Duty Free is a myth

For many of the seasoned travellers amongst you this will be a self evident point…for the others this is an important tip so as not to be ripped off. Duty Free is not Cheap…you can buy it cheaper at your local bottle shop and if you are travelling throughout the world you are better off landing in the country and going to the local store to purchase your desired items. This trip has seen us pass through many countries and an even larger number of airports and airport duty free shops. We have looked at every one of these and on no occasion were the prices cheaper than we could get at home.

I have a taste for single malt scotch and Jill is a fan of the Gin. We have been using these as our baselines for comparison. The closest that I got to parity was an identical price (but in $US) so you lose in the conversion…most of the time my scotch costs 50% more than what I can buy it at home for. Having crossed the duty free barrier however if you go to the local stores (after the supposed duty has been paid) there are some real bargains to be had. In these venues I could buy my scotch for about 2/3 of the home price, and Jill could get really nice Gin for as cheap as $8.50 a bottle.

So for all you would-be travellers out there…walk straight past the duty free shops…and buy whatever you like on the ground at the other end…you will save a fortune.

Georgetown artwork

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Back in 2009 the local government commissioned a heap of steel rod caricatures to brighten up and make the capital of Penang a touch more interesting. The streets of George Town were originally named after the trades, people and events that used to take place there. However rising prices have forced out many of the original inhabitants and with them, the stories…so the idea was to put these stories back into the city.

So they hung 52 steel rod caricatures across the old town section of Georgetown. This steel art identified the main activities that took part in each street or neighbourhood. From here they then held the mirrors of Georgetown competition in 2012 where they commissioned Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic to paint various interactive style murals on the walls of the buildings. This created a monster which evolved into a city full of random artworks some clever, some funny, some interactive and some completely random. This means that there is artwork everywhere.

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Add to this the fact that some are high, some are low, some are hidden around corners, behind buildings against dingy buildings and on crumbling walls. Some are glorified graffiti while others are full on murals and others are 3 dimensional pieces with bikes, swings and motorbikes popping out of walls. What this means is that walking the streets of Georgetown is like a treasure hunt. And even with a map you will miss hidden gems and find other un-commissioned artworks that have sprung onto the available wall space.

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Armed with my map we set off to photograph the 52 iron sculptures, and the main artworks around…but as I said it is everywhere…and it is hidden. Even with a map you cannot find all the pieces…it is a living city and some were buried behind renovations, jammed behind parked hawker carts, or just about impossible to spot. But at the same time you found heaps of others that were not deemed important enough, or had sprung forth after the printing of the map.

So my initial intent was to show you an itemised list of all that was available but instead you only get a smattering of what is on offer…anyway…the real fun is in wandering and discovering these hidden gems for yourself.

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China VS Korea
Having visited both it became apparent that while some aspects of these two countries are very similar there are also startling contrasts between the two. The table below represents my take on the similarities and differences.




