Responsibility Part One: Camping with Kids

Tuesday 31 May

I should be in China now right?  Hell I should be in India – but tell me something I don’t know.  Apologies to sound like a broken record, but the visa situation hasn’t changed, and I’m still stuck in Bishkek.  As there has been very little in the way of shenanigans to regale you with of late, I’ve thusly regressed into tardy blogging, and haven’t been bothered to let anyone know I’m still alive.   This is due in part to me behaving myself and staying out of trouble for once.  Unfortunately for the sick minded amongst you, I’ve recently been bequeathed a great deal of trust of sorts, so herein lies tales of only a wholesome nature.  Welcome to Responsibility Part One: Camping with Kids.

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Into the hills

Six months ago when I crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan in steady falling snow, if you’d told me I’d still be here in June putting a tent up in blazing sunshine with a load of ten and eleven year olds I’d have said you’re off your rocker.  But nonetheless, that is where I find myself over the course of a two day camping trip with students from the QSIB International School.  It’s the same educational establishment at which I’m directing the upcoming Shakespeare scene production – but more of that anon.  Here I’ve been roped in – willingly I might add – to assist in chaperoning the lovely darlings.  This should be a riot because I can barely look after myself.

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The madness begins

And it doesn’t stop there, no!  Not only that, but I’m told I’ve got to take four of the said kids in the car – along with a load of equipment – in convoy behind the mini-van with the rest of the tearaways.  Now I’m not usually one to shirk driving anything or anyone anywhere (I once had to drive a 12 hour, 580 mile round trip from Oban to Blackpool carrying a live giant Octopus).  But I must admit a little nervous pressure in keeping my charges safe; not least because the roads here are a nightmare and people can’t drive for shit.  More of that later too.

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Hearded by Margot

So almost shaking my head in disbelief as to the situations I get myself into, we set off singing songs, playing eye spy and having my ears flicked from behind the driver’s seat.  This is punctuated by yours truly yelling “AGE APPROPRIATE!” while the kids fall about laughing every time they come close to talking about something they shouldn’t be at such a tender age.  This includes the constant third degree barrage of inquisition surrounding the nature of my relationship with their teacher – Ms. Alex.  As I’m sure many of you parents and teachers are aware – it takes great skill to successfully dodge a malapropos line of questioning from the mind of a ten year old.  “Oh look!  A tree!”

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Base camp

100 or so kilometres outside Bishkek and you’re in the Shamsy Valley, which is a gloriously lush green on the floor, and brilliant pure white at the top.  Every head needs to be covered from the beating sun, especially up here at around 2400 metres (7874 ft).  This applies particularly to me, as I attempted to cut my own hair with clippers recently and ballsed it right up – so I’ve had to shave it all off.  No picture exists at the camp without my Bolivian head scarf firmly hiding my embarrassment.

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Clueless

Working in teams, the kids set up camp with aplomb – which I must say I’m more than surprised at.  I’ve been reliably informed that it’s their third time doing it – and there were tears the first time around.  However the screaming matches between my ex-girlfriend and I while attempting to erect a two man tent at a festival every year would make your blood run cold.  For my own part, it’s been a while since I did this, but I’m having a blast getting back to nature, trying to look like a seasoned pro and kidding on Bear Grylls has got nothing on me.  This falls to pieces when I get a splinter while trying to fashion a working longbow from a bent branch.

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The team

And then there’s the cold at night.  Survivalist I am not.  When the embers of the camp fire have died and the last of the marshmallows devoured to the sounds of tall tales and ghost stories, the mercury just drops away.  In a small tent of my own grouped with the trek leader and other teachers, I’m shivering uncontrollably all night.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold – and I’ve done an ice hotel in the Carpathian Mountains.  I was wearing every stitch I owned, but still spasmed in my sleeping bag while listening to the endless screech of an owl, a dog barking and what sounded like a cow giving birth to an elephant.  Needless to say I was in a stinking mood in the morning.

