I’ve won $8.5m! (introducing Cecil Gullibert)

I’m so happy! I just spotted this in my junk-mail! Imagine if I’d missed it!

From: Mr. Oosthuizen [vipjdphd@gmail.com]
Sent: 22 January 2014 18:41
Subject: Re: pl

International Monetary Fund (IMF)
54 bis, route des Acacias
Case postale 1516
CH-1227 Geneva


I am Mr. Oosthuizen of IMF Head Office Switzerland.

Your email appeared among the beneficiaries, who will receive a
part-payment of your contractual sum of $8.5 Million US Dollars and
has been approved already for months. You are requested to get back to
me for more direction and instruction on how to receive your
fund. However, we received an email from one Mrs. Virgie Brown who
told us that she is your next of kin and that you died in a car
accident last week. She has also submitted her account for us to
transfer the fund to her. We want to hear from you before we can make
the transfer to confirm if you are dead or not.

Please in confirmation that you are still alive, you are advised to
reconfirm the below listed information to enable us facilitate an
immediate payment for you.

1 Your full names
2 Your present contact address.
3 Your telephone & Fax numbers.
4 Your Occupations/age/sex.
5 Your Private Email Address.

Once again, I apologize to you on behalf of IMF (International
Monetary Fund) for failure to pay your funds in time, which according
to records in the system had been long overdue.

Mr. Oosthuizen.

ugandan dolla

Not sure why this Swiss fella is using a Hong Kong email account (mr.sthomos1234@yahoo.com.hk) but other than that, he seems like a trustworthy fella. Just a shame about my condition really:

Dear Mr. Oosthuizen,

Thankyou ever so much for your letter. It’s lovely to hear that I’ll be getting a little bit of money! Though I suppose these days a million dollars will probably get you about a quarter of black bullets! Doesn’t matter to me, I can’t really eat them anymore anyway.

I am very much alive and kicking, ha ha! I didn’t die in a car crash. I haven’t driven a car for some time actually, not since the 50s when my eyesight started to go, ha ha! I don’t even actually know who Virgie Brown is. There’s a carer here, her name is Vicky something. Perhaps it was her, eh! She answers to Vicky anyway, or Vanya, I forget which one but she answers to both of them. I think they’re the same person. She has a very well turned ankle on her. Did it say in her letter if she had a well-turned ankle? She is a lovely girl. Sometimes she helps me with my bank book and she helps me to remember my pin code because I can be quite forgetful!

The money would certainly come in handy – I never seem to have any these days! Do you find it the same? I was always very careful with my pension money and when I lived alone I was quite comfortable but what with the silly prices of things these days, it just seems to disappear as soon as it comes in!

I’m sorry to say that I have no next of kin. I have been widowed for 42 years – the only children I ever had were all stillborn in the 1950s, or passed away within hours of birth in the 1960s. I thought we were getting closer to a little success but I didn’t have so much lead in my pencil in the 1970s! Ha ha. Actually, my wife died in childbirth in 1972 and I never really moved on, but you’ve got to laugh haven’t you.

Who is Virgie? Perhaps she is one of my carers? I do get myself mixed up here and there! I am terrible. Did Vicky get in touch with you?

It would be lovely to have a little bit of money, although I do wish you’d been able to get it to me a little sooner. I’m sorry to moan, it’s lovely to get your letter, it really is. It’s just they diagnosed me with prostate cancer a few months ago and I am getting to the final stages now, so I’m hoping I might get the time to share a little bit around. I haven’t been regular for a while now, up and down in the middle of the night! I do drive Vancia to frustration, ha ha. Still, I have lost ever so much weight! Ha ha.

How soon do you think you could get the money to me? There’s a nice man who comes in sometimes with Vicky at the home to have a cup of tea, a chat and to help me with my pension, investment things and whatnot, so I suppose this is where this money is coming from! Nice that one of them has come in for once! He puts my horses on for me too. Lovely fellow. I’d like to share a little with him. It couldn’t come at a better time. I only have a little bit of money left and I was thinking of giving it away to charity for red nose day, but he says it all just goes to the coloureds and I probably won’t be around to watch it on the television anyway.

All of this seems a little complicated for me and I’m a bit muddled up, ha ha! Not too difficult these days! I think perhaps it would be best if I were to ask one of the girls, Vicky or Vanya or the other one to give you their E-PO Box number. My internet doodah has been giving me trouble recently – Virgie usually sorts it out for me but she said the post office are on strike this week so I’m sorry if my e-mail gets to you late. The strikes are terrible, aren’t they? Do they have them in Sweden too? Mind, they were worse in the 70s. The buses were never on time, and with me with my eyes, well you can imagine! Being late for your son’s funeral and your wife’s funeral in the same week! Oh, my! What a carry-on that was. Bloody public transport, eh! Nothing turns up for ages then two come along at once! That’s what I said when we buried the twins. We did laugh! You’ve got to, haven’t you. The catering was lovely.

