Monthly Archives: February 2012

Fried tarantula

(Spring 2004)

We were travelling overland on a group tour. A small party of international travellers of varying ages, sizes and descriptions, united by a love of adventure, the unexpected and a curiosity for different cultures. We were strangers on arriving in the country, but had become a happy unit by the time we left it.

It was toward the end of our experience.  We had negotiated canals by dugout boat, cities, historic ruins and jungles, temples, beaches, swam in forest rivers, discovered deserted hill forts and learnt of the genocide and regime which had scarred both a people and land. The journey took us by train, boat, public bus, and in the back of pickup trucks which transported us far and wide across Cambodia.

We had been travelling for many hours by mini bus across treacherous dirt tracks and uneven broken highways.  It was early April and nearing the end of the dry season.  The air conditioning unit had long since broken, and relief from the heat was occasionally brought through the open windows along with views of dusty fields, shacks, ploughs, occasional cattle and waving children along the roadside. Lorries frequently passed us, precariously piled high with goods or stock, mountains of cargo which were often double the size of the vehicle carrying them and were sometimes topped off by sleeping human bodies or roped, bewildered looking animals.

Our tour demanded a twelve hour journey that day, and we were relieved when the bus pulled in for a break at a roadside cafe/interchange. It was a square concrete looking building, which was offset with brightly coloured plastic tables and chairs. It was busy with a number of (mostly) men eating, gambling, or conducting business as traders would meet at the ‘half way point’ between towns to exchange/buy goods and other matters.

Tumbling wearily out of the bus I was immediately conscious of how strange we looked to the locals. Our dress, our manner or gadgets and adornments, all seemed alien in this world despite the fact these were ‘simplified’ versions of ourselves so as to accommodate our travels.   Reactions to our party were different all around Cambodia and often related to the level of tourism development which had taken place.  It was curious and beneficial to experience life as a kind of ‘other’ an alien in a foreign land.  Sometimes it was curiosity, indifference, annoyance, frustration, fascination, but usually we were greeted with compassion and with a warm generosity. Having recently recovered from such tragic events, the Khmer people seemed to usually find something to smile about regardless of their circumstances. People here though, seemed a little less trusting of strangers.

During the regime many people were sent out to work the land and forced to live in poverty (and still do).  Most Khmer people  learnt to survive on whatever they could find, which is how the local snack of fried tarantula came to be popular in this particular area we passed through. Usually at ‘service stations’ you could pick up essentials – bottles of water, fried rice, mango, salt and chilli pineapple, everything always wrapped in tiny plastic bags, but it was the only time I ever saw anything like this on my travels there.

The sight of the spiders was fascinating.   To see them all together was, essentially, your worst nightmare realised. Even dead they look pretty formidable given their size.  I was interested in how something which people were usually so afraid of could actually nourish them.   So I bought one. I was the only person to go for it. Most of the others were so frightened of spiders it was just too gross to be considered.

It tasted mainly of garlic. The legs were furry and on the ends were charred, sort of like a burnt furry twiglet. They were hard to swallow at times and got stuck in my throat. There was a small amount of firm meat on the body. I can’t really remember what it tasted of now – I think mostly garlic and woodsmoke.  I think I had a good go at it and ate most of the body. Might have left a few legs though.  The other travellers were impressed/repulsed.

I felt strangely proud in that moment.

We continued on the journey by bus and in the evening finally reached the capital Phonm Penn. The idea of the tour experience overall was a deliberately ‘local’ one and for most of the holiday we camped, stayed with local families, used *very* basic guesthouses or overnight transport.

The hotel in the capital was our one night of luxury.. but by then it seemed almost obscene that after our extraordinary backpacking adventures we now stayed in a palace of chrome and glass complete with running water, air conditioning, toilets with seats and neatly ironed pristine white sheets.  I felt perfectly fine for the entire night but it wasn’t until getting up the next day that I began to feel queasy.

My roommate said she was sure it was the spider that did it.

We got up a little late for breakfast and rushed to make the sitting. It was a weekday and the prestigious hotel was bustling with high end tourists and Khmer business  executives.  By then I realised I felt rough, really rough.  We were quite high up in the building, perhaps on the top floor and we both managed to squeeze into the busy mirrored lift right by the doors.

It must have been the motion of the lift dropping that made my queasy stomach turn so violently. I held on as the lift began to sail steadily downward. Floor 8, floor 7, floor 6, (I needed the get to a toilet pronto) floor 5, floor 4, (just hold on, I thought). What happened next was some kind of unfortunate miracle of timing.

The lift reached the ground floor and I can remember thinking as I heard the familiar ‘ding’ that I was going to make it. (I am definitely going to make it) I thought.

Wrong.

The doors swung back and in almost perfect synchronicity, as I stepped out through them, I vomited violently (perhaps in the manner of the exorcist film or similar) straight out across the lobby in front of the  reception desk, a queue of guests waiting to check out, most of my  fellow travellers  and several tables of nearby breakfast diners. I can still remember the look of shock on the receptionist’s faces as my body wretched involuntarily and dramatically to expel (possibly the spider but we don’t know) whatever it was that poisoned it (Which I then helplessly deposited in the middle of the posh reception).