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Add ghost stories and serve

Ahhhh but I can’t throw temper tantrums here can I?  I have responsibility remember?  I can’t throw my shit out of the pram and withdraw into a beer bottle.  I’m “awake” around 6 am not sure if I’ve slept at all, disturbed by a giggling alarm clock of bairns beyond the walls of my tent.  But after a decent breakfast of scrambled eggs (the kids make all the meals themselves – which can be hit or miss), the warmth of the sun begins to dispel my grogginess, and we throw ourselves into the day’s hike.  

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Homeward bound

And then it’s outdoor kids’ stuff 101 – which actually brings back memories.  Geography lessons, scrambling down a river, learning to use an orienteering compass and walkie-talkies, finding interesting stuff you’re not allowed to take home because it’s disgusting – that kind of thing.  To quote the owl that kept me awake – it’s a hoot.  But it’s when we return to camp that the real fun starts – because none of them has ever played “capture the flag.”  By the end of it I’m wheezing like an old man and bleeding from several scratches earned from diving through bushes.  It was brutal – but I think in their feedback before returning home they all cited it as their favourite moment.  That’s alright for them – I need a new lung.

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Capturing the flag – pure joy

For some reason the school decides to send the school driver to pick up the kids that were in my car as we prepare to return to base.  This has me somewhat miffed and upset – especially since he terrifies them by bolting back at stupid speeds – and I really do enjoy the time I’ve been spending with them.  A drive-home de-brief would have been lovely.  However it’s actually a blessing in disguise, as the return journey is riddled with (albeit somewhat trivial) incidents.  Just little niggles from other drivers or traffic laws here that get my back up and turn the air blue.  But it gives way to something a little more serious.

With everyone safely back at school and into the arms of their thankful, relieved, loving parents; Alex and I are returning home after a successful two days.  Maybe I’m still annoyed at incidents during the journey back, or that a speeding, no-fun, stone faced Kyrgyz guy with little or no connection to the kids was preferred to drive them home over me, but there’s a straw that breaks the camel’s back.  I’m slowing to stop at a red light, when this douche bag behind me sits on his horn.  Just sits on it.  Once the light turns green, he’s still on it even though I have to slow to allow a pedestrian to cross on my right turn.  This is how they do things here.  They’re on time for nothing, yet are the most impatient wankers when behind a wheel.  I lose my shit a little – but only to the point of just slowing down enough to get his back up –  while still actually doing the speed limit of 40 on this road.

Eventually he blazes past us, Alex smiling in the passenger seat, but instead of just driving on, he cuts us right up, forcing me to slam on.  This huge, obese, hideously ugly, Jabba-the-Hut oaf then leaps out the driver side door and waddles over to my open window, yelling something unintelligible.  Fearing a fat fist coming into my face, I’ve reversed quickly and pulled around him – but not before both myself and Alex are pretty shaken.  There’s a possibility he realised we weren’t from here (and not knowing who we are – feared our connections to important ex-pats) and pulled out of his road rage attack.  Suffice to say – they are animals.  It put a damper on an otherwise wonderful couple of days.  My CS gas canister is now in the glove compartment.

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Stand by me

But not to leave on a sour note – and hey – it wouldn’t be “lookingforstu” if something bad didn’t happen.  The trip was awesome, and all this responsibility stuff is actually keeping me on the straight and narrow.  The more I work with these kids, the more I remember how much fun it is, and it might just be rekindling something I long thought dead.  Coming soon is Responsibility Part Two:  Shakespeare with Kids.  Some of them might become friends on my Facebook!  Surely that’ll mean I’ll need to be careful what I spout on here, right?!  Curb the swearing like a sailor?!  No more unadulterated filth?!  But worry not dear readers – no doubt I’ll fuck something up really soon.

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Teaching Shakespeare, horse treks, lost glasses and sleeping in a bush

Tuesday 10 May

Mighty me look at that.  I didn’t do one post for the entire month of April!  What has become of me?  Where am I?  What sordid exploits have I been getting up to?  What fulfilment have you possibly had in your lives without my constant barrage of barely entertaining drivel?  Well my little cheeky chums, I have finally gotten around to updating my adventures (or lack thereof) and April sucks as a month anyway.  Read on if you dare…

Bishkek airport.  I don't think they thought this through.

