Television as a form of torture

I like to keep things fresh and I’m not keen on revisiting topics I’ve posted about in the past but sometimes a good old rant can be more fun than swimming in a pool full of beer. So I’ll reiterate two points that I’ve made before. One: my girlfriend rules. I’m as lucky as a lottery-winning, rabbit-footed leprechaun holding a four leaf clover at the end of a rainbow. Two: the things my lovely woman watches on TV are, at times, just awful.

"Please make it stop!"

“Please make it stop!”

My girlfriend – I feel like I should name her since I mention her so often but I’ll maintain her privacy – works hard as the manager of ‘big stuff’ for ‘big company’ (privacy maintained – real smooth, Christian). She has to work hard because, with her smarts, she’s going to rule the world one day and you have to work your way up to roles like that. That’s why she likes to switch off when she comes home by watching rubbish television.

Please note that I am not taking a swipe at anyone who watches these shows. I couldn’t do that without taking a swipe at my girlfriend and she will forever live without me ever having done such a thing to her, much less publicly and much, much less for the shows she likes to watch. I’m only having a well-deserved whinge about them because I’m forced to give up precious minutes of my finite life to watch them with her.

And that’s why I’m going to vent. I’m sure it’ll make me feel slightly better…

Beauty and the Geek: Even my woman admits that it is “a distilled and pure concentrate of all that is wrong with the world today”. Well, all she really said is “It’s pretty bad” but I’m a fancy-schmacy blogger with a glittering lexicon who is not above inaccurate paraphrasing, gross exaggeration and the occasional lie. I just don’t get it. These guys have sky-high IQs and could do anything they put their minds to.

"See,

“Oh my God, he’s totally right, there are male lady bugs…”

So they portray themselves as needy, socially-stunted dorks for a nationwide TV audience. The beauties are portrayed as stereotypically unintelligent bimbos but, nonetheless, the type of lady that all men should aspire to impress, to mate with and to suffer for the rest of their lives. “I used to think all lady bugs were female.” None of them have actually said that but ten bucks says at least one of them will say it before their time is up. Stupidity seems to be endemic to reality television.

Gallery Girls: If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a group of vapid, well-to-do twenty-somethings from New York who want careers in art galleries because “it seems, like, totally cool and stylish and, like, we can totally make enough money to avoid being dirty, middle-class, off-the-rack plebs, all without having to work, like, totally hard” (inaccurate paraphrasing and gross exaggerations, remember…)

"Does this photo make my ego look big?"

“Does this photo make my ego look big?”

As if the occasional racist quip from one of them isn’t bad enough – “Everyone runs and hides here because everyone’s, like, quiet little Asian people and scared” – the one Asian girl in the group, who should have beaten the racist to a pulp with her own sense of entitlement, comes out with gems like “I feel like I’m a pretty good catch. I don’t know why I’m not having men fall for me, like, on the street or asking me out all the time” and “Who wouldn’t want to sleep with me?” The appropriate response to both those lines is “Standards – some men have them”. Another one of the girls said during an interview “I always get offended when unattractive men hit on me. Stop. Go over there. Go back.” I shudder to think that aliens might one day come to Earth and, before learning anything else about us, will see this show. They will undoubtedly set their phasers to “Burn, motherf#cker! Buuuuurn!” and raze this planet in a celestial second. I’ve considered paying our cable provider extra to ensure the channel they’re on isn’t broadcast to our apartment, just in case I accidentally flick past it and vomit into my own mouth a little.

"What? Ain't nuttin wrong wit it. You just jealous."

“What? Ain’t nuttin wrong wit it. You just jealous.”

