Monthly Archives: August 2010

A handy suggestion for charities

As I stepped off the bus at Wynyard station this morning, I realised I had made a terrible mistake. Having taken my jacket off on the bus, my attention was now fully focused on re-arranging my jacket/bag set up – which meant removing my iPod earphones. Which was when they pounced.

An entire flock of cold-calling charity workers attacked immediately, and I had not been following the three rules of Wynyard Protocol:

1. Avoid eye contact at all costs – must wear sunglasses or pretend to be blind.
2. Do not pay the charity workers any attention – pretending to text on a phone is ideal.
3. Don’t let them try to capture your attention – an iPod ensures that you can’t hear what they are saying, and they KNOW you can’t hear.

As the first worker approached my unprotected ears, I knew I had to act fast – I quickly opened my bag as though looking for a document, while desperately reaching for my earphones.

However this was only the scout – a whole company of smiling assasins still awaited me. I continued scrambling for ear-to-earphone contact, my face a mask of pure white fear. I knew I didn’t have enough time, despite the name my new “in-ear” earphones were very much the opposite; so I braced for impact.

Worker: “Hi, how are you going today? I’m from…”

Me: “Hi, sorry, I’m going to work”
*Scramble Scramble Scramble*

Worker (oblivious to my fend): “What we are trying to do is achieve sustainable…”

However I didn’t hear the rest of what she had to say. Luckily my new CX300 earphones saved me with what I thought was an appropriate song – Muse’s “Citizen Erased”.

While the moral of this story may seem like “Never leave home without your iPod”, this anecdote seeks to address a real issue prevalent in modern society: the bastardisation of the handshake.

Traditionally the handshake was used between two parties as a sign of peace and trust – with no sword in your right hand, you cannot attack the other. In contemporary society, the handshake is used as a social ritual. It can be a sign of politeness when meeting someone for the first time, a reaffirmation of the relationship between friends, or even a mutual celebration and emotional connection.

So powerful is the act, that to refuse to return an offered hand is an affront and insult. And this is what charities know and attempt to exploit.

These charities are trying to leverage trust and tradition, built into the act of the handshake over the last two millenia, for their own monetary gain. Regardless of their intentions this cannot be accepted. With so much disagreement, cynicism and uncertainty in the world, the institution of the handshake is one of the last bastions of hope and happiness which we can rely on.




Same Same but Different: Travel Advice to Ignore in Southeast Asia

Often when people hear you’re travelling to Southeast Asia, you get showered with a load of advice that is well-meaning but mostly useless. Here are some of the most oft-repeated ‘rules’ that should probably be discarded if you want to actually enjoy yourself while you’re there.

“Stay in Bangkok for a few days and do some shopping”
Bangkok is a smelly, overcrowded, polluted, trippy nightmare. You can’t walk down Khao San Road at night without being harassed by pimps trying to get you to go to a ping pong show (hint: it’s not so much two guys, two bats, one ball as it is one girl, five balls), and almost all the tourists are completely drugfucked. Bangkok should be arrived at, briefly observed, then promptly ditched en route to one of the islands.

Okay, do your shopping on Khao San Road. THEN GET OUT.

“Avoid street food”
I was great at sticking to this rule for about 9 hours. Four Chang beers and a vodka pineapple later, and the allure of $1 pad thai was just too strong. Obviously you should avoid anything that doesn’t look or smell fresh, and once you’ve dropped food on the ground you should leave it there. Seriously, just leave it there. I learned that the hard way with a pancake and a wet sidewalk in Laos, and my roommate will attest that the outcome was not pretty. In any case, the street stalls are generally food-poisoning free.

Yeah, it's dog meat. So what?

“Guard your passport with your life”
Your passport is definitely more important than your video camera, the USD$300 you just withdrew from an ATM, your new collection of pirated DVDs, and the belongings of all your friends’ suitcases combined. But for fuck’s sake don’t strap it to your chest every time you go outside. Once someone spots you with a money pouch, not only do you look like a douche but you may as well be wearing a “ROB ME, I’M STUPID!” sign on your back. Leave it in your suitcase.

“Practise your bargaining skills on the locals!”
Heaps of people take the bargaining culture way too far when they visit Asian markets, embarrassing the locals and making themselves look like stingy jerks. We watched American tourists in Laos walk away from one stall owner when she wouldn’t lower the price by FIFTY CENTS, and the look of disappointment on her face was heartbreaking. The money means a lot less to you than it does to them, so when the amount you’re fighting over is something you wouldn’t even notice missing from your wallet, don’t be an arsehole.

“Stay away from popular tourist areas”
It’s now apparently uncool to do the typical route from northern Thailand, over the border into Laos, then on to Cambodia or Vietnam. Yes, it can be boring to interact with mostly Aussies, Brits, Americans and Kiwis when you THINK you’re travelling in Asia, but it’s worthwhile remembering that these spots are popular for a reason. You don’t get points for avoiding awesome places just because you think you’re too good to mingle with the masses. In fact, you get minus points, because you think you’re superior when really you’re just being a wanker. No matter where you go these days, you’re not going to get off the beaten track, so the best thing to do is just shut the fuck up and order another whiskey bucket.

Like this guy.

An Angtistic Experience

En-route from work one evening, I was quite literally stopped in my tracks. As clichéd as it may sound (as a result of the infatuation with the phrase in books, TV shows and even fairy tales) I was simply so stunned by something that my feet stopped moving. What was this something, this combatant to my inertia? A poster.

Without knowing what the poster was about or even who it was produced by, it should be already obvious that this poster had done its job. To cut through the clutter and noise of the commercial visual landscape and actually register in a person’s mind is no mean feat – to start affecting their behaviour immediately is on another level. This poster had kidnapped my consciousness, it had transported me to another reality, another plane of existence, where all light and sound and matter was gone and all that was and ever would be were the poster, and me, stopped in my tracks, staring at it.

It was the words that truly drew me in. The major picture was pleasant, easy-on-the-eye, sure. But this picture didn’t, couldn’t, have the devastating effect that those words had on me. Their simplicity was striking; the complexity of what they meant for my life was startling. “Angus the Third”.

The Angus Burger – no, the Angus entity- is an idea created by a company in order to make money. It is completely artificial (no, I’m not talking about the cheese). This is not a historical culture based on a shared belief – the concept hasn’t been formed by weather patterns or local wildlife, hunting rituals or ceremony. But this IS a culture, a mass-market, freeze dried, deep-fried culture.

This is why the addition of a third Angus burger into my world had such an effect – had it been a new toothpaste or washing powder I wouldn’t have looked twice, but this was an event which affected the culture which I am a part of.

And as is often the case with culture, it’s not the physical realm which is significant. Sure I like Angus burgers. They are salty and satisfying, cheap and convenient. However it is not the physical characteristics of the burger that causes my infatuation with them. Nor was it the physical elements of the new burger which caused such a shock to my system. It was the concept of Angus, the image, the idea.

I won’t attempt to analyse the factors which are responsible for the creation of this culture, nor will I presume to lecture companies and brands on the mechanism for reproducing it. But it was this culture, not any one physical element of the product, which was responsible for not only the sale of two Angus burgers that very evening, but also for me pulling out my phone, taking a photo, posting it on Twitter, picture messaging it to my friend with the phrase “Not even fucking kidding” and keeping the culture alive.