Thor's Travel Notes
All ideas expressed in Thor's Travel Notes and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.

... As a traveler, you must have a Quest. It doesn't matter much what the quest is. This is a kind of psychological equivalent to the boring job that everyman plods off to each day, or the routine of housework which every housewife persuades herself is central to an ordered universe. It is also why tourist agencies stay in business, inventing routines for people who lack the imagination to dream them up themselves. You can hunt for unusual bottle tops or collect kinky cigarette lighters. The point is, when you have a goal, you have an excuse to kick in other people's heads, starve yourself for a world record, or head off to the South Pole. Once embarked on a journey of the heart, or of shoe leather, the world is coloured with meaning, no matter that your destination may be, after all, a mirage...

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Why write at all? One of the paradoxes of writing is that it typically takes longer to describe an event on paper than to actually do it. James Joyce certainly did not write Ulysses in the twenty-four hours of a Dubliner's life he purports to encapsulate. It is a seeming paradox because we persist with the idea that crafted language is no more than a representation of events...

2. Traveler on a Leash or a Free Spirit?: A fake interview 

Q : Where do you live ?
A : I live inside my head. In gracious moments a scintilla of otherworldly oddments are invited in for tea and biscuits. About body stuff, my home is where my bed is, and always has been...

3. Cambodian snippet (1996) 

The taxi driver was... well, no taxi driver. He was obviously a very intelligent man who spoke excellent English. He was driving a white, very late model car which MIGHT have been a taxi, but I suppose that in a town like this on the very frontier of "civilization", if you wanted to know what was coming into your territory, then the best place to plant your intelligence officers would be on an erstwhile flight greeting service. I am only supposing of course...

4. Memories of Afghanistan (1971)

..this truly was the abrupt partition of worlds. South, somewhere over those unthinkable mountains was the steaming monsoon world of South Asia with its tropical profusion and teeming millions. From here to an unmeasured bleak north you would find only scattered remnants of humanity, or life of any kind. A harsh world of fierce pride and careful conservation, where precious water came from dark places deep in the earth...

5. Letter from East Timor (1971)

Late in the afternoon the supply barge from Dili is still there, half full. It will be unloaded, well, manyana manyana, and the labourers are playing tag like children in the shallow water. They are pleased, when we ask, to let us scramble onto the lorry with the gasoline drums. Travel on these roads is a violent experience, and I have to hang onto the tailboard with three fingers. Then of course, I want to blow my nose, which is tickling, but dare not let go...

6. Journey by Train in India(1971)

"What's wrong with me..", I found myself muttering, as I crouched back amongst the dhotis on the swaying carriage floor...

7. Background Information on New Guinea

My neighbours tut-tutted at the daily risk I took on a forty-minute jog past kampongs and galvanized iron shacks, up to a jail by a stony river bed. I can still smell the smoke from acrid cooking fires in the early tropical evenings, and remember the ragged kids playing under palm trees by the roadside. My neighbours were right of course. The risks were real, and monthly incident reports from the university security service were a grim reminder. But my evening runs were in the real PNG. The campus was on another planet...

8. Expedition to Snake River, PNG

Our convoy was waved down by a lapun (village elder) just before we entered Tawiane. Traditionally Morobe clans have no chiefs. The story goes that when white men first turned up and demanded to see the headman, the locals would shove forward the village idiot to see what happened to him. Anyway, this little old man claimed to speak for the people, and negotiated our entry fees at K5.00 per head for accommodation (eventually reduced to K2.50 because the roof leaked) and K5.00 per head for visiting rights...

9. Running for Life - PNG 1985

Now the road was a gauntlet, and the walls of rich, poisonous green seemed pregnant with danger. My hand sweated a little on the rock, and I ran steadily on the crest of the road’s camber. After seven or eight minutes there was a sudden rustle in the long kunai grass. I half swung around, baring the rock, and glared into the lattice of grass and shadow.

10. On The Road,  1971

The truck drops me miles outside of Moss Vale, and off the main road as I find out to my chagrin. So I hump the pack, all sixty pounds of the bastard, three miles along a deserted road. There are some cross-roads, and a junk shop. A junk shop for christsake in the middle of deserted fields. I am dying of thirst. Some old codger says this isn’t the way to the highway. You have to go two miles back up the road and turn off to the left. I trudge back half mile before another character confirms my first suspicion. The old codger is nuts.