Makeover shows: I won’t take one nasty swipe at all of them. Sure, it’s nice to get done up if you can’t afford it or if you have some self esteem issues and need a little encouragement to show you that you’re as beautiful as the next person. Sometimes they even go to work on people who need really need some help. One show my girlfriend was watching the other day featured a ‘dancer’ *ahem* who wasn’t sure where the strip club’s runway ended and where the sidewalk began. She was such a bad dresser than she actually chose to wear a tight little dress backwards because the back (which became the front) plunged to her backside. I think she was simply trying to let the people around her know exactly when she was ovulating and what she had for breakfast. She needed help, fair enough. What I really don’t like about these shows are the exaggerated affectations and the tears that pour forth when they finally unveil the ‘new’ person. I’m sure their friends and family are saying nice things but all I ever seem to hear them say is “OH MY GOD! YOU’RE NOT UGLIER THAN AN OYSTER SWIMMING IN A BUCKET OF PHLEGM ANYMORE! WOW, I NEVER THOUGHT YOU COULD ACTUALLY BE ATTRACTIVE! I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY FIXED YOU BECAUSE, HONESTLY, I THOUGHT YOU WERE A COMPLETE WRITE-OFF! AND TO THINK I TOLD ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN THAT YOU HAD A HEAD LIKE A SMASHED CRAB! WOW!!” I’m sure they’re just happy for them but the tears suggest that they’re breathing a collective sigh of relief, as if to say “Thank God, they’ve been fixed” which I find a little disturbing.

"Thank God, I can actually look at her without feeling embarrassed now!"

“Thank God, I can actually look at her without feeling embarrassed now!”

I’ve already spoken my mind about the Kardashians but I will make a quick mention of the fact that she’s had a baby. My sincerest wishes for a happy life go out to that child, truly. All babies are gorgeous and I hope she has a fulfilling life. But North West? Poor kid. That name is right up there with the unfortunate moniker foisted upon Aussie real estate agent Dick Payne.

Phwoar. That did make me feel better….

The Haze

The Haze. It sounds like something from a horror story about a vile, airborne… uh… haze that relentlessly consumes all in its path in a big… uh… puff of…. um… stuff….?

But it’s nothing other-worldly. It is a yearly occurrence in Singapore. Forest clearing on the Indonesian island of Sumatra results in thick clouds of smoke smothering Singapore and Malaysia. It is such a regular event that it has its own name but this year is being hailed as the worst since 1997 with extremely thick smoke blanketing the entire island for several days in a row now. The Haze might even hang around for weeks.

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At the very least, it makes walking down the street an unpleasant experience. At worst, it makes it a complete and utter health hazard. As I type this, the pollutant index in Singapore is apparently at 190 which is astronomically high. Anything over 100 is considered unhealthy. The view from our apartment is gone. All I can see are the lights from windows that are within a few hundred metres of us but the buildings have disappeared into the grey of The Haze. It’s like being trapped in one of those smoking rooms in an airport. I’ve had a dry throat and nose for days now.

Sweet

Paid a fortune for a room at Marina Bay Sands; might as well be locked in a small room with Cheech and Chong. If I were this guy, I wouldn’t bother raising my face out of the water to breathe.

There’s always a little back and forth between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia about it.  Singaporean officials complain about Indonesians and their insane need to clear huge sections of rainforest with a match and a can of petrol. Right now, Indonesians are claiming that businesses owned by Singaporeans are responsible. All jokes aside, the mere thought of so much rainforest being burned down is awful.

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The

The good thing about the haze is that if you go on a date and it works out, you won’t need to light up a smoke afterwards. Just step outside, breathe in deeply and you’re sorted (get dressed first).

At the moment, going outside for a cigarette is an awful, tear-inducing experience. Someone commented to me today that it shouldn’t really matter to me, seeing as I’m smoking anyway. That’s like saying that if you go to the toilet and the person before you hasn’t flushed, it won’t bother you because you’re just going to do your business anyway. That is not how it works, dear reader. That is not even close to how it works.

I didn’t notice it last year but it is unbearable this year. Singapore isn’t the prettiest place to be right now. If you’re planning on coming this way soon, pack an oxygen tank, a mask and wear your medic-alert bracelet. You’ll need them.

Update: PSI (pollutants index) has hit 290 at 9.30pm here in Singapore. It is literally unhealthy to stand outside.

