Italia, ti amo: Part I

Here’s a great way to gauge how good a trip really was: when you finally get home and realize that you have to work the next day, you want nothing more than to run a hot bath, to lie back in it, to breathe in deeply and smile as you take stock of the amazing time you’ve just had. And then slit your wrists as the deep depression of a holiday hangover grips you. You know the feeling: “It’s over. I wish I was back there. I wish I didn’t have to go back to work tomorrow. I feel so utterly, desperately depressed.” A holiday is like a big night on the turps: the better it is, the worse the hangover is.

Our holiday was – as the ‘cool’ kids say these days *cough* – totes amazeballs.

Italy is a brilliant, amazing, beautiful, multiple-positive-adjective-deserving country.

My girlfriend lived in London for two years and has traveled extensively throughout Europe. I, on the other hand, had never been to Europe. The most European thing I’d ever done prior to this trip was drink an espresso while wearing loafers. But this wasn’t just a getaway for us. It was a chance to meet some of my family for the first time. Having few relatives in Australia (fifteen individuals including second cousins once removed) made that an experience that I was really looking forward to.

I met with my grandad’s sister’s kids, which is to say my first cousins once removed, and I met their kids who are my second cousins. I even met one of my second cousin’s daughters who is my second cousin once removed. I had to check Wikipedia to make sure what to call them. I once had a first cousin who was twice removed from our local pub for being too rowdy but he didn’t make it into Wikipedia. Unless someone decides to write an article for Wikipedia entitled ‘Unpleasant events in pubs in Fairfield, NSW in 2002’. Keep an eye out for that one…

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Franco at the head of the table surrounded by my other cousins. Everyone in this photo is smiling because that’s pretty much how we spent our time together.

My cousins live in Follonica, a sleepy seaside town in the Tuscany region. It gets busy with regional tourists in the summer but is quiet the rest of the year. It was the tail end of spring so the weather was nice and it wasn’t crowded.

My cousins offered us a beach house to stay in. One step out the front door and we had sand between our toes. Two steps and we would’ve been sitting out the back waiting for a set to roll through. That last part was an exaggeration that would only make sense to surfers. The first part was true, though. Well, it was actually two steps. But this last part clarifying the first part is truly true.

Dinner

After dinner drinks at the beach house on our first night. They loved my girlfriend.

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Out the front door and onto the sand. This little house was perfect: cozy and on the beach.

This photo of Follonica was taken just a few steps out the front door of our beach house.

Follonica. This photo was taken just a few steps out the front door of our little beach shack. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.

After arriving at the beach house, we dropped our bags and tucked into the feast they had prepared for us. Pasta, salads, anchovies with garlic and parsley (don’t knock ’em till a no-foolin’ Italian has prepared them for you because they are delicious), prosciutto and salamis, cheeses and espressos with tasty pastries for dessert. We covered the table with food and bottles of homemade wine. I don’t normally drink wine but the red, white and sparkling white wine they served us flowed freely all night, mostly into my cup. They threw a party for us the next day, too. Nearly twenty of us ate, drank and rocked out on my uncle Enzo’s home-made karaoke system. He even hooked up his Fender Strat and shredded it up.

Enzo & Graziana rocking out!

Enzo & Graziana rocking out on Enzo’s improvised karaoke system.

I learned a little Italian that day. Turns out that the word ‘hospitality’ in Italian translates roughly into ‘feed ’em till they need a new wardrobe’. Forget splitting a meal into courses. This delicious meal was easier to split into hours. We laughed, we joked and we got to know each other. I speak fluent Spanish – albeit with a funny Aussie twang, so my dad used to tell me – so it took only a little effort to speak some Italian with them. When in Rome (or Follonica)…

Enzo proudly showed off his Fiat 500 to my girlfriend. He described it as "The symbol of Italy".

Enzo proudly showed off his Fiat 500 to my girlfriend and I, lovingly describing it as “The symbol of Italy”. It’s nearly fifty years old, in its original condition and runs.

Later in the afternoon my lovely cousin Thaila and her boyfriend Yuri took us on a tour of the local area. We checked out Scarlino, a nearly two thousand year old town boasting a one thousand year old castle perched nearly two hundred and fifty metres up the side of a mountain (those crazy Italians will build anywhere and do it well). A apt description of the views from Scarlino is beyond my writing skills, suffice it to say that the town and the Tuscan countryside are magnificent.