Toilet Paper
  • can be flushed down the toilet
  • Does not resemble crepe paper
  • Has perforations
  • comes in a normal roll
  • Is provided in your room
  • is available in public toilets
  • Is not used as napkins
      • Cannot be flushed and has to be deposited in waste paper basket next to toilet
      • Comes without a roll in the middle so cannot be put on a holder
      • May have perforations if you are really lucky
      • Is occasionally provided with your accommodation
      • Never available in a public toilet
      • Is used as napkins, wipes, fire starters, cleaning cloths etc.
      • Sometimes hidden in a holder to disguise it in a restaurant when used as napkins
      • Can be perforated and soft or unperforated, harsh crepe paper
      • Exist
      • Can be walked on by pedestrians
      • Are quite safe
      • Contain minimal ninja bikes
    • Are for parking bikes or cars
    • Are restaurants or for street stalls
    • Rarely exist
    • Walked on at your own risk
    • Many ninja bikes going in either direction
Pedestrian crossings
    • Cars will stop
    • You can cross on a walk sign
    • Are a guide to the best place to cross only
    • Cars and bikes do not stop even on a walk sign
Roads and rules
    • Are not just a guide
    • Cars park in designated car spaces
    • Roads are normal
    • Minimal if any scooters, bikes or tuk tuks
    • A joke really anything goes
    • Bikes and cars go anywhere and in any direction
    • Many cars, bikes scooters and tuk tuks
    • Roads are either magnificent 4 or 5 lane stunners or tiny lanes designed for a bicycle that cars now drive on two abreast
Public Transport
    • Amazing
    • Fantastic subway and bus network
    • Airport bus leaves every 25 minutes from 430am to midnight and costs $10
    • Not over crowded
    • Pretty good in most places
    • Cheap
    • May be very crowded
    • rarely
    • Everywhere and loudly
    • rarely
    • Everywhere all the time
Street Food
    • Fried and greasy
    • In markets mostly
    • Everywhere and fantastic
    • Cheap
    • Koreans do not litter
    • Saw other Koreans tidy up other peoples rubbish
    • Minimal street cleaners
    • Many street cleaners
    • Chinese litter
    • Wonderful friendly, helpful people with great pride in their country
    • Wonderful friendly, helpful people with great pride in their country
    • Thanks to war and hostile takeovers minimal left
    • Cultural sites are real not reinvented or blinged up
    • A Museum for everything even kitchen utensils
    • Everywhere even if they have reinvented it
    • Most things if destroyed have been reinvented and blinged up
    • Always have to ask ‘How much is original?’
    • Every third shop is a coffee shop
    • Coffee is normally priced
    • Coffee is ok
    • Coffee is very expensive
    • Coffee shops are rare in some places
    • Good coffee is a myth
Natural nappies
    • Non existent
    • Bare assed children everywhere who poo and pee at will
Vanity and fashion
      • They are always looking at themselves and the women wear heaps of makeup 2 inches thick
      • Fashion and facial conscious
      • Very brand obsessed
      • Inappropriate footwear issues
    • Not an issue
    • Rarely see Chinese with makeup
    • Brand obsessed
    • Major inappropriate footwear issues (stripper heels are not appropriate for Great Wall hiking)
    • The same as every other western city just some writing in Korean
    • Chaos with terrible finishes to buildings, plumbing and electricity
    • Minimal English
    • Expensive
    • Relatively cheap except coffee and eating western




SIDELINE – The Great Wall


While visiting the Jiayuguan Fort we had the great privilege of viewing a display of before and after photographs of The Great Wall. This is a collection of images from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s comparing images of the wall to a set of photos taken from 2004 onwards in the closest spot possible to the original.

If those viewing these images are able they should tap on each image and enlarge it reading the descriptions available in English. Richard and I spent a considerable amount of time reading each board and comparing the photos. This is one of the best displays we have seen capturing the changes and past history of this man made phenomenon.


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While furiously cleaning the house my darling bride asked me to grab a “damp” cloth and clean an item. After having completed the task I found myself in the line of fire for having completed the task inappropriately. Apparently I used a “moist” cloth rather than a “damp” one. Being somewhat confused, later that night we were due at a dinner with the usual suspects where I described my predicament so I consulted the brains trust. The consensus that followed was that nobody, including the women, could identify the difference between a damp and a moist cloth but that I was clearly at fault.

The following day I was asked to use a “very moist” cloth to wipe down our leather lounge suite. Being one who learns from perceived mistakes, prior to embarking on said task I clarified the definition of “very moist”. I therefore defined my understanding of “very moist” which roughly translated to “dripping f#!*ing wet”. At this point I was advised that I was once again wrong and that it actually meant vary barely moist. Now…how this compares to damp still eludes me. Either way the task was completed acceptably and a lesson was learned.

I believe, at this rate, that such events may mount up and combine and at the end of our 2 year journey I may well have the makings of my first humorous novel. While certain potential titles jump to mind I am sure that other gems to follow may well supersede my initial thoughts.