What golf is really all about: A hacker’s perspective

Golf in Singapore is expensive. For the cost of four rounds at most places here, you could buy a set of clubs. Literally. That’s why many golfers here – both good ones and hackers (not-so-good ones) – opt for cheaper rounds in Johor Baru, which is just over the other side of the Malaysian border, or on the Indonesian islands of Bintan and Batam which are both less than an hour away on a ferry. For around half the price of a round of golf in Singapore, you get a ferry ticket to Batam or Bintan, transfers to and from the ferry terminal and caddies who know their greens in the same intimate way that fifteen year old girls know the lyrics to all of Justin Bieber’s songs.

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This weekend I played golf at Batam’s Tering Bay GC with my mate Duncan. We’re not exactly threatening to grab the PGA Tour by the neck to shake loose a swag of trophies but we enjoy playing. And that’s what golf’s really about: the chance to play a sport you love with your mates, to get a little competitive and to drink copious amounts of beer without having your girlfriend constantly saying “Another one? How will you post about this on your blog if you don’t remember any of it?”

Although it’ll never host a PGA tour event, Tering Bay GC is a nice course. It doesn’t have many of the elevation changes that I personally think make a golf course a little more interesting but the layout is very polite and courteous to hackers like me. Its wide fairways forgive wayward shots, its slow greens won’t punish you heavily for putting a little too much pepper on your putts and it’s not entirely shrouded in thick, ball-hungry jungle like some of the other courses on Batam and Bintan.

IMG_5494We decided on a matchplay format to determine who would be crowned Best Player Within A Fifty Metre Radius. Matchplay is great padding for the egos of not-so-great golfers because you can shoot seven on a par three and still have a chance of winning the hole.

My playing partner, Duncan, was hitting the ball well but he was frustrated. He was spending more time in the sand than the cast of Baywatch. His ball found bunker after bunker and, understandably, it was getting to him.

Jackfruit

Jackfruit growing on the course. The flora and fauna on Indonesian courses is, at the very least,  interesting. At worst, it’s fanged and possibly poisonous.

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Friendly local kids from villages bordering the course were cheering us on with cries of “Bagus!” (“Good!”) when we’d hit a decent shot. Lesser efforts were met with giggles.

Swearing like a Scotsman – because he is a Scotsman and that’s the only way Scotsmen know how to swear – he was cursing the sport of golf from top to tail. He angrily teed up his ball at the par-three sixteenth after a poor performance on the fifteenth. He swung and connected well but as it soared towards the green, it veered just a little too far left and found a greenside bunker. He was about twenty five feet from the hole and chest-deep in the sand trap. Frustrated and looking forward to beers after the round, I think he stopped caring what happened.  I, on the other hand, was only trailing by a hole and saw my chance to wrench victory from his sweaty grasp.

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The local wildlife. Seeing monitor lizards – much bigger than this cute little thing, mind you – is pretty standard on golf courses in the region.

I stopped watching him as I thought about my shot. ‘I’ve got this hole’, I thought to myself. I was studying the green closely when he swung and fired it out of the bunker. I looked up to see the ball snaking its way towards the general vicinity of the hole.  “Nice shot,” I said to him as the ball edged closer to the hole. Seeing that it was actually going to end up very close to the hole, I repeated myself, this time with verve. “Nice shot!”

Then it trickled into the hole. Duncan, that #$%@.

It was an amazing shot, not least of all because I know he was in the throes of a palpable rage and that’s when it’s toughest to perform well.

Was he happy? See for yourself:

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High fives, hugs, gleeful swearing and a huge swig of beer from our cans followed. And that’s what golf is really, really about: beer and swearing. It was beautiful.

Bintang Beer.

Bintangs, fresh from the cooler. On a hot Indonesian afternoon, they’re absolute gold.

We were in pretty good spirits and with reason. Cans of Bintang are three for $12 there (a pint costs $18 in Singapore), we had a good round of golf on a sunny Sunday at a nice course in Indonesia and, despite our complete lack of skill, each of us had a handful of the type of shots that give you a glimpse of what it would be like if you actually bothered to practice. And that’s what golf’s actually really, really about: eyeing that next level of performance and striving for it.

