A note to The Divided Kingdom

Written by a Remain campaigner in the aftermath of Brexit.

 

I’ve been reading a lot from both sides of the debate over the last few days. Luckily for me, my facebook news feed gives me a fair bit of insight from both camps.

To both, I say this:

 

Remain

If we take what has happened as happened, what is the realistic best case scenario now? How do we get there?
What attitudes are needed and which people will be putting the work in to get us there?

My predominant emotion over the last few days has been ‘sadness’. Sadness that my country has gotten to a stage where we ideologically vote to succeed (or not) by quitting on our neighbours. But we have to work with what we have and not sink to lesser levels. We’re better than that.

While campaigning in the streets; my colleagues were called ‘National Traitors’ and given reference to WWII acts. That angered me. Currently we are using our intellect to insult ALL Leave voters, perhaps unintentionally – regardless of their intellect or reasons to vote; when our anger is as those who manipulated and lied. That will make them feel exactly as my colleagues did. Alienated, hated and less likely to engage with you.

Let’s think about what we need to do to be open and collaborative and Great from where we are now; and ask ourselves if that is best achieved by alienating the opposing voters (even if it feels pretty good).

Leave

If I take my views as representative of Remain supporters; we’re not being sore losers for disagreeing with the decision made by the majority electorate. We’re not angry at the electorate. We’re two things:

1. Sad. Sad that our country seems to have become a place where we choose separatism over collaboration. Where we seem to consider ourselves better than our neighbours (I know a great deal of you don’t think that).

Regardless of what we achieve as a nation from now, we are the nation that did it by walking away. That, in light of the way we think, makes us sad. We’re not (as) sad about going into a probable recession or potentially losing control over laws if the EU places conditions on us. It isn’t logical sadness. It’s ideological.

2. Angry. Not with the electorate. With the politicians that lied. With the politicians that; before this year, have allowed the country to get into a state where a large proportion of the electorate are susceptible to lies. Not with you. Not with your neighbour. You are our neighbour. Please be accepting. Be quietly angry at us. This is a difficult time and we’re struggling to find new identities as we feel we’ve lost ours.

As a final note, there are many Remain voters struggling to know why Leave voters voted the way they did, and then finding no other logical explanation than Public Influence and (shamefully) racism.

That is struggling to find reason, manifesting itself as hate and it doesn’t do us justice. If a Remain voter seems confused or even attacking, do your best (Leave supporters) to be tolerant and explain why you voted the way you did. Remainers need explanation before we can become understanding and start working towards a better future.

We’re not ignorant, we’re not ideologically shy. We’re very active and very informed and didn’t see any real logical reasons for leaving. That’s why we feel a bit lost. Engage in a debate with us.

We need to start talking to each other more.

 

As a final note to a growing Racist rhetoric:

I’ve started to see suggestions on Facebook that people keep their “StrongerIn” badges and banners to make foreign nationals feel safer.

Nigel Farage is a racist and advocated Leave. Over the past 5 years he has given lots of scared people a reason to scapegoat their anger on foreign nationals. But let’s make this clear:

The Leave Campaign was not anti-immigration; and many of their voters are not racist. I know that some are; but let’s confront those who made them that way – not alienate the whole group. The Leave campaign cleverly kept quiet about it to keep the anti-immigration vote, but all along they were for using an Australian-based points system that was designed to increase immigration; but in a predictable way. Foreign Nationals are safe here, as long as we don’t feed a rhetoric that will become an inherent part of our national identity.

Branding 52% of the country as Racist gives parties like UKIP and the BNP permission to be outwardly racist, and engage more people with their poisonous message. It exacerbates a problem and perpetuates a belief that maybe they are. Let’s not become more divided.

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The Opportunity of British Independance

Written by a Remain Campaigner.

 

So the UK has voted to leave the European Union. This is not going to be the message many might have expected from me.

That vote now means nothing. Now is ground zero. Make no mistake, now and over the coming years is where the UK has to make its history; not today. There were lots of arguments in the Leave camp. Now, none of them matter. My message is this:

The UK over the coming years now has the opportunity to do something utterly inspiring. Put simply, we need to become a champion of a small, adaptive economy that can survive in hard times and create an economic model of trade that others can follow for their own good. We need to become a champion of collaboration and diversity; holding our borders open and welcoming people both in and outside of the EU, as they will do for us. We need to use our newfound Sovereign freedom to design laws that truly represent the interests of the majority, and act as an example for equality, progress and human rights around the world.

To make the expected comment – I am surprised and downhearted. To not use too much ink on why; I think a large proportion of those who voted to Leave are a long-unheard UK demographic who have been squeezed by Economy before. They are angry and have wanted change for a long time. That source for change and hope has been pinned on something that has little to do with the source of their anger. They’re angry at circumstance and the UK government. Their anger was scapegoated on the EU, and now we have left. It says a great deal about politics that many people will write about for years to come; but that is not my message today.

This isn’t a risk I wanted to take; but I refuse to even entertain that we now regress into a small, unimportant, racist, lonely country. We were once called ‘Great’ Britain for a reason. This decision – regardless of its motives, political causes or temporary campaign rhetoric – puts us in a place of huge opportunity. And we need to see it as that. We need to move through what will be a difficult time as a country United. Remainers need to be proactive and not despair. Leavers need to have humility, and realise that the battle is just beginning.

 

As for what I hope will happen now?

In a sentence, we will become – over roughly 20 years – The Champion country of collaboration, innovative economic growth and openness that will guide other countries, in Europe and around the world, to walk alongside us openly in a collaborative model of independent countries that isn’t the EU – but is based on the same ideas of Peace and Prosperity without the common parliament.

The UK Pound has already dropped to its lowest level since 1985. We will lose some of the workers in the NHS and other jobs. We’ll also increase our exports and sell a few more services. Our economy will shrink and our National Services will suffer. It will be a tough few years. After those few years of uncertainty; we will level out slightly worse off, and from a place of need we need to act. The trade we manage to negotiate with countries around the world – including in the EU – will be a start of a resurgent path. Whatever we do; it will not be a trade ‘model’ before seen in the world. The point of this referendum was to shake things up and see what the UK can do to improve its future. We’ll now need to act and act well.

