I have been mulling over pictures, feeling the least I could do is post one to wish friends and followers a Happy New Year. In fact a New Decade. I hope we’re all here to celebrate the next one, the past ten have been tumultuous but with enough fun to make it worth getting about and doing a bit of shooting.
Which brings me to one of my favourite street photos of the past couple of years.I have posted it before but it deserved another airing.
It’s a simple picture, taken ‘on the fly’ as I walked past a bar on the Mekong waterfront in Phnom Penh. One frame said it all. A hot day, a cold beer (well it was when he started) and a quite rest. In its own way it summed up life as it should be. Slower, quite and full of simple pleasures.
So here’s wishing you a decade full of simple pleasures, a great deal of good health and plenty of inspiration.
TRAVELLING LIGHT & TREADING GENTLY (with a bit of photography chucked in for good measure)
Learning to become a tight arse traveller, meandering slowly and smelling the roses, is akin to starting your own offshore tax haven. Don’t let that fool you. The fact is you may never earn enough money to pay tax. But so what? Eat your heart out, That’s my office in the picture.
These days I’m learning a perverse logic: You may as well not earn money at doing something you enjoy than not earn money doing something you don’t enjoy. Think about it!
I’ve never been mean, especially when it comes to spending Other People’s Money. Now, in the world of media’s changing economics and OPM vapourising, I’m learning to become lean and mean; a tight arse traveller. It takes practice but sooner or later unique creative accounting falls into place. Not only that but it’s possible to earn a comfortable living. For example I don’t measure my economy in dollars and cents, rial, roubles, rupiah, kip or kyat, even though my best friend is a free currency converting App on the iPad.
THE NEW ECONOMY
My economy is measured in units of air fares and the cost of beer. There is no App for that yet. One Air Fare Unit (AFU) is $250. A Unit of Beer (BU) is one dollar.
The process started in late 2008 when a global recession scattered freelance journalists and photojournalists in all directions. I was at a career point where I wanted to slow down a little. It was time for a change.
I found myself disliking driving. I’d been down the road of exotic cars, luxury appartments and had a trophy wife. I ‘let her go’ and she quickly married a Gucci. That has become the basis for a bigger story. I’m working on that.
Driving had been a passion but with crowded roads and traffic lights it had become frustrating. I was calculating how much I could sell my car for when somebody kindly drove theirs into the side of mine. The other driver should have become my new best friend. I would have bought him a few beers and traded girl friends because my car was deemed a write off and the insurers paid me twice what my asking price was going to be had I sold it. Suddenly I fell in love with an insurance company, that was a first, they can be very unlovable.
NEW FREEDOM, NEW LIFESTYLE
Within a week the money was in a new account marked ‘Travel’. I woke to a new freedom, a new style of living. I had an old bike and a worn out travel bag which, at a squeeze, could accommodate a few T-shirts, shorts, jocks, toothbrush, shaving gear and pain killers. This kit was the framework for lightweight travel and a reasonable income.
The economic benefit was instant. No fuel bills, no massive service fees, no new tyres, no broken screens, no break-ins, no parking tickets, no speeding fines, no road tax, no depreciation, no insurance and no drink driving problems. That doesn’t mean no drinking. Collectively they save me a minimum of about $6000 a year.
I axed two daily newspapers, weekend papers and a few magazines saving another $2000 a year. My travel budget was now sitting on $8000 a year. Not a lot in the overall scheme of things but sufficient.
I had been travelling on OPM, staying in decent hotels, sometimes in exotic locations. I had every so often flown first class (nice); more often business class (nearly as nice) and sometimes cattle class; not nice at all but I liked the passengers a great deal more.
I had spent years in Fleet Street, a nerve centre of journalism in those days, and was on the staff of a French magazine. After several years I went freelance, working on assignments, earning well, saving little but enjoying the freedom only a freelance journalist can enjoy. I then started working on a totally speculative basis, writing and illustrating self assigned stories. My publication rate was high and I enjoyed more independence.
I’m an avid reader of Graham Green, Somerset Maugham and others who travelled and wrote about the region. Prompted by their influences I have let myself loose in SE Asia, an old territory of colonial France, Indochina. I saw a refreshed career as what the French fondly refer to as a flâneur; simply wandering streets and observing life, making a few notes, taking a few photographs. I disciplined myself to write most evenings for an hour or so, usually in the company of ice cold beer and a local meal.
As it happens Bali is only about three and a half hours by air from my Australian base so I made the island a second home. I can travel door to door, home to home, in about seven hours for one AFU. Once there I stay in a delightful, clean and comfortable hotel. It has eight rooms and costs me ten bucks, about 10BUs, a night including breakfast and, importantly, a fast internet connection. Adding to the romance of the place is the rumour that it was formerly a brothel. I find that hard to believe as it has cold showers which could be counterproductive in some situations. I can live for about $200 a week on the island, including the hotel. That’s less than one AFU. People don’t believe me when I say I’m heading off to Bali to work. “Enjoy your holiday” they say. My office is a beach where I write in a warung, eat fresh fish daily with salads, rice and fruit and have a beer or two at about a dollar a bottle. That’s only 2BUs v 18BUs minimum in Australia.
I go to the morning market, buy fruit and chat to the locals who’ve named me ‘Poppa’, which I rather like. I buy fish to feed the hotel’s scrawny cats and frequently a kilo of rambutan when in season but the market is always full of fresh fruits. The fruit costs me about dollar, the fish about 20cents. In my local store, in Australia, rambutan is nearly $50 a kilo! Five kilos is an air fare! The more I eat the more I save.
I’m digressing. This blog is aimed at people looking for an uncomplicated life, smelling the roses and earning a quid doing something they enjoy doing. So back to the travel light and write theme. Having spent several decades covering news and other events I was ready for a change. I have always written, always taken pictures. It was a useful combination and I see no reason to change that. This change in direction is to look at laid back stories, probably around travel, people I meet, food I eat. Like any good flâneur I have no sense of direction. I do have a list of ideas which tend to revolve around rivers, lakes, oceans, boats, beaches and palm trees. And a Happy Hour in a bar somewhere. So please feel free to watch this space.
WORKING KIT for WORDS
This is my basic working kit. I sometimes take a Macbook Air but generally find the basic iPad is sufficient. I carry a notebook and prefer the French Clairfontaine products as the paper is extraordinarily good for writing on. I used to use Moleskine but the paper is not in the same league and they cost nearly three times as much – about 33BUs against 12BUs. I like to write with a fountain pen and Clarefontaine paper doesn’t suffer from ‘show through’. Ink is often not practical in climates of high humidity either as the paper can get a little damp from sweaty hands. In that instance I use a highly treasured ball point pen. A few pencils and a sharpener are handy backups.
I’ll write about a photography kit in the next blog. Cheers for now.