A Travellerspoint blog

Aged counsellor


In the nine months or so since my last blog I have had two jobs. The main thing is that I have escaped from the awful job that I was doing at the time, which depressed, impoverished and infantilised me and most of my colleagues, and have enjoyed both of the jobs I have had since. My new job title is synonymous with the title of this blog entry, which vaguely amuses me as it makes me think of Nestor. I'm working my arse off, which is not what an aged counsellor should do.

Since that last entry, the Arab spring has sprung in Tunisia and autumned in Syria; there has been a crisis in the eurozone; a self-imposed budget crisis in the US; riots in Athens; floods in Queensland and Thailand; riots in the UK; Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. There have been eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes in Indonesia; protests for electoral reform in KL and Anwar has gone on trial again for sodomy; an extraordinary election result in Thailand following last year's dreadful violence; an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Vang Pao died in January. Food prices have risen again and there is now famine in east Africa; the future may be very much worse.

Some other interesting articles, gleaned from a quick trawl of the Guardian:

  • the US government on clearing up cluster bombs in Laos, and the other side of the story - on average 300 people are killed or injured by unexploded bombs in Laos each year
  • US-Viet joint venture to clear up Agent Orange damage (about time - and the initiative only covers a few hectares)
  • there's lots - 60bn litres a year - of (basically rubbish) Asian beer
  • Wikileaked cables on the attitudes of and to the Thai royal family

I can only report four trips in the last year:

  • Bulgaria





  • Italy




  • Greece





  • Cyprus




No diving, and no trips outside Europe, since 2009 (although it's off to China briefly on business next month).

I'm still planning to end the blog soon with a report on the trip to New Guinea. It's just a real hassle to sort out the photos.

Posted by Wardsan 01:35 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Domestic anomie

semi-overcast 20 °C

I haven't added anything for eight months but in my absence the number of visits to this blog has risen slowly to 114,000.

This time two years ago, I was probably somewhere in the Spice Islands eating fish. Now I am in a poorly-paid and incredibly frustrating job and living in a noisy flat. In the last 15 months I have been to Cordoba and Toulouse, and that's it, and haven't dived or sailed once. Far too many of my leisure hours are spent on the PS3. And Notts lost to Yorkshire this week. So I cannot really say that life has improved. It's time to travel; but like a teacher I have lots of holiday and little money. So - to Bulgaria next week.

Anyway, it really is time that I ended this blog; it's taken me nearly two years to write about the trip to Papua, which will be the last post.

Meanwhile while I'm preparing that, here is another list of books read or reread, following on from the last one:

The Fall of the Roman Empire, Peter Heather
The Ruby in Her Navel, Barry Unsworth
Gli Arancini di Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri
The Anglo-Saxons, Geoffrey Hindley
The Red Hourglass, Gordon Grice
Mort à la Fenice, Donna Leon
The Mask of Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
Les Chiots, Mario Vargas Llosa
Millennium, Tom Holland
Magnus, George Mackay Brown
The Curse of the Pogo Stick, Colin Cotterill
Excursion to Tindari, Andrea Camilleri
Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Roger II of Sicily, Hubert Houben
The King Must Die, Mary Renault
The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell
The Snake Stone, Jason Goodwin
The Pale Horseman, Bernard Cornwell
Flat Earth News, Nick Davies
The Lords of the North, Bernard Cornwell
Sword Song, Bernard Cornwell
The Triumphs of Caesar, Stephen Saylor
The Burning Land, Bernard Cornwell
The Bellini Card, Jason Goodwin
The Bull from the Sea, Mary Renault
The Day of the Owl, Leonardo Sciascia
Westminster Abbey, Richard Jenkyns
Jingo, Terry Pratchett
The Fatal Eggs, Mikhail Bulgakov
Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger
The Perfect Heresy, Stephen O’Shea
Bad Laws, Philip Johnston
The Discovery of France, Graham Robb
The Dream of Rome, Boris Johnson
How to Label a Goat, Ross Clark
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
Nudge, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
The Merry Misogynist, Colin Cotterill
How to be a Minister, Gerald Kaufman
The Winner’s Curse, Richard Thaler
Storm, Vince Cable
Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer
The Code of the Woosters, PG Wodehouse
Archangel, Robert Harris
The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, Stieg Larsson
Rain Fall, Barry Eisler
Hard Rain, Barry Eisler
Rain Storm, Barry Eisler
Killing Rain, Barry Eisler
The Last Assassin, Barry Eisler
Requiem for an Assassin, Barry Eisler
Cockroach, Marian Copeland
Ancient Rome, Simon Baker
The Atlas of the Crusades, J C Riley Smith

Of these I probably most enjoyed The Red Hourglass and The Day of the Owl.

