Dennis Hopper goes to greater feast!


I don't think he was a particularly good man and not even a great actor but he was a crazy man and his madness showed on screen.  May he rest though, in peace.


Ben Dougan blogs Malaysia and on...!

SATURDAY, MAY 15, 2010

Rest of adventure in India and Malaysia.


Just in an internet cafe in Kuala Lumpur as I write, listening to house music and reminiscing! Strange! First time listening to music of my preference in nearly three months! Anyways what's happened to me...

From my last post of chilling in Pondicherry cycling aimlessly around the French colonial town eating great South Indian food, quite a bit has happened... I kicked back in India big time for the last couple of weeks. Also reading my last post back to myself I sound like the biggest pot-head in India. I wasn't, and thought whilst in India chill the hell out and get high, also get in with the culture seeing as it's in the religion! From Pondicherry I took a bus to Mamallapuram and couldn't leave for five days, was only supposed to be there for three days! but that's what a great place does to you. I was the only person staying in the hotel and was served homemade food and coffee by the woman running it. It was a cool place Mamallapuram, a really chilled place was nice before I threw myself into India's fourth largest city Chennai. Mamallapuram was full of stone carvings from little pots to life-size statue's. The woman who owned the hotel had a son who I got on really well with, who had worked in Essex for five years and just returned home. He was a stone carver and used to bomb us around on his ancient, heavy Royal Enfield - was wicked! He took me one day to his shop hoping I'd buy a huge statue to take home and put in my garden. I said I didn't want to buy anything and passed him back this little pot he gave me to look at. It was beautiful, delicately carved and would've been a nice item to take back home. On handing it over I dropped it and it smashed into 4 pieces on the floor. "You clumsy fucking bastard" I said to myself in my head knowing I had to buy it now. I tried to plead with him and say it was an accident, but he wouldn't accept that. Looking pissed off I gave him a hundred ruppees (about one pound seventy, so not much at all but when traveling everything matters!) and stormed out looking pissed off. That evening I saw him back at the hotel, and he was so cool as if nothing had happened. Just to forget it like that was so cool and something I need to adopt into my personality. Just forget about shit that's happened-no big deal-it's sorted, type of attitude. Great guy. Next day it rained torrentially for about ten minutes, that monsoon coming in, and later I caught a bus out to Chennai. I arrived in Chennai to searing humidity and sadness, as this was my last place in India I would visit before jetting out to Penang Island just off Peninsular Malaysia. I had two days in Chennai dealing with crazy traffic, heat and Indian culture. I really liked Chennai, but they really need to invest in an underground train system there, when on a bus you would drip with sweat and not have to hold onto anything, they were so crowded. I went to a botanical garden outside Chennai and it was weird looking out at the city that that chaos was going on inside there and I'm surrounding by a twisting Banyan tree and tranquility. Next day I jetted off to Malaysia. I am still processing my trip through India after two weeks of leaving. I reckon I still will until I can really think about it when I get home. What an amazing country. I can't put it into words. It taught me so much and I found a lot of answers in India that I had no idea I would learn before getting there. I would love to go back in ten years or so and see how much the country has developed. I am quite sure that most of the places I visited will have changed beyond recognition in ten years. And the population levels... it's scary to think about.

