About Richard
The Journey
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Report: #07
Date: Wed, 27 May 1998 09:54:21 +0900
From: richard (
Subject: WorldCycle Unchained
Location: Georgetown

Dear All,

I hope you're sitting comfortably and that you're boss can't see what you're doing. If you are your own boss then I hope s/he can. Here are some more musings from orbit. Should you so desire and have the equipment, you can access some visual effects via

Ain't the world a fabulous place? Answers to; I hope there's noone out there to whom I have to explain that that's a joke. But seriously.........

Malaysian Sunrise.

Its 7:30am. The sun forms a spangly pathway across the Penang Straits to peninsular Malaysia from Penang Island, getting more dazzling by the second. Penang is just waking itself up. I'm sitting by the waterfront of Georgetown listening to the hungry crows and the footsteps of early morning exercisers, walking there blood into motion. The sun has risen from cloud, and after one glorious piece of artwork, has risen back into cloud. No doubt it will be back in withering strength at 1 or 2o'clock. Behind me, on a wide grass field between an amusement park and a stately white admiralty-style building, a man stands transfixed, arms outstretched in front of him, hands clasped, while a woman brandishing a long sword makes fearful lunges and slashes in front of him. I write a little and look again. Oh, now she has swapped weapons and is displaying death-strokes with a big red Chinese fan. An old, bald man steps in to instruct her on just how to place her feet and lock her arms out forcefully in each movement. Yes, TaiChii; a few groups sweep the air, mainly with their hands; recreating vastly reduced in scale, the crowds of Beijing, or Hanoi. This healthy phenomenon gets progressively less the further south you come. A team of soccer players has arrived, providing contrast with their own brand of stretchings and proddings with their weapon a football, in bright green modern tracksuits.

Somebody sleepily climbs from one of the NASA-like motorboats moored at a jetty, beyond which a supertanker loads at a deep-water dock almost in mid-sea-channel of Penang Straits, but still connected to the land. I bring my attention back closer to hand. Small waves break on small rocks. The driver of a tri-shaw (a pedal-powered 3-wheeler with a 2-seater passenger chair between 2 front wheels) still sleeps in the passenger seat, hood up and brown plastic sheet rigged up to complete his tent. A red & white umbrella on a pole stands open over the vacant driver's seat. With little effort each morning he can pop his head up to check out the sunrise. I wonder if he considers it.

I am sitting on a concrete, tiled bench under a little palm tree rising from small yellow flowers in a kind of large pot which forms the back of the bench. My bike stands in front of me. I've come here to find inspiration to write to you. Hmmm, maybe I should've had a large, strong, local coffee first. Perhaps not for originality, though, since they call it "kopi" . I should write of Thailand, the country I reluctantly left a few days ago. Many of you will have been there, so I will have to dig deep to find some freshness and originality. If I don't manage, please complain.

Unchained Leaving Bangkok

I left you in Bangkok last email almost ready to cycle fully loaded for Malaysia. I think I'm hardly ever completely ready to go anywhere, but sometimes I just have to go. So I went, finally leaving Bangkok at the silly time of 4 in the afternoon. On top of other delays, perhaps subconsciously brought on by not wanting to leave, I had packed everything then couldn't find my distance-meter. I hadn't used it since I'd first arrived in Bangkok 2months previously. I had to spend three hours unpacking and searching everything to find this small but important electronic gadget. I only found it when I started the double check. I wouldn't get very far that day, but at least I'd get out of Bangkok. And the heat of the day had passed.

Carried along on the crest of the crazy rush-hour, I jostled along a main artery out of the capital, unaware of most of the pollution due to the intensity of activity.(Both my unawareness and the pollution were caused by the activity, I suppose.) Many times the traffic snarled to bar me even from weaving through. At this late afternoon time the heat was still sufficient to cause my pores to gush. Movement kept me cool.

Then the world abruptly came to a standstill. I pedalled, but I didn't move away with the traffic. I looked down at the ground and saw my bike chain lying there like a dead snake. The first broken chain in all my journey. Even the noise of the traffic seemed to be silenced as I focused on my predicament. I groaned in anticipation of the road-side maintenance needed to fit the spare chain to get me rolling again. The shade of a backstreet stemmed my tide of sweat a bit and managed to resurect the dead snake by removing 2 links, and I was mobile again less painfully than I'd imagined. I re-hydrated at a Seven-Eleven store.

The traffic thinned out, the sun set and I spun on some kilometres into the dark along a smooth, fast highway. At a small town, night market folk directed me to a nearby wat (temple) where monks found an empty hall with ceiling fans for me to sleep in. They provided a thin straw mat and I padded it with my own inflatable "thermarest." After I had washed, some children were instructed to show me to a road-side noodle stall. There, a man with his wife and two children asked me a few questions, paid for my meal AND gave me 100Baht (about US$2), which he wouldn't allow me to refuse, and then left with his whole family on one motorcycle. I have never worked out why so often I inspire such embarrassing generosity in people. I mean, not that people aren't generous; they are, but I can't figure out why they choose me. No complaints, of course; It keeps making me happy.

Old Problems, Old Loyalties and Old Stories

The route south in Thailand was punctuated by punctures, exclamation-marked with generosity, and entitled Amazing Thailand 1998/99 from a huge nationwide promotion campaign . And coloured in by English Premier League football shirts of Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle and Spurs; often the ehthnic dress of choice for the young and stylish. (So were those devout footy-jerseyed tourists of Bangkok really just going local? Perhaps, but there's a similar Spanish word that I'd rather use.) It's odd to be so far away from home, but find that the footy teams and stars, such as McManaman, Owen and Beckham (who apparently married a "spy gir"?), from there, are household names. In someways it emphasises the distance by bringing it to mind.

