Life in Malta, Part 1: Problems and Solutions

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Welcome to my first post from the sunny country of Malta! Where’s that, you ask? Chances are that unless you’re European, have visited relatives in southern Italy, or happen to have worked on a cruise line around the Mediterranean, you probably aren’t 100% clear on where this country is. Well, it’s here. If you ask what I’m doing, the short is that I’m a scuba diving travel journalist. For the long, read two posts down, an entry titled “Exciting News!” which is conveniently…here.

I’m living on an island, and you know what they say about that! “When you’re on an island, you figure out how to solve all your problems because there’s nowhere to run to—you’re stuck.” Actually I have no idea what they say about islands except that a lot of people want to leave. Strangely enough, Malta will solve all of your problems! I picked common fears, phobias, addictions, and problems folks in the world face these days, and I have to say that this island country has truly provided answers—no, not just answers, but real-world solutions—to all the problems I could possibly imagine.

 

Problem: You’ve got a gambling addiction and can’t bear the thought of being away from gambling, or at least not having casinos nearby.

Solution: There are mini-casinos all over town. Seriously, if you walk down a street you’ll find a mini-mart, a butcher, a hair salon, a mini-casino, and a shoe shop. Called Fairplay or Bestplay, these tiny “stores” have about 5-7 slot machines and are nestled in high-class, frosted-glass storefronts. Open most of the day. Obviously for addicts. Come on! Also, there are three regular casinos, a horse track, and loads of online better companies that run betting all over the world. Then there are bingo and slot floors in small shopping malls, hotels, and more. I know it’s common in Europe, but it is definitely weird to me to plan a trip to buy a shirt, a rack of lamb, and some candlesticks, and then stop into these undercover-looking rooms to use slot machines.

Problem: Global warming? It’s a huge problem, yes it is! And what’s being done about it?

Solutions: Don’t worry; every time I jump in the water to go diving, the world’s water level rises 1.46 inches. Statistical fact. 

Problem: You’re sick of all the NYC sheep wearing their white headphones 24/7, completely oblivious and unable to hear you even when you try to be nice and tell them they dropped their pink iPhone cover.

Solution: Almost no one owns iPods, iTouches, iPhones, or even MP3 players in general here, so don’t think they’re not hearing you; they’re simply ignoring you. Oh no, wait, those are just French tourists being rude. Nevermind.

Problem: You don’t understand these solutions. There not helpful, you say!

Solution: Read something else. A grammar book, for starters.

Problem: You’re watching your figure and don’t want to have your flab showing while in your bikini.

Solution: No worries! Everyone here is on a strict diet of pasta and bread, so looking pregnant under the afternoon sun helps you fit in.

Problem: You’re superstitious and are worried about black cats, the number 13, and all that jazz.

Solution: In Malta there’s almost always construction going on, and almost never anyone on the ground directing traffic. Cranes are overhead holding heavy objects above your head, road crews are oblivious to the backhoe clawing a foot away from your car, etc. There’s so much construction, in fact, that whenever you walk the city streets, the likelihood that you’re walking under multiple ladders is about 103%. And I haven’t even told you about the…oh shoot, wha—

Problem: Your vote doesn’t count unless you leave in Ohio or Pennsyltucky. Whatever. You want to live in a free country where they listen to the people.

Solution: There’s a big election coming up in Malta, and the politicians are advertising heavily on the billboards. If you want to know how they vote, read it here: http://bit.ly/VJHc8S. What are their stances? Labour laws, the economy, no divorce, domestic v—wait, no to divorce? Where am I???

Problem: There’s a company here called Enemalta.

Solution: The solution is in the name! Actually it’s an energy company, but in a largely English-speaking country…research those words, people!

 

Well anyhow, I better get back to work. Around here you’ll see some photos of hikes, famous cliffs, the sea, a trained falcon, old Maltese cliff homes, and more. Next up will be a bit of photography from my lovely hikes around this island, the villages of Malta, and snaps of me riding on a Segway around cliffs. Seriously.