If you’re in Singapore and keen for a round of golf, Batam, Bintan and Johor Baru are definitely worth checking out, not only for the price but for the range of courses on offer.

But don’t play with Duncan. He’s likely to pull another shot like that out of his #$%@ and when he does, he will hug you, soaking you in litres of sweat.

Me? Dirty on that lucky #$%@? Can’t imagine what would make anyone think that. And that’s what golf’s really, really, really all about: hating your mates for having beaten you despite their ability to find nearly every bloody bunker on the course. Really.

What’ve Ubin up to? A day trip to Singapore’s Pulau Ubin

When you’re sitting waterside at Marina Bay, sipping on a cocktail and eating great Spanish food in a chic restaurant, it’s easy to forget that Singapore was once jungle, shophouses and kampungs (the Malay word for ‘village’). A quick trip to Pulau Ubin takes you back just a little and gives you a glimpse of what things were like way back when.

A ten minute, $2.50 ride on a rickety ferry from the Singaporean mainland gets you there. Disembark and you’re immediately on Ubin’s main road. Rental bikes parked out the front of rustic old buildings line both sides of the road. Further along you’ll come across a few eateries serving up cold drinks and fresh seafood. You might even get to see your lunch swimming around in a big blue plastic tub before you eat it. When they say ‘fresh’, they mean it. Lucky we didn’t order steaks because I’d hate to look into some poor cow’s eyes before it’s shot in the head and served medium rare with a side of mash.

As we sit and chat away, sweaty cyclists pull up, park their bikes and sit down to enjoy a frosty beer over a few laughs. It’s a relaxing but vibrant place that seems like it’s been transplanted from a few decades ago into today. It’s a world away from Singapore’s cityscapes and urban sprawl and reminds me more of Indonesia than Singapore.

This

It’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle for a few hours. Most people head there for a leisurely but unbearably sweaty bike ride through Ubin’s jungle. Well, unbearably sweaty for an expat who thinks he’s adjusted to Singapore’s heat and humidity but has, in reality, only learned to complain less. Kayaks can be hired for a few dollars. The water surrounding Singapore is harder to see through than hot chocolate but it’d still be fun to cruise along on its surface, nonetheless.

The roads are paved and wind through thick forest which covers 98% of the Island. Although the occasional car passes through, the only traffic you’ll generally see are other bikes which makes for a relaxing day.

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We sat to have a nibble and a couple of cold beers before we hired some bikes to cruise around on. My girlfriend and I hired a tandem bike which I’d never ridden before. My girlfriend has only ever ridden a bike once in her life which made for an ‘interesting’ afternoon.

First lesson for her: turning the pedals does not mean you’re pedaling. Her and I are a team and while there’s no ‘i’ in team, there is definitely an ‘m’ and an ‘e’ and, in this case, it was ‘me’ who was pedaling and her who was enjoying the views. She might disagree but the proof is there: after fifteen minutes, I was sweatier than a schoolboy sitting by the runway at a Victoria’s Secret show. She, on the other hand, was smiling like a grown man sitting by the runway at a Victoria’s Secret show. But she did eventually start putting some effort into it.

Second lesson for her: it’s fun to go fast. The occasion downhill scared the hell out of her but it gave me a brief reprieve from the scorching burn of the lactic acid that was coursing through my legs and having the breeze blowing in your face is heavenly when you’re drenched in the sweat of your brow. And your back. And your arms. And… well, you get the picture.

IMG_5420Ubin’s trails offer a nice ride with some good spots to stop and relax by.

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This lake is probably littered with the corpses of tandem riders who didn’t want to do their fair share of the work. Just saying…

I did have a ‘wow, that could’ve been bad’ moment that didn’t happen while we were riding but while we were next to a placid pond. We rode past a charming little clearing where a couple of these largish ponds sat covered in lilly pads with bright pink and yellow blossoms growing out of the murky water. We stopped to have a rest and check them out.