I said before the result that the EU is a useful tool which we can use to create any outcome we could achieve outside of it. Let’s disregard that and add something else to the mix – innovation through desperation.

We’re the outside bet now. And I don’t know what we will come up with, but it needs to be – it will be – Great. And it takes a United country to produce our best savvy Britishness to create that.

As for Scotland – it isn’t just Scotland. There is a strong case for a United Ireland and an Independent Wales. Let’s give them a reason not to Leave.

 

As for what can NOT happen now?

Some of the ideas in this campaign have been poisonous. As I said, now is where the fight begins. If we begin it with ambition of shutting others out, making our country about hate and being insular – we will fail.

This referendum, if we’re childish about the result, could be a terrible tool for divide and evil. But frankly, many of those who voted Leave passionately, but for the wrong reasons, will take this ‘Victory’ and go quietly into the night. They won’t matter and their racist voice needs to be overshadowed by one more Noble – that needs to become the status quo. A nifty little Britain who took the shot not to be racist or isolated; but to free itself from some kind of shackle so that it can be the world’s leading light of progressiveness and, ultimately, Greatness.

There were many arguments for Leaving. Some of them were illogical and emotive; but some weren’t. Some were based on a Greater idea of a Britain which could achieve everything the Remain camp wanted but through a far higher risk; longer term project – one that could fail, but that might not.

That is the Leave argument I choose to believe in as my future, and that of my country.

 

As a final word, I make a call to both camps:

To Remain:

This is rattling and shocking. Almost all of those in charge of our country and businesses didn’t want this; but we have it. But look at it this way – almost all of those in charge of our country and businesses – like them or not – have achieved pretty great things in their lifetimes when they’ve been up against it. We need to take a few days, settle, and then forget what ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ meant. From now on, it needs to be about ‘Progress’, and building a Britain that is Great. We need to be the ones working hardest to ensure that that Great Britain of the future is the one that we – and not Nigel Farage wants to see.

To Leave:

This is not the time for gloating. The Leave vote was to make us an independent country – and one United. People who voted Remain did so for a belief in a Great future for Britain. We all share that ideal. Take this euphoria and use it to unite us as a country. Don’t become disheartened when things get difficult over the coming years. Unite and work with those who once voted Remain and those who once voted Leave; because in the future, no one will know the difference.

To those that didn’t vote:

The result is not always the same if you don’t show up to vote.

 

Tally Ho then old chaps, let’s go be British.

Chapter 11 – Surfing and New Zealand;

Dish of the week – the Fergburger. Famed in Queenstown as a small burger-flipper that became popular and got named ‘probably the best burger joint in the world’ by CNN; this little shop never fails to have at least a 20 minute queue out front – past the Ferg bakery and Ferg gelato stores that have popped up in aggressive expansion. The burgers themselves are cooked to perfection with fresh fillings and freshly baked buns, are stuffed with the locally loved garlic sauce ‘Aioli’, and are huge. The joint rightfully closes each night at 5am.

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Surfing and New Zealand

Exhausted. Battered. Salty. Dehydrated. Raw nipples. Frustrated. Demoralised. Outmatched. Determined. Bruised. Cut. Inadvisably ready for more.

These are the words that best describe your mood after being battered by broken 6 foot giant after broken 6 foot giant, paddling with all your might through the wrong section of the tide; desperately trying to reach calm waters before the next set of right-handers arrives.Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 10.56.08

Words like this can only mean one thing – 3 weeks ago, I began learning to surf.

I like learning. I like being good at things too. It is a good thing that I like both, because my time over the first 12 days of learning in no way at all united these two passions. In fact, surfing is probably the most demoralising of all the sports I have ever tried to learn. If you try to learn too fast it will beat you up. It’s a bit like a cocky lightweight boxer who picks a fight with a marine…

But let’s be realistic. I’d call myself a good learner. It took me two days on a snowboard to be tearing up gnarly off-piste. Wakeboarding seemed fairly easy to get the basics in. Sailing I always had a knack for. I get balance. I have good coordination. I am competent enough in other board sports. I am awesome at skiing. For someone as awesome as me, how hard could it be?

First outing.

Anticipating my fast mastery, I pick out a 6ft board and head to a bay just around the corner from a small surf-centered town on the island of Lombok. The break is about 150m off the beach. I paddle there with virile and eagerness; trusting my body to my supreme fitness.

And I got my ass handed to me.

Mistake 1) Try to surf without learning how to identify paddling ‘channels’. These are points in the surf where waves break far later, if at all; and where the water is carried back out to sea; creating natural easy access to the wave breaking point and avoiding the crash-crash-crash of powerful waves that have already broken.

Mistake 2) Skip learning to duck-dive – a technique allowing you to smoothly transition under a breaking wave and emerge on the other side without having lost too much ground in the water; and to avoid haphazardly tossing your board dangerously in whichever direction the wave takes it.

Mistake 3) Paddle too hard on the way out, exhausting myself before arriving at the break, and leaving little strength to paddle through endless crashing waves in order to even reach the breaking point where waves can be caught.

Mistake 4) Hire a board too small for my current ability; allowing me almost a nil chance of standing when I was able to catch a wave. Fortunately, I wasn’t able to test this theory on any waves because of mistakes 1, 2 and 3.Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 10.52.50

Combine these four mistakes with the fact that once you’re caught below the breaking point, outside of the channel and right at the powerful point of the waves then you are almost certainly going to be washed away from the channel to the bottom end of the break; no matter how hard you paddle, and you are buggered. I have good fitness after 7 months of an active travelling lifestyle; but no amount could have saved me here.

Defeated, I paddled back to the beach and the bike and collapsed. My shoes had been stolen, too. Fuck you and your smug smiting hand, karma.

Over the next two weeks I steadily got the hang of things. I learned Screen shot 2015-02-25 at 10.57.16how to minimise my work on the paddle out. Learned not to surf in a shallow reef brake (I pocketed the piece of coral that lodged into my foot). I learned how to pop up quickly (the key is to do less). I learned which waves are the right ones to catch and which ones will bugger you. I evened out on a steady 6’4” board. I never quite mastered duck diving. Provided there isn’t a smug Indonesian local or a perfect-looking Aussie model floating 3 meters downstream of me when the wave arrives, I can stand and turn on an unbroken 6-foot giant. I’d call that a win.

