Posted in update

Travelling Europe for Cheap

My readers know that I spent part of this summer travelling around Europe, and people who’ve read this blog for a long time probably know that I like to stretch out my journeys by travelling on the cheap.

I teach in China and between my employers and the government, it’s hard to know when I’ll have my visa ready to leave the country, making it difficult for me to plan my travels in advance. This year, I didn’t know when I’d leave China or where I’d go until a day before I actually left! All that makes it pretty damn difficult to travel cheaply or even get excited about the journey ahead.

When I finally did leave China, I headed back home to Scotland for a few weeks with my family. I had a great time there getting reacquainted with the area where I grew up, taking walks around the coast and shooting some photos of the local wildlife.

As much as I’d have liked to stick around, I also felt the insatiable urge to get out and travel some more, but where to go…? I really wanted to get back to Africa but it just wasn’t feasible on my budget or timeframe, so I put that trip on hold for a while.

After a lot of searching for ideas, I settled on a trip around Europe. Ever since I graduated from university a decade ago, I’ve been travelling Asia and the United States, and so I don’t really know Europe as well as I should. I booked a flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam and another from Budapest to Hefei (which is near where I live in China). It took me a while to pad out the details between those flights but it ended up looking like this:

europe map

 

After a short flight into Amsterdam, I spent a few days taking in the art galleries before heading to Belgium and the city of Antwerp. Next, I embarked upon an unpleasant journey across Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Austria, and into Slovakia, where I explored the capital of Bratislava. Finally, I took another bus ride to Budapest, where I spent some four days wandering around one of the world’s most interesting cities.

Thanks to hostels and Flixbus, the journey wasn’t as expensive as it could have been. After I left Budapest, I returned to China for a two-day stay and then hit the road (or rather, the air) again for a fortnight in Thailand. Stories and photos from that journey will be posted very soon.

Advertisements
Posted in update

Final Photo from Scotland

On Friday morning, I took a walk with my mum at the beach near Kingsbarns, just along the coast from St. Andrews. Later that day, we drove to the airport at Edinburgh and said goodbye. I took off on a flight to Amsterdam, where I spent the weekend taking in art galleries and wandering alongside the numerous canals. Right now I’m in Antwerp, Belgium for a few days, before going to Bratislava and Budapest. I’ll post further reports from the continent soon.

Here is my final photo from Scotland. I’ve previously posted pictures of deer, foxes, and walks along the Fife coast and at Maspie Den. I like this shot because it was totally unexpected. The rain suddenly began to fall and I was about to put my camera away when we got close to this long-abandoned building. I shot a number of photos that looked terrible at first, but when I brought this one up on my computer it actually looked pretty good.

DSCN8905

Posted in update

Publishing Stuff

I mostly use this blog for travel and photography, but I’m sure that my followers know I also do a spot of literary work. Over at www.beatdom.com, you’ll find me musing the Beat Generation. Beatdom is a literary journal that mostly publishes essays about the Beats (and related artists) but also runs the occasional poem or short story.

Last month, Beatdom turned ten years old. We celebrated by publishing our eighteenth issue. I can hardly believe that it’s been a full decade… for a small literary journal, that’s a hell of an achievement.

b18_small

In 2010, I think, we grew from just publishing the literary journal into being a publishing company that puts out books about the Beats. At the beginning of May, we released Beat Transnationalism by John Tytell, and we have another two books set for release this year. (I’m also working on a book about Allen Ginsberg, which I expect to finish in 2018.)

I devote most of my time these days to teaching, with any spare time set aside for Beatdom; however, over the past year I’ve been reading into Aldous Huxley, and I wrote this short article about his interest in Scientology. As Tony Ortega astutely noted, it seems I’m developing my own bizarre area of literary studies. A couple of years ago, I wrote a book about William S. Burroughs’ interest in Scientology.

Posted in update

Where to visit in the Philippines?