Scarlino

Scarlino, a charming little town with an interesting history that stretches back over nearly two millennia.

We had a fantastic time with my new-found family. My father passed away eight years ago and I miss him terribly so I was quietly hoping to find something of him in his cousins. Perhaps it was a lofty dream but while it didn’t quite eventuate, I did find family there. I feel immeasurably richer for it.

After two unforgettable days, it was time to move onto Positano, our next destination. A teary farewell at the train station and we were off.

My newly acquired family are deserving of their own post so I will write about the rest of the trip separately.

To my family in Italy: Grazie per averci fatto sentire i benvenuti e per aver accettato la mia ragazza e io come la tua famiglia. Avete reso il nostro viaggio indimenticabile. Mi sento come se la mia famiglia è ora più grande, come se avessi le persone che posso chiamare mio proprio dall’altra parte del pianeta. Vi amo tutti.

Voi ragazzi siete amazeballs!

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Arrivederci, Singapore!

We leave for Italy tonight! It’s the first time I’ve ever been there so I have a short list of things that I must do when I’m there, things that I’ve been wanting to do for years:

1. Meet Mario & Luigi

They’re plumbers, they have moustaches and they share nearly identical names to my dad and his twin brother, Mario & Luis. What’s not to love? My girlfriend told me some nonsensical crap about them actually being Japanese. Yeah, and Mel Gibson is actually from New York…

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2. Have a conversation with someone in Italian.

My grandad is Italian and while I don’t speak Italian, I speak fluent Spanish and the two are not too far apart from each other so I’m going to strike up conversation wherever possible. If I start to get lost, I’ll rely on the Peter Griffin method…

3. Visit the colosseum.

I’m Australian so the oldest things I ever get to see are the ever-repeating story lines on Neighbours (boom tish!) so it’ll be pretty cool to see something that’s been around for two thousand years. I hope they still have gladiator fights there on the weekends…

"Are you not entertained? No? How about if I sing for you? I can sing, you know. Oh, wait, Les Mis, that's right... I can't sing."

“Are you not entertained?! No? What if I sing for you? I can sing, you know. Oh, wait, Les Mis. You’re right, I’m crap. Show’s over, ladies and gentlemen.”

I can’t wait to leave although I wish we didn’t have to fly to get there (see my previous post about my phobia). Pictures and words to come when I get back. My apologies to my awesome followers if I don’t post anything for another week (all 18 of you! I love you guys!) but I’ll be stuffing my face full of pizza and drinking good coffee for the next few days and might not have time to post anything.

Arrivederci!

Proof that chickens can fly long distances

My girlfriend and I have visited many different countries since we moved to Singapore eighteen months ago, some more than once. Including our trips back to Australia, we’ve been to the airport every six to eight weeks for the last year and a half. We even have two trips booked over the next couple of months, Italy being the first (we leave tomorrow!) and Thailand the other. We’re planning more trips over the coming twelve months, too. We love traveling and are grateful for the lives we lead and the opportunities we have. There is just one problem, though:

I hate flying. I absolutely loathe it.

When I fly, my routine is always the same: go to the airport, check in, try to get upgraded unsuccessfully, go through customs, smile as I’m ‘randomly’ selected for a bomb check (my shaved head and five o’clock shadow must set off alarm bells), bag check, use free wi-fi to post something on Facebook about my trip, swallow a couple of ultra-drowsy travel sickness tabs, get sweaty palms, board the plane, get sweatier palms, sit down, wait nervously for take off, ignore the cabin crew as they go through the safety routine (partly because I’ve learned it by rote and partly because I’m desperately trying to convince myself that I’ll never need to know how to inflate my life jacket), tighten my grip on the arm rest hard enough to turn my knuckles white as the plane leaves the ground, lie to my girlfriend when she asks if I’m okay and tell her that I’m just fine, get even sweatier palms, wait for the seat belt light to go off then immediately order a string of scotches to amplify the sedative effect of the pills I’ve taken, wipe off my disgustingly sweaty palms then spend the rest of the flight alternating between a drooling, drug and alcohol-fueled haze that prevents any real brain activity and pretending to watch inflight movies when I’m actually quietly praying for my life. Interspersed throughout the flight are more mind-and-body-numbing pills, mental pictures of a flaming jumbo jet hurtling towards the ground and many, many more scotches. Many, many more. They help me forget that I’m traveling in what is basically an overly-ambitious coke can moving at half the speed of sound, seven kilometres up in the air. Only a crazy person would get on one of these and enjoy it. And I have a theory: if worse comes to worst and the plane suddenly realizes that yes, it is just a an overly-ambitious coke can that has no business slicing through clouds and suddenly drops like a stone to the ground through a sheer lack of confidence in its own ability, I’ll have nothing to worry about when we hit the ground because all that alcohol in my blood will help me burn up quicker than a doobie at Woodstock. No slow, painful death for me. I’m going to crash and burn. Literally.