After departing Lombok and waving a final goodbye to South East Asia, I was lucky enough to spend a week in the surfer-suburb of Manly in Sydney, tussling (by which I mean surfing alongside and puffing out my chest) with the best Aussies in the land.

DSC04407It was a pretty sedate week, with most of my time being occupied DSC04418by walking around local beaches, catching up with old friends and making new ones. After the intense nature of travelling, in fact, I really enjoyed getting stuck in to a group of awesome people in a slow-paced sunny environment, and recharging before the final stint of my trip. Really nice homely vibe in Manly. I can see why so many Brits, French, Spanish, South Americans, people in general go to work there and just sort of stay… The people are really quite beautiful too.

And to New Zealand.IMG_0226

In preparation for my 3 weeks in-country I had opted to rent a car from Christchurch and use it to explore the South island for two weeks before heading North to my final destination. A very painless process by design. It’s almost like it brings in a heap of money for the local economy.

I had very little idea on where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do – contrary to my past strategy, I actively avoided going into too much detail in the Lonely Planet. I didn’t want the well-funded tourist operators in the mainstream locations. I wanted fun spawned from local knowledge of the area. I wanted to meet people.

It is 8am on Sunday 22nd February. I have spent most of what began as a fairly comfortable night (on the floor of the airport following a midnight arrival and a mean ability to sleep wherever I want) on an uncomfortable chair because the random security man felt that it was more fitting to the Feng Shui of the pubic terminal if I rested – open mouthed and probably snoring – on a small waiting room chair rather than 5 meters away on the secluded floor next to an advertising board. Dick.

I have picked up a Kiwi sim card and am ready to hit the road. I call up the car hire company and ask to be collected in 5 minutes. I am overheard by a fellow terminal-sleeper who happens to live in Queenstown (my first stop). We get chatting.

It is 10am on the same day. I am sitting in the front seat of a reliable Nissan Sunny rental, heading South toward Queenstown, New Zealand with Mel and George, an ex-pat couple who happen to be from the same town* (in George’s case, the same primary school) as me and whose company I am really enjoying. We are discussing the great spots that we’ll drive through on the way to the Southern part of the island.

*Mel is actually from Manchester, but at this kind of distance I think I am justified in calling that close to home.

It is 1pm on the same day. The three of us are having a bite while overlooking Lake Tekapo. They own a winter clothing business in Queenstown and there’s lots of snowsports chat to be had. It’s time to swap drivers. I’m getting a little tired and insurance here works by vehicle rather than by driver.DSC04447

It is 5pm. I am sitting on the balcony of a prime-view residence in Queenstown, New Zealand – known to many as the ‘adrenaline capitol of the world’; sipping beer and eating a locally famed Fergburger with beef, bacon and lots of cheese in the company of some already good friends, and in the promise that I have a place to rest my head in town for as long as I need it.

Travelling has taught me a few things, but knowing that generosity is not only plentiful around the world; but it something that often doesn’t need to be considered ‘given’ as if it were currency – just shared between parties of people with different stories to tell – is possibly the greatest lesson of all.

IMG_0903I have made some great friends here. I have also now had my eyes opened to probably the most beautiful part of the world that I have ever seen. It is much like the UK with its granite towers, its undulating landscapes, its well-paved roads and its plentiful countryside.

It is just slightly superior in all of those things… The mountains are taller and vivid and often snowcapped. There are huge freshwater lakes with calm snowmelt waters and thin, round stones made for skimming. Roads wind through the most breathtaking passes you can imagine; and they just keep finding more beautiful scenery. The sun is strong and high in the sky, making it warm. The air is thin and crisp, making the warmth comfortable. Again, I can see why so many people come to work here and just sort of stay…

I’ve heard about some pretty great spots from the guys that live IMG_0899here. I’ve stocked up on some supermarket goods and bought a cheap camping stove from a local trading network. I think I’ll spend the coming 16 days living out of the car, cooking up some food as I need to, bathing in the many freshwater streams around the country and just making my way… North.

From the stuff I have planned (and I don’t plan much), on the agenda is swimming with seals, hopefully swimming with dolphins, camping under a dark-sky reserve, bathing in hot springs and volcanic hot-water rivers, surfing, hiking mountain passes, cliff jumping and mountain biking. I might throw in some early morning runs and the occasional pie (famed in New Zealand) if I fancy it.

I think I’ll have fun over the next two weeks. You can sort of tell these things. I like this to seal off my time in this part of the world. For the time being, at least…

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Chapter 10 – Differences

Dish of the week – Pisang goreng. Simply translated – deep friend banana. After a 5 hour surf session and a 30 minute bike ride, crammed in after 5 hours of sleep, and served with a little chocolate sauce.. Nothing can beat this little dream.

Differences;

IMG_5238At the time of writing commencement; it is roughly 36 hours since I arrived in Sydney, Australia. In the immediate past, I have spent seven months, six days and 12 hours in South East Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The title of this blog might suggest that I’m about to wax lyrical with an insightfully profound prose of the vast importance of difference in the world.

I could try to analyse the effect that a wealthy commercialist drive for capitalism has had on Western life. I could raise some questions about whether a blind follow-the-leader approach to development does, in fact lead to a higher quality of education, healthcare and expansion of freedoms; or just to a tired one-size-fits-all model that has been bent out of shape more times than a plastic toy, forced lazily beyond its intended use by its 3 year old owner again and again, but whose parent does not see fit to replace it for lack of finding something that could meet her child’s needs better…

I’m not going to do any of that.

I am in a write-things-as-they-seem mood, and this blog post is not going to be a detailed analysis. I am not going to dress anything up. It is instead going to be a monotonous list written raw and shallow; unjustly oversimplifying many of the undoubtedly deep differences as I notice and interpret them between this world and that.

In this instance, ‘that’ world is the ‘developing world’, ‘ The third world’ or ‘LEDCs’, and will be played by South East Asia as I remember it (which will no-doubt lean towards my final destinations of Lombok and Bali). ‘This’ world, of course, is the civilisation known to many as ‘The West’, ‘The developed world’ or ‘MEDCs’ and will be represented boldly here by the surfer-heavy Sydney suburb of Manly).