Lill

While I was snapping off photos, I heard a rustle in the branches of an overhead tree. I thought for a moment that it might be a monkey and, having flashbacks of a previous encounter with a crazy macaque on Bintan Island, I looked up in fear to see if one of the sneaky things was overhead and looking to dive and sink its teeth into me or, worse, poop on me (I’d prefer to get bitten because fewer people will laugh at you in years to come and rabies shots are cheap). It was worse, much worse.

I had only started to look up when a coconut the size of a bowling ball suddenly came crashing down and splashed into the pond not two metres from me, covering me in water and a bit of mud. I wasn’t even worried about the water when I realized that if it had landed on my head, my girlfriend would’ve been left to carry my limp body back to the ferry (serves her right for not pedaling so hard on the way there).

The murderous amongst us look just like the rest of us. The coconut on the left is the one that looks the same but doesn't have the average coconut's respect for human life.

Sociopaths, to the naked eye, look just like the rest of us and blend in easily. The coconut on the left is the one that blends in with the rest of the coconuts but doesn’t have the average coconut’s respect for human life. 

IMG_5433We rode on and came across kampungs which are loose collections of homes that look like they’ve been there since Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles thought to himself “Hey, this place could use an over-priced five-star hotel named in my honour with six bars serving up Singapore Slings which I’ll have to get someone to invent someday.” There is only one place on the mainland where you can still see old-style kampungs so it was a rare chance to get a brief peek into Singapore’s past.

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Old-style kampungs tucked away into the thick Singaporean forest are a window into yesteryear. They probably didn’t look very different six or seven decades ago.

After a fun ride, we headed back to the harbour where we sat to eat at a busy outdoor restaurant. A torrential downpour kept us willing prisoners under the eatery’s roof. I say willing because we kept ordering beers and had a great meal of fresh seafood including chilli crab, mantou buns and some amazing noodles.

Ferries

Ferries are lined up waiting to take passengers back as soon as they’re ready. No booking, very little waiting, very cheap and it’s a ten minute ride. Convenient.

Pulau Ubin is a cool little place to get away for a few hours. It’s not Bali and it’s certainly not Fiji but, for $2.50, it’s a cool way to spend the day. And you do get to see what Singapore was like way back when.

Postscript: My girlfriend did actually put in some effort but there weren’t as many jokes in that so I took some creative liberties. You know I love you, babe!

Facepalm: when words just won’t do the trick

Moving in with a partner for the first time when you’ve moved to a new country together can be trickier than tackling a Rubic’s cube blindfolded. If I found out after moving in with my girlfriend that she liked to relax by playing “I’m a barbie girl” at full blast or that she scratched her butt by shoving forks down the back of her jeans and then put them straight back into the kitchen drawer – and I’m not sure which is worse – then I would’ve freaked out, and not just a little.

But I’m lucky. My woman is my best mate and I knew her well before we moved to Singapore. The worst that either of us has put the other through are those moments where the only thing you can do is to put palm to face and shake your head a little.

Gents, feel free to tell me that I’m not the only guy on the wrong end of this conversation:

Me: What do you feel like for dinner?
Her: I’m easy, babe. Whatever you want is cool with me.
Me: Cool, let’s go to that pasta place down the road.
Her: I don’t really feel like pasta tonight, too heavy.
Me: What about that new Thai place that just opened? I wouldn’t mind a nice pad thai.
Her: A bit spicy, babe. I don’t feel like anything too spicy.
Me: Alright… what about a nice, juicy steak?
Her: Nah, I’m not really in a steak mood
Me: Okay, well, what do you feel like then?
Her: I’m easy babe. Whatever you want is cool with me.