Bishkek airport. I don’t think they thought this through.

The long the short and the tall of it is I reside in the same place; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – which I still need a spell check to write correctly.  Travel wise, not much has changed – except for one outrageously fucking stupid “loophole” in this whole Chinese visa debacle.  If you may remember in last month’s episode I was waiting patiently for the Chinese government to get their act together and allow people to cross land borders.  Well, they’ve decided to relax this blanket ban somewhat, but only as far as making you jump through proverbial hoops in the process.  I need to apply for the visa and cross the border with the same person – minimum of two people.  I then need to exit the country inside one month, crossing with said person at another predetermined border.  I only get 30 days max and I can’t extend.  In fact, it’s not a visa at all, but a temporary electronic something or other. Some faceless moron somewhere is taking the piss.

I won't be seeing a new flag for a while

I won’t be seeing a new flag for a while

However, there is no shortage of people queuing up to go, with regular posts/emails from folk offering their services as a travel buddy – just to get into the country.  Then I guess the plan would be to have a jaunt around for a month before meeting up again to leave legally (most likely into Hong Kong) before your time is up.  This would work out amicably for me, as I get 6 months visa free stay in Hong Kong (thank you commonwealth) which would grant me plenty of time to apply for my new passport.  Thanks to the idiocy of customs officials stamping one stamp to a page in parts, I only have two free pages left.  I need those for China alone.

So this would change my plans further still, as being in HK means I am but a hop, skip and a jump from Vietnam et al.  This then would imply I would do my SE Asia leg first and wait until India cools down a bit while I spend my summer by the sea getting mangled at full moon parties and working in a hostel I would most likely wind up dead at.  Notwithstanding of course surviving the mass immigration of Australians.  In short, I’d be aiming to complete the hitchhike to India sometime this coming winter.

And why not, say I?  It means I’m not going to be arriving in India at the height of its annual killer heat wave, there’s potential to be reunited with traveling buddies in backpacking wonderland, and I’m still on course for my goal of returning to live and work in Croatia for roughly this time next year.  It’s a no brainer.  So I’ve decided to stick it out here for a while and see if the Chinese government relax further and allow solo travelers in.  That, and for some reason I’ve found myself teaching and directing Shakespeare at a local international school.  My life as a globe-trotting drunk tourist has been temporarily suspended.

Teaching kids.  A wholesome activity

Teaching kids. A wholesome activity

Well not quite.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself attempting to get home under the influence of several beverages.  I was adamant that the taxi driver was in the right place, threw my money in his general direction and bundled myself out onto the roadside.  T’was only when he was pulling away did I realise I had no scooby where I was, the blazing sun was well and truly up and there wasn’t a street I recognised.  (In my defence, returning to the scene of the crime sometime later and as sober as a judge I still didn’t know how to get home.  I feel some kind of exoneration for the fact).

So I did what anyone in my situation would do.  I slept in a bush.

Now this was all very well and good.  The weather was fine, the ground dry.  I figured a couple of hours shut-eye in the leaves and I’d wake up with everything falling into place.  Except when I woke, I had no idea where my glasses where.  Now no matter how inebriated I get,  I ALWAYS know where I’ve put my specs – but they were just nowhere to be found.

I must have looked a funny sight at 10 am on a Sunday morning, shirt and tie, scrabbling around in the undergrowth, peering inches from the ground.  A curious man approached and asked in Russian (I think) what was wrong.  I frantically mimed something to do with spectacles, the floor, and sleeping in a bush.

“Lensa?”  He questions.

“DA! DA! DA!  LENSA!”  I exclaim with joy, not really sure if it meant glasses or not but it was a hung over educated guess.  During the drama a young lady appears with a mobile and has handed it to me to converse with an English-speaking friend she has kindly phoned.  Seconds later, all three of us are on our hands and knees scrabbling around in the dirt looking for my lost eyes.