Once people had gotton over the shock, it seemed that no lasting damage was done. Things were cleared away, and I, after a few days, recovered.

People have since asked me, if I had the choice again, would I still eat the spider?

Every.

Single.

Time.

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I disabled my facebook profile (call the police!)

Last week I did something radical…

I DISABLED MY FACEBOOK PROFILE!!!!!!

And so far – it’s been interesting.

Facebook has experienced huge growth since its launch in 2004 with a reported 845 million active users in February 2012. The social networking site provides a shared online webspace for individuals and their friends to chat, post messages/email and share uploads /activities relating to their interests.

I’ve been a member of the site since around 2007/8. Since I joined I’ve spent a good amount of time using the site. I currently have around 250 friends (although at one stage I was hitting 700). I have been in contact with old friends from school, joined groups for events, shared photos and communicated with friends across the world both whilst at ‘home’ and whilst abroad travelling. I can literally communicate ‘on the move’ picking up facebook from my smartphone at any time where I have a signal. It has had some positive impact on my life, increased my online presence and connection with others.   So why the change?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the tipping point was that made me want to take a step back from it.  From a practical level the site has been subject to constant upgrades and re-designs with privacy rules and process changing frequently. This unsettles me as I feel less in control of the data that I share.  The most frequent introduction ‘timeline’ encourages you to input all your personal history and it got to a stage where I didn’t understand why that was really necessary. The accuracy of the targeted marketing on facebook is frightening (with ‘bots’ often picking up key words from status updates etc ) and whilst its great to share info on line this can also backfire with the world being informed of your relationship breakup or latest family drama. This is pretty rubbish if it’s something serious such as a hospital emergency or similar.

One of the key things I have noticed is the more that I have shared on facebook the less people in my life have felt it necessary to actually to talk to me.  Being a research student can be a lonely process at times, and whilst other people have felt that they are up to date with my goings on via facebook, I’ve really missed having face to face contact with them. My main resolution is to try and get back into the habit of having actual conversations with people and hopefully encourage them to do the same.

I started to also wonder what the implication was in terms of emotional investment in the past. Having your entire life history mapped out in front of you may not be the best thing in terms of relationship break up or family dispute and who really needs to be reminded of certain past events?  I know several of my friends who have completed the obligatory ‘facebook stalk’ of their new partners torturing themselves with photos of their current beau in previous relationships.  I was also contacted by a ‘bully’ from years gone by who seemed to have no recollection of what she put me through.  So I silently ignored her friend request and the more I ignored her well guess what? She attempted to bully me again via the internet. Not really sure I needed that… is it really necessary to get back in touch with everyone from our past.. maybe if we’ve not kept in touch it’s for a reason and it’s better to let them go?

I noticed other changes in social activity too. One of my interest is photography and lately I have been making greater attempts to understand and document different aspects of social life. I want to understand and represent social issues (by social I mean those concerned with society) using photography to try and do that. So I am trying to think more about the meanings of the photos that I take.  I’ve been on a few nights out recently where the activity seemed to be taking photos for facebook. Not enjoying the moment, or celebrating a specific event but for taking photo after photo of ..well..not a lot really. The whole dynamic of an evening out seems to be shifting from enjoying the moment to documenting it. Performing it even. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been just as guilty of this in the past as others have.  I guess from my clowning training I am learning to try and live in the moment,  but I witnessed how facebook is changing our sense of ‘being there’ with people posting on facebook groups about the night out whilst all being on the night out and a few metres away from each other. I started wondering if this was quite right. Also my research is concerned with the older people and they highlight so much the need for ‘being there’ with others. It made me more aware of my own absence in the present through technology/facebook.

I’v e been having these thoughts for a while and Shelly Turkle’s book ‘Alone Together’ has been on my amazon wish list since last year.  Recently I picked up on a TED talk via Twitter (Oh the irony) given by Sherry regarding her research which discuss this concept of almost individual/group isolation.  Have a look and see what you think.

One of the most interesting things is the way people react when I tell them.  It’s become such a social norm that most people think I am bonkers. In addition more and more activities are being organised via facebook and my lack of an account has been seen as a real inconvenience. Also interesting to note is that a lot of people weirdly assumed they had done something to me personally and that I had singled them out for deletion rather than cancelling my own account.

I didn’t delete my facebook profile as I have lots of info I need to pull off as well as contact details of friends and family. I can go back in at any time and restore things if I want to, it has had some great benefits and in the past I have enjoyed sharing certain things with my friends and family. I guess what I’m doing currently is taking stock. Trying to exist in the moment and rekindle the physical co-present aspects of my relationships.   Although people think I’m weird I’ve felt a lot better. Maybe I will re-boot the profile at some point in the future, but currently I am enjoying a new kind of freedom,  – one of privacy, of acting in a different way, of trying to be in the  here and now…. and to be honest the strongest feeling I have is a strange sense of relief.