But living with me is not exactly a walk in the park. Unless we’re talking about a walk through New York’s Central Park after midnight, in which case living with me is exactly like that:

Her: Babe, Joey just said the funniest thing…
Me: Joey? Jeff’s cousin? He’s on the phone? Say hi for me!
Her: No, Joey on Friends.
Me: Joey Onfrenz? I don’t know anyone named Joey Onfrenz.
Her: No, Joey on the TV show Friends.
Me: Jeff’s cousin was on Friends?
Her: He’s not on Friends, I mean the character Joey!
Me: Yeah, Joey is a bit of a character.
Her: Which Joey? Jeff’s cousin?
Me: (sarcastic voice) Nah, Joey Onfrenz. Of course Jeff’s cousin!
Her: But I’m not talking about him.
Me: Then who the hell are you talking about?!
Her: I’m talking about the character named Joey on the TV showed called Friends!
Me: What about him?
Her: He just said something funny.
Me: What did he say?
Her: He said you’re an idiot.

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Had your own facepalm moments? Sharing is caring, dear reader, so feel free to comment on your own ‘did-she-really-just-say-that/do-that/use-that-to-scratch-her-butt’ moments!

Golf, too many mind and three important life lessons

This post isn’t entirely about golf. I guess golf is just the medium through which I learned three very valuable lessons last weekend. So even if you’re not an avid golfer, read on.

I love playing golf. I also hate playing golf. Anyone who has stuck with it for any amount of time will know what I’m talking about. When you’re not playing, you’re looking forward to your next round eagerly. And when you’re finally playing again and ready to tee off on the first hole, you’re excited. Then you hit your first shot.

You then spend the next four hours swearing crassly enough to make Gordon Ramsey blush as you angrily hack your way from hole to hole, cursing those masochistic Scots for having created what is without doubt the most frustrating pastime in the history of man. Afterwards, you hit the clubhouse and enthusiastically plan your next round over a few beers. Sounds crazy but golf is hard so all you need are one or two good shots, buried like gold nuggets somewhere beneath a mountain of dismal efforts, to bring you back again.

My girlfriend spoiled me on my birthday last weekend with a night at the Banyan Tree resort on Bintan Island, a one-hour ferry ride from Singapore. We had an opulent little villa with a spectacular view.

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Yes, that’s a plunge pool on our deck. Banyan Tree’s villas are awesome.

As if that wasn’t enough, my amazing woman went one step further, organizing a round of golf at Ria Bintan, my favourite course and the scene of my undie-soiling encounter with a crazed, hungry monkey. It’s an award-winning course, challenging but immaculately kept and very easy on the optic nerve.

The view from the club house.

The stunning view from Ria Bintan’s club house. Golf courses are always nice places. This one is gorgeous.

Banyan Tree has its own course called Laguna Bintan. When we arrived, my girlfriend suggested I play a practice round of nine holes there before hitting Ria Bintan the next day. What a chick…

Quick lesson for non-golfers: par is the number of shots a good player should be able to finish a hole in. A bogey is one shot over par. Finish a par-five hole in five shots and you’ve shot par. Finish it in six and it’s a bogey.

The round at Laguna was uneventful until the sixth hole, a par five. I’d made it two hundred metres up the fairway after three terrible shots. I should’ve made that distance on my first shot. My fourth shot hit a tree branch hanging over the fairway and ricocheted into the jungle. Feeling a sudden urge to snap every club in my bag, I figured I should relax and concentrate on the task at hand. I put my cigarette out in my empty beer can and took my next shot. The ball, disgusted by my pathetic swing, traveled fifteen metres before refusing to move any further. Feeling a sudden urge to snap every club in someone else’s bag, I grabbed my cold beer and took a nice, long swig to calm me down. It wasn’t until I felt the cigarette butt sloshing around in my mouth that I realized that I’d put it in my full can, not the empty one. Spitting Tiger beer and a Dunhill butt onto the middle of the fairway, I spouted every swear word in my lexicon. I may have even made up a few (‘funt’ is going to catch on, trust me). I poured the remainder of my beer into the grass, one of the only two I had. I could taste cigarette butt. I wasn’t exactly happy. I ended up scoring a ten on that hole. If you’re unfamiliar with golf, a score of ten on one hole is as bad as it gets. At this point, I had pretty much had it. “Funt it,” I thought, “stop worrying and have some fun.”

Views

Some holes at Ria Bintan are bordered by beaches and the ocean views are spectacular.