Sorry Mr. Oosthuizen, I’ll have to cut this message a little short. I’m very slow on a QWERTY and with my arthritis! And with all the bruises it’s hard to sit down for too long. I’m really looking forward to your reply. Please be quick though!

Warmest regards
Cecil Gullibert

And now, we play the waiting game… hopefully this will run!

Warmest regards,




Stick this in ya Volvo (glove compartment)

(Found in my Drafts, March 12th 2012, posted unedited)

Okay. There’s something I need to get off my chest to start with. It’s been bugging me for a long time.

Here goes.

I have literally never, ever seen Garth Crooks and Silas Greenback in the same room.

There, I’ve said it.

I have also never seen Garth Crooks laugh. Nobody has. I’ve seen Garth Crooks boot Terry Fenwick in the leg in the 1982 FA Cup Final (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UH2hwrOI7Cs&feature=related). I’ve seen Garth Crooks say that Andre Bikey needs chemically castrating and putting on the sex offenders’ register for pushing someone over (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJP7b60h2ck&feature=player_embedded). I’ve seen Garth Crooks talk East Coast/West Coast “niggas” with Richard “I’m the vilest human being who ever lived” Littlecock (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBYpzPZzrqA). And yet, I’ve never seen Garth Crooks laugh. As Half Man Half Biscuit put it, “there is surely nothing worse than washing sieves/with the possible exception of being Garth Crooks”.

Wikipedia tells me that Greenback “turned to a life of crime as a schoolboy when other children stole his bicycle and let all the air out of its tyres”. While I’m not trying to say Garth Crooks has turned to a life of crime, if anyone has a better way to explain Garth Crooks’ personality than this, I’d love to hear it. If I close my eyes, I can imagine the exact same thing happening to him. Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker unscrewing the dust caps and tittering with child-like joy, while Mark “I pay, so I say” Lawrenson squeezes the air out of the tyres with his tiny, petty little hands, his laugh a cruel, spiteful sneer. Alan Hansen is of course is keeping lookout for Andy Townsend’s tactics truck, golf clubs at the ready.

While “researching” that paragraph I also just discovered that Count Duckula was actually a character in Dangermouse who got his own spin-off! Well colour me uneducated, I had no idea!

Anyway, I had a point to make. What do Garth Crooks, Bono and Sean Penn all have in common?

“Where the beat sounds the saaaaaame…”

Real men also don’t beat their wives, mate…

Yes, that’s right: the sin of taking yourself faaaaaar too seriously.

If I see a face like Sean Penn’s above, my first instinct is to try to crack it. Not with a blunt instrument or anything like that (contract forbids it) but by cracking a joke or behaving like a clown. One of my students’ English names is Shadow. I probably don’t need to tell you much about Shadow – his name was a perfect choice. Sixteen is such an awkward age, but for some it’s that bit more awkward – the world has pissed all over his chips and he seems determined to piss right back at it. So I decided from day 1 that my priority in this lesson wasn’t to teach English – fuck that, nobody was listening anyway, so my priority was to make Shadow smile. I would deliberately trip over right in front of him like a clown, or make silly noises, or throw chalk at people’s heads. Nothing. Not even a little crack of a smile. Though he did stop coming to my lessons, so I didn’t have to look at that face anymore.

‘That’ face. Look at the pained earnestness on Penn’s face. That’s about 30 years of acting training right there – an Oscar-winning performance. That level of absolute sincerity and seriousness is something that just isn’t natural to mere mortals like us. Especially since us mere mortals don’t usually tie our wives to chairs and beat them up with baseball bats (fair play, it was Madonna, but it’s still out of order).

Try putting “Sean Penn laughing” into Google Images. Seriously, this was one of maybe four of him not looking all sincere. And it’s not even really him. Try it yourself.

Sorry. I was making a really serious point there. Let me put my serious face back on for a second.

You would have to look this good to get away with dark hair, pale skin and bright red lipstick.

There, much better.

Now the natural next step for this entry, of course, would be to be a bit more topical and talk about K**y 2012, right? Well, fuck that. I’m not touching that with yours. Could you imagine the risk you’d be taking just after Princess Di died if you dared say anything not 100% aligned with public opinion? And people had actually heard of Princess Diana before she died…

Nah. Maybe I’ll give it a week, wait ’til everyone’s forgotten about it.

When I was a teenager I had a Livejournal blog. It was as shitty and pretentious as you can probably imagine. As a teenager I felt passionately about many things. About 3% of those things didn’t involve masturbation, or at least couldn’t be done with a clean conscience while masturbating. One guy on Livejournal I followed was this mid-30s reformed junkie character living in New York. A sort of unpublished poet, undisplayed artist, unsigned musician… well, you get me. He would always bang on about people power, and doing things, and overthrowing this, and reforming that, and yet he never seemed to do anything himself. His days seemed to consist of taking badly-lit photos of him humping his groupies and trying to woo new groupies with poetry. Online.