Posted by Wardsan 10:14 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

The Nguyễn tombs at Huế

View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

I saw the Top Gear Vietnam special this morning, and it reminded me that I need to add a couple of entries to this blog before finally closing it down. In the eight months since the last entry, the cumulative number of page visits has passed 100,000.

So how about some photos of Huế?


Some explanation first. The last royal dynasty of Vietnam ended in 1945, when emperor Bảo Đại abdicated from the balcony of the Ngo Mon gate, the grandest entrance to his palace in Huế. He had been invited to abdicate by Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh. Ho Chi Minh had himself been educated in Huế.

The monarchs of Vietnam lived in imperial splendour consciously modelled on that in Beijing. Within the city was a royal citadel. Within the citadel was a royal city. Within the royal city was the Forbidden City.

Each emperor was buried in his own mausoleum in the countryside around Huế. With the citadel, the mausoleums are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I rented a bike and pedalled around. The first place I reached was the tomb of Emperor Minh Mạng. This is the grandest of the lot. Minh Mạng was emperor from 1820 to 1841 (the tomb was built between 1840 and 1843). He was the son of Gia Long, who founded the Nguyễn dynasty and the Huế citadel. He was profoundly opposed to French engagement in Vietnam, and, as a conservative Confucian, he also discouraged and then banned Christian proselytisation. Following the Le Van Khoi revolt in the south, in which Catholics participated, seven missionaries were sentenced to death between 1833 and 1838. The executions generated strong anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Europe. Minh Mạng also restricted trade with the west, which was not to Vietnam’s advantage, since country missed the opportunity of acquiring western technology. The Siamese monarchs had a smarter strategy.

Before you get to the temple itself you reach the salutation court, with mandarins, horses and elephants, representing those who accompany and protect the emperor in the afterlife.


Then there is a temple, and behind that a bridge over a lake, which reaches the stele house. Thiệu Tri constructed a 10-foot high stele in praise of his father. The stele pavilion is on a rise, and surrounded by a lake – a lovely spot.


Behind the pavilion is another bridge and a man-made hill, which houses the burial area proper.

Here is Nine the Marseillaise on the last bridge.


Minh Mạng died in 1841 and left the throne to his son, Thiệu Tri, who continued his father’s isolationist policies. He was succeeded by his younger son Tự Ðức, who reigned as the fourth Nguyễn emperor from 1847 to 1883. Thiệu Tri chose Tự Ðức over his oldest son precisely for his keen Confucianism. Tự Ðức duly continued the dynasty’s anti-western policies and persecuted Catholics. The latter policy provoked France to attack from southern Vietnam in 1848. China was dragged in. Thus began the Sino-French War. Inevitably, France won the tie (China had lost the first Opium War against Britain in 1842, and these humiliations contributed to the Taiping Rebellion and still rankle in modern China) and China recognised French overlordship of the entire region of Vietnam. Tự Ðức continued to attack Catholics, ordering them to convert or be branded on the face. He thus managed the miraculous feat of uniting the countries of Europe against him.

Tự Ðức eventually gave away the southern part of the kingdom, Cochinchina, as a French colony, and accepted the overlordship of France over the rest, so he was the last emperor to rule independently.

His tomb was built between 1864 and 1867. While still alive, Tự Ðức used it as a rural retreat. He liked to go there to listen to the wind, enjoy the view and write poetry.


The tomb contains fifty buildings and is divided into two parts: ritual and burial. The ritual area contains many aspects of the emperor’s daily existence. There are the usual mandarins in a courtyard. The eternal houses of the wife and son stand opposite, on the other side of the stream.

The burial area is about the afterlife. Two other members of the royal family are also buried here. The tomb itself is a sarcophagus on four steps, surrounded by a wall. It isn’t constructed to any scale. The scale is in the entire ensemble.


So you start by the edge of a lake. A lovely pavilion with a terrace is across the water.


The third tomb was that of Khải Dịnh, who reigned from 1916 to 1925. He was the father of Bảo Đại, the last emperor. In principle he ruled over Annam; in practice he followed French instructions closely. Ho Chi Minh, quite reasonably, lampooned him as a puppet. He may also have been a drug addict.



The tomb shows a lot of western influence. It attempts to mix Vietnamese and western forms. There is a courtyard of mandarins, horses and elephants. The tomb itself is covered in brightly-coloured glass decorations, creating an almost baroque effect.