"Please don't crash, please don't crash, please don't crash, please don't crash, please don't crash..."

“Please don’t crash, please don’t crash, please don’t crash, please don’t crash…”

I never flew when I was younger which might have something to do with it. Mum and dad always wanted to take us back to their birthplaces in Uruguay but we were never really in a position to do it. When I hit my teens, my favourite way of traveling was the good old road trip. Cheap, fun, you can take an esky full of beers and your surfboard everywhere you go without any hassle and if you come across a nice place where you haven’t planned on staying, simply hit the brakes, find a place to pitch your tent and off you go. When you have no itinerary and aren’t booked in anywhere, you have the freedom to enjoy any place you come across. I had dozens of those trips throughout my late teens and twenties, all fantastic fun and all very memorable. But I never flew. Not once.

I was thirty three when I boarded a plane for the first time. My girlfriend and I flew to Melbourne with her brother to celebrate her birthday. It’s a one hour flight from Sydney so it was a good way to face my fear for the first time: get a bit of time in the air but not so much time that the fear eventually demands an emergency change of underwear. I’m an Aussie bloke and Aussie blokes don’t act soft or you get called soft by other Aussie blokes who don’t act soft for fear of being called soft (although they won’t admit to having a fear of being called ‘soft’ because that would be soft). So I sucked it up and got on with it. I might be scared of a few things but there’s only one way to get over your fears and that’s to face them. I thought I was hiding my trepidation well but as the plane was taking off, my girlfriend’s brother leaned over and whispered to my girlfriend, who was sitting between us, “Is Christian okay?” I thought I was doing just fine. Turns out I was whiter than Al Pacino’s nostrils in Scarface. Then I noticed that I was gripping the arm rest between my girlfriend and I very, very hard. I wasn’t sharing it which isn’t like me. I wasn’t talking much either which definitely isn’t like me. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I could talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles. The thin film of sweat covering my head also gave it away. When you have a shaved head, it’s a very obvious thing. I struggled through that flight but I’m not the type to whinge and complain. I said I was fine throughout the journey and thanked every god from Anubis to Zeus when we landed safely in Melbourne.

After having boarded planes over twenty times in the last year and a half, I’ve become a slightly better flyer. I don’t grip the arm rest as hard as I used to. Take off and landing still scare the living poop out of me but I’ve learned to relax a little and focus on other things. And I keep telling myself that the pilots and cabin crew do this for a living, that they’ve probably done this hundreds of times and that they’ll continue to do so for years to come. Luckily, my girlfriend is a great flyer. Experienced in planes, calm, cool and even in the roughest turbulence she’ll only go a little quiet and never actually show much fear, if only because she knows that if she panics, I’m going to be that guy who runs up and down the aisle screaming “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!”, confessing all manner of crap that I just had to get off my chest before the end (“sorry mum, it wasn’t the dog that swiped that nice bottle of wine you were saving back in 1998 so she and Jeff could get drunk in the garage, it was me”) while the cabin crew are trying to restrain me.

"You stole wine from your mum and blamed it on the dog?!"

“You stole wine from your mum and blamed it on the dog and your mate Jeff?!”

Besides, if we don’t fly, we don’t get to enjoy the joys of travel because there is absolutely no way in hell I’m ever getting on a cruise ship. I watched Titanic and I know what happens when things go bad: chicks make it, guys don’t. Those things are like floating coke cans. Only a crazy person would get on one of those and enjoy it.