I write in the perspective of a wary traveller observing the ‘here and now’ while looking back at the ‘then and there’.

Enjoy.

IMG_7429There are more open spaces. Public spaces are cleaner. Streets are wider. Architecture is duller. Things are shinier. There are more government employees in yellow jackets. I am less afraid of government employees in yellow jackets. I feel safer alone. More people leave belongings in the open. People are more likely to work for someone outside of their family. Employees are less emotive about their work. Rules are more dictated by legal requirement and less by social obligation. People break the rules more. There are more street signs to unmistakably inform people of their various social obligations. There are fewer beggars, but only slightly.

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Roads are wider. Vehicles are bigger. There are more lights. People drive faster. There are fewer teenage drivers. People drive more angrily. Except lorry drivers – lorry drivers drive less like bowling balls. There are more street lights. J-walking is just as common. There are just as many collisions. Spiders are bigger. There are fewer exotic birds. There are more seagulls. There are fewer dogs. Dogs fight less. There are fewer chickens in the street. There is no alternative to toilet paper, which is abrasive and unclean.

IMG_8384Smiles are less shameless, less wide and show fewer teeth. Teeth are whiter, except in young people, whose teeth are yellower. People look down more. People heckle less. People are far more hurried. There is less interaction between strangers on the street. People laugh less. People walk faster.

Shop displays are less colourful, less beautiful and more aesthetically thought through; with goods strategically and ergonomically arranged. There is more tidiness. There is (ignoring skin tone) more of the colour white. There are fewer trip hazards. There are more safety rails. People pay attention to the yellow lines. Goods are more expensive (but *excluding booze* not by as much as you might think). More things are painted. Buildings are taller. There are fewer palm trees. It is flatter. People are less crazy about money. More things are driven by money.IMG_8847

People cover up far less. People dress more tidily. More things go unused. People race cars/bikes in the open less. People smoke less. Sexism is better disguised, but just as present. People are more openly negative. Young people walking to and from school are just as playful and cheerful. Outside of school hours, there are far fewer groups of young people seen playing in the outdoors; or having fun in general. Children on their own complain more; perhaps they feel entitled to more. People speak more quietly. People look older.

IMG_7874Women seen in the street are seen less often doing household tasks, and more often socialising. Skinny women wear tighter clothes. There are more adverts. Public transport is more reliable. There are more people in wheelchairs, with bandages and on crutches. People are less excited by watching TV. People watch more TV.

Shop workers are less pushy, and less actively friendly. There is less use of cute children to make sales. There is more use of clever product and poster placement to make sales. There are fewer shouty street-side shop owners exclaiming ‘come and buy something’. There are more strategically coloured and cleverly fonted street-side posters exclaiming ‘come and buy something’. There is more product information on display. Shoppers feel safer. Sales pitches are cleverer, and start earlier.

Drinking water is free and more easily accessible. Food is far more varied and less fresh. There are more pictures of food. There are more pictures of anything that can be bought. There is more meat. There is more information about food content. Buskers are more talented. TV is more emotive, and more addictive.IMG_9621

Local people are just as frustratingly beautiful.

I wrote this blog with the intention of provoking some thought. If you would like to open discussion on any of the points made above, please do so below.IMG_8496 IMG_8316 IMG_8482 IMG_8027 IMG_7874 IMG_7436 IMG_6867 IMG_7414 IMG_2230 IMG_0191 ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? DSC04695

Chapter 9 – “Please sir, can I have some more?”

Dish of the week – Ayam Mie Goreng. Simply translated – Chicken fried noodles. An excellent pickup at any roadside stop off. Enjoy this handy snack along side an ice tea or fresh mango shake with prawn crackers for around one pound. Given that the best way to meet people on the road is to stop off and order food; I have eaten lots of this over the past 2 weeks…

Please sir, can I have some more?IMG_6293

The sun is beating down on my bare arms; reminding me even through the cooling breeze at 40mph that it’s a blisteringly hot day. The vibrations passing up through the seat of the bike slowly add weight to the unpleasant sensation of numb-butt as I continue on in what must be the sixth riding hour of the day – the day that marks the 17th I have spent on the road since leaving Sanur in South Bali; the last day of my long road trip.

From the sun’s position, it is roughly 2pm on a sunny Saturday; although the clouds ahead betray an intention of rain. Better get the sexy red poncho ready.

IMG_6096I’ve been effectively living on this motorbike for 2 weeks now; and you can’t really not love a machine that you spend so much time with. It has taken me everywhere: beaches, volcanic deserts, mountain roads, bypasses, ferries, forests, rice paddies, country roads… Over the 14 days I spent in Java (the industrial centre of Indonesia; directly West of Bali) I’ve spent 8 nights in hotels, 4 nights staying with friendly local people, and 2 nights camping. It is difficult with numbers like that not to awe at the generosity of people willing to invite you into their home with no previous knowledge of your existence or nature.

Undiluted generosity. The kind you observe only in the most rural; seemingly the most deprived areas. The people that have less want to give more out of nothing but good nature.

I’ve missed it.

I can’t help but notice the difference in reception I’ve been getting since returning to Bali. The casual dismissive gaze given without asking as you chug-chug on by – pack on the back seat – as if to effortlessly say “oh, another one…”

Rain dropping now. The first few drops are just the messenger. The runner who scouts ahead to warm you of the force of nature; waiting just over the next ridge to unload itself – prepared or unprepared – on your journey. Sexy poncho time.IMG_7891

There’s more to it though than a black and white: ‘people are kind where there isn’t money and not where there is money’. To say so would be completely unfair and to not understand the situation. And what is the situation? It’s one I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past few weeks. I – the thought-intensive traveler – white skinned and middle classed – come from the West having saved enough money from a wealthy area to buy a trip to the orient and discover himself on another gap yah…

The rain has passed now but I’m keeping my poncho on. I’ve tied a scarf around my face too. It’s hot. Really hot. I’m subjecting myself to this because I’m driving through Sanur; an area in Denpasar where corrupt cops scout the street and relieve tourists of their licences unless that pay the ‘small, good for you’ fine of whatever amount occurs to them at the time. Can’t see my shiny white skin this way. Pretty sure I’m safe.

