! 

I can imagine there will be a time when I get itchy feet once again but for now I'm happy enough staying put. 

Why do you travel and what would it take to make you settle down in one city?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Are we there yet? Fed on the promise of a better tomorrow

Just a quick post.

It's been a while since I've written and feel I should at least put something on here.

I am about to leave Christchurch, my job and head to the North island. For me, it is a bit of a leap into the unknown.

My plan is to get a great career job in Wellington, find a flat and settle into a new life. I have my mind set on a particular position and have just sent in my application.

These last few months, I have been bored out of my brain. My life hasn't been quite where I've wanted it to be.

What has kept me going is the idea: "things are going to get better." I wonder how people sustain themselves when they find themselves in a life rut? If you don't have hope that your situation will improve, one would ask: what's the point of it all?

A bit of optimism is essential. If you find yourself in a boring job, in a semi-destroyed city, doing a long distance relationship for five months, with a less than ideal social life and thinking endlessly about your career and everything under the sun, there is a simple remedy: hope.

Western society, including movies, books and our roll models like to feed us feel-good slogans about how we can all achieve our dreams and live a fulfilling life. I am starting to think that not all of us can. I get the impression a lot of people find themselves trapped in situations they hadn't anticipated. Perhaps they are working a job they don't like and can't decide what their passion is. As the years tick by, it might be harder and harder for them to pull themselves into a different direction.

What if you felt that all you had ahead of you was a boring, unsatisfying monotony? A groundhog day of the mundane and mediocre?

A lot of self-help books say that happiness is an inside job and I suppose they are right. Even when things seem tough or boring or you're disinterested in what's going on around you, at least you have the power to change your attitude. There are always things to feel grateful for. Writing down goals has helped me too.

Here is an interesting link to video about finding your passion. 

What keeps you going in a tough time?