On the very next hole, my fourth shot was an eight foot putt which went in for par. Cheering!

I remembered to stay positive the next day at Ria Bintan. I shot a ten on the first hole, a tricky par five. Determined not to let the rest of my round fall apart, I got onto the next tee and thought of that line in The Last Samurai where Tom Cruise’s character, Captain Algren, was being beaten by his opponent when practicing his sword technique. Nobutada, the young samurai, gave him some advice, telling him “Too many mind. Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy. Too many mind… No mind.” So I cleared my head. “No mind,” I told myself. I had a zen moment: I visualized my first shot reaching the green 135 metres away. I pictured myself making two decent putts for par. I pictured a quiet, proud fist pump before moving onto the next hole. And that’s exactly what I did.

No mind... no mind....

No mind… no mind….

After that par, I shot four bogeys in a row which, for non-golfers, means one shot over par. To good golfers, that might sound terrible but for a hacker like me, it’s pretty good. I was on a roll. I finished the front nine with a score of 53, the best round I’d played in a long time. It’s not a score that good players aspire to but Ria Bintan is a tough course and if not for that score of ten on the first hole, I could’ve shot 50 instead of 53. I was thinking positively. Maybe I’m not the worst player ever, I told myself.

The green at the 8th hole is surrounded by ocean. Sounds nice, but overshoot it and you’ll suffer a eunuch’s fate: balls will be lost.

The player behind me caught up to me at the tenth hole so I invited him to play with us. He was a great guy but as far as my performance goes, it was a bad move because for me, golf is like peeing: it’s harder when someone you don’t know well is watching.

From there, my game went downhill faster than a seven pound slab of double Gloucester cheese at Cooper’s Hill.

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Go, little seven pound slab of Double Gloucester Cheese at Cooper’s Hill! Go!

Still, the player – let’s call him Sean, mainly because that’s his real name – was a nice guy. Sean, my girlfriend and I got along really well and had an enjoyable round. And my fall from the dizzying heights of ‘not-the-worst-player-ever’ didn’t affect me much. I had quite a few good shots on the front nine and I was happy.

Besides, it was my birthday and my girlfriend gave me an amazing birthday present by taking us to Bintan and booking in the rounds of golf. I heard a saying the other day: “Happy people are not always grateful but grateful people are always happy”.

I was grateful for the three lessons I learnt that day:

1. I have an awesome girlfriend. I already knew that so I guess that lesson is for you, dear reader. The lesson I learned is that being grateful for her makes me happy to be with her every day.

2. Think positively and good things are more likely to happen. Shut out the unnecessary. No mind…

3. Dunhill sangrias (cigarette butts floating in beer) are to be avoided at all costs. They are funting funted.

Italia, ti amo: Part III

I’ve found it hard to start each post in this series about our trip to Italy a fortnight ago. I mean, it’s Italy. Where do you start?

My girlfriend and I began our Italian adventure in Follonica, spending two nights with some family of mine that I met for the first time. Then we headed south, spending four nights in Positano on the magical Amalfi coast.

Well, what do you know? I started.

Our last night in Italy was spent in Rome. I wish we had more time to spend there, even just to walk the streets.

Australia has only been settled for a little over two hundred years so the oldest thing of interest that you’re likely to see there is our ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke, now in his eighties, sculling a schooner of beer in under three seconds. Understandably, I was frothing at the prospect of seeing ancient Roman ruins so first stop: the Colosseum.

That such a thing was built two thousand years ago and that it is still standing today is astonishing. I hope they didn’t waste any money on an extended warranty. This thing was built to last.

The arena floor is gone, revealing a network of chambers below. They were used in much the same way that people use basements nowadays: they held boxes of crap that they didn’t want to keep but couldn’t be bothered throwing out and guys pashed girls down there after school.

sfgsfdgIMG_4914The Colosseum reminded me that technology doesn’t say as much about a society as the imagination with which they harness it. Stonemasonry and brick making might not sound like technology to kids raised with tablets and touch phones but stonemasons were the Silicon Valley geeks of bygone eras, masters of a technology crucial to building castles, fortresses and places of worship. What they accomplished using the technology available to them is astounding.