 

Cheers,

Coop

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PHOTOS – Southeast Asia Part 6

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Taken in Ratanakiri Province and Siem Reap, Cambodia

Photo captions below, by number:

(1) A worker in the mining fields. Also, um…one of my favorites.

(2) “You go down in the hole now.” Yeah, one of the guys invited me to go 120 feet down (no harness) into this hole to bring up buckets of dirt. I politely declined.

(3) Raw gems I found while mining! This is after I showered, of course, and got the orange dirt off of me.

(4) Amazing root.

(5) I always wanted to walk behind a waterfall.

(6) From behind the waterfall.

(7) Hidden statue ruins.

(8) Another cool tree root.

(9) …and another.

(10) Next time you think of complaining about how small your apartment is…

(11)

(12)

(13) Kids in a minority village.

(14) My jungle guide/ranger/former soldier of the Khmer Rouge.

(15) The traditional high houses for the unwed. There’s no way to stand up in these things, they’re so small.

(16)

(17) I enjoyed the lake, but…

(18) …the changing rooms didn’t quite cover necessary parts of the body.

(19) In another minority village where we showered under a bamboo waterfall.

(20) A worker in the mining fields. Also, um…one of my favorites.

(21) “You go down in the hole now.” Yeah, one of the guys invited me to go 120 feet down (no harness) into this hole to bring up buckets of dirt. I politely declined.

My Southeast Asia Trip Part 9 (But I’ve still got one more a’comin’. Note, not trip)! .

Hi everyone!

I was planning on sending an update while still in Vietnam, but alas, I didn’t have time to type anything before my flight left. I flew from Vietnam to Taiwan to Alaska to New York. It was a long and strange flight path to be sure, but just smelling that Palin-Alaskan air renewed my spirit and made me want to go shoot a moose and/or have an illicit baby, so believe it or not, I’m HOME! I spent one night in the city, then came up to where my folks live in good ol’ Pleasant Valley. I ate a lot. I started telling stories, then realized that I had written a good many letters home that I could share instead. Some got forwarded here anyway, so I have quite a few to share. I thought I’d get them out and show them to you just so you get a peek into some of my more personal rantings.

Oh, and here’s one more thing I’ve got to share, because I think it’s fascinating. Did you know that Christmas is huge in Vietnam? I mean huge. There are decorations nearly everywhere, holiday pajamas being worn, and salesgirls wearing filtration masks and dressed in prosticute little santa-ess dresses that barely reach the mid-thigh. It’s a naughty version of Christmas that just seems wrong. You know what’s even more wrong? The Vietnamese singing Christmas carols. You can order up your special holiday music performed just for you in one of two incredible ways: Sung in Vietnamese and syllabically misaligned, or, even better, sung in English like this:

Jin-gle bews, Jing-gle bews,
Jin-gle aw da way,
Oh whas Ph??? is is to rie
In a one hohse o-pen say, HEY!

It’s a terrible experience. Reading my note can’t be much worse. Enjoy!

Dear French people,
It’s not that you’re trying to be rude. It’s just that you’re in your own little world of superiority. You don’t even notice other people, and it’s almost as if you walk through us than past us. Normally when meeting people I can have a normal conversation and decide if you’re interesting or not. With you, it’s like you’re in a members-only la-la land. You definitely rub people the wrong way. You’re weird.

Dear Cambodia,
You are a place where futures are today and careers are hammock lounging. Even the monks seem to be lazy, doing their morning alms at 9, 10, or even 11 in the morning. When I see markets in any country, my heart starts beating faster as I always want to jump in and see what I can find. Here, in your country, I have no desire to. Everything is the same. You don’t even try to look different, setting up every stall alike. I know what you’re selling from 50 feet away and because there are only about 10 dishes to choose from in the entire country, I’ve had whatever you’re hawking many times before, which still doesn’t make it tasty. Other than your complete lack of enthusiasm for life, you also alienate everyone with your constant request for money and your most obnoxious taxi/tuk-tuk/moto drivers. Never before have I not wanted to get out and explore a city so much as in your capital city, Phnom Penh. Not only was there almost nothing to see, but the constant harassment one faced by simply walking outside was enough to make me want to stay inside. The fact that you people wage light physical assaults on your own kind in order to sell a $1 soda makes me feel a little bit better, but still makes me sad. As does the fact that there are always about eight of you all hired to do a one-person job. Look, I know you went through terrible times. I cannot even begin to imagine what the older generation of your country went through and lives with to this day. But at some point you have to have a reason for living, a purpose, something your country is known for other than a huge ruin that’s been there for centuries. Your current generation has to do something you can be proud of, or make use of, or something, don’t you think? While I understand how your horrific background has resulted in your complacency today, your in-your-face hunger for money simply alienates me, you’re full of no innovation, and you offer little that surrounding countries don’t do better. I’m sorry to say this, but I have no desire to visit you again.