Domesticating the world’s wildest animal: Man

After eighteen months of sharing a home with my girlfriend, I’ve realized that moving in with someone isn’t always a walk in the park, no matter how much you love the person. Sometimes you have to change a little. Sometimes you have to change a lot. Sometimes you have to compromise. And sometimes, you even have to get up off your arse and do stuff.

My girlfriend and I popped out for some dinner last night. After we got home, I sat down on the couch, grabbed the laptop and surfed the net a little. I kept my shoes on but my girlfriend doesn’t like it when I wear shoes in the house. We have black marble or granite floors, not carpet, so I don’t know what the big deal is but she kept asking me to take them off so I finally did so, moved them to one side next to the couch and continued surfing the net.

My girlfriend stared at the shoes thusly:

We’ve lived together for over a year and a half now so I knew exactly what the problem was. So, obviously, the only thing I could ask was “What’s the problem, babe?”

She responded with a noise that was a little like a “HHMMPPHH!” but had a vowel sandwiched in there somewhere. Knowing full well what the problem was, I decided to confront this situation head on.

“Babe, explain to me what the difference is between having the shoes here and having the shoes over there where you want me to put them.” Cue poorly concealed, sly smirk from me.

At this point I will note that my girlfriend is very intelligent. She is highly articulate, she is sharp as a tack and she is quick. She will rule the world one day, I always tell people. She is capable of absolutely anything. Her response, therefore, surprised me.

She thought about what to say, came up with nothing then went back to watching television (another God-awful show, to be sure – see my previous post about sharing the remote).

That was it. She said nothing. I couldn’t believe it. “I won!” I thought to myself! She didn’t have an answer for me! She was stumped and had no good reason for me to put my shoes with the rest of the shoes over in the ‘shoe corner’. It’s not really a corner, mind you. It’s actually just the entrance to our condo but we once laughed that the shoes are lined up facing the wall like they’ve all been misbehaving and have been sent to the naughty corner, hence the misnomer.

Look, it’s not that I’m lazy. Yes, I am the type to take off my shirt after work and throw it on the bed but only because I might need to put it on later that night and if I put it in the laundry basket, it’ll absorb the odour of dirty socks and wet towels and I’ll have to grab a clean shirt which will just create more washing for us. Whether the shirt is hanging on a chair or lying on the bed makes no difference if we’re both on the couch in the lounge room. And I’ll be putting my shoes on the next day in exactly the same spot where I took them off the previous night so why put them anywhere else? Sheer vanity would be the only reason, I tell you. Vanity. And if there’s only a bit of water left in the bottle, I’ll take the bottle out of the fridge, drink from it and leave it on the floor next to me until I’ve finished whatever water is left. Why dirty a glass or a cup that I’ll need to wash later when I can just drink from the bottle? That’s just crazy. And why not leave the bottle next to me till I’m done? Why open and close the fridge repeatedly, wasting electricity and, consequently, damaging the environment – oh yes, I’m not above playing the old ‘environment’ card – simply to put the drink back in when I’m going to take it back out again when I want another drink a little while later? Is man’s need to control his environment so overpowering that we can’t stand having a single bottle out its of place?

I am not messy, ladies and gentlemen. I am above messiness. I’m a domestic pragmatist, a practitioner of ego-free domiciliary practicality, the proprietor of a nondual awareness that has risen above the base allure of ego and mere possessions and the need for superficial order. I care not for vanity’s desperate whims. I do not acquiesce to man’s narcissistic desire to impress. I do not suffer the modern obsession with keeping all around me in its place and under control within a structured environment. I am beyond society’s need to elevate reputation and status with a glistening living space. I am beyond all of that. I am striving for a higher plane of consciousness, a primordial state of being that exists beyond the superfluous bunk thrust upon us by Martha Stewart, et al.

I, dear reader, am reaching for a domestic manifestation of nirvana.

Alright, fine, I’m lazier than a sleeping sloth enjoying a Sunday siesta on Xanax. But I’m lazy with a purpose, dammit! I am saving the precious time that I’ve been gifted for higher things, things worthy of my life, my consciousness and my intelligence, things that are beyond simple domestic chores, things like blogging about things that are more worthy of my life, my consciousness and my intelligence than simple domestic chores. Things like not doing any domestic chores.