Right next door is the Forum. We didn’t get many good pictures of it but in its time it was an impressive space. Also next door is the Arch of Constantine (what a neighbourhood). It was built to commemorate Constantine’s victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

The arch of Constantine was built to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

These letters used to be in bronze. They extol the virtues of the emperor Constantine.

The letters in the inscription above were originally in bronze. When new, this arch would’ve been a phenomenal sight. It still is.

The detail on the statues and reliefs is brilliant.

From here, we walked across town to get to the Trevi Fountain. A tip: forget taxis. There’s so much worth seeing and the atmosphere is the best thing about Rome. Soak it up as you walk. Stop and have a coffee and a cannoli. Take the chance to sit amongst the hustle and bustle.

En route to the fountain, we crossed the Altare della Patria, a monument built to honour Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. Its erection stirred up some controversy as it destroyed much of Capitoline Hill. Its gaudiness hasn’t won everyone over, either. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive structure with sculptures all over it.IMG_5067test

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After winding our way through some cool little cobblestone lanes, we reached the Trevi Fountain. The crowd surrounding it was thick. I was instantly bothered by it but after working our way to the water’s edge, I was gob-smacked by this work of crazy frickin’ art (sorry, I’m writing about Italy and running out of decent adjectives).

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The Fontana di Trevi is a sprawling work of art. It’s hard to gauge its scale in the photo above but to me, the main figure of Oceanus in the centre looked to be nearly three metres tall.

The fountain is said to depict "a virgin shepherdess who showed the spring to soldiers seeking water" according to a 16th century writer.

The fountain is said to depict a virgin shepherdess who showed a spring to soldiers seeking water, according to a 16th century writer.

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Oceanus, the divine personification of the World Ocean which was said to encircle the world.

In the centre is Oceanus, the divine personification of the World Ocean which was said to encircle the world.

There’s a legend that says that throwing a coin into the fountain will ensure that you return to Rome one day. Around three thousand euros are thrown into the fountain every single day. Talk about a money spinner. Clement XII: my hat goes off to you and your remunerative vision. Well played, sir. Well played.

All jokes aside, the money is used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy. Well played, Rome. Well played.

Call me cheesy but one thing that I really wanted to do in Italy was to sit at a cozy cafe or restaurant table in a cobblestone lane while sipping on an espresso (loafers optional). We visited a few in our short time there. Every one we entered had great coffee and cakes, fresh pasta, very affordable house wine good enough to make it onto any wine list in Australia and an atmosphere worth traveling to the other side of the globe for.

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Back alleys and lane ways in Sydney should be avoided. In Rome, they should be sought out. Cafes, restaurants and stores line these romantic little thoroughfares.

IMG_5075Something I haven’t mentioned but that deserves to be said is that Italians are cool people. My grandfather is Italian and I can pass for an Italian, so a quick “Scuzzi…” from me has most locals firing off a barrage of rapid-fire Italian at me but my girlfriend is an Australian of Indonesian descent so she looks like nasi goreng but sounds like a meat pie and she was treated well wherever we went, too. Italians are laid back with what Australians would call a “she’ll be right” attitude. Feel like chilling out? Too easy. Late bus? No problem. Worried about something? No worries, she’ll be right.

Even after only one night there, I could go on and on about Rome but, frankly, I’m running out of adjectives. Besides, I’m no travel writer. What I am is a lucky man who gets to travel and explore with his awesome woman, a guy who has been fortunate enough to visit Italy in his lifetime.

Italy. There’s no place like it. It’s romantic and full of style, it boasts amazing food, scenery and architecture, the people are warm and the place is drenched in history with modern buildings swarming around historical artifacts of immense significance, like a living city-museum. And the fact that I have roots and people that I can call family there makes the place beautiful in a way that I just can’t articulate.

L’Italia è un posto meraviglioso. Ti amo, Italia.

Well, what do you know? I articulated it.