Ahhhh but alas to no avail.  I thank them for their time and with no ability to see even short distances, stumble off upset in a random direction, hoping for some kind of sign to light the way home.  And boy did I get it.  Turning the corner, there’s a new bar opening with a giant, visible-from-space logo that even the blind would be able to see.

JAMESON.

Nearly weeping tears of relief, I stagger into the cafe next door and a barista with perfect English allows me to contact Alex via facebook, who arrives moments later with a “why-am-I-not-surprised” look on her face.  However the benefits of such an adventure are two-fold:  I managed to get home, and I’ve got new glasses, because the ones I lost were shit.

Kyrgyz eye test.  You don't need to know the Russian alphabet, just be able to tell if a gap in a circle appears to the left, right or on the bottom.  Genius

Kyrgyz eye test. You don’t need to know the Russian alphabet, just be able to tell if a gap in a circle appears to the left, right or on the bottom. Genius

Where was I?  I digress…mmmmm…oh yes.  Shakespeare.  Keeping me out of such trouble for much of the week has been the Shakespeare workshops I’ve been asked to run at this international school.  Helped in no small part by Alex – who pretty much got me the gig in the first place as she is a school teacher there.  Anyhoo I’ve found myself not only courting a potential heart attack leading 5 to 11 year olds in drama games, but also actually directing the school’s annual performance, which at my suggestion is to be a sort of Shakespeare Cabaret evening.  The kids are taking to it like ducks to water, and we’re all very excited about the potential for a really entertaining and educational evening.  Most of the kids at the school here are parented by an eclectic mix of nationalities, including expats and locals, who are hopefully going to be treated to astoundingly performed scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.  I could think of worse places to be stranded, in worse company, practicing things that wouldn’t have reignited something in me I long thought dead.  Perhaps teaching drama is something I will put on the back burner for when I retire my passport.

A plague on both your houses!  Directing a Romeo and Juliet scene

A plague on both your houses! Directing a Romeo and Juliet scene

In the interim, I’ve bruised my arse bones significantly with a two-day horse trek into the mountains near Kochkor, culminating in staying a night in a yurt, and nearly getting into a brawl with a load of drunk Kyrgyz shepherds.  Picking a fight with someone carrying a shotgun isn’t the best idea, but for some reason they thought our guides had stolen one of their jackets.  As I stood and watched, horse whips were raised to beat humans, and the yurt owner weighed in wielding a wooden 2 x 4.  Surprising myself more than most, the scuffle didn’t dissipate until I started screaming “FUCK OFF” repeatedly into a pocked red face.  Welcome to Kyrgyzstan.

Yurt life.  Home for a night

Yurt life. Home for a night

Speaking of which, they say you haven’t experienced the country until you’ve tried three things.  Horse riding, staying in a yurt, and drinking Kymyz (Kumis) – which is fermented mare’s milk.  The latter I’ve firmly given a wide berth, until Alex convinces me to give it a go.  It’s arguably the most horrendous thing to ever pass my lips, and I include a bottle of weeks out-of-date chocolate Yazoo.  You can guess the rest.  Sick as a dog for a week, with no amount of drugs being able to stop the deluge from both ends. Thusly I’ve experienced a number of firsts in this beautiful country, including exorcist style projectile vomiting at 4 o’clock in the morning so much so I thought my innards were going to be outards and my head would spin 360 degrees.  The power of Kumis compels you!

And he's away...!

And he’s away…!

...to bury a fabulous goal.  I still got it...

…to bury a fabulous goal. I still got it…

And so the world turns and I’m ticking over from day-to-day, to the last syllable of recorded time.  The Shakespeare performance is set down for June 10th, and while I’ve had the option to leave, I’ve decided to remain to see this through, pub quizzes, five-a-side football an’ all.  Y’know – normal stuff.  By which time I’m hoping China have sorted their shit out and let me in, to continue walking the earth to help people save little Timmy who fell down the well.  Like David Carradine from Kung Fu.  Or Jules from Pulp Fiction.  Or The Littlest Hobo.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll wanna settle down.

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