“Okay, fine, babe. I’ll pick up the bloody shoes. Geez.” Our little interaction ended thusly.

As I was putting away the shoes, I’m sure I heard her mutter something under her breath about ‘working with this lump of clay’.

Awesome. Clay. I’ll probably have to clean that up, too.

Brew-haha: The price of drinking in Singapore is no laughing matter

My girlfriend moved to Singapore four months before I did and after three boring months without her, I couldn’t wait to see her anymore so I headed over to spend a long weekend with her. I had never been to Singapore and there was something thrilling about jumping off the deep end and moving to a country that I’d never been to so, on this trip, I was killing two birds with the one stone: I’d get to see my woman and also find out a little about where I’d be spending the next couple of years. When I arrived, she wanted to introduce me to her new friends so we organized a night out. My girlfriend, three of her new friends and I went to a bar at Clarke Quay, a very touristy place full of drinking holes and restaurants. It’s expat heaven and full of tourists but sees its fair share of local youngsters as well. We sat down at a bar, ordered a round of drinks and chatted away. We were getting along really well and before long, we were onto our second round of drinks. After the second round was served, the waiter appeared with the bill in hand.

I thought that being a gentleman might help me get off on the right foot with her friends so I said I’d pick up the tab. My girlfriend asked me quietly if I was sure I wanted to do that. I thought she was just being nice so I happily said “No problem, I’ll cover it”.

I had no idea that ten drinks at a bar would set me back $220 including a 10% service charge. Yes, you read correctly. No, that was not a typo. And no, I am not drunk. At those prices, I can’t afford to be. We weren’t swigging Dom Perignon or Johnny Walker Blue. We each had two drinks and ordered house wine and beer. To say I was shocked is an understatement.

A bottle of Corona at the aforementioned bar costs $18. A pint at a bar is normally around $15 to $18. A decent single malt is at least $18 but as much as $30 for an older drop at a nice establishment. Other spirits are around the $18 mark. Some places offer better prices but a scotch under $15 in Singapore is harder to find than a goatee on a billiard ball. You can save a few dollars if you buy a bottle at a night club but a bottle of Absolut, for example, will cost you around $200, give or take $50. The good thing is that if you don’t finish your bottle, most places will hang onto it for you and if you return within a month, it’ll be there waiting for you. The bad thing is that not everyone likes to drink the same thing and forking out $100 to split a bottle of a grog that you don’t really like isn’t actually cheap. Spending on things you don’t like is actually a complete waste of money. If you plan to tie one on in a big way but don’t care to part with $150 plus cab fare, you can get a pint for $10 at a lot of places during Happy Hour but Happy Hours are usually on weeknights and hangovers seem to be three times worse when you have one at work.

The upside of drinking in Singapore is the choice, at least compared to Australia. Aussie bars usually have half a dozen to a dozen local beers, some of which are nice, and a couple of imports but you almost always see the same beers at every bar. In Singapore, most local beers are craft beers brewed by microbreweries and the imports far outweigh the local beers (not hard in a country the size of a family-sized pizza) although the craft beers are usually sold exclusively at certain bars. Tiger is the biggest local brand by far and it’s not half bad. Dutch beers are easy to get which is great for me because I enjoy Dutch beer the way that men who are on fire enjoy being dumped into cool swimming pools. The choice of scotches and single malts in Australia is lacking at most places. They usually have Chivas, Johnny Walker and another couple of bland brands. The range is a little wider here in Singapore and most places have half a dozen or more different scotches and single malts.

My favourite bar here is 28 Hong Kong Street. Its facade is nondescript and you’d miss it if you didn’t look hard enough. Bookings are essential because it’s a small place and might only hold 50 people comfortably but it’s the coolest bar I’ve been to in Singapore. It’s cozy, the lights are dim, the music is great, the atmosphere is cool and classy but not pretentious in the least and, most importantly, the drinks are fantastic. They have an extensive range of single malts and they make great cocktails. I could sip on their Old-Fashioned all day. Their bar food is delicious and again, not pretentious. They serve mac and cheese balls, these crumbed and fried clumps of – you guessed it – mac and cheese. Add a dash of hot sauce you’ve got yourself a little ball of tastiness.