One time, I pulled him up on this. I asked him, “Oh, TheWreckingboy, what are the specifics of this revolution of yours? How do we pull it all down? Who will be in charge when it’s all pulled down? What will your role be?”

He answered that he didn’t have any specifics, he was just the messenger, the guy who could put into the best words possible that we needed to change things and that things couldn’t carry on how they were. He was the inspiration and we, the people, would do all the work. And figure out what to change and how to change it.

So I’m 17 and with this keen sense of social justice or whatever you want to call it, and I’m starting to think – so what the fuck do I do? I don’t have a particular cause to latch onto. I feel passionately about injustice and things that are unfair all over the world, so much so that I can be distracted from one cause by another even worse injustice and completely forget about the first one.

I was never eloquent enough to be a messenger, and certainly not poetic enough to get laid as a result of it. Much as I would have loved to go and blow up Parliament, it’s not something that’s easy for a podgy teenager with a bad back to do – and besides, I couldn’t have afforded the train down to London.

So, someone, somewhere, had lit a fire in me that just didn’t really do anything. I guess for a little while there, as a pretentious teenager, I became another messenger. I would post up links to things I thought were shitty and unfair and say what I thought about them. Then I’d feel like I’d done my bit, and a weight was lifted.

And nothing got done.

UPDATE: 2013, June 15th

Did they catch Kony in the end?

Several days of giving a fuck

Several days of giving a fuck

Feels like a long time ago that people really, really, really cared about bringing Kony to justice. So much so that you’d be crucified for not caring THIS much about Kony.

Since then I’ve ranted relentlessly on Facebook against the Tories from thousands of miles away which, when I read this back, either makes me a hypocrite, a pretentious teenager or both.

I’ve ranted relentlessly on Facebook about EDL types wanting to send British Muslims back where they came from.

Fuck it.

I’m not saying anything anyone hasn’t already said before. Being daft is much more fun. Even Lawrenson seems to have lightened up a bit

North Korea Q+A. A real post! About actually going somewhere!

Hello, mutants. Thank you for clicking the thing what led you here, innit.

OK. So I went to North Korea about 3 months ago, and I’ve just got round to writing up the testimonial I promised the company, Young Pioneer Tours. Whoops.

This is taken from a Q+A I did on http://forum.football365.com – a website as strangely obsessed with North Korea as I am and actually where I first heard of Young Pioneer Tours a few years ago. The circle is complete!

Some of you may know that I won a free trip to North Korea. Some of you might know that I had no idea I’d actually entered a competition. Some of you might know me as a miserable, sceptical bastard, so of course I thought it was a scam. No! There was no small print, no extra charges, it wasn’t a ploy for my new Chinese employers to spy on me, it was just a stroke of unbelievable luck.

What happened was, once I found out I had an interview for China, I started looking at YPT to see if I could realistically do it. Sadly, it was way out of my price range and it seemed like I would never be able to afford it on a Chinese salary. I clicked ‘Like’ on the Facebook page so I could go back to it on the off chance my finances changed in the future, and thought nothing more of it.

Fast forward a couple of months or so, and I found out I had the job in China. Success! We were warned to lock our Facebook pages to protect us from our employers’ cyber-snoopers trying to find out if they had taken on an alcoholic. Since by Chinese standards most British people are alcoholics, I took this advice to heart and locked out my Facebook.

A few days later I had a request from a fellow called Gareth Johnson. Who? I clicked on his Facebook and saw his location was China. Ignore!

Until I realised weeks later that there was a message in my Facebook junk mail from him telling me I’d won a free trip to North Korea, and if I didn’t claim it soon it would go onto the next person. After getting out my scam detection kit (I’m still not convinced it actually works, I’ve seen no results and the guy who sold me it to me was a bit dodgy) and asking the small print questions, it soon became apparent that it was legit and Gareth Johnson was in fact the director of YPT! Just by liking the Facebook page, I had entered myself into a prize draw and won!

Of course, I had to fit the trip around unpredictable Chinese holidays and incompetent bosses (who actually gave me the time off work I needed, but didn’t bother telling me…), so it was another six months before I was able to actually go. YPT were very patient with me though and very flexible, even though I was supposed to go in 2011. Even then, it was touch and go for a while – Kim Jong Il selfishly went and, ya know, DIED a couple of weeks before I was supposed to go! Luckily everything passed off without a hitch and the rest is history.

As for the Q+A, I think this covers just about everything that could possibly be asked about the trip. As I said in my introduction to the Q+A, I can only comment on what I actually saw. I am 100% aware of the scumminess of the North Korean regime and I’m not an apologist for them. If you want to find out about human rights, or starvation, or politics, there are things you can read up about that which are written by people who know what they’re talking about. All I said was, ask me a question and I’ll answer it as best I can. Hopefully this will answer any questions for anyone thinking about going.