On a "James Bond Island" bay boat tour in south-west Thailand, just before I returned to Bangkok to collect all my gear, I had met a Brit called Jason, living and working in Thailand. He had told me a story about meeting a guy in Kashmir, India, in 1992, who'd cycled all the way from UK to Kashmir, only to fall on a houseboat and break his leg!! He had told me my own story, a little distorted by time, but unmistakeable. However neither of us recognised eachother. Weird!! Jason now happened to be living, teaching English, somewhere on my route south from Bangkok, and I thank him for a couple of days of hospitality and a fascinating close-up look at a mangrove swamp .

Chumphon; a small city; transit point for most tourists visiting the east islands, though barely a port as it's wharf is 7km from town on a river; typically friendly for being less-touristed; and typical Thai town with night market, street stalls, garage-style- (meaning street-level, single-room space with roll-down shutter frontage, for those of you who think of garage as a type of music) - shops (which often double as the shopkeepers' homes), karaoke bars with leggy girls singing solo on open stage wearing "one-piece" on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights; and unmuffled buzz of motorbikes and drone of tuktuks (motorised 3wheelers). I'd visited here before, after my SCUBA diving, and met a government officer, seemingly from the department of happiness. A go-forward kind of town. This time I was primarily in a hurry to catch a train to the Malaysian border and back to get a new Thai visa. The day I was to do this run, I'd just checked the time of the overnightmare train (only un-reservable, maybe-seated 3rd class available) when I met the Happiness Officer in a muffin shop. This was yet another lucky meeting, because his friend's American wife directed me to do a short bus and boat trip to Burma, instead of going to Malaysia. Much better.

Wet Through

Summer had well and truly set in and people were doing anything to cool down; one way being to apply a kind of scented water to the skin, which evaporated leaving a talc-like powdery coating, so frequently I would encounter people looking like ghosts. Another way is just a temporary measure, involving having a 3day, annual national holiday (Sonklan) during which time everybody is entitled to throw, shoot, or spray water at everybody else.

Sonklan began as I was approaching Chumphon. Groups of children armed with dippers and water guns were ambushing cars from the side of the road, revellers overloading the backs of pickups (the pickup is Thailand's commonest form of transport. No wise cracks about Patpong girls, please.) cruised the roads slinging water from large barrels, and motorcyclists squirted bottles. I managed to avoid most of the fall-out with neat swerves and timely bursts of speed, but I took a few hits of powder-laced water giving me and my bags some milky blotches.

Then I went to Burma, and having paid US$5 for a day permit and left my passport at the immigration post at Victoria Point, a tiny port at Burma's southern tip, an immigration official came up to me, said, "Excuse me," let me put my bag down, then poured a bowl of specially prepared, freezing cold, iced water down my back. That was just the beginning of a fun filled hour in Burma, where it was simply all-out water war in which I was an obvious, big, white target. Though a Thai festival, it fitted the Burmese sense of fun perfectly. I returned to Thailand completely saturated, but not without reply, and with no photos of Burma. I would love to see more of Burma and the Burmese at home. But as for this time, I didn't want to go against Aung San Su Chi's wishes, and I couldn't see any way of bucking the system, even by travelling independantly by bicycle.

Back in Chumphon I helped the Happiness Officer with some English material for promoting Chumphon tourism and, when I was waiting for him at a meeting, he made me a VIP in an introduction to some dignitaries, without warning. More embarrassment. The feast he gave me at his family mansion was superb, though, and his mother was impressed that I could eat the spicey "Forest Curry," containing only ingredients collected from the wild.

Happy Kra Isthmus

Across the hills of the narrowest part of Thailand to the Kra Isthmus, I pedalled this time, and passed by Victoria Point again, choosing the beautiful west coast route in preference to the main eastern highway. I wanted to see more of the famous beaches and climbing cliffs around Krabi, but I went down with a 41C fever there and saw virtually nothing in 7days.

Then the race for the border was on. I picked up the pace, quickly scrolling by the roadside littered with quintessentially Thai polythene drinking water bottles and intermittently reeking of dead dog. Throughout Thailand I reckon I inhaled enough dead dog to reconstitute a whole animal in my lungs. Cars hooted gently to warn of approach, I eyed my speed meter obsessively to monitor every 4th mile which was my self promised point of a drink of water from my frame-mounted bottle. It seemed to be the season for folk to take their pet birds (possibly Minas) for outings as countless motorcycles and pickups passed with prettily covered up cages. Such stuff fed my sense of humour, if you'll permit me to call it that.

Finally I overstayed my visa by one day, so my border crossing was tinged with apprehension. Just before the border I tried to ensure things could only get better by tasting a durian fruit. It reconfirmed to me what really must be the ultimate in disgust.

The border official let me off my discrepency. Thailand became a wonderful memory.

More Next Time......

Utter Thanks again, all of you who've written to me, and to those of you who haven't, thanks for just being, and I know you would given the chance.....

Now, MASSIVE thanks to Kurt Schramer & Sachiko, for the homepage for you to check my progress and link up with some other adventurers, such as Doug Blane, who I must thank HUGELY cos he has also set up a homepage for me, too.

Please navigate to: or Gregg
(may still have difficulty with this one)

Believe me when I say I'm squirming in my chair at the embarrassingly (yet again) large letters of my name leaping out of the homepage, but I like it! The homepage is intended for you. It is about people like you and different from you, in situations that are at once extraordinary and ordinary, far away from most of you, yet connected to you. I want to make this home page yours as much as I can. Please send any writing you would like others to read, or pictures, loosely based on JOURNEYS (even journeys in your head, whatever). If you have a homepage of your own, then let's link. I'm looking forward to your feedback.

Good Times to you all,
Regards Richard
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