The modern traveller’s necessary instrument (the gods are against me - a litany)

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March 8th 2010
Published: March 6th 2010
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Everywhere you go...Everywhere you go...Everywhere you go...

always take the weather with you
“Although happiness is desirable, it is a banal subject for travel.” (Paul Theroux)

The modern traveller’s necessary instrument (the gods are against me - a litany)

Good old Paul, allowing me to tell tales of woe without that feeling of boring people to muteness.

Just two weeks into my grand tour of south east Asia I am at the entrance of a Buddhist temple in Mandalay, Burma and as I bend down to remove my shoes my camera drops to the ground. I had stupidly placed the camera in my shirt pocket and now the lens has a ‘V’ shaped crack across it.

I now spend a whole afternoon being ridden around in a rickshaw through the side lanes of Mandalay visiting camera repair men; but more like camera cannibals. Nothing can be done - the weird shape of the Fujifilm lens (3/4 circle) is too much of a challenge for these back-street cannibals. I give up. So I am now forced to travel with a bloke I met on the plane in order to have some photos of my trip. (Feb-March 2009); now in Bangkok - a successful and free repair at Fujifilm’s Thai operation (April 2009); weeks later in Krabi, Thailand and another break down (yeh - now I’m feeling crabby); a week later a second repair back in Bangkok; Laos a month later and another inexplicable breakdown (May ‘09) Laos is most definitely on the backpacker trail of south east Asia but it’s backward enough not to be able to repair cameras. So, I buy a crappy 27 exposure disposable that makes all my photos look like it’s 1982; Hanoi, Vietnam - shop for a new camera and nearly purchase SLR Canon G10 but realise camera's instructions are in Japanese only - buy a digital Sony camera instead (May ’09).

Fast forward to July '09 where I'm still carrying the bust-up Fujifilm in Malaysia where I hand it in at one of their repair centres in Penang. I am still on the move so I arrange for it to be sent to the capital Kuala Lumpur - but it's not repaired in time before my trip to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo so I have to wait until I return. I fly back to Singapore instead and so now arrange for the camera to be sent to the nearby city of Johor. From Singapore I take a bus through immigration and customs to an office in a tall building within a shopping centre. There I am reunited back with orphan camera. I pay the bill and later claim the money back on my travel insurance. It takes me about 90 minutes on the bus to get back to Singapore. Fast forward again to December ’09...

It is my last ‘night out’ in Brisbane and myself and the Northern Irish woman I’ve been associating with are inside the ornate bar-rooms of a club (former 4 storey hotel). After a nosey around 'I' and therefore 'we' settle on a room that is playing British council estate (circa 1996- 2001) drum ‘n’ bass all night. It’s not often I get to hear d’n’b in any club so I danced for a good few hours. I noticed that the DJ is not only a woman but is pretty too. I got my burps out of the way and stocked up on Dutch courage and approached her. She’s very pretty, bespectacled, a Londoner and posh. I repelled myself with my 3-hour dance-induced sweat-soaked shirt.

we eventually emerged into the daylight to a street full of people getting taxis home. There was also an impromptu musical jamming session. Surrounding the buskers were about twenty people raucously singing along with others using their shoes as percussion instruments. A great scene that will stay in my memory for a long time, so I got my Sony camera out to film the scene, then putting it away I clumsily dropped it onto the ground.

When I first arrived in Melbourne I handed it in for repair at a place where repair centres for Sony are usually based - in the middle of bloody nowhere. It took me a tram, a suburban train and a bus to get to the official repair centre in suburban sprawl of Melbourne. With my back-up Fujifilm camera (the one that kept breaking down) I then flew to Tasmania. However after near the end of my Tassie trip the XD memory card with all of my photos on it became corrupted. I’d been backing up the photos on my laptop whilst in the bush but only intermittently. In Sheffield and Hobart I visited some camera repair shops and startled the idle-looking attendants with my obscure request for a data recovery; but nothing seemed to work and so I left the island with only pictures taken by my fellow travellers.

In Melbourne again, the shiny city with rolling trams and trains and coffee shops I felt as if I’d returned from months in the jungle. Tasmania does that to you it seems, makes you forget what a city is, civilisation is both welcoming and harsh. I visited Michael’s Photography on Elizabeth Street who not only have been in business since 1916 but also have a data recovery service. I deposited the memory card with them and returned a couple of days later - but sadly nothing could be done - the photos were lost forever.

A camera is indispensable to a traveller on the road, if you cannot record what you see it’s almost as if the point of going anywhere has gone. Travel can and is done without the camera but the recording of a time and place of and of your subject in photography is a modern wonder. With all of my travails this year - life without that little camera is like being in a state of grief.

I clearly needed my Sony camera back from repair but when I called them up parts were still being ordered; my Sony warranty card could not be accepted and the repair bill would cost me $260 Aus dollars (150 GBP).

You accept your bad luck along with your good luck however. I'd decided I couldn’t face staying in another dorm room at a youth hostel - not for a while at least. But I knew only one person in the city and then after only a few days tramping around in the jungle of Borneo. A cheeky request for a couch on Face Book and a reply - not only was offered a bed and my own bedroom and to stay for as long as I wanted. Not only that, but the flat is modern and located in the up-and-coming arty-boho area of Brunswick. The tram line I could see from the balcony and my friend was American so we were able to compare notes on Australia and Melbourne without fear of reprisals.

A couple of weeks passed as I looked for a job in the libraries. I made an appointment with a recruiter but heard nothing, only cementing my prior cynicism towards this branch of employment services. We go to the Australian Tennis Open, my first tennis open despite Wimbledon being in London (but it is in Wimbledon after all ;-) ) We see the Williams' sisters play doubles and some other matches, it's a very laid-back tournament it seems but that doesn't mean it doesn't attract loud obnoxious drunks. Specifically the kind who shout coarse language and discuss utter tripe whilst everyone else is watching the tennis on the big screen. They're called 'yobos' over here.

The highlight was being in Melbourne whilst Britain's Number 1 Andy Murray beat Rafa Nadal and then reached the final against Roger Federer. Again nearly becoming the first British player to win a tennis major since Fred Perry in 1936.

When I'm asked where I work I say, “in a library”. Often there is a blank face, occasionally a nose-down, rarely applause. I can't quite explain nor do I have the energy to articulate what exactly I do in this library. Let's just say, it's the same thing as when I was working in Brisbane. And again, I got it from directly emailing universities about a job. Fortunately they were looking for someone and my CV has all the required experience.

As for the camera, I tried sorting out my warranty card with Vietnam, which involved calls to the store in Hanoi, Sony Vietnam and then Sony Australia. The calls to Vietnam never worked but the Aussies kept telling me to contact Vietnam with the same numbers! Eventually I became so exasperated with Sony and in my best plummy accent told them how ridiculous the situation was and how I was a journalist and would complain to Sony directly. Thirty minutes later I was called by the head of Sony's customer relations and told that they had spoken to the repair lot and that I didn't have to pay for anything; I could just go there and pick it up.

Shouting works (sometimes) and so does lying.


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