Q: Captain Twunt wrote: Do they sell Carling in the pubs and if so how much was it for a pint?

Q: coisty777lineker wrote: What was the beer/lager like?

A: I didn’t see any Carling, but they had Heineken in a lot of places. It was never more than 1 euro or 10RMB for a 600ml bottle of whatever beer they had. We drank every day, which was lovely. The local brew was very good. They had a really nice micro-brew lager and a few wheat beers that went from pretty nice to pretty disgusting (but totally drinkable).

Q: DrKimble wrote: How was the food? How were the ladies?

A: The food was actually amazing. Highlights included: duck barbecue, Korean barbecue, a ton of all different kinds of kimchi… oh, and dog soup…


Dog soup, I’m ashamed to say, was actually delicious and tasted an awful lot like lamb.

The ladies were often actually very pretty. I was advised though that the penalty for one of them doing anything with me would probably be a work camp… though I think it would still be worth the risk for them, since I’m pretty good. Here is the only picture I have of a Korean girl not looking repulsed by me:


I think I took her by surprise – maybe she was thinking about puppies or the Leader before I pounced on her, but within a split second she looked as repulsed as the rest and normal service was resumed.

Q: Gonz wrote: What’s the standard of toilet roll like?

A: Better than China, and in a lot of places you could even flush it!

Q: Captain Twunt wrote: Do they show Neighbours on TV and if so, how far behind us are they?

A: I don’t know, but I’m sure I saw Bouncer on a cookery programme…


 Q: Dictator wrote: What was the general state of the hotel you stayed in? I googled the one mentioned in the link you left to the trip organisers, and although it seemed pretty large and nice the pictures of the insides seemed 1960’s/bioshock-esque…

Not that I thought it looked messy or untidy, but I just found it a bit strange how dated it seemed, from the pictures I’ve seen anyway.

A: I found the hotels to be lovely. The one in Pyongyang wasn’t actually that old fashioned. Rooms were big and spacious and could have been any decent hotel in China, if that helps. Nicely decked-out, cheap bar, casino, and some other stuff we didn’t get time to see.

The other one in Nampo was just amazing. It was actually villa-apartments, really old fashioned luxury 60s decor but you had your own hot spring bath, villa, really nice surroundings and, best of all, no light pollution whatsoever so you got to see every star in the sky and the milky way!

Q: dimmsau wrote: were you being watched the whole time?

Q: marcus4zero wrote: Is it worth going and how closely observed did you feel like you were on the trip?

A: Worth going? Absolutely. Absolutely, absolutely. I want to go back again ASAP. Everyone who went had an amazing time. There were a really mixed group of travellers there in our group – lots of different nationalities and ages and various levels of travelling experience. One guy was a very seasoned traveller (actually, a professional traveller really, so naturally averse to group tours) who has basically seen the world five times over, but was like a kid in a sweet shop.

It was massively interesting, but to my surprise it was a lot of fun as well. I expected it to be mostly photo opportunities, museums and propaganda, but it was actually genuinely really fun and the sites were genuinely interesting and explained very well. In terms of being watched and observed, outside the hotel we were always accompanied, but not really ‘watched’ as such. We had a Western tour guide and two North Korean guides who spoke excellent English. We also had a driver, a guy recording for a souvenir DVD and a minder. The minder was the only one who was really watching anyone or anything. He was only there because we had fundamentalist Christian South Korean/Americans on the tour – which just goes to show that the place is more open than you might expect!

Apparently the minder was mostly there to keep an eye on the guides, not on us. He was actually really sound. He seemed to take a shine to me (he pretty much said it was just because I wasn’t American, but I like to think it was my sparkling personality). We had a few beers together and we were getting along swimmingly. then he’d pop out with something like ‘if we were around in 1950 we would be shooting each other’ or ‘Europeans are obsessed with money’. All in jest, I think…!

The guides spoke practically perfect English and were hilarious. If they are anything to go by then the North Korean sense of humour is about as dry as it gets – it’s hard to tell if they’re joking sometimes, which I love – but they were excellent company and, of course, they really knew their stuff. As for being followed around: the rule of thumb is supposed to be that if you’re not in the hotel, you’re not going to the toilet and you can’t see a guide, you’ve wandered too far. However, we wandered around a fair bit (without taking the piss). I never felt like anything was intrusive at all and I’m 100% sure they were never trying to catch us out or anything.

Q: The 3rd Doctor wrote: Did you ever reach an area were your escorts or whoever said, “You’re not going in there”?

A: Nope. I was expecting all the same things that lots of people asking questions were (don’t photograph this, don’t go here, don’t do that) but really, there was none of this whatsoever. I couldn’t believe it. To my knowledge everyone felt completely comfortable and after a while we forgot that we were supposed to be massively restricted. We were always made to feel like guests and they had really pulled out the stops for us.