But I meet the ancient again. He seems to have forgotten sending me on a useless detour, but knows a parched man when he sees one, so we go to his hut for a cuppa’ tea. That means over a fence and through a cow paddock. The hut is on a rise with a vegetable garden outside protected by wire netting. Inside I notice cobwebs, a kerosene lamp, and a big pile of firewood in the corner...


China, winter 2000 :

1. Flying to Kunming least there was someone to talk to; (it is remarkable how rarely airline passengers will really talk to you. Something has changed since the days of long train journeys..). We did indeed take off this time, up into the cold grey clouds. The whole way we saw cold grey clouds, until descending we saw a land blanketed in white, the "land of eternal spring", as every travel reference brands Kunming...

2. Kunming by Shanks-Pony

When I first come to a city I am apt to do a lot of walking, and so it was with Kunming. The sense of proportion you get about a place from shanks pony is quite different from that on four footed pony, bicycle, bus or limousine. On this day I guess I walked for about ten hours altogether...

3. Kunming Cycle

The Camellia Hotel reputedly had bicycles for hire. Sure enough, the gatekeeper, with nothing else to do, had a stack of machines in a shed. Well, a machine is a functional object. His jumble of metallic junk hardly qualified. There were a handful of more or less roadworthy vehicles, but they belonged to staff and weren't for hire. I tried to pick apart the remaining wreckage. In the right frame of mind you might have even felt nostalgia for some of these old bikes, a sort of rear vision view of a failed evolutionary path...

4. Journey to Dali

With my arms full of bags, and a folded up trolley, I sort of staggered sideways, like Mr. Bean on holiday. When a No.4 minibus duly pulled up, packed to the gills, I barely managed to wedge my way in through the door, poking various people in the eye as I went, and then bulldozed a path through the crowd, dragging the bags across their bodies, to a clearer space down towards the back...

to be continued ..


The stuff in these Travel Notes really is raw material. That is, anything approaching art in their expression is purely accidental. If they have a narrative structure, it is the simple flow of time passing. You will search in vain for a plot, for brave beginnings, or for endings which bring more closure than going to bed with cold toes. In fact, looking at this material with a distant eye, its only unifying theme is often the gloomy catalogue of one cheap hotel room after another. My excuse for posting it on the net is that a) you just might find some occasional useful comment on a place you are heading for, and b) lodged up there in cyberspace, I can mine it myself for writing ideas from anywhere on the planet, without dragging around a library.

Most of the existing Travel Notes actually apply to summer and winter trips which I undertook through China in 2000. These are a day by day slog, and will be added progressively as I get around to typing them up. There's also a snippet from Cambodia, and other oddments are likely to appear in the months or years ahead. I particularly want to get down diary notes from my first great adventure, overland from Sydney to London through Asia in 1971, but the material is buried in boxes elsewhere right now, so might be years coming.And now some noble self-justification ....Why write at all? One of the paradoxes of writing is that it typically takes longer to describe an event on paper than to actually do it. James Joyce certainly did not write Ulysses in the twenty-four hours of a Dubliner's life he purports to encapsulate. It is a seeming paradox because we persist with the idea that crafted language is no more than a representation of events. If that were true, then no one would read more than bus timetables. But a lived event, in the end, has more to do with quantum theory than sweat. That is, it becomes real, significant, even stimulating, purely because some alert mind is observing and shaping it.

With five billion or more conscious human minds out there, our existence should be humming with excitement. Now maybe I've missed something, but a half century of close watching has persuaded me that the 24 hour cinescreen running past the eyes of those five billion people is, overwhelmingly, barely registered on their minds. They mostly have dull lives, not so much because the routine of existence is often dull, but because their brains have not seized upon whatever comes to hand and fashioned a symphony of the imagination. My struggle and my joy is to create such a symphony, gradually, working and reworking raw perception until a resonance is found. I am no Joyce, my reservoir of talent is fragile, but in the struggle to write, however crudely, I become more alive than blunt animal senses could ever grasp.

Busan, South Korea
September 2001

writing & photography on this site is
   copyrighted © Thorold (Thor) May 2005
   all rights reserved,

thormay AT  

The Passionate Skeptic 
[and what this website stands for ..]

Doubt well, do what you can, then let it be. Presidents, priests, wage slaves, hustlers, men and women, kids, we all live by the grace of those we love to despise...

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