I arrived in Penang airport and caught a bus to the main town there called Georgetown. I was so culture-shocked on the bus I almost choked on my tongue! The first two things I noticed of Penang was the cleanliness and noise of that compared to India. It was so apparent straightaway that it was going to be so different to traveling in Malaysia, and it is. It's just easier. Everything is so easy here and much more developed and aimed at tourists. I arrived in Penang staring at bars full of westerners drinking Carlsberg. I had a few days in Penang and they were great. It's a cool little place but a bit quiet for me! After leaving Penang I thought I'm going to treat my trip's in Malaysia and Thailand as a sort of holiday. Not budget as fiercely as in India and just enjoy and do whatever! From Penang I headed to Langkawi, a duty-free island just below the Thai border, cheap beer and cigarettes, beautiful white beaches that look out onto smaller islands covered in tropical looking rain forests. That's another thing actually, it rains almost everyday here, but it's great! Actually been missing rain, and after ten minutes of a downpour it's bright sunshine again! I would like that to be the way back home instead of days of persistent grey rainy days. I met a great couple in Langkawi who'd been traveling nearly a year around South America, Australia and New Zealand. We hired mopeds and darted around the island - one of my best days so far of the trip. We hiked up hills, then cooled off in mountain waterfalls. I love waterfalls, and I am such a sucker for them, and tea plantations. From Langkawi I headed to Perhentian Islands. These were beautiful, and I guy who I met in India at these tiny tea plantations in Kerala! He was staying at the same hotel as me! He'd been there for a month unable to leave! We chilled out with a group of us on the beach through the day dipping into the crystal clear sea and at night got drunk on this sort of rum they drink on the island called 'Monkey Juice'. On the last night there was a fancy dress toga party, as always I got too drunk and ended up cutting my little toe open on a glass bottle, so I've been limping here, there and everywhere recently. So frustrating! I went snorkelling in Perhentian which was incredible, looking over amazing coral, diving down and following colorful fish, swimming above turtles, sting rays and reef-sharks. It's the first time I've ever done anything like that, there's a whole different world down there! I wanna explore more of it! From Perhentian with a raging hangover and a sliced open toe from the toga party the night before, I headed off to Cameron Highlands escaping the heat and to drink tea. I went to Cameron Highlands with this great American couple I met on the way to Perhentian and we chilled out together with another mid-aged German lady we met on the mini-bus on the way up. Over the last three days we've just been hiking in the rainforest, drinking tea, eating scones, looking out over luscious tea plantations and ending the day with a few beers and games of Californian dominoes! A great place, very British colonial, and a glimpse at home before I go back in like three weeks! Gonna be weird settling back into life! I arrived in Kuala Lumpur today to a busy China town selling copy's of clothes, watches, sunglasses, you name it, and lots of Chinese food. And this is where I am guys! My Malaysia escapade coming to an end in two days before I jet off to a slightly shaky, slightly violent Bangkok. I've loved Malaysia and had a great time here experiencing the culture, eating great food, meeting great people and getting great weather! Malaysia, I'll miss you!

Thanks for reading guys, I hope you are all well and happy.



From Ben's Blog-More travels in India


Indian escapade continues...


I've just read my last post back to myself, and wow, so much has happened since then. Actually a fucking lot had happened since then (hopefully the swear word will emphasise how much has happened). I just want to say thank you so much guys for the positive feedback on the blog. It's so nice to hear I'm not perspiring all over the key board in an internet cafe for nothing. Well for nothing? I suppose I'll take the blog much more for granted when I return home. But anyway, thank you and please keep the good comments coming they make me feel special :)

