365 photos [670a - 670b]

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it? I bet most of you thought I'd given up on this blog. Doubters!

The truth is, I've had a busy few weeks. Earlier in April, I travelled halfway across the planet to surprise everyone by crashing my own joint birthday party I was supposed to attend on Skype. I spent two weeks touring the country, orchestrating gatherings between friends and family I hadn't seen since abandoning them almost two years ago. I became the most ruthlessly sociable creature I have ever known myself to be, catching up with almost everyone I have ever known, and sleeping on countless borrowed floors, sofas and beds along the way. I had a brilliant, memorable two weeks and thank everyone for getting involved and justifying the silly amount I spent on flights.

Today's post documents my trip home, which I broke up with visits to the fine cities of Brisbane and Hong Kong. The next will cover my time in England. The one after that will talk about what is likely to happen next. Then weekly photos will resume as usual.

Just a quick warning: I've decided to switch to twice-daily photos because there were too many nice ones I didn't want to leave out. Hopefully that's okay.

Christchurch → Auckland → Brisbane

My first taste of Australia was a moist one: it didn't stop raining the entire time I was there. Fortunately, it was also sufficiently warm to suspend me in a constant state of drying, which meant my usual method of city exploration (walking around without a map for 2-6 hours) wasn't affected. I confess to having relatively low expectations about Brisbane, having been told many times previously that Melbourne and Sydney were the places to be, but I was pleasantly surprised. Queen Street, a busy downtown shopping district, was especially nice, and was home to some of the finest examples of Asian men holding glass spheres I have ever come across.

Brisbane → Ipswich → Gold Coast→ Brisbane

Forty kilometres west of Brisbane lies the city of Ipswich, Queensland. As a collector of Ipswiches (my second being Ipswich, Massachusetts) it goes without saying that I had to visit this one. I got off the train and spent a while taking photos of things with "Ipswich" written on them, but the novelty wore off quickly. I needed an excuse to mingle with the locals. My solution was to visit a cafe, buy the cheapest thing on the menu, and talk to the girl behind the counter. This was very successful and before long the whole staff were interrupting each other with ideas of how to spend my time there. They were fantastic. We spent a while talking about our respective Ipswiches (between paying customers) before I left to pursue their suggestions. The first was the excellent Ipswich Nature Centre, where I saw a host of native wildlife, including kangaroos, crocodiles, really brave ducks, wallabies, wombats, quolls, and dingos. The second was an Aussie rules football match between the Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns, where I saw around forty men participate in a violent and confusing hybrid of regular football and boxing for 80 minutes.

If you're ever in Ipswich, Queensland, you should visit the Lime5Nine Cafe on Limestone Street, it's great.

Brisbane → Hong Kong

One of my favourite things about travel is arriving in new places. I love the challenge of being deposited somewhere foreign and forcing myself to figure out how everything works. I deliberately do minimal research beforehand to make this experience as exciting/terrifying as possible. In the case of Hong Kong, I'd already planned which bus I needed to take from the airport, so I had a while to absorb my new surroundings from the safety of my seat before taking the plunge. Hong Kong comprises several densely-populated islands connected by a mesh of tunnels, bridges and ferries, and the further we advanced into this warren, the more and more disorientated I became. When it was time to leave the bus, I wasn't even sure of my own name any more. Inevitably, I picked completely the wrong stop but it didn't matter because I was so high on adrenaline I could have walked for hours to reach my hostel if required. I managed to take a couple of pictures.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong didn't stop overwhelming me the whole time I was there. The skyline was absolutely mind-blowing; buildings less than 30 stories were dwarfed be their neighbours. I don't understand how land can support that much development without sinking into the ocean. Everything was so packed together and every tiny space had to be occupied by something. Every alleyway gave birth to a market packed with people. In every shopping street, layer upon layer of glowing signs nailed to the side of buildings jostled for the attention of tourists. Everything about Hong Kong is extreme and self-contradictory. It was the cleanest, filthiest, most organised, chaotic city I have ever visited. It was colourful and smelly and busy and loud and intimidating and amazing. This all sounds like hyperbole but I can't think of any other way to describe it.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a "Special Administrative Region" of China with its own currency, government, legal system, et cetera et cetera. It was a British dependency until 1997 so has a very Western influence not felt elsewhere in the country. I spent most of my time with a Londoner called James I met in the hostel on the second night. He'd just spent a month travelling around mainland China and scoffed at my apparent culture shock. Hong Kong was "easy" compared to proper China, he assured me, since basically everyone spoke some English and certain Western comforts like knives and forks and queuing were widely available. Also, people didn't openly piss in the streets in broad daylight, which apparently happens quite a lot on the mainland.

Hong Kong → Dubai

I was knackered by day three and spent most of the day idling around markets buying tat. As much as I had grown to love Hong Kong, I felt ready to leave, mainly because England suddenly felt really, really close.