Sunday, February 19, 2006

Blasts From The Past

Let’s do these in chronological order. First off is this head-shot which I had taken when I was standing for Vice-President of my Student Union. Everyone else was making do with the mug-shots from the photobooth, but Simon was a bit of a photography buff (back in the days when this meant knowing exposure lengths and swilling bits of paper around in trays of foul-smelling chemicals under infra-red illumination!) and he offered to do me a photo shoot. Here is the shot that was used for the (successful!) campaign. It was taken in 1989, so I would have been a fresh-faced twenty years old at the time.

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Now we’re into my travels as a Tour Manager.

This first picture is my first view over Hong Kong; taken from my hotel window, the morning after we arrived, looking out over Kowloon Harbour to the mainland. Sadly the image doesn’t do justice to the impression that Hong Kong made on me that first night. It was only the second country I’d ever visited as a Tour Manager (the first being a season in a hotel in Spain. ) Suddenly I was on the other side of the world, in tropical climes and totally responsible for navigating myself and a group of twenty-odd partially-sighted travellers (which is another story entirely!) around the highlights of the orient; it was quite a moment for me.

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A few days later we were in Bangkok where I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the many Temples which litter the city; they literally sparkled, with gold leaf, coloured glass and bright mirror-tile mosaic decoration everywhere you turned. Here you see a close up of the base of Wat Phra Kaew’s great golden Chedi.

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We also enjoyed some more ‘rural’ entertainments… here I am playing with a snake.Saga_042

Later in the trip we drove up-country to Kanchanaburi. We rode on the Death Railway and visited the museum to the prisoners-of-war who built it. We even saw the famous ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ (picture.) However the most poignant part of the trip was the war cemetery; one of the group was a WWII veteran who had lost friends to the Death Railway and, looking around at the endless rows of memorial stones, the realisation that most of the people commemorated were younger than I was at that time brought home the horrible reality of war far better than any of the accounts I’d ever read.

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The following month I was in Beijing with a different group. China struck me as odd in many ways; there were the sharp divides between the five-star western hotels lining the main boulevards and the incredibly poor single-story traditional houses around courtyards just a block or two back from the modern splendour. You were constantly reminded that you were in the heart of a communist country; unsurprisingly the face of Chairman Mao was everywhere around his tomb in the vastness of Tiananmen Square.

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Yet, at one end of that great square is the decaying imperial grandeur of The Forbidden City, where tourists are encouraged to come and spend their dollars with enterprising street vendors and souvenir stalls, while in the far corner you could eat at a branch of McDonalds; the gross epitome of American capitalism.

We did venture out of Beijing on a couple of trips, the most memorable being to the Great Wall of China; another awe-inspiring, yet sadly much decayed monument of this fascinating country.

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