Why Bedminster is amaze balls

Being reasonably close to the town centre its often tempting to pop straight into town or my very favouritest place St Nicks Market for anything I need.  Usually I do my shopping in Asda as its literally only a few minutes walk away. Recently and more so over Christmas I’ve found Asda to be a bit unbearable. Chaotic and overwhelming with bright lights, relentless sales pitches, screaming bored children , grown ups with ‘trolly rage’, rising prices and too much choice. During my last visit it took me ages to decide what kind of honey I wanted. I was there for around ten minutes trying to balance the environmental, moral, economic, social and ethical dilemmas that you face when presented with (I’m guessing )  around 20? different types of honey. Which is a more worthier cause? Bees from the UK or bees from Brazil? How many ‘food miles’ are involved – which is more sustainable – where does the money go and to what degree – who is benefiting the most from my purchase? – arguments in favour and against.  In the end I couldn’t decide so I ended up buying two types and by the time I got home I realised that Asda had won the argument on all counts.

So today I ventured into Bedminster (south of the city – BS3) for the first time since I’ve lived in Bristol. I’ve popped up to the High Street maybe three times before (for the dentist and such like) but had never really had a full-on proper shopping experience.  I had a lovely morning.  Here is why:

Firstly its alive with discount shops – I get excited about these sort of shops mainly because I enjoy foraging a little bit for things that seem interesting. I found a lot of things which were very cheap and reasonable quality such as things for my room which are really expensive in town.  Also there are lots of charity shops – I don’t always by clothes from these kind of shops but I am trying to do so more – one for cost reasons and two because we live in such a ‘disposable’ society I find it hard to justify continuous streams of consumption and buying stuff.   Jessi Arrington’s mini TED talk sets out some of the reasons why it’s good to ‘wear nothing new’ (her presentation style is a little sugary but stick with it). Today I bought a brown corduroy jacket for £3.00 to wear with my jeans. Bargin.

It’s valentine’s day soon and quite frankly the massive annual societal push from all the shops/popular media for us to buy yet more shit for each other that we don’t really need, just makes me want to poke out both my eyes. Not only that  – if you are not in a relationship, the pantomime that is valentines day is only designed to make you feel a whole heap worse about yourself but its okay – you can buy more shit for yourself to make it all better!!!  (rant over).  The onset of Valentines day has not escaped Bedminster but my cynicism was melted a little by the British Heart Foundations window display –  where you can write  messages of love to your  favourite people: (mainly from kids but aww bless)

Next up:  architecture I don’t know the history of Bristol that well but  in Bedminster a lot of the buildings are old but quite beautiful.  Some are no longer used  unfortunately like the handsome looking London Inn below:

Closed now – but used to be a (horse) coach station apparently. Currently up for auction yours for £175,000. It can be seen in the background of a photo taken in 1919 I found via local historian  BrizzleBuff  – amazing pics on flkr – go check out the rest of them!

I also enjoyed shopping in local shops and meeting local shop and stall keepers– I can recommend Lee’s bakery (cakes look amazing) and the green grocers next door – (currently 3 x avocado for a £1, strawberries £1 a punnet) I also bought some curly kale as I read somewhere once that its really good for you, although I’m not sure exactly what I am going to do with it – Bedminster also sports a range of butchers shops and other fruit and veg stalls.

There is also a promising looking fish and chip restaurant that I discovered though I’ve not tried it out yet.

There are sadly a few amusement arcades and betting shops and a proportion of the shops, particularly in the shopping precinct by Iceland are empty (although I noticed recently that even some of the shop units in Park Street have not escaped this fate).  Some of the pubs do look a bit dodgy but might be okay on the inside – you never know.

Finally I stopped for breakfast at the sunshine cafe. There are lots of little places to grab a cuppa in Bedminster. I picked this place initially as I used to work in a similar place for years back in Kent.  Guess it felt familiar. It was packed, in fact most of the cafes were.

I think the best thing about Bedminster is its diversity of people –  it was a different demographic to those you find in town, and my how sociable.  Every shop I went into, people spoke to me.  Conversations were happening in the street and in cafes and across tables. I ordered a vegi breakfast (diet progressing well you see) and ended up sharing my table with two older ladies and we had a good old chin wag. They were having bacon butties with the crusts cut off and seemed to be well acquainted with the waitress.  I think they were regulars.  A TV blared in the corner but not one person was watching it and going in there with a smartphone? Yeah might as well had a flag attached to your hat – had to put it away sharpish as I got some odd glances.  Not in an intimidating way but mainly because people were all talking to each other. We all shared some laughs.

I walked home feeling in a very good mood, and very happy with my morning. I will be going back to Bedminster again soon. Lovely people.

Now all I have to do is work out what to do with the ‘curly kale’…

its a bit like a shrub really……