Dear Vietnam,
Compared to Cambodia, you are a futuristic country. You have such modern marvels as:

Jobs
Things to do
Careers
Toilets and showers that aren’t merged closer than Siamese twins
Activities involving things other than sitting in a hammock
Styles other than pajamas
Places to go
Technology
Lives
Variety
Soap
The habit of brushing one’s teeth
Visitors other than the French
A few more things

But for you and Cambodia both, every single place is looked at not as a place of beauty, or a place to respect or be proud of, but as another money opportunity. I suppose that once again I can’t blame you too much for wanting money, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain. You aggressively try to get tourist dollars at any and all points along a trip. At the beginning of a boat trip. On the boat. In the middle of the boat trip, when I’m stuck in a floating tourist trap. Before I get on the bus, just in case I changed my mind in the last 14.1 seconds and do want to purchase that giant tablecloth. Oh, we need a bathroom break? We’ll get out at this rest stop for 20 minutes, and that’s not to relieve anyone of the oddly settled meal we may have had the other night, but to get us to roam a handicrafts store and purchase something out of boredom, which I refuse.
On your good side, you have several things going for you. First, I’m always shocked that you can smile and welcome us Americans. Perhaps it’s because you won the war, but the fact that you don’t hate me and are able to treat me like everyone else is really shocking. I keep expecting an attitude change once your people learn that I’m from the previous enemy country, but apparently you have forgiven.
You have absolutely stunning views all over. My train trip gave me a look into the side that tourists don’t see too often, that is, your raw, wild countryside. It definitely makes me want to go back, but next time, take it easy on trying to get my money, will you?

Dear Kenny G,
I still don’t know why you exist.

Dear Tourist,
Sure you want to travel, to explore the world. That’s fine and all, but I bet you could get a lot more done if you didn’t spend a good chunk of your time bragging about where you’ve been and how many countries you’ve crossed off your list. Hint: You haven’t seen a country just because you’ve visited or even lived in the largest city for a while. In what way is that representative of a country, its land, its people? Oh, so you know exactly what the U.S. is like because you’ve visited NYC, eh? Goodness, try really seeing a country for what it really is.
If you enjoy taking the common tours and seeing the sites, that’s fine and dandy. I’m not saying I’m better than you, or that you’re a bad person. Just don’t pretend or tell others that you’re breaking new ground and seeing “undiscovered” places. You’re never gonna find ’em, and you know why? Because you, like everyone else, are using your Lonely Planet guide. “Oh, Lonely Planet is the best out there, and I really trust it.” That’s all well and good, but not only does Lonely Planet accept bribes for higher placement in its tour books (as I’m sure all of the guidebook companies do), but everyone, and I mean that almost literally, has them. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve seen with guidebooks, only three, that’s right, three, have had a non-Lonely Planet guide. These three were all French, because the French are so superior that they also have their own guidebook. Essentially, what this means is that all of you travelers are reading the exact same thing. This means you’re all reading the same “secrets,” all going to the same “rarely visited” places, etc. And you think you’re exploring? The real adventurers I met were the couple who biked from England to Vietnam. The young woman who snuck into Tibet several times. The guy working several years in countries from Estonia to Fiji. If you want to do the normal stuff, that’s fine. Just don’t go telling me that you’re forging new territory, because you’re not at all. “Oh, we’re going our own way and doing the tour ourselves!” you say proudly, knowing you’re truly an explorer. You’re not, really. Sure, you’re taking the more challenging, exciting, and risky route, but you’re still all going to the exact same place in the end, doing the same thing, and haggling for prices with the same tourist-familiar guides. You know what village life is like because you slept over for a night. You witnessed a “real” tribal dance. You did this and that. Sorry, but even the government admits that these things are all set up to get tourist dollars, and that these ceremonies are rarely performed for real.
I’m not saying you’re not having fun, or not seeing things, or that you’re a bad person, or need to change your ways. I’m just saying, dude, don’t make it seem like you’ve actually explored, or gone off the beaten path, or met the real people of the country. Because, as it turns out, you haven’t been a trendsetter, but rather a follower like nearly everyone else.