So... Where to begin? I think I'll start by telling everyone where I've been, and a bit of detail about each place. From my last post I mentioned I was going to Jaipur in Rajasthan, so I went there from Mumbai and stayed only for two days. It was a beautiful different place Jaipur. The heat was really dry and intense and the town felt very old. Walking around the bazaar's (bazaar another name for a market or shop) watching people's daily lives was fascinating. I would've loved to have explored the desert and towns in Rajasthan, but other places were calling out for me. After Rajasthan I hit Agra to see the milky-white glorious structure that is the Taj Mahal. I only stayed for one day in Agra and thanks God I did. When fellow traveller's tell me, "Don't go there, it's so dirty, so nasty, so... just don't go..." I usually don't listen go to these places and love them. But everyone was so right about Agra. "Arrive in the morning on the train and book a train out later on in the evening. See the Taj Mahal then get the hell out of there." Was what people told me about it. I arrived at seven in the morning and was ready to leave by noon. It's THE biggest shit-hole I've ever been to, apart from Agra Fort or the Taj of course, also there's another something just outside the town which is apparently beautiful, but apart form these 3 things a town oozing with decaying litter, sweat, blood, western holidaymakers, petrol fumes, Taj Mahal memorabilia, shit tasting chai and food, stagnant water and pestering salesmen. If you like Agra, that's fine, this is just my opinion of the place, and it's not a very high one. I walked around in the intense heat from seven till noon then went to wait out nine hours in the train station for my train to Varanasi. I just couldn't stand Agra any longer. I ended up having to wait eleven hours, but time went reasonably quickly reading the auto-biography of Don Whillans - one of the pioneers in British rock-climbing history, and chatting away to these two American traveller's I met who were studying in Bangalore but now taking a quick 3 week trip around Northern India. To Varanasi anyways. When I fist stepped off the train I was literally nearly pulled between rickshaw drivers competing for a lowest price, it was the worst place for rickshaw drivers here, nearly unbleliveable. But when I got down to the town and into this holy town, it was incredible. In Hinduism Varanasi is one of the most sacred places on the Earth. If you die here then your soul is honored in the Samsara cycle. It's one of the most intense places I've ever been to, and a really incredible experience. I loved Varanasi and met some amazing people here. I'll tell you guys about my first day actually. I was walking around mesmerized I suppose by the tiny alleyways, about the width of two people, with scooters and cows roaming around. I walked down to the River Ganges or the Ganga as Indians know it and just was captured by this slow moving sacred place. As I was walking back to my hotel I was told to have a look at this Indian guys shop. I decided to just look and not buy. After I'd looked for a bit he said "sit down sir please" I did. Then he said "Sir are you smoking ganja?" I said "Well my friend it has been known." He smiled then said "come, come friend." His uncle took over watching his shop and he led me and his other mate to a Government Hash Shop. In Varanasi cannabis is illegal I think, but everyone smokes it there. It's smoked to Lord Shiva. I'll just give a bit of run-down on that comment as I imagine people are like 'what is he going on about?' According to Hinduism, there were three God's who created the wrold. Brahman, the sole creator, the past, Vishnu the maintainer of the world, the present and Shiva the destroyer of the world, therefore essentially our future. There are many interpretations of the story, but this is the one I was told from these guys in Varanasi. The story goes that one day Shiva was so angry he almost destroyed the world. But his wife suggested he tried smoking or eating this plant to calm him down. This plant was Marijuana, and it calms Shiva down from destroying the world. Apparently he smokes in a sort of like bong, called a 'chillum' which is packed with hash and tobacco, or he eats hash in the form of 'Bhang'. Bhang are the leaves of the plant soaked in a sort of liquid then rolled into a dark-green ball, which looks like resin but is squidgy. This is why people smoke it. It's not specifically in the religion to do it, but mostly holy men and young boys use this as their tool to get unbelievably baked everyday, in hour of Lord Shiva. And this is what these guys were on about having, bhang. I took some bhang, smoked a chillum and drank chai with these dudes, who do it everyday, after twenty minutes was feeling really 'nasha' (Hindi word for being stoned). We went to play cricket, which I had never done feeling like this, I just wanted to mong out and eat some crisps, but we played a fiercely competitive game of cricket down by the river Ganga. It was great game apart from not really knowing what the hell was going on. I bowled alright, but I knew I wouldn't be able to bat like this. I forced them to put me right down the order, and as the wickets tumbled I thought 'shit it's gonna be up to me isn't it.' And surely it was, I need 1 off 4 deliveries, and being the last man in I was our only hope. It's not much to ask, but in this state it's like 6 off 1 delivery. I missed the first two, with everyone crowding me shouting 'come on just hit the ball!' then the next delivery just managed to get a thick outside edge on it and push the winning single. A massive sigh of relief for me and the team, and one of the most pressurising moments in cricket I have ever experienced. I decided to sit the next one out. The next few days I walked around meeting people and seeing the burning ghats, (places where they burn the bodies, then they are thrown into the ganga)river ghats and temples of Shiva. I left Varanasi with a longing to one day return meet up with those guys, get nasha and have another game of intense cricket! I could write moments like this about everywhere, but for me this day really stood out. From Varanasi I worked my way up to the foothills of the Himalayas to rest and drink tea in the beautiful town of Darjeeling. I thought Darjeeling would be more interesting but it was so touristy and so misty so I never really got chance to gaze and eat breakfast at the mighty Kangchengzonda (3rd highest peak in the world, I think?) and the surrounding Himalayan range. Also the tea was good, but not the best which I was surprised about, I thought it would be amazing. It pissed it down the second day I was there and when the rain cleared I saw the Kangchengzonda range. Only for a minute or so, but it was incredible. Just searing blades of snow covered rock rising up and up. It was a magnificent spectacle and I now would love to go to Nepal. I finished reading Don Whillans' auto-biography in Darjeeling, funny co-incidence reading his adventures in the Himalayas when they were right there in front of me, and what an amazing life he had led. I recommend the book to anyone. From Darjeeling I went to Kolkata which I more or less fell in love with. I think it is my most favorite city so far in India. It is immensely over-populated but there is still such a sense of space, with big cricket fields, and large green open spaces. The British colonial architecture has really been kept in tact, and some buildings look exactly like you find in any small town or city in the UK. That Roman inspired Victorian structure. I really liked my time in Kolkata and would like to return one day. I went to Kalighat Temple there, that was an incredible experience. I saw a goat sacrificed, people shouting and crying at pictures of Kali - the wife of Shiva. It was a big day out and lot to take in! After Kolkata I caught a train to Puri, a beach side town in the state of Orissa just below Kolkata on the coast. In Puri I wanted to do two things, work on my rapidly fading tan and smoke the legal hash that they have there. I think Orissa is the only state in India where hash is legal and it's sold at two government ganja shops in Puri alone. And I did get high, and I did get sunburnt. It was great here. One day I hired a bike and cycled the 36km to a village called Konark to see the temples there. It turned out to be a great ride there, but back I had to fix the chain 8 times! And cycling back along the same road, it loses something. From Puri I headed to Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa and a very holy place. I was there for a day only before catching the train to Chennai. I sat in a small botanical garden, surrounded by these ancient temples reading Oscar Wilde's plays. 'This is how I spend my Monday' I thought. I got the train later on to Chennai and had my first flux of traveller's diarrhoea. It had to happen on the train didn't it. And to put the cherry on the cake I couldn't get a seat so had to share a twenty hour train journey with three other Indian blokes. I recovered after a few hours of running to train toilet and arrived in an incredibly humid Chennai. I caught a bus out of Chennai to Puducherry, a French colonial town and a beautiful town. It's like the nearest to France you can get whilst staying put in India. I'm headed to Mamallapuram in the next few days, then to Chennai for a couple of days before flying to Penang in Malaysia on May 5th. Exciting times ahead of me!