5pm. I didn’t get stopped.

It’s now evening. I’m munching on fresh grilled chilli-and-butter-slathered corn-on-the-cob.  And it’s time to shed some more light on what I’ve been getting at.

IMG_7859Throughout South East Asia there’s been a recurring itch on my mind: Why are people in rural areas so welcoming, so generous, so genuine and interested to give their time; while the places you’ll tend to find greed, corruption and this unfriendly, dismissive, fuck-you attitude is in the urban areas; the tourist areas?

I’ve spoken to enough people from different backgrounds and cultures to form an opinion on how to answer that; and enough of one to express it online, and see what people think…

First; the ‘tourist price’.

When you go to a tourist area and ask how much anything costs, you’ll be offered a price about 10 times that of what the tanned local standing 5 feet from you, muttering the correct price in the local tongue is paying. At stalls, this means bargaining. But at ticket offices when ‘local price’ and ‘tourist price’ are advertised on an official board behind the counter; with no means of telling whether a person is either other than a quick glance from the blank-faced attendant, frustration can boil over.

I’ve seen people exploding at this, and managed to avoid doing so yet based on a paradoxical awareness – half of me reeling at the shameless discrimination process involved in charging an inflated price based on skin colour; with the other half humbly accepting karma’s answer to the unfair circumstances that awarded me the ability to save money and travel to this person’s home country in the first place.

The answer then: ‘People in tourist areas are more used to tourists and have seen their bad sides. They’re by now less interested in the novelty of conversation, and more interested in money; which they know they want’.

But the fact that tourists are always charged more than locals – concluding that answer – doesn’t give a complete picture of the problem in my opinion. It is not true either.

A sidetrack now.

Bali is an enchanting place with some of the most generous population I have the pleasure of acquainting myself with. The land itself is a modest mass formed from volcanic activity; producing seven conical peaks – most of them scattered with rice paddies and small villages – and a multitude of hot springs and lakes. The people are descended from a strongly Hindu origin that migrated to Bali from the Western island of Java as Islam began to take hold as the dominant belief.

Since tourism began to consistently grow in the 1970s, its increased income has allowed for the improvement of infrastructure such as roads and buildings, the provision of widespread education and health care, and has yet failed to impose hugely on the surface of a proud culture.IMG_5779

In its conundrumatic existence; Bali is the only place I have come across in the world where there exists a working knowledge of both Eastern and Western culture, and yet where family value and religious tradition; not commercial gain and media influence lie at the heart of people lives. Here is a place where, thanks to tourism, a tribal dance – same way as you’ve always done it – produces your family income rather than filling a small time slot in the break of your office job.

I respect the place a lot and use it as the perfect example to make my point:

There is a point up to which the injection of money into a society can cause unprecedented social benefits. Past this point, without the infrastructure to resist it; corruption and greed take over.

I will use the example of the ridiculous undercover drive through Sanur I mentioned earlier in this post. The fact that I covered up my skin made virtually no difference to my chances of being stopped. It just made my look like a giant red tomato on a motorbike.

In fact, everyone is stopped. Local or tourist. No reason accompanies the stop, but everyone knows the game. This brilliantly produced film pretty much sums up the experience.

It may have made a difference in Vietnam, Hoi An for example; not in Bali. Ride into Hoi An and people will pick you up, ride alongside you and entice you to go and buy their clothing – you’re clearly a tourist and you’re thus a target. You have money and they want it. They may fleece you and go back to their business-owning family and receive a pat on the back. They’ve provided. But their loyalty is with their family – they just don’t care about the poor tourist they fleece along the way.

Bali cops stop everyone. Local or tourist. There are no loyalties – only a slavery to money, and I imagine a greatly dreary and low valued existence. Stopping people day-in, day-out; not helping one person and spending the spoils of your day on cigarettes and beer – and they’re the envy of the people!

Everyone on Bali wants to be a copper – they’re the Hollywood actors of the isle. The only way to actually become one is to pass a series of strenuous tests (after you’ve made an under-the-table payment of 20,000,000Rp – $1,600; that is*). They’re hated by all and they’re the envy of all.

Vietnamese tailors are motivated by family values. Bali coppers are motivated just by money, with no loyalty to anyone.

This is the line that can be crossed. The sacred border between money providing infrastructure and just being a fuel for greed. Fuel the greed too much beyond that point, and everyone wants a piece of it. People hear that there’s money in tourism and they want it. This slowly manifests into centers of corruption and horrendous greed. In Bali; this is the area of Kuta. Ask anyone in Java where their Bali business is located and they’ll politely say: ‘Kuta’ – where the streets are lined with thievs and the taxis never cost the right price. Kuta is pretty much my idea of hell. It has a cencerous concentration of money relative to its surroundings and therefore greed; and greed, in my opinion is the source of all evil.

So, tourists may be targeted; but they’re certainly not the only people who lose out on money in tourist hotspots.

That would make the answer: “A select few decidedly evil people in the tourist areas that have power, and are so corrupted by money that it is their primary motivator. They therefore charge anyone they can; including tourists, who might pay more”.

Perhaps. Still not the full picture. Bali received lots of money in a short space of time – similar in many ways to aid donation, and it has had good and bad repercussions – similar in many ways to an aid donation…

But such injections of money aren’t always a bad thing.

Norway received US$400m between 1948 and 1952 after WWII, and thanks to intensive social planning and a large public sector. Now it has one of the most even distributions of wealth in the world, stable health care and one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates. It is one of the few countries able to achieve the difficult task of turning an aid donation into a positive long term development [2].

Back to the point.

When you’re travelling, you’ll see many places where there isn’t the existing social structure to call you to justice if you want to be a prick. The cavalry won’t come running to put points on a criminal record if you haggle the hostel owner down a further $1 even when he already offers by far the best deal in town. The security men won’t seize you if manage to sneak into the national park through the off-roading track and avoid the ticketing gate. There is no big, bad societal record in place to strike you down.

You are a justice unto yourself. A gunman in the Wild West.

