Creative Accounting and Lightweight Travel.

Part One

TRAVELLING LIGHTER , TIGHTER AND BEING A WRITER   (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, here’s my office.

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This is my second home, a bonus of creative accounting. It’s rent free so I have nothing to hide from the taxman. This a drone shot, not mine, I pinched it from a friend.

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

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New supermarket. Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh fish. A weeks shopping costs about $15

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.

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A sea level view of the office. My spot is on the extreme right, in that dark space.

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.

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Erna and Made in their beachfront warung which doubles as my office. A decent lunch sets me back about  4BU of my creative travel currency. I do  a bit of writing, walk about twelve lengths of the beach, swim. There’s a secret trail though the trees along cliff top to the beach . It takes me about ten minutes to walk to the ‘office’.  

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.

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Basic writing kit: I use the notebook as a scrap book too. On the left hand page I paste useful things like maps, menus, beer labels. Anything which may jog a memory. On the facing page I make notes. Each page is dated.
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The iPad and notebook are stored in lightweight nylon bag. Not totally waterproof but it could help. Pens, pencils, sharpeners are in a waterproof roll-up pouch. 

I’ll write about a photography kit in the next blog.  Cheers for now.

Roger Garwood. <rjgarwood@gmail.com>

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Christmas Greeting from Down Under

I have just realised we have about three shopping days until Christmas and I haven’t made up my mind what to buy myself.

Apart from that, and in spite of my many notes to write a Christmas greeting, I’ve allowed my life to be taken over by too many coffees and cakes with friends, thus time retreated at warp speed.

Sometimes it was necessary to refuel with a glass of wine in the company of a friend or three, especially on a Sunday with Ted.  Ted, now retired, is using his drawing skills on a new project. He, like me, observes people and he enjoys making sketches of them. His new project is to observe and sketch people in wine bars and he has so far compiled a list of 70 bars in Perth and Fremantle. I haven’t seen many sketches but he’s gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine.

It’s been a year of travel and broken resolutions. Why change the habits of a lifetime?

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I also had to renew my old passport which I’d grown rather fond of. It had about 100 little inked rubber stamped imprints in it (some countries are very mean) also a lot of those visas which look like badly forged bank notes and take up a full page. I like those, they make me feel I’ve actually been somewhere.

I found that I’d been away for over five of the past 12 months. A sort of record. My iPhone also tells me that I actually walked a total of 1679km on those travels. That is a record. I also made a lot of notes, took a lot of pictures and did very little with any of them. Time wasn’t entirely wasted though. I caught up with many friends I hadn’t seen for years as well as making the effort to meet friends from Facebook and various other bits of social media. Those adventures took me though Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. These are countries I tend to enjoy as they encourage me to re-read the old works of Graham Green, Orwell, Maugham and others who collectively help me feel as though I’m living in an exotic time warp. That’s if you call ten buck hotels with cold, mouldy, showers and beds which seem bigger than the rooms, so much so it’s impossible to walk around them, exotic. There’s also the added luxury of bath towels which are so thin they could be used as net curtains.
I remember my well travelled colleague Mac saying “You really know you’re travelling when you’re washing your socks and jocks in a bucket of water on a hotel balcony”. He’s right.

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Sunset over the Mekong at Luang Prabang

It’s been a year of highlights though I’m not sure  the offering of a  fried rat for lunch in the north of Laos was one of them. It did look tasty though, especially if you happen to be a cat.

A long trip down the northern section of the Mekong has made me plan an even slower trip next year.  Maybe it’s something about Lao hospitality but I was offered some deep fried insects by a lovely old lady en route.

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Lunch menu on the Mekong slow boat

I spent a couple of separate months in my favourite spot in Bali where an old mate, Chris, from our respective first marriage days took the trouble to fly from The Old Dart. Coincidently my photo buddy Mac came in from France. Say no more – we had one of the best weeks I can remember. Plenty of food, drink, many lies and much laughter. As long as we each manage to cling to our ageing bodily wreckage I hope we’ll be able to do it again. I may have to work a bit harder too!

I’ve been back in Fremantle for the past couple of months promising myself I’d write a lot more. I’ve got unfinished stories totalling over 30. That’s taking procrastination to extremes.

A couple of days ago I was exploring the town and was stopped by an elegant Chinese gentleman who questioned me about the abstract yellow paint on the walls in the High Street of the Fremantle’s West End.  I told him it was a little difficult to explain, though I did know preciselyy what it was about.

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I directed him to the bottom of the High Street, pointing out the steps to the old Round House prison and telling him to walk up the steps, turn around and look back. “All will be revealed” I said.

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This is a very clever piece of art work installed by  Swiss artist Felice Varini, who has produced geometric optical illusions around the world.

And so 2017 sped past and ’18 is on the doorstep. With that in mind I wish you all the healthiest and happiest New Year possible and I do hope that at least some of us can catch up somewhere other than on Facebook.

Take care, stay well, watch this space.

Back to Back in Fremantle

I think most photographers have the work of the old master shooters firmly imprinted in their minds. Lisette Model was a photographer who’s simplicity of style appealed to me and some of her images of the backs of subjects have become icons.

I was wandering around Fremantle today and came across these two exuding inimitable style in the West End.

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Saigon and Heading North: 1

The Curse of Technology

I’m cursing myself. I suppose I’m allowed a few moments of stupidity but sometimes I really wonder if I should spend my time simply being content with a good book and a bottle of wine and never being let out alone.

A few months ago I decided that the iPad, good though it is as a travelling companion, it really doesn’t have enough grunt for serious work as in editing pictures, writing text and, in particular, blogging.

Thus I bought myself a MacBook Air and immediately fell in lust with it. It’s fast, has an excellent keyboard and all the whistles and bells. I’ve got LightRoom and Silver Efex Pro loaded as well as a few other goodies which form a perfect combination.

So what did I do when I left on this trip? I decided to leave the Air and take the iPad, purely on the basis of saving a bit of weight. It quickly proved to be an error, though not a life-threatening one. I found it almost impossible to work WorkPress properly on the iPad so am at this moment trying a small experiment. That’s to say I’m writing this blog in Pages, an excellent little word processing programme in App form. Hopefully I can drop a few pictures in. We’ll see. It seems to be very ‘clunky’ so the plan will be to post little and often.

The following shot was pretty much the first cab off the rank. I have a peripheral project which is to photograph people reading newspapers. Sadly they are a diminishing breed.

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