Q: Mister Rourke wrote: How closely did they monitor your photography? Where did you go? I heard in Pyongyang (at least the parts they let you visit) they are OK but outside much stricter. Also, would you recommend it? I am contemplating doing exactly this, you see…

A: To my knowledge, the photography wasn’t monitored. We were forewarned not to take pictures of soldiers but that’s about it. Most people did this through the bus windows anyway and it didn’t cause any problems. We weren’t really supposed to take photos from inside the bus but everyone did very un-subtly and nobody stopped us. I don’t think they really cared. As for where we went, you can see our itinerary here: http://dprk.youngpioneertours.com/group/dprk-group-tours/korean-new-year-tour/ 

Since it was so soon after the death of Kim Jong-Il, there were a couple of changes, but anything we missed out on was replaced by other things – we didn’t get to go to the maternity hospital or the orphanage, for instance. Apparently because the orphans had gone home for new year… not sure what homes orphans have to go to, but whatever…

We did get to go to a shooting range though, where I shot a chicken with a bolt-action rifle:


In short, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you get the chance, and even if you don’t, then do it. As I said in a previous answer, without exception everyone on the tour loved it.

Q. Johnnyshaker wrote: Did you have any interaction with any locals at all?

A: Yeah – we were freely mingling with them on the sleeper from Beijing to Pyongyang before we’d even met up with our guides/minders. There was no point in me even trying to speak to them because of the language barrier though, but there are plenty of people who have lived in South Korea and picked up some of the language who would be able to get something more out of this. We got about half an hour with the folk on the Metro but chat was stunted again by the language barrier. Most of the interaction was silly and fun stuff – me and a girl on the tour had a competition to see who could get the sternest looking person to wave back at us. Lots of waving, lots of smiling from unlikely people (usually soldiers). We strayed away a bit and we were standing about 10 feet away from these three little girls who were totally made up to see us. We were already too far away from the tour, no guides in sight and it might have caused us all problems if we’d gone over to talk to them, so we just sort of jumped around and waved instead. They loved it. When we went back to the bus, they were a good 300 yards away and we could just make out these tiny little shapes jumping up and down and waving at us.


Q: theunstoppablegiraffe wrote: How did you arrange going? How much did it cost?

A: I arranged it through Young Pioneer Tours. Well, I say I arranged it. Actually, all I did was give them a few basic details (name, passport scan, address, stuff like that) and they sorted everything else out. Tour, visas, transport to and from from Beijing, everything. All I had to do was get myself to Beijing. If anyone has ever tried to get a Chinese visa on their own, they will know just how valuable it is to have someone else take care of the visa side of things for you!

Ordinarily the 5 day tours with YPT cost in the region of 1000 Euros. That gets you a visa, an overnight sleeper from Beijing to Pyongyang, hotels, meals and a Pyongyang-Beijing flight. I was incredibly lucky in that I actually won the trip in a prize draw so it cost me £0. However, now that I’ve been I can absolutely say that even though it might seem expensive, for the experience alone it’s worth it. Add to that the fact that practically everything is paid for once you’re there, and it’s actually nowhere near as expensive as it might seem. It may be a ‘budget’ tour but nothing is lost from it being cheaper at all.

The tours themselves are run from the North Korean side by the Korean International Tourism Company (KITC) – they decide on the itinerary and they provide the Korean guides, drivers etc. That means that whoever you tour with, you will basically get the same tour – from what I’m told, for the most part only the price changes. Young Pioneers tours are about 500 Euros cheaper than their nearest rival, Koryo Tours, but there was a Koryo tour on at exactly the same time as us and they quite often turned up at the same site just as we were leaving! In actual fact, from what our guides said and from reading other testimonials it actually seems that YPT generally gets a better itinerary than their competitors, simply because they badger the guides to get to the ‘forbidden’ places or to do fun activities – while there is a lot of sightseeing which is great, there is far, far more to the tour.

Q: collinasbarber wrote: Does this mean you are never getting into the US from now on?

A: Not at all. No stamp on the passport, no problem! Apparently it causes no problems whatsoever, anywhere. Bear in mind that something like 10 people on the tour were Americans. I was gutted that there was no passport stamp though.

Q: theunstoppablegiraffe wrote: Did you see the metro station and did it seem like it was the only one?

A: We went on a five-stop tour of the metro. There are definitely more, because commuters were still going both ways. If they had managed to stage as many commuters going to places that didn’t exist and as many genuinely surprised expressions then I would have to just hold my hands up and let them have that one! The most surprising part of it for me was the freedom we were afforded on the metro ride. I thought they’d maybe empty the station or at least put us on a separate carriage to the locals, but we were just allowed to mingle with commuters unobserved which was incredible. One kid nearly choked on some bread he was eating when he saw us!