You have the potential to pay more than the ‘worth’ of something at every turn; and have the ability to take back that loss of ‘value’ against the next, slightly less ruthless haggler. But be aware of it…

Travelers you meet day in, day out will boast stories of sneaking the occasional freebie and jaunt the prices they each paid for the same product as if it’s some points-scoring exercise. Maybe it’s in good nature, but there is often a “Yeh – I haggled them down more than you” element to it.

Money corrupts. And it is not selective. It is easy to scapegoat the local population of ‘money hungry capitalists’ for taking you for all you are worth; but it is easy to not understand their situation too – you can’t understand them just as they can’t understand you. They are bargaining hard and you are pulling hairs out for pocket change too.

I am the worst of all. I spent 3 hours yesterday looking for a room that would charge me less than 100,000Rp (5GBP). I feel all skilled and clever when I’ve haggled a stall owner to 5,000Dong (12p) for a donut; rather than the 10,000Dong that all the tourists pay. And it’s the pride I do it for. That’s why I’ve been thinking about it for so long – I don’t like it when I cross the line between fairness and plain unreasonable. I don’t like that I’ve done it.

Back to that question. I think the answer is: “Money is something that everyone wants; and a language barrier gives local retailers the potential for lots of it from tourists. They are not bad people. There are a select few with misplaced power who have no loyalty to tourists or locals, and deprive them of money without discrimination. They aren’t very popular with a local people who are well-meaning, people-valued and often want to know you for your personality, not your money. It isn’t tourism in particular that has led to a social inequality and corruption here; it’s injection of money where infrastructure can’t support it. Tourism is just the catalyst, and tourists the passive observers.”

I have expressed a lot of opinions in this blog post, and I hope to hear people’s feedback on them; but I haven’t actually answered nearly as many questions as I’ve asked. I think what I wanted to achieve here was more a comprehensible note of all the thoughts on this extensive topic than existed as wisdom in my head.

If there’s one thing I want people to take away from this post it is to be responsible and aware. Be a noble gunman of the West.

I don’t know what ‘value’ is; but I know that the most rural areas I have seen – the ‘undeveloped’ ones – the ones where people live out their entire lives with family values, religious traditions, wide, teeth-bearing smiles and almost no money – these are areas that have it. Nothing is fuck-you about them.

Money is the means to something else. That is all it is. Ever. If you have enough of it to travel to a part of the world where people have less of it; be aware of your actions. Your money in this new place is nothing but a means to your experiencing it in a different way, and not necessarily a better one. It is not worth ruining your day; or even your mood for the odd $0.50. Your money is also a means to something potentially greater for those you’re mixing with. ‘Value’, ‘worth’, whatever you call it, is something far more important than money, and if your money can provide more of it for someone else then let them have it.

IMG_6896Don’t be blasé with it – you’re not exactly producing a lot of learning value by just paying the $50 bribe without haggling or encouraging the thieving taxi driver by letting him charge you the over-extortionate price; but don’t take it too far. Get to know the situation you are in, and learn the value your money might have to someone else.

In the end, try to maximize the value that your money will bring. Get the local transport. Eat at local stop offs. Make local friends and get them to bargain for you. Save your money to provide you with an experience – a story of more value later. But maximize that value; be it to you, to the stall owner or even – god forbid – to the upkeep of roads and schools in the rural town you’re passively observing as you pass through.
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Chapter 8 – Off the grid…

IMG_5235Make a note of the bearing and time of sunrise and sunset in your part of the world. Roughly 5am at 120° South East and 5pm at 250° South West in Java, Indonesia. With bearings and times noted and marked on your portable compass, divide in your head the space between the two markers into twelve segments. With this done, stand with the needle facing north and look at the sun’s position in the sky. Whichever of your 12 imaginary segments it falls in will correspond to how far it has travelled across the sky that day. If it’s in segment 7; seven hours have passed since the sun rose at roughly 5am that day, making the time exactly midday.

This is a process I’ll go through roughly 4-5 times a day.

Taking a bearing of the sun to tell the time is one of the skills I have picked up in recent days; a necessity in light of my occasional long absence from power sockets.

IMG_5191According to the number ‘5’ written on the road map next to my current location, it has been five sleeps this journey started; making today the 13th January. I hop on to the 125cc Suzuki Sepeda, correct the wing mirrors, steady the pack and start the engine. It’s a combination of blistering heat, cooling breeze and engine purr. The rushing past of food buffet ‘Warung’ compliments the whish-whish-whish by of palm trees and other cyclists. The feeling of the tarmac road diffusing up through the seat and the frequent showing of mechanic after mechanic show me that I’m once again in a part of the world designed for this kind of trip. I am in motorcycle country again.

Six days ago; I bought a tent, an aluminium cooking pot, some cheap supermarket food, a garden trowel and some luggage ties. I checked out of the hostel in Kuta, South Bali and set off on a 2 week trip towards, and through the island of Java with no set location, no written ‘must sees’ and no real idea where I would be in a couple of days time. Over the two weeks, I IMG_4964intended nothing more than to go completely off of the beaten tourist track; to avoid the lonely planet hotspots and to simply bum around in back villages and beaches, staying with local people where possible and camping when not.

Rather than giving a well versed section of creative prose; here are extracts from my diary over the past few days of my wandering life…

*Entries begin*

8/01/2015 – day 184 – Bali, Tanah Lot;

Finally… I feel prepared. Been feeling a little off for a few days.. Now I don’t. The bike is prepped, bag fastened (the ties did the job), tyre repaired, 1 day’s route planned. Now I feel ready. COME AT ME JAVA!! Not sure about this bike yet…

9/01/2015 – day 185 (2) – Rogojampi, Java;???????????????????????

Wow. These have been a long two days… WHAT a day. It’s happening so quickly that I’m already feeling relaxed and at home here, and completely free, again! Today – the volcano (which smelt really bad), a late lie in… an early stop off… and wow – friendly phone store staff, the welcoming elderly couple, CHEAP maps, sandals and bike repairs, and crockery… FOOD! Savoury and sweet crepes to die for. WHERE were they on Bali?! Hope there are more of those… Tomorrow I keep riding South. Think I’ll try to get to the beach and camp near a small coastal town called Grajagan.