Way back in 2008, not long after I first arrived in Asia, I took a trip to the Philippines. At that time I was working for a crooked hagwon in Daegu, South Korea, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. I needed a break and so when a group of very new friends I met in a bar suggested all travelling to the Philippines together, I jumped at the opportunity.

Soon we were in Moalboal, a beautiful little village which is popular for scuba diving. I was too exhausted from work to bother with the diving, and so instead I sat on my balcony and watched the fish and sharks in the water below, sometimes tearing myself away from a bottle of rum long enough to join them.

Here are some photos from that trip. (Keep in mind I was a terrible photographer back then and using a terrible little point-and-shoot camera).

This year, I have some time off in the summer and I would like to get back to the Philippines. One of the reasons is that it costs less than $200 for me to fly almost anywhere there from China.

As I’ve not seen much more than Cebu (and even then I mostly sat on my balcony with a bottle of rum for a week), I would like to explore further.

My ideas thus far are:

My main concern is time. I will be travelling with my girlfriend and she only has 10 days off work. We can get to almost any of these places pretty quickly, but travelling around would be very limited. Instead, we need to find a place that would be good for a little over a week’s stay, and which would require very minimal travelling from the nearest airport.

Please type your suggestions below. Any advice is very much appreciated.

Posted in update

An Overview: Travels in Sri Lanka

Last month, I travelled around southern Sri Lanka. This was my route, with places I stayed marked by a blue dot and a number:

sri_lanka_rel00-copy
Map originally from here.

It was not a very extensive exploration of Sri Lanka, but then I only had two weeks. I aimed to take in some of the best places in the southern half of the island, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to get up north. After Sri Lanka, I returned to China for a few days and then headed off to Japan for a week. I’ll post stories and photos from Japan in the coming weeks. The blog posts from Sri Lanka are below:

My apologies to those who got an e-mail notification from WordPress about my last post (Hikkaduwa) with a confusing title. WordPress somehow managed to screw up the title formatting and mashed several words together.

Posted in update

Winter Comes Early to Anhui

It has gotten cold this past week in Huainan and Hefei, in the middle of China’s Anhui Province. Winter has arrived earlier than usual, and it has brought unusually cold temperatures. People are saying that this winter will be one of the coldest on records, and it’s not hard to believe.

Last year we barely even had a winter. It settled in slowly and temperatures never got that low, before a long, pleasant spring set in at the end of February. It is odd that winter sometimes lasts no more than two months, and in other years it seems to drag on for five. I even remember one year when temperatures plummeted to below minus 20, when last year it barely hit freezing point.

Yet winter can be oddly beautiful in Anhui. Summer is oppressively hot, and spring and autumn are all too brief. The flowers and cherry blossoms can be pretty, but winter brings the yellows and oranges, and at this time of year you are almost guaranteed a blue sky. That makes for cold nights, of course, but in the day the ever-present sunshine is very welcome.

It is at this time of year, too, when the old people in the countryside lay out their rice to dry on the roads. It is odd in a country so determined to modernize at the expense of tradition and rural ways, yet in Huainan modernization has met stark resistance. Traffic yields to angry old ladies with pitchforks and the roads are ruled by little old men in homemade tractors.

Last weekend was my birthday and I visited Hefei to see some old friends and spend time at the Shipyard Cafe and Francesco’s Pizzeria. I walked around town in the bright sunlight and explored a park that, in all my years there, I’d somehow never before visited. I also brought friends some of my new beer. Hefei was kind to me, offering up some unusually pleasant sights and two miraculous hangover-free mornings, despite the dozens of beers and whiskeys consumed.

img_2916

I returned to Huainan on the Sunday for work, and Huainan, too, was blessed with blue skies and sunshine which made the return to work a little easier. This is what my university looks like on a particularly nice day:

img_2903

Today I took a walk around the campus to see the trees standing strikingly yellow against the bright blue skies:

img_2930

It helped with my otherwise sour mood following the shock news that the United States had elected the most objectively awful candidate for president. Although my heart goes out to my friends across the Pacific Ocean, and I worry for the future of our planet given their new leader’s determination to wreck the environment, I am at present very glad to be living in China. China is far from perfect, and its government obviously deeply flawed, but this is a country which appears to be bent on improvement, whereas in the West most nations now seem hellbent on setting the clock back several decades with their sickening turn towards far-right groups and fascism.