Q: hulio julio wrote: See many people starving to death around the train stations?

A: No, they were all burned alive in front of our very eyes. It sounds so obvious to say but it needs to be said, because it’s one of the things that surprised me the most. When we saw people, they were going about their business. Commuting, working, walking around, carrying things, the kids ran about, they rode bikes, they drove cars… then, occasionally (well, twice), a group of soldier/construction workers would quick-march past somewhere chanting an anthem. Surreal but very cool. I’ve never heard a sound like it.

It’s easy to forget that countries and cities are basically pretty mundane places and North Koreans still just go about doing their daily business like everyone else. North Korea is portrayed as a very surreal place, but the most surreal thing I found was how relatively normal it seemed.

Q: roboplegic wrote: Congrats on helping to fund their f**ked up regime!

A: Cheers! Though if you’re from a UN country and you’ve ever bought anything that was taxed, or if you’ve ever spent any money whatsoever in China, South Korea, Switzerland or Bulgaria among others, you’re doing exactly the same thing since their aid and/or trade is the only thing keeping 20-odd million people from starvation…

Food for thought. In 5 days we: Gave gifts of hard-to-get imported goods and hard currency (Euros) to our guides, minders, drivers etc. amounting to something like 100 Euros per head;

I gave our driver a chicken, meaning that for that night his family would have a nice munch of Korea Fried Chicken;

We bought extra things at restaurants, gift shops, bars, hotels etc. that would keep real, normal people in a job;

We acted as ambassadors for our respective countries and behaved impeccably, chipping away very, very, very slightly at a boundary that helps keep the regime f**ked up…

Q: davie jambo wrote: Do they show Scottish Premier League football matches in the pub on ESPN ?

Hell no! They’ve suffered enough.

Q: Cor Blimey wrote: Do you think that, while certainly the country has more than its share of problems, the Western view of North Korea is significantly exaggerated and unfair and frequently inaccurate?

A: Easiest question to answer so far: yes. Absolutely, yes. One good example – we were at the DMZ on the North Korean side, at the part that’s only separated from the South by a 10cm high wall of concrete:


You can just about see it there, between the two blue buildings. The near side has North Korean soldiers, the far side South Korean soldiers. We were actually allowed into one of the blue buildings, crossed the half-way point and technically crossed into South Korea! Anyway – there was a big stone building behind us where we stood on the balcony and took photos. One of the guys on the tour said that he’d been at the other side of the DMZ a few years ago where they’d told him that the building was actually a front, and was completely empty. They said it didn’t even have a back to it! I can assure you that it did.

On the whole though, I can’t say any better than you can what’s accurate and what’s lies. I can tell you that we visited the memorial to Kim-Jong Il and paid our respects. There weren’t too many people around. A line of locals went in front of us to lay flowers and bowed. One older fella came away and dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief. No wailing, no bullshit. Nothing as hysterical as after Diana died and obviously nothing like what we saw coming out of the North Korean media.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind though that we’re lied to on a daily basis to a similar (but obviously much lesser) extent to the North Koreans. Our governments are doing terrible things and we’re being lied to about it. It’s a cliché, yes, but it’s a cliché because we’ve heard it so many times before. Because it’s true. Pick up a newspaper, watch Fox News, see for yourself how free our own media is. Like us though, there are probably some of them who lap it up and ask no questions, and then there are certainly many who know the score and their numbers seem to be rising (I’m basing that on reading interviews with people who managed to escape, not my own experiences). That’s my wee editorial there.


So, there you have it. If you have any further questions, feel free to drop a comment! Also, drop an email to tours@youngpioneertours.com if you need to know any specific information. There’s still time to enter the prize draw for the 2012 free trip: http://dprk.youngpioneertours.com/.

You weren’t there, man! You don’t know!

My last post was about the people who have just been in the shit for too long. A 13-year tour of duty would be too much for any man. Go to any ex-pat bar on a weeknight and you can usually see the thousand-yard stare – that traumatised, defeated look of someone who has seen things you will never see:

I lost my Malboro in Vietnam

Yes, ex-pats of a certain age all across the world are well known for seeing things you and me haven’t. Although that usually involves snakes and ping-pong balls, and the thousand-yard stare is more like a three-yard stare into the window of the chicken bars down the road. The three-yard stare looks a little less rugged – more like this:

Isn't he Mr. Inconspicuous?

Anyway, enough about ex-pats. The reason I bring up Vietnam is that I’ve just had a job offer for next year to teach in Kunming, south-west China, which I’m very tempted to take. Kunming is right next to the border with Vietnam, somewhere I’d love to pay an extended visit to. Although, in a sense, I’ve already been to Vietnam. Sort of.