Starting to enjoy the company of the cycle…

IMG_519210/01/2015 – day 186 (3) – Rogojampi, Java;

Change of plan. Let’s head to Trianggulasi. Sunset will be nicer. Need to take a bearing and head East at Srono, about 10km away, then head South 5km after that.

10/01/2015 – day 186 (3) – Trianggulasi, Java;

The beach. What a day. This place is not easy to find! It’s difficult navigating with just a road map and compass. Particularly when most of the marked roads on the map don’t exist; and most of the ‘roads’ in front of your eyes aren’t on the map. The ride across the track here was okay – bumpy. People were kind enough to give directions. Lots of wood debris on the beach. Makes collecting for a camp fire easier! I feel strange and uncomfortable and alone. I tried hard to get away from people; but now that I’m here I think I’d almost prefer it if there were 5 more tents just down the beach from me! Nerves. Uncomfortableness. Learning the hard way. It’s difficult to keep sand out of the tent… (Sunset >>>>> was awesome).IMG_5242

11/01/2015 – day 187 (4) – Tigaldlimo, Java;

A good night’s sleep! Water rassions turned out just shy of perfect – even with a bit of wastage cooking the noodles… which turned out excellent! I’m now stocked up on water again and giving the cycle an earned wash. Not sure where I’ll go today. Mmm, fresh mango shake. I need a shower…

11/01/2015 – day 187 (4) – Jember, Java;

RAIN SHOWER!!

11/01/2015 – day 187 (4) – Puger, Java;

Camp again. Nearly caved and headed for a hotel. Glad I didn’t. Nerves. Sitting on the beach aside the tent watching a beautiful sunset and eating oreos. I arrived a bit late to start a fire and the wood here is damp anyway..  I feel less uncomfortable now. Camping feels easier.

IMG_565111/01/2015 – day 187 (4) – Puger, Java;

An eventful evening/afternoon… First, I set my sights on Mayang, then Jember, then Rambipuji, then Balung… after about 30km of shift (because I enjoy riding) I end up here… at another beach! More than that – after setting up camp I was approached by a friendly local named Candy (no, he’s a guy) who said that camping was ‘not suitable’ for me, and that I should come to stay with him, so I did! Here I now lie on the floor of what turns out to be army offices. These guys fed me with a pot noodle and coffee and sent me to sleep. I love the road. Candy spoke about the dangers of camping more than I had known about before. I should heed his advice and not do it again. Need an alternative…

12/01/2015 – day 188 (5) – Kunir, Java;

I find myself writing this entry, very tired, from the comfy abode of welcoming family man and motorcycle artist (I say artist; not mechanic because his work rebuilding classic bikes is stunning) Banbang. The events that led to this.. again? Food. More rain. A bumpy back road. An invite for coffee. Navigation. Food. A mansion. A massage. Yoga. Food.IMG_5770

Is it really possible.. dare I dream that I can make this way of living sustainable? Even if only for two weeks? The nerves are dissipating now. Present as they are – keeping me alert – I feel more able to trust my direction of drift to be guided almost entirely by chance; and that I have prepared well enough to be able to rely on nothing but gut. The number of times I thought “I’ll just stop here, and check into this hotel…” Again, I’m glad I didn’t.

Replaced the engine oil and rear gear sprocket housing (I don’t know what it’s real name is; but it’s made of rubber) on the cycle today. It’s holding up well, and I’m learning…

*Entries end*

It’s been a few days of living on the road, and away from locked doors. The biggest drain I’ve found is the need to keep one eye on my bag at all times. In spite of responding to the local people’s seeming genuineness and kindness with trust on my behalf; I do have to be careful – my life is in that bag.

Having had a few days very much on the move, I’ve checked the bag into a cheap ‘loseman’ (a safe locked door – the first I’ve had in 3 days) and set off on the cycle for a check in with the world with this post. Tomorrow, I plan to leave the bag in the knowledge of it’s secureness and wander off with; a charged emergency phone, a diary, a map, a helmet, a pack of cards, a small point-and-shoot camera, some cash, shoes, shorts and a shirt. Not sure if I’ll end up back at the hotel in the evening – I have everything I need on that list for a night on the road.???????????????????????

Uncomfortableness. Nerves.  A sense of freedom. Alertness. Openness. A sense of humour. Preparedness. All things one will have no choice but to develop, and treat as friends when travelling. There have been very few expectations about these two weeks – with so many unknowns, how can there be – but if there were any, they have been exceeded.

I hope to update this blog again in a few days. I wonder how many miles I’ll be from here by then…IMG_4979 IMG_4988 IMG_5648 IMG_4969 IMG_4955

Chapter 7 – Bangkok to Bali in 19 days;

Dish of the week – Tom Yum soup. A wonderful spicy blend of Thai vegetables in a sizzling sauce; sometimes with rice, sometimes with noodles. This might be my favourite dish yet. Either made with chicken, beef or fresh seafood (we are at the seaside, after all); it gives a delightful mix of spices and flavors in a not-too-overpowering spice mix.

Bangkok to Bali in 19 days;

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In 2 days, it will be more than half a year since I was in the United Kingdom.

The last few weeks have been different. To put it in a way that will probably piss lots of people off – I’d call it a holiday from this grueling and uncomfortable travelling experience I’ve been having for months. A strangely welcome ‘time off’ break from all of this pesky adventuring I’ve been doing (I’ll explain that a little way down…); but that should not be taken to mean that it hasn’t been quite awesome. In fact, the last 24 days have produced adventures completely different to what I’ve been immersed in since leaving the UK, some with a hilariously extravagant and glamorous twist with others reminding me of long forgotten home comforts.

There is a long list of things I could go into here. Diving. Beer pong bars. Buckets. Pad Thai. Rocky beach exploration. Surfing. White sand. Biting fish. Cockroaches. Perilous elephant trekking. Penang food. Fresh fish. Hangovers. Hawker stalls. Orang-Utans. Resorts. Scotch Whiskey above Singapore. The shady side of Bangkok…

BUT.. instead of listing recent excursions – over what has been a fairly hectic and hurried affair of travelling from Bangkok to Bali in 19 days, via Borneo, with as much time in each location as possible – I’m going to focus on two locations to give a picture of my ‘time off’ as best I can – Koh Phi Phi and Singapore.