Posted by Wardsan 10:35 Archived in Vietnam Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Wage slave

OK, we're getting on for two months since the last post - but this blog will not lie down and die just yet.

I have been working. In London. For money. Five days a week. I haven't been contractually obliged to work five days a week since 2003; and I haven't worked a rigid five days a week since 2001. So it has been a shock to the system, and I have been too exhausted to blog, or do anything else but stare at the wall.

There hasn't been any travel recently, as I am dead broke, so what do I write about? I want to write about New Guinea, but have determined that that will be the end of the blog. Meanwhile I haven't got time to write about anything else, so here are some words that I have been enjoying recently: cozen, malapert, eldritch, baluster, martingale, sneck, endued, oneiric, apocope, omnifutuant, nugacity, ithyphallus, orts, diastemic, apotropaic, champaign, messuages, pyknic, chrism.

No, I don't know what some of them mean either.

Finally, here are some butterflies I saw in Lisbon in May.

A red admiral:


A Cleopatra, just emerged from its chrysalis:


One of three emperors contriving to mate:


Posted by Wardsan 03:21 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Solo dancing

View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

In Greece, it isn’t only young people who dance. One of the great things about a celebration in Greece is that every generation gets involved, and, indeed, people seem to get better as they get older, achieving great expression while barely moving a muscle. The same is true of Flamenco.



It is certainly not true of Javanese dancing. You need a 16-inch waist and arms like pipecleaners, and its practitioners at the palaces are relatively young.



With age, women turn to singing.



So the western woman in the ensemble in Solo (on a scholarship, I think) was out of place, not because of her race, but because of her thick middle. She knew all the steps, but had no chance of achieving a tenth of the grace of the other dancers.



  • **

I don’t know how we got on to the subject but at Lorenso’s in Bunaken, Fabiano and Ludovica told me about a brilliantly nasty sonnet by Cecco Angiolieri (c. 1260-1312), which has been, more recently, set to music by Fabrizio De André.

Here is a translation by Leonard Cottrell.

If I were fire, I’d burn up the world;
if I were storm, I’d raise a giant swell
and drown it all; if I were God I’d hurl
this rat’s-ass circus all the way to hell.
If I were pope, how happy I would be!
I’d cheat the Christians blind and suck their blood.
To serve as emperor I might agree,
so I could chop off everybody's head.

If I were death, I’d go to see my dad—
of course with mother I would do the same.
If I were life, I’d run from them like mad.
If I were Cecco, as I was and am,
I’d take the lovely and the lively dames
and leave for you the ugly and the sad.

And here is the original.

S’i’ fosse foco, arderei ’l mondo;
S’i’ fosse vento, lo tempesteri;
S’i’ fosse acqua, io l’annegherei;
S’i’ fosse Dio, mandareil in profondo.
S’i’ fosse papa, sare’ allor iocondo,
Che tutt’i cristiani imbrigherei;
S’i’ fosse emperator, sa’ che farei?
A tutti mozzarei lo capo a tondo.

S’i’ fosse morte, andarei da mio padre;
S’i’ fosse vita, fuggirei da lui;
Similemente faria da mi’ madre.
S’i’ fosse Cecco com’i’ sono e fui,
Torre le donne piu belle e leggiadre,
E zoppe e laide lascerei altrui.

  • **

One of the things I have been doing since returning to the UK is reading up on natural history and Darwiniana. Thus: two trips to the Darwin exhibition at the Natural History Museum, trips to the Cambridge Museum of Zoology and the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL, and reading:

    The Single Helix, Steve Jones
    Physiology Demystified, Dale Layman
    Anatomy Demystified, Dale Layman
    On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
    Almost Like a Whale, Steve Jones
    How to Read Darwin, Mark Ridley.
    Life in the Undergrowth, David Attenborough.

Other books:

    The Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri
    The Terracotta Dog, Andrea Camilleri
    Un italiano in America, Beppe Severgnini
    The Black Swan
    The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, James Thurber
    What’s Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies
    Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, John Mortimer
    , Roberto Saviano
    Gods, Mongrels and Demons, Angus Calder
    The Fall of Carthage, Adrian Goldsworthy
    Hadrian’s Wall, David Breeze and Brian Dobson
    Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess
    The State Counsellor, Boris Akunin
    Throwim Way Leg, Tim Flannery
    World War One: A Short History, Norman Stone
    A Month in the Country, JL Carr
    Dissolution, CJ Sansom
    Farewell Britannia, Simon Young
    The Roman Empire, Colin Wells

Posted by Wardsan 07:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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