SIDELINE 2 – Western males and squat toilets do not mix

SquatterI am proud to say that up until last week I had managed to completely avoid (with one exception) the use of squat toilets in anything other than a standing position. The first experience occurred in 2005 when I was suddenly hit with a case whilst touring downtown Jakarta in Indonesia. Suffice to say I was taken suddenly and was unprepared and ill equipped to deal with the predicament that I found myself in.

My approach in Jakarta was to strip from the waist down, throw the pants and jocks over my shoulder and let fly. At the cessation of activities I was faced with the cleanup when all I had available was a bucket and a pool of water. Needless to say I successfully avoided any repeat performances for the next 8 years. Until a few days ago. The backpackers in wuhan did not have a western toilet.

On initial glance I was unimpressed but figured that it was only another day…I could wait. A theory that was working beautifully for the first few hours. Alas nature called and I once again found myself unprepared and ill equipped, but this time I had company. Now many of you have seen that Asians as a rule can, and do, squat flat footed for extended periods. As a western male if I squat I do so on the balls of my feet and for short periods. As I was in my room and not in a public venue I followed the Jakarta plan and stripped from the waist down while yelling at Jill to get out of the bathroom as she was leisurely combing her hair or something that could easily have been done in another room.

If you remember an earlier post…she has no concept about codewords that describe the urgency of a situation. When she finally left the bathroom I took up position, only to find that the door was open again as Jill had forgotten something and had decided that reentry was perfectly acceptable. Now there are two major points that come to mind the first was raised by Jill at great volume that I was facing the wrong way, the second is that this is a private moment and not a spectator sport.

Having asked politely for her to leave (at great volume) and readjusted my direction the trauma began. At mid point the door was open again. Now suffice to say I was in a vulnerable position and was less than impressed at my wife staring through the portal and providing constructive criticism about my technique. Now the facility was on the floor of the bathroom right next to the shower flip switch. So at the completion of round one I stood to reach the paper. At this point my left shoulder caught the flip switch of the shower sending ice cold water cascading down my back, quickly followed by a tirade of abuse and expletives.

This tirade continued through rounds two and three while a steady and consistent cackling was heard from my darling bride in the other room. While rounds 2 and 3 were in progress, I got advice and critiques through the wall from the other room (I think that she had finally got my point that this was not a spectator sport). I was also disparaged while being told that girls have to put up with this each time they attend such a venue. I will accept this point but that does very little to lessen my trauma and the fact that the door flew open about 3-4 times throughout the experience was less than ideal.

SIDELINE – Lost in translation #1


Our first lost in translation has been written up in the Udaipur section but really does deserve a section in the sidelines. Our hotel owner in Udaipur was proudly telling us about his other hotel which was considerably more well equipped than the low budget variety that we had chosen in an attempt to both show off and potentially upsell us to the better hotel. One of the points he chose to highlight was the fact that the other hotel has cows and mangoes.

Now Jill loves a mango daiquiri so we showed interest and described how her Christmas tradition was to drink mango daiquiris. He gave us a very strange look but we assured him that each Christmas she buys a box of mangoes and puts them in a blender and makes the mush which she then freezes. And on Christmas Day she combines the mango mush with some alcohol and spends the day sipping on her mango daiquiris.

He went about as pale as an Indian guy can go while we talked in opposite directions for a few minutes. At this point he pulled out his smart phone and began googling like a demon. When he finally got the Indian 2G network to answer his pleas he turned his phone around and showed me a photo of a mongoose. We quickly clarified that Jill does not in fact drink mongoose.

SIDELINE – Lost in translation #2

IMG_1123The other day we hit a restaurant in the back blocks of China where very little english is spoken. Jill through the aid of a child’s game is starting to get a handle on the symbols for various food dishes. Nothing earth shattering but simple things like the symbols for rice, noodles, stir fry, veggies, meat and the various varieties of meat. She identified the symbol for meat but the one preceding it which identifies the type of meat she did did not recognise. So she asked the waitress.

