Across Continents

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Oar House

January 21st, 2012

Just past the ’oar house I thought she’d said. Brief pause. Asked her to spell it. O-A-R, she replied, quickly adding that it was a restaurant. I was relieved. In all probability I’d spent the odd night in one of those places, quite by accident. Question of mistaken identity. Cheap hotel. But I’d told my Mum all about it. The story even featuring in the latest edition of Adventure Travel Magazine. So no chance of blackmail.

I’d crossed into Alabama earlier in the day. Brief foray, planning to reach Florida roughly twenty four hours later. Humid. Not oppressive, just a bit clammy. But unexpected. Memories of northern Australia. I’d half planned to stop for lunch at Grand Bay but found it uninspiring. On to Bayou La Batre. Brief late afternoon visit to Subway. Then push over the causeway to Dauphin Island before dark. Calling ahead for directions.

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Moral compass

November 28th, 2010

The moral high ground has deceptively lofty peaks. Treacherous to the unwise. Those with moments of madness. Even if wielding the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play. As one former Conservative MP can no doubt attest to. But a moral compass. No matter where you stand, it helps you follow the right path.

Which is handy when, in all probability, you’ve inadvertently spent the night in a brothel. Alone. Well, apart from Emma. My trusty steed. Or talked late into the night with a fellow foreigner who’d an encyclopedic knowledge of prostitution in China. And not the slightest hesitate to share it. Keeping your bearings. A passive observer, wishing to record, to share. Offering insight into less obvious aspects of society.

And then there’s corruption. Back in Azerbaijan. Ethically more troubling. Because, if you want to get things done, you have to participate. The compass waivers a little. Steadied only by the recognition that bribery and back-handers are endemic. Part of the very fabric of society. Theirs. Just how it is.

So, did I pay the odd bribe back there? Of course I did. Of necessity to get things done. Might have referred to them as "fees", "donations to the coffee fund", a "warm handshake". But unmistakably illicit payments to unduly influence the conduct of others. Bit of local magnetic variation. Just like the Black Cullins on the Isle of Skye. Sort of.

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Bedtime stories

November 23rd, 2010

Two in the morning. Bit of a sore throat. Decided to wander down to the lobby in search of a cold drink. I wasn’t alone. A young man sat at the bar. Was there a problem in my room, he enquired. No, I explained. I asked what had brought him downstairs. He was lonely. Waiting for some company to be provided. Discreetly.

I was intrigued. I’d heard about the late night phone calls. Offers of massages, that sort of thing. But never knowingly received one. In the end, decided that was the norm, claims to the contrary being just another mistake in my increasingly unreliable guide book. Until now.

Sounds strange, but I felt like I’d been missing something. Not that I’d ever accept an offer. Absolutely not. Host of moral and practical reasons. But I would still like the opportunity to decline. Politely of course. If such calls were still a part of travelling in China, I wanted to experience it.

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Sensing my disappointment, he suggested that the absence of calls might be explained by the fact I’d spent much of my time in Western China. Much more Muslim, more conservative, than the east. I wasn’t so sure. Many of the places I’d stopped had various latex and lubricant products available for sale. Just promoting public health? Or something else? And there’d been the odd suggestive advert or two.

But I’d just one question. How much did company typically cost? Explained I’d absolutely no idea. The equivalent of about fifty pounds for a night in central China, quite a bit more in the metropolises like Shanghai or Beijing.

With that, I made my excuses and left. Fifty pounds. Month in a truck stop. Decent sized replica Terracotta Warrior. An awful lot of noodles. Think I’d settle for “Book at Bedtime” on the BBC iPlayer.

[Author’s note: The events described above took place in central China. The exact location has been deliberately obscured to avoid unwarranted embarrassment to others. Specifically, no inferences should be drawn from when this post appears.You’d be wrong. And just in case you’re wondering, they are phone numbers I’ve obscured in the above picture – this website does have a few editorial – and ethical – rules. Mine!]

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