Dear Cats,
You think your life is so tough, don’t you? Sometimes when you’re sleeping for your 25th hour of the day, one of your masters makes you get up and move to another couch. Or worse yet, you only get half of the tuna drippings. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another. Well you know what? Try thinking of those less fortunate than you. The cats in Thailand and Malaysia get their tails chopped off for good luck. Sometimes they get them knotted and then chopped, leaving one heck of a demented-looking stub. Few cats escape without such treatment. So consider that next time you whine about not having your premium Kibbles ‘n’ Bits served to you in a crystal goblet.

Dear Mom,
Seriously, you really thought I’d lose weight?

Dear Karaoke,
It’s amazing what you say about a country. Somehow, through your corny music, you manage to represent the very being of every place I visited.
For you, Thailand, it’s mostly just happy music, though 99% of the time it’s about searching for love. Your country is infatuated with this constant search for love, but your tradition says you’re not allowed to show any of this love in public, so you don’t even kiss your hubby goodbye in the morning. Still, in the land of smiles, it’s the anyone-can-sing-as-long-as-he/she-wants, happy-go-lucky approach. Just like the country, in Thailand you represent happiness, a search for love, and a low-stress way of life.
For Malaysia, oh right, Islamic women aren’t really supposed to sing, so what few karaoke places there are remain dominated by male singers. One karaoke incident there recently featured two men who were arrested for the murder of Abdul Sani Doli, a man who apparently sang too long and got penalized for hogging the microphone. Messed up. I haven’t heard your music, but despite the natural beauty of your country, your corrupt government and the slightly peculiar ways of your people unfortunately describe you to a T.
When you play in Cambodia, you’re rather pathetic, and the fact that no one actually sings to you is quite sadly bizarre. Your music videos are a stretch, to be polite. Pretty much every video features the same stage full of people (often looking uninterested) and doing the same slow dance. They don’t even look happy when the low-def. camera is featuring them! I know the Khmer people went through a horrific event, but after 30 years, can’t someone try something unique? In this country, you really show yourself as the dull, uncreative, stuck-in-the-medieval-times country you are.
When in Vietnam, you are screechy and obnoxious, but varied. You show your soft side and your tough side. Not just a tad in-your-face, the Vietnamese version of you plays fairly nonstop. I’m not sure if it’s more or less palatable than the Cambodian version, but given that the Vietnamese language is pitch-based, I’m going to hand the annoying prize to Vietnam. At one point I really thought I was going to join the deaf community with your fingernails-on-chalkboard squawking. Your music in Vietnam is just like the country. Diverse, tough, victorious, yearning, and more.
All in all, I’m not a fan of your musi. But the ability for a country to display its personality through your medium is quite fascinating.

Dear Dead People,
Sometimes you’re open to new suggestions, and sometimes you’re not. I mean, when you’re alive. Well, I just want to help educate the public, and inform you that you now have two choices for burial. The Southeast Asian special is a more typical burial style, involving less luxury but more freedom of choice. Of course, you’re dead, so you ain’t got no choice, but hear me out. You can have your typical Southeast Asian burial where you’re wrapped in a simple cloth, placed maybe a foot underground, and given a huge stone coffin box to mark your spot. And you’re placed on a hill. If you’re in Vietnam when your time comes, hopefully you don’t mind sitting amidst the rice, because that’s where you’ll be. Cost of option one: your life.
But for a special offer of only 27 payments of $39.99 (plus shipping, handling, and your life), you can get bathed, dressed, and placed in a shelf-stable wooden coffin. And buried below the ground, not on a hill, because unlike the simple burial, please do realize that with any Poltergeist-like flood, ol’ granny cakes could come a’rollin’ through the front door wearing little clothing. And that’s just not cool.