The year was 2004, which would have probably made me 19 – the average age of a combat soldier in Vietnam as it happens. At the time, I didn’t have the cash or the inclination to go traveling. Luckily, the sale of magic mushrooms was semi-legal in the UK at the time due to a strange legal loophole which made them legal to sell, legal to buy, but illegal to prepare or eat (please correct me on that if you know better, that was my understanding). What I do know is, you could buy ‘shrooms in shops all over town. Great summer!

Anyway, I had recently recovered from what some might call a “heroic dose”, but what i would call “accidentally fucking up splitting the doses and spending four hours with my disembodied soul being interviewed by my far-more lucid mate on whether I was going to Heaven or Hell for my role in the Atlantic slave trade while being judged by Roger Waters and Bob Marley for my cliched musical choices.”

Look, Mummy, there's an aeroplane up in the sky...

After getting my head back together, a few weeks later another friend of mine (let’s call him Al, since that’s his name) came round with a bag of a slightly less aggressive strain of ‘shrooms. We munched them, got the doses right, came up and all was good in the world. Then, something changed. I’m not sure if it was intentional (that’s a complete lie), but he then seemed to spend the next four hours trying his best to freak me out by putting on sharp, harsh home-made electronica and Joy Division. When these didn’t work, he literally tried to kill me with a song called “Gloomy Sunday”; some may know this as “the Hungarian Suicide Song” because of the urban myth that it caused suicide in all who listened to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloomy_Sunday. And it really is bleak as fuck, straight-headed or tripping balls. This could have been an innocent mistake, if only I hadn’t been there with him in Bristol when we were both told about this…

Anyway,  none of this worked so we had a barbecue in the back garden instead. I wrestled control of the music and stuck on a Vietnam war music compilation, changing the mood significantly. Everything was nice again for a little while – it was a warm summer night so we sparked up the barbecue and got out the Chinese chicken bits ready to cook.

Then things got dark again. Al helpfully pointed out that the luminous lumps of chicken looked like Viet Cong ribcages and innards. In my suggestible state, I couldn’t help but agree. Bright-red and slimy, even to someone straight-headed they probably really did look like human offal, but the barbecue was ready and it was time to cook.

While the chicken was cooking, planes flew over our heads – my parents’ house was pretty close to Newcastle airport and right underneath a flight path. In my head though, these were jet planes and helicopters heading to the war-zone, and with the warm humid night it felt like we were on R+R safely way back behind the combat zone. Feeling relaxed with a Budweiser and a Malboro, shirt off, belly out, the trip was relaxed again. Until Al grabbed a chunk of still pretty-much raw chicken from the barbecue and buried his face in it, viciously tearing it apart with his teeth, looking up at me with blood and goo all over his face. He then decided, for reasons I forget but which seemed totally logical at the time, that only the skin was safe to eat. To a lucid mind, you could understand that, since the rest of the chicken was, well, completely raw, the skin being the only part that had a chance of being cooked. Though I think in our subjective reality the logic was something to do with the morality of cannibalism – surprisingly conscientious, I thought, for a guy devouring the skin of his victims and throwing the rest away. Sort of a cross between Rambo and Ed Gein.

Yet still, none of this made me freak out. I was so convinced that we were really in Vietnam, this was really R+R and we were completely safe that I just sort of looked at him with the sort of benevolent understanding of a veteran watching a shell-shocked private making a necklace out of human ears and thought, “this lad has been in the shit for waaay too long” . Which is exactly how I felt a few months later during my final ‘shroom experience, which ended watching another mate’s Gran licking spilled chicken Korma from her cardigan, producing the line you really don’t want to hear on the downward arc: “and I thought I was a big girl”…

So, yeah. In one long summer from the comfort of my home town I survived an existential crisis, cannibals, the Vietnam war, crossing Gosforth High Street to get a curry, an interview for the afterlife and one of my best mates trying to kill me (and probably then trying to eat the body, or at least the skin). I reckon after all that I can probably handle another year in China – and maybe even a visit back to Vietnam.

This isn’t your blog, mate

Don’t tell Jimmy Bishop, but it turns out I might have lied in my interview for the China gig. See, I gave it all the big kahuna about how I wanted to come over here so I could act like a Chinese person, make friends with the locals, stay away from the ex-pat community, learn the lingo, absorb the culture, fall in love with the food, yadda yadda. Instead, all my friends are Westerners and English teachers or people I play football with. I speak enough Chinese to survive, in the way that a two-year-old survives – a few poorly-formed words here and there, and the missing bits filled in with pointing, gurning and gurgling. And shitting. Everywhere. Because the one thing I did do as promised was fall in love with the food. Unfortunately, the food doesn’t love me back and can’t get away from me quickly or loudly enough.