 

(All photos here taken with my iPhone)

Posted in update

Homebrewing in China

Brewing my own beer is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Particularly for a beer aficionado living in China, it’s a real temptation. On this side of the world there just isn’t much of a beer culture. People drink to get drunk, but they don’t care about the taste, so finding a nice beer can be a challenge.

In recent years the situation has improved somewhat, and there is now a small craft brewing scene, but that largely extends to the big cities. Out in the sticks, where I live, good beers are few and far between. You can buy some imported European beers at many supermarkets, but they’re not particularly good. In order to find a nice beer you need to visit a big city, where there are expat populations and Chinese people with more international tastes.

Fortunately, China is home to an amazing shopping platform called Taobao, which pretty much sells everything you could want. Enterprising merchants capitalize on any upcoming trend, and so even home brewing equipment can be bought. I spent a while researching and translating and then rounded up the materials on Taobao for a mere 800rmb ($118).

img_2666
My primitive but incredibly cheap Chinese homebrew kit.

A few days later, the equipment arrived at my house. I have a friend in Hefei who has his own beer factory and he took the train to Huainan with some grains, hops, and yeast, to show me how it’s done. We spent an evening brewing an unusual amber ale-IPA hybrid beer that was to be Huainan’s inaugural homebrew.

Ingredients

Grain:

3.5kg German Vienna

1.5kg German CaraRed

1kg Belgian Aromatic

Hops:

25g Herkules

60g Citra

Yeast:

Safbrew Wheat Beer Yeast

Making beer with a self-assembled kit is always going to be an adventure, especially when none of the component parts were ever intended for brewing beer. However, after six hours it appeared to be a success. Finally, we had about five gallons of beer sitting in the fermentation bucket, and I was tasked with the unenviable job of sitting and watching it bubble away for the next month, knowing that I couldn’t open it no matter how good it smelled.

img_2696
The sparging process.

Bottling

After waiting for a month, I had to bottle the beer myself. My friend from Hefei wasn’t here to help me and I was paranoid about the beer getting infected. Thankfully, though, I read online that because the beer is now alcoholic, the chance of infection has been significantly reduced. Still, I dutifully set about disinfecting everything – a process that somehow took me several hours.

For this step, I had bought 50 bottles. These 300ml brown beer bottles cost 1.6rmb ($0.24) each, including shipping, and arrived within a day and a half of ordering. Taobao has become my favourite app.

img_2815
50 brown beer bottles – another Taobao bargain.

The bottling process went pretty well, as I syphoned the beer from the fermentation bucket back into the big metal brew pot, which had a tap on the side. However, below the tap line I had to syphon into the bottles, and lost about a bottle’s worth of beer due to spillage. It turns out that syphoning manually is not as easy as it looks.

While bottling, I took a half pint for sampling purposes and was surprised to find that my beer tasted like a chocolate stout – that was very unexpected because its ingredients suggested an amber/IPA. Anyway, it had only just emerged from the fermentation pot and still had a month to go in the bottles. I knew its taste at this point wouldn’t be particularly close to the finished version.

img_2834
A beautiful sight – 46 bottles of homebrew.

Tasting

I got 46 bottles of beer in the end, and stored them in a big cardboard box. However, the temptation to drink them was hard to resist… I knew I should leave them in the bottle at least a few weeks before drinking, but it’s hard to sit and look at so many bottles of beer and not have the occasional sample.