Dear Temporary Mom in Malaysia,
You were so kind and generous in sharing your home, your family, your food. You taught me so much and helped me learn about your country and your people while I lived with you. But then you turned a tad crazy, playing the blame game, going on many a rant, and insisting you didn’t know hugely important bits of info related to, oh, life and/or my safety. I admire you tremendously, but yeah, you’re sort of crazy, and the fascination with mopping will always confuse me. It’s a somewhat useless, vicious cycle. You and all of Southeast Asia have this no-shoes rule, which is commonly known. But then you do the whole mopping thing, which causes me to slip and fall, and really doesn’t serve a purpose. You see, mopping removes hardened dirt and sticky stuff. Hardened dirt and sticky stuff occur when stuff gets dirty while wet. This doesn’t occur in normal conditions. But when you mop, it leaves the floor wet, and then the dirt accumulates from bare feet – no matter how clean – walking on a wet surface. You therefore have to keep mopping and mopping since you don’t ever let the floor dry before re-nastying it up. Also P.S., mopping doesn’t actually CLEAN. It redistributes things like dirt particles, crumbs, and hairs. Sweeping was invented for a reason. But thanks for making it completely nasty every time I walked in your house and especially your bathroom.

Dear Village in Thailand,
I complained about you left and right. Your food was terrible and I didn’t feel as useful as I could have been. Except for those things, though, you were exactly what I wanted. During my first week there, I went for a walk, turned a corner, and gasped at your beauty. Never before have I nearly hyperventilated at a view, but I did just that. Living there was stress-free. No computers, no hassles, no unnecessary anything. You knew these things existed but kept life simple and pure. We practically lived off the land, but with a few modern conveniences, such as electricity. Your people were very kind. Your teachers, very dedicated. The food outside your village, delicious. The rest of Thailand, absolutely beautiful. I may have complained while I was there, but you are what I thought about during the rest of my trip, and you’re what I wanted to go back to. I felt so safe, calm, and comfortable in this place so completely opposite my world. You are the most gorgeous place I have ever visited, and I will never forget you.

Dear Thailand Music Videos,
Just thought I’d drop you a line telling you that I really, really love your music videos. The fact that the people lip syncing and performing the songs are not the actual singers is a terrific idea, because who wouldn’t want to see Kid Rock act out a Nickelback song?

Well that’s all for now. You thought you’d escape with this being my last note, but no, I’ve got a summary coming next week. It just wouldn’t be proper to leave without reaching my full annoying potential, so you’ll be getting one more note from me.

And to answer your question, pizza was the first thing I meant to eat when I landed, but my brother brought me a brownie which was so good that I teared up. I’m not even kidding.

It’s really time to go now. There are people to talk to, lounging around to do, and, oh, a life plan to figure out at some point. But not now. Time to go and fill my hungry stomach with pure, fatty goodness.

For the second to last time,
Coop

PHOTOS – Southeast Asia Part 5

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Taken in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot, Kep, and other bitty towns, Cambodia.

Photo captions below, by number:

(1) If you guessed that this is Angkor Wat, you guessed correctly.

(2) Oh sure, if I was a father I would fish in my undies with my butt-naked son in front of the ruins, why not?

(3) Angkor Thom

(4) A girl helping sell bananas, and with such a pretty, innocent look!

(5) Big tree.

(6) Not a bad picture op while you’re having delicious mangoes cut up for you!

(7) Sorry, another monkey picture…he stuck his tongue out at me! This before the mauling, of course.

(8) A mother, son, and daughter with terrible teeth. Be thankful there’s no closeup.

(9) …and laughing at the results on my pal’s camera…this one cracks me up.

(10) More Angkor…deserted. Awesome.

(11) Daily life in the country.

(12) One of my fav.

(13) On the island.

(14) Sunset on the island.

(15) A boy’s life.

(16) You had to be there.