At this point the waitress tugged upon her ears we smiled, nodded and decided it was ears. It is a well known fact that the Chinese eat every part of every animal wasting absolutely nothing. Chickens feet are a well known delicacy and a joke in China is that they eat every part of a pig except the oink. We have seen ears and trotters etc in the various markets so we thought nothing more of it and chose items from the menu for dinner.

As we ordered the woman looked overly troubled by our ordering and gesturing but as we were off the beaten path and English is non-existent then that was hardly surprising. We went happily about our ordering and the subsequent eating of our meals until about half way through Jill looked up and watched the woman using sign language with her husband..,she was not telling us that the mystery meat was ears but rather was attempting to convey the fact that she was deaf.

SIDELINE – The natural Nappy

Natural nappyOne element of China that we have not discussed in any forum is that of the army of crotchless children roaming the nation. To put this in perspective Chinese parents either disconnect the crotch or buy pre-crotched pants for children who are of a toilet training age. Parents can often be seen with a child on their laps, legs straddling on high as their bits point in whatever direction suits.

Generally when a child is in this position you can hear the tell tale “pssss pssss pssss” sound emanating from the parent as they encourage the desired action. Every now and then if the action is not forthcoming it will be further encouraged by the patting of the parts. Upon success…The fluid stream will flow where it may…we have seen this occur in airport lounges, restaurants, shops…but mostly on the street. We have been advised that children are pure and as such it is good luck to walk through the remnants.

As the children age and become a little more adept at the process the asunder position and the “pssss pssss pssss” noises are replaced with the positioning of a piece of newspaper or similar. This can definitely occur anywhere but the likelihood of it remaining where it drops is greatly reduced.

Needless to say there are legions of bare assed Chinese kids rampaging around the nation letting loose where they may. Kinda like India really but in China the practice tends to stop by about the age of three.

SIDELINE – Rude vs inconsiderate

At first glance the Chinese race is the most ignorant bunch on the planet. They have absolute disregard for everyone other than themselves and have possibly the most disgusting personal habits… evidenced by the constant “Hrccht” sound that emanates from every man woman and child…closely followed by the “ptooi” that hurls whatever was dredged up onto the street.

This habit leaves gobfulls of mucus etc all over the roads and footpaths for others to navigate or tread in. Alas this is not limited to open air ventures but also takes place on enclosed busses and trains. The spelunking for bodily fluids is just one of a long list of indicators that they are merely a rude race of people.

The total disregard of anybody around them manifests itself with simple things such as getting onto public transport (elbows are often used to ensure early entry onto a bus or train…even with assigned seating), phone etiquette (meaning that they will yell into their phones in confined spaces whenever it suits them), walking down the street (if they wish to stop and chat they will do so…in the middle of everything…forcing all others to navigate around them…with no thought of moving to the side to allow the pedestrian flow to continue), this same concept applies to traffic…hence the state of Chinese peak hour.

The most recent example occurred on our 7 hr train journey where the lions share of the train believed that their form of personal entertainment was the only one that mattered…with absolutely no thought that headphones existed. This involved the man watching movies, the girl listening to techno, the lady listening to (and singing along with) Chinese opera, about 50% of passengers intermittently yelling into their mobile phones and a range of passengers yelling over the top of each other to be heard…this added with the bits that cannot be controlled such as screaming or whinging children resulted in a cacophony of noise was as painful as it was unrelenting.

Now all of these factors combine to raise the question are the Chinese race rude or inconsiderate…in the western world there is no real difference but here I believe that there is…the Chinese truly do not consider the effect of their actions. They do not consider whether others will be inconvenienced, put out or hampered from going about their business. There is no malice in the actions…it is just not a factor. This I believe is one of the key differences between Eastern and western societies.

Whether this stems from coming from a nation of 1.3 billion where the slow miss out or whether it is deeper than this I cannot judge. As a nation the Chinese are without a doubt inconsiderate but not in the traditional western use of the word…there is no malice of thought or action but a genuine ignorance that others should be considered.


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Travelling the world in a pre and post COVID state