Butttttttt, I think I have a valid excuse for all this: I’ve been indulged like a shitting, squawking, gurgling, whining brat since I got here. The Chinese are almost painfully hospitable – everything is geared towards making you, their guest, as comfortable as possible. Despite the fact that I’ve never taught before, and nobody seems to care whether I’m actually any good at it or not, as a white-skinned, more-blond-than-ginger haired (let me have that one), blue-eyed (ish) native English speaking male with most of my own teeth I’m suddenly a valuable asset to someone. I have no less than 3 mentors at my school – teachers at my school whose job it is to make sure everything is OK for me. Anyone looking for a job right now in the UK might prick up their ears at that, or whatever you prick up when you’re reading. Most people my age have never known what it’s like to be appreciated by an employer and to not be instantly replaceable. This means that not many people my age have ever been mollycoddled and pampered or, as I like to call it, “treated like a human” in this way since they were little kids. Being pampered or indulged or allowed to just crack on with it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but like the Chinese, sometimes parents can be a bit too indulgent – see the article below about a boy whose parents have let him be a girl*:


My parents could be indulgent too. When I was about four or five, one day I decided that I was now going to be called Colin. I wouldn’t answer to anything else in school and I scribbled out “Steve” on all my exercise books to make a point of it. Mrs Hawkins finally lost patience with me and called my Mam in despair. My Mam was pretty cool about it though, and said to Hawkins “quit yo’ jibba jabba, ain’t nobody gon’ die if you name the boy Colin, you chicken-gristle eatin’ pickle juice drinkin’ nappy-headed fool! Quit jivin‘ me!” So, suitably intimidated, Hawkins gave up arguing with my mother (who, as some of you may know, was a 1930s Harlem street hustling pimp) and from then on I was known as Colin X. Obviously at some point pretty soon after I grew out of this phase – presumably when I realised that, of all the words in the English language, Colin is probably the worst. And that the Nation of Islam was a sham. So in this case, indulgence won out in the end. Great anecdote, that one. Colin Farrell to play me in the film. Or maybe that kid he shot in the face in that film, In Brussels. SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read the sentence before this one.

Sorry. Point? Well, being indulged like a bairn can make you go one of two ways. One, you sort of thrash around a while, letting it go to your head for a bit, then you chickity-check yo’self and go back to normal and appreciate the level of hospitality and the respect that you’re not used to back home. Or two, you become a jaded 48-year-old corporate middle-manager who’s been here 13 years and can’t speak the language beyond abusing taxi drivers and negotiating with hookers. Or to use the scientific term, rickity-wreck yo’self. Stuck in a job with too much money, too much respect and too much power for your skill set, and probably totally under-qualified to do anything back home on remotely the same level even if there was an economy to go back to, how could you ever go home? So you end up stuck here, bitter, jaded, thousands of miles away from what’s left of your family, desperately seeking out anything that looks or smells like home (or a brothel) and paying through the nose for it, thus totally defeating the point of earning a buck out here in the first place. There is a definite correlation between “age of ex-pat” and “likelihood that they’re a complete and utter Tuesday” which I have helpfully illustrated in this graph:

By the way, don’t take the preciseness of those figures too much on face value – I promise I have no-one specific in mind. It’s actually a combination of two people.

On a side-note, the word ‘ingenious’ is one that’s sometimes chucked about a bit too often. Tuesday, in case you were wondering, is an ingenious way I’ve  come up with to call someone a “cunt” without actually swearing. As in, “see you next”. I’m hoping it will catch on, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it out loud because it just wouldn’t sound right coming from me, so maybe someone else can give it legs. I’m pretty sure I did actually come up with this, but I’ve been wrong about this stuff in the past. It sounds like the sort of thing a student would probably dream up. We each have our own deluded claim to fame, though. My brother once tried to convince me that him and his mates at Gossy High School had started the mobile phone craze by pointing out that text messaging and paging were basically the same thing, thus making everyone bin the pagers they bought two months ago and buy one of those massive Motorola bricks. Maybe he still believes it, who knows. Mine is inventing the phrase “penis colada” when I drank a litre of pineapple juice before getting a nosh. Well, I was about to get a nosh but I burst out laughing at my own genius. My ego, heart and penis were all trampled when I learned that, actually, not only would it later be used on Shameless without crediting me but her Dad had actually already made it up before either of us were born anyway:

OK, back to the topic. So aye, older folk tend to be a bit bell-endish over here if they stay for a long time but don’t really settle properly. That’s my own little theory based on my limited experience, take it or leave it. Like pretty much everything written above though, it’s not going to win any prizes for originality – or for being factual, insightful or even for not being total shite – but this is the age of the Internet and I will have my say. In fairness, lots of people stay here for a long time and settle well, integrate, speak the lingo, marry locals, have kids here – basically do what foreigners have been doing in the UK for generations. Pretty much the opposite of what I’m doing, as it happens. Which probably means that without turning things round pretty soon I might turn into one of these pampered old dickheads before long.

*I just said that so I could link one point to the next. They’re not indulging him at all; the poor kid’s in turmoil. He tried to cut off his Johnson, fer Chrissakes!