Thanks for reading guys, I really do appreciate it. Take care x



The cynicism of our politicians

Strange to be hearing these labour politicians saying ‘we must respect the decision of the electorate’ and shuffling to present themselves as honourable, humble and full of the spirit of service. The reality is a cynical ploy to push the Liberal Democrats into the arms of the Tory Party in order that Labour can re-group in 12 months time free from the responsibilities of having taken part in the proposed cuts in public services and give the other parties a hammering in the next election.
It’s another example of how the party purporting to represent working men and women has sunk to a state in which principle is worth nothing and all is sacrificed to the machinations of power. It is evidence yet again of the terribly corrosive nature of our politics on the natures of those drawn to participate in its games. Strategy-games, mind-games, spinning games, money games and of course let us not forget their war-games. There is not a member of the Labour cabinet who I would consider buying a second hand bike from, with the possible exception of Hilary Benn.
Millennia ago the Greek philosopher Plato suggested in his manual of governance ‘The Republic,’ that the leaders or guardians (politicians) of the society should live lives of simple and ascetic discipline. They should own no property and live in communal communities. The simple reason for these safeguards, according to Plato, was the essential truth that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our politicians seem living, walking embodiments of that truth. Though we must remember Garibaldi who held power twice and walked away from it twice.
However, better to light one candle than curse the darkness as Ghandi said. One such candle for me is the election of Caroline Lucas of the Green Party as MP for Brighton Pavilion. I’ve listened to Caroline speak on several issues over the years and she has always presented as someone who matches principle to pragmatism and speaks with a thoughtfulness and compassion astonishingly rare in our political discourse. Congratulations to her. She and the Green Party have the support of Heart of Balance Blog until such time as The Party for the Propagation of Poetry and Cycling comes into being. And well done Brighton-you’ve shown that you really are cool.
The other slightly guttering candle is the fact that all BNP candidates lost their deposit which is a great relief and one in the eye for those who proposed a new creeping wave of fascism was succeeding in fomenting hatred and division in our cities. Not this time Mr Griffin (a really creepy fellow.)
So what’s next? The low hanging fruit of coalescing politics? The intertwining gasses of Cleggy and Cameronian farty-bollocks? Not for me. I’m packing my panniers. I’m moving to Brighton.

PS:  It's a done deal with the tories-but Vince Cable as Business Secretary, with responsibility for overhauling the banks?  They've got to be shitting their pants!  Come on Vince!




One starlit night our love-song slipped
Out an open window [that
I had forgotten to make tight]

Slipped out to frolic beneath the moon
And danced all wild till dawn slipped jewels
Like wedding rings on fronds of grass

And back she came-a homing bird
A swallow cross a mighty sea
Back home safe and secret-safe

     Clothed in glittering memories