28 Hong Kong Street: cooler than the other side of the pillow

28 Hong Kong Street: cooler than the other side of the pillow

Drinking in Singapore is beyond expensive. There are a few cheaper options such as a hawker centre or a local coffee shops, for example. But they don’t have the footy on the TV and drinkers can be a bit like zebras: they feel safer in groups because they can hide in the melee created when lots of them get together. When you and three other blokes are sitting in the middle of a hawker centre yelling and carrying on and you’re surrounded by families and diners, you stand out like dog’s balls, as Aussies would say. If you don’t mind having a couple of quiet ones at home, you can pick up a couple of 500ml cans of Tiger at the 7-11 for $10. I often sneak in a couple of tinnies at home before going out, just to save a few bucks. Call me cheap, but me likes a drink sometimes and I’m not selling organs so that I can afford it. I’ll need those organs so that the alcohol has something to ruin.

As I finish typing this, I’m preparing to go meet a friend to watch the football at a bar. It’s no coincidence that at this very moment I’m wishing that I had invested money wisely in my younger years.

Please note: all prices are in SGD$, do not include service charges and are an unconscionable rort.

Macaque attacks and (nearly) soiled daks

What I love about traveling the most – what anyone loves about it, really – are the memories you keep, memories of things you could never have experienced at home, things like making friends from around the world, experiencing other cultures first-hand, seeing buildings and monuments and works of art that are hundreds or even thousands of years old, things like having a Mexican stand-off with a hungry, cocky monkey who just isn’t scared of an umbrella, a putter and a tipsy weekend hacker who hasn’t thought far enough ahead to consider how silly it would be to have the cause of death on his death certificate listed as “took on a rabid macaque with a shitty Ping”.

Ria Bintan is a gorgeous golf course, a very challenging but picturesque layout carved into the Indonesian jungle on the island of Bintan. It is spectacular. The first time I played there, it was being swept and surveilled by Indonesian soldiers and security guards because the president of Indonesia was to play there the following day. That’s how good it is: uber-rich guys like the president of Indonesia, who can play anywhere they like, play there. I was playing there for the second time with two friends. The weather was pretty bad but it’s a great course and we were having a blast.

We were walking onto the 7th green to putt when our caddy, who was behind us, suddenly squealed. We turned to see a cheeky macaque on our buggy, reaching for the caddy’s bag. If you’ve ever traveled through south east Asia, you’ve probably seen one of these monkeys. They’re cocky, they’re smart and they’re not shy. Our caddy was worried about her bag. She said it contained her lunch and a few belongings. Being a chivalrous sort of guy who doesn’t mind opening a car door for my girlfriend or taking on a potentially rabid simian to save a nice lady’s toasted cheese sandwich, I figured I’d just scare the monkey off. I gripped my open umbrella in my left hand, held my putter in my right and I walked towards the monkey thinking ‘right, this will be easy’. I came towards it and gave it a strong Australian “Oi!” It turned, looked at me, coolly raised its eyebrows and flashed a look that said ‘right, this will be easy’. It got off the buggy and started pacing towards me slowly, first sizing me up as it walked then sizing up my two amused friends with a sideways glance. Realizing that it had our measure, its walked instantly turned into a sprint and it charged at me. I’m talking a full-blown burst of speed, fangs bared with the intent to injure written all over its little face.

If I had known they had teeth this big, I would've just offered it a serviette and a coke to go with the sandwich let it go on its way.

If I had known they had teeth this big, I would’ve just offered it a serviette and a beer to go with the sandwich let it go on its way.

I was hopelessly outclassed: the monkey was faster, could bite harder and wasn’t too scared to take on an opponent that far outweighed it. I clenched my butt cheeks as it charged at me. This was to prevent me from soiling my own daks from the sheer terror that grips you when you have the sudden realization that you may end up being mauled by an animal that, despite being small enough to serve whole with a side of mashed potato, is big enough to bite off the old giggle-berries. The fact that I wasn’t prepared to do the same to the macaque gave it the upper hand. As it ran at me, I used the umbrella as a shield and I started swinging my putter around. The monkey pulled up short of me but I think it realized that I was its city-dwelling, hominid bitch-cousin so it came at me again. Again, I shielded myself with the umbrella and, this time, started poking my putter towards it, much like a fencer attacking with a sabre. This pushed it back a little so I went forward a little. But only a little. It hissed at me and, after a moment, decided to retreat. “I won!” I thought to myself. “I showed that monkey who’s…. hold on… why is it going back to the buggy?” I hadn’t scared it off at all. I guess it figured that, being the (supposedly) highly-developed primate that I am, I had probably learned my lesson. Wrong, little monkey. Wrong.