After exactly one week, I had a friend over and we opened one bottle to sample it – for scientific purposes, of course. After all, a brewer needs to know what’s going on in the bottles.

img_2833
A surprisingly dark colour for an IPA.

Week 1

The beer tasted very sweet at first, with a rather sour aftertaste. It bore little resemblance to the pre-bottled “chocolate stout” flavor – although perhaps that might relate to this beer having been refrigerated, while the first sampling had been at room temperature.

It was not particularly hoppy to the tongue, although it certainly smelled like an IPA. The colour was still incredibly dark, although it had lightened ever so slightly.

Week 2

The taste changed yet again. The slight chocolatey taste returned, but the sweetness, perhaps paradoxically, had abated. The hops were now coming into play and the sour aftertaste had vanished. It was rounding out as a decent IPA, albeit it had some quirks that gave away its hybrid nature. The colour was still very dark, making it look almost like a porter.

Verdict

I declare this first experiment with homebrewing to have been a success… although I admit that I did have a professional guiding me through the actual brewing part of the process. Given that the beer is technically part amber ale, and that it will be ready for drinking come early November (that will be the three week mark), I’ve decided to call it Novamber Ale.  I mocked up a label on Photoshop, although I don’t think the beer will even sit in the bottles long enough to print them off.

beerlogo-copy
A good beer needs a good name.

In any case, I’m happy with how this beer turned out and very eager to get started on a new beer that will be brewed 100% by me. I’m going to Hefei to pick up some ingredients next weekend, and hopefully will have a new beer to sample near Christmas.

 

Posted in update

CELTA in Chiang Mai – Week Two

Today marks the halfway point in my CELTA course here in Chiang Mai. It has been an exhausting two weeks of studying and I, along with the other 30 trainees, am feeling the cumulative effects of this punishing schedule.

Thankfully, I have done well in all four of my teaching practice lessons and have completed two of the four written assignments. I just heard back that I passed the first, which was a huge surprise, as it was quite difficult. With luck, I can pass the remaining assignments and by the end of next week I should have a good idea of whether I’ve passed the course or not.

IMG_1935
Sun set over the rice paddies next to the school.

I was reluctant to spend my summer holiday studying a notoriously tiring course – essentially teaching during my precious break from teaching – but in recent years I’ve come to love my job, and I believed that the CELTA would make me a better teacher.

From what I’ve learn already I know I am now in a better position to return to my job and help educate my students. Even if I were to fail this course, I’d have learned so much that it would’ve been worthwhile. I actually look forward to returning to work after the summer and applying my new knowledge in the next semester.

In the meantime, though, I have another hectic two weeks to finish the course and then four weeks to decompress, probably by trekking through Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

IMG_1950
My first Thai students and some of my fellow IH trainees.
Posted in update

Beatdom #17

To date, all the posts on this website have been travel-related. This one bucks that trend in that it’s about a journal which I recently published. For nine years I’ve been editing Beatdom literary journal and we just put out our seventeenth issue last week. It is, as always, about the men and women of the Beat Generation (this time around it’s more focused on the women) and the theme for this issue is politics – meaning that all the essays relate in some way to both Beat literature and political thought.

Here’s the cover:

politics6x9300

This cool cover was designed by Waylon Bacon, who has drawn many of our previous covers. Check out his website here. You can find Beatdom #17 on Amazon as a regular printed book and also on Kindle.

Below you can see the covers of all our previous issues. Most of these titles can be found on Amazon. A few of them, however, have sadly been lost over the years and only occasionally pop up on eBay and elsewhere. allbeatdoms small

My company, Beatdom Books, which prints Beatdom literary journal, also publishes books. We recently put out Eliot Katz’s The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg and prior to that we’ve released another of books focused on the Beat Generation, including my own Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult.’ You can see our Beat covers below: All these books can also be found by searching “Beatdom” on Amazon.

all_beat_books copy