A family of macaques from our visit to the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, Nov. 2012.  "Hey, is that a sandwich?"

A family of macaques from our visit to the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, Nov. 2012.

I took a couple of steps towards it and gave it another “Oi!” The monkey thought exactly the same thing that you, dear reader, are thinking right now: did this guy not learn his lesson the first time? The monkey jumped off the buggy and charged at me even harder than before, coming much closer this time, far too close for comfort. It truly scared the living crap out of me so I had to clench a lot harder this time. Again, I put the umbrella between us and started swinging my putter. He pulled up short again, seemingly scared of the umbrella, but not too scared to charge at me again. We danced like this for another minute, the monkey hissing and running at me while I shielded myself with the umbrella and swung my putter around wildly. I tried everything: I used my club like a sword, I slammed it into the ground (the way I was putting that day, the putter deserved it), I waved my umbrella around, I yelled, I even tried to remember everything I’d learned from Nat Geo documentaries like puffing myself up to make myself look big, baring my teeth and making a lot of noise. I must have looked like an idiot, particularly because nothing seemed to scare it in the least.

Then one of my mates called out to me and told me that some poor tourist had lost two fingers to one of these monkeys only a few days before and that I should probably just leave it. That’s when I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity where reason hit me like a bucket of ice-cold water in the face:

It’s not even my bloody sandwich!

To hell with chivalry. What little bravery I felt disappeared faster than a fart in a fan factory.

I stepped away and let it go for the bag. And once I saw the monkey rip the bag apart with its teeth with amazing ease – staring at me the whole time, mind you, in a menacing “this could’ve been your ‘bag’, mate” kind of way – I realized that this monkey could’ve walked away with a piece of me in its mouth without too much trouble, possibly a piece that I might have really needed.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and I should’ve let the monkey just take the bag in the first place but what’s done is done and I now have an amusing story to tell my mates over a few beers. Still, I wouldn’t recommend ever taking one of these little fur balls on, especially since rabies is endemic in parts of Indonesia.

And, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, an hour later we saw a huge cobra – it couldn’t have been less than twelve feet long – slithering across the cart path and disappearing into the dense jungle. Our caddy shrieked like a banshee. My butt cheeks clenched again. My glutes got a fantastic workout that day.

The joys of travel…

Love, living together and hiding the remote

When you move in with someone, you uncover things about them that you may not have been privy to before, things that you may have only glimpsed before you shared a mailbox and electricity bills, things that may even shock you a little (pun completely unintended). Moving in together after relocating to Singapore has hammered home a reality that I must face every time my girlfriend grabs the TV remote: her TV viewing habits are just awful. To be fair to her, she thinks my viewing habits are pretty bad too. To be fair to myself, she’s wrong.

I want to make something clear from the start. I once read a description of the perfect woman: one who’s smart enough to see through your crap but cool enough to put up with it. I, ladies and gentlemen, am lucky enough to have that. Smart, cool, gorgeous and has a heart the size of a watermelon. I am a lucky, lucky man. Until she grabs the remote, that is.

My dad and I used to love watching boxers test their mettle against each other but good bouts these days are as rare as hen’s teeth. The UFC has filled that void nicely. My girlfriend, though, would rather eat her own head than watch two guys beating each other up. “Babe, he looks hurt…” is a regular, incisive observation that she’ll make whenever a fighter’s face is covered in blood. I’m also a big kid and love a good animated series. Family Guy, Futurama and The Simpsons (before it became a shell of its former, glorious self after season nine) are my favourites. I love all sorts of movies, from art house to action to drama flicks but I really love watching good horror movies. My girlfriend hates horror movies but loves rom coms which I generally can’t stand. Game of Thrones does not interest her in the least, nor does Sons of Anarchy, both of which I view avidly. I can watch nearly any sport on television but putting the golf on is a sure way to put her – and, admittedly, most of the planet – to sleep.There are plenty of other shows I like watching that don’t quite do it for her. Sure, my viewing habits might not be her cup of tea, but that’s only because her taste in television – to put it eloquently and succinctly – sucks.

Whenever she grabs the remote, I make some sacrifices in the name of love that are worthy of the most romantic of Frost’s poetic treasures, the most heart-wrenching of Shakespere’s enduring dramas and the crappiest of the crap-riddled crappy romantic comedies my woman loves so much.

Rather than go on about our differences in taste, I’ll just rag on five shows that she loves that I just cannot watch without harbouring serious concerns for the future of the human race. In no particular order:

1. Glee – Yay! Kids with crippling emotional issues butchering classic and current hits with all the delicacy of a well-swung sledgehammer! Yay! I’d prefer to watch… oh, I don’t know… the ravaging effects of a severe case of frostbite engulfing my entire manhood. In slow motion.

2. The Kardashians – I don’t know about you, but when a woman who makes her millions by having a camera crew following her around every second of the day has a whine about having her privacy respected… I don’t know how to finish that sentence without referring to irony, stupidity and vomit. She’s of that new breed of modern day celebrity: famous simply for being famous.

3. Fashion Police – Kelly Osborne once said “I understand that being judged by others comes with the territory, but it broke my heart and ruined my self-esteem”. She is now a panelist on a show that rips others apart very publicly, simply for wearing things that aren’t ‘cool’ or ‘stylish’ enough. Joan Rivers might be funny but her attacks are scathing and merciless. Ironically, if Osborne wasn’t on the show, her patchwork of shitty tattoos (just get a good sleeve done, woman!) and her geriatric purple ‘do would make her a prime target for Rivers. Kelly, a fashion tip for you: those pale purple rinses are only cute on lovely old grandmother-types who you want to help avoid speeding cars as they cross the street, not spoilt brats who you want to push under speeding cars as they cross the street. Save it for your seventies (if you’re not pushed under a car before then).

4. American Idol/The Voice/X-Factor – I won’t be entirely critical. Some of their contestants are decent performers. Over the years, a few have even been spectacular. What does get under my skin about all of these shows are the sob stories. “A year ago, my dog died after swallowing one of my sexual aids, so I’m doing this for him *wipes tears away* I’ll always miss you, Boner.” My girlfriend has a heart so big that sometimes I wonder how she can fit it into her tiny little rib cage so she is an absolute sucker for their stories. Tears of sympathy well up in her eyes nearly every time she watches one of those programs. Stop making my girlfriend cry, dammit!

5. Miss Advised – A recent addition to my lovely lady’s list of favourite shows and it’s right up there with those shows that steal portions of your life that you’ll never be able to get back. If you’ve never seen it, here’s a brief synopsis: a woman, who runs a dating agency and charges her clients big bucks to help them find the right person, cannot find a date with the right person. Imagine a driving instructor starring in his own reality show about his inability to keep his car on the road. Cringe-worthy stuff.

But we have some common ground, a joyous place where our tastes overlap, where we can both get excited when a particular show or movie is on TV, where we can rave to each other about what we’re watching and quote our favourite lines from the movie or show together. We’re from Sydney so we both love watching the rugby league on TV and when our teams play each other we are louder than a couple of skeletons having furious sex on a tin roof. We both love movies from our younger years like The Karate Kid, Star Wars and The Goonies. Her love of these movies helped move me from the ‘I’m seeing this cool chick’ stage to the ‘I’m saving for a ring’ stage. We both think that the Star Wars series was savaged when episodes I, II and III came out. It was like watching rotten custard being heaped on the perfect meat pie: blech. We both think Tom Cruise is a very strange man but we love The Last Samurai for the sappy, dramatic slop that it is and we both like Ken Watanabe. We both love Amelie, The Bourne movies, The Newsroom, Entourage and anything that comes out of Ari Gold’s mouth. Our common ground extends beyond these productions but they spring to mind immediately.

Besides, we don’t love each other for things that we have in common. We love each other for the complex beings that we are, including the things that make us different. I already knew I’d hit the jackpot years before we moved to Singapore and moving in only confirmed it: I’m a very lucky guy.

Until she gets her hands on the remote.