The difference was company.IMG_3294

As I was sewing the latest of my traveler flags on to the elasticated front side of my osprey pack, enjoying the challenge of extreme sewing on the bumpy, humid and cramped train from Vientiane to Bangkok.. I got to thinking that I had not seen a face from home for more than 5 months. I pulled into Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station after the overnight from Laos involving extreme sowing and not much sleep. Then, the gentleman that is Rob Whitelaw, without any contact from me in over 24 hours managed to rock up at the platform of arrival. With a jam pack of temples, beer, ice cream and eating, we had an excellent day. This and the arrival of my sister the following day did a funny thing to me…IMG_3329

When you’re travelling by yourself you’re never comfortable. Never at ease. Always nervous to a level. And you do start letting that uncomfortability affect your mood. You’re not used to it and it’s unnerving. Almost depressing. Then – much like chatting to someone really hot – you begin to get used to the uncomfortable unknowns. You begin to somehow appreciate their presence, and their tendency to keep you alert. You begin to get good at handling them and there’s a thrill in that. You know that you could get completely knocked back any minute but that doesn’t matter. It’s that feeling of unknown that makes it fun. The thrill is in the chase…

IMG_3376When you’re travelling with someone the key is to make the presence of another personality, another decision-maker, another side of the relationship add to the ‘unknown’ factor – by knowing that you have slightly less control over your own direction of drift.

You can bounce off of someone. You can share the stories with someone. You can relax a bit more and know that the two of you will always know what happened in Bangkok when others don’t care to ask or listen…

But there’s a different side of uncomfortability.

After being without familiar company for months I had begun to enjoy the namelessness of travelling without a plan or a when or a where or a how. Suddenly, with the arrival of a new personality; you make your decisions in two’s, you need to consider risks where you previously didn’t, you’re partly responsible for someone other than yourself. Maybe I’d gotten into a rhythm of controlled randomness.

And it’s excellent.IMG_9802

It’s uncomfortableness in a new way that is both completely the opposite and the same as when you’re travelling alone. Your guard has come down slightly with the familiarity of home company and its absence is unnerving. Much like the uncomfortable feeling anyone gets when arriving in a new country or area, you’re thrust into an entirely new situation with things you don’t understand and like any feeling of uncomfortableness, you treat it as the brilliant thing that it is, and let it shake you a little. Let is make you question things and see what you come up with. Comfortableness is safeness and safeness is dull. In hindsight now, this has been a different, but excellent month.

But anyway, Koh Phi Phi.

It is the supermodel of all tropical islands. Seemingly custom built to be photographed and gawked-at; everything seems the perfect shade and the perfect size. Whether looking at limestone peaks or pristine beach bays, whether at sunrise, sunset or midday; every natural formation is in perfect proportion to the next. It’s the kind of island that makes the other completely beautiful islands feel needlessly inadequate.IMG_9954

What’s worse, it knows it.

You arrive on a busy pier, are told to pay a 20B cleaning tax and are herded into a mass of Thai’s and Westerners alike pushing for you to buy their tour or stay at their hostel. I completely hated it; but things got better.

Actually, after checking into a bungalow, setting up shop on the beach and munching on local Pad Thai; things got much better.

Nicola and I headed up to the island viewpoint. We found a near deserted beach by taking a 20 minute walk (through mosquito infested forests…). We sipped cocktails on the beach. We watched fire displays. We prepared for a night in Koh Phi Phi…

IMG_0255Up until now on my travels, I actively avoided crowds. I don’t like the feeling of a nurtured or artificial experience. I like to collide with the world. You may have got that sense if you’re been reading until now.

If that was all I was fond of, I would have hated the marmite-like Phi Phi. But completely in spite of the westernised nature of the place, I did enjoy it – for something else. Maybe it is the pristine beaches. Maybe the warm, shallow bay. Maybe it was the spectacular scuba diving. Maybe the local teenagers expertly performing fire shows. Maybe the Swedish bar waitresses luring you to play beer pong with their deceiving smiles. Maybe, after a long time away, I just enjoyed what felt like a western party bay on speed – but with a cracking injection of good-humoured Thai party-goers. It is a beautiful place and I would go back.

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Marina Bay Sands selfie

Singapore was a different kettle of fish.

I won’t go into too much detail. But the main factor of difference was that – delightfully – my parents had decided to fly out to join me for this section of my trip; allowing for a united family for the first time in six months, in a glamorous setting.
We sipped scotch whiskey at the infinity bar on Marina Bay Sands, we ate to-die-for and good-humored Christmas buffet dinner at the Carlton Hotel – where I had 8 courses and SANTA TURNED UP, we sipped Singapore Sling’s at the Raffles. I even broke out my best orange chinos and cream riding-jacket in a profound political statement, making stark protest against these silly ‘dress codes’.

In Borneo (yeah, did I mention we flew to Borneo for a few days?), we enjoyed the company of Orang-Utan’s and ate delicious food. And SANTA TURNED UP AGAIN – he deserves a break after all, and I imagine that Orang-Utan’s in good-humored and warm Borneo makes a nice change of scene from the Elves in the North pole.

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Santa, in Borneo

Add the addition of a family dynamic to the change of budget-saving pace – indulging on fine dining and resort housing; as I said, it has been a different few weeks. I’ve been looked after. Fed well. Pampered. Housed and guided. You could call it restricting, but I’d call it very welcome.

The Christmas dinner and Marina Bay Sands bar were really quite awesome; the resort luxury and guiding I actually found quite funny. But more than anything, I enjoyed being around my family again! Money is nice, but you really don’t need it to enjoy the important things in life. There’s a loaded statement. Maybe I’ll write more about that later…

Back to reality.

I am now in Bali, where the tilt of the Earth at this time of year make it blisteringly hot.

Nicola and I spent new year’s on Kuta beach; amongst Aussies, Balinese and a general mix, dancing half naked in the rain to house music until the early hours. We then rented a shiny manual and rode around the island on a 3 day tour including stops at Ubud, Lovina and Amed. The ride up a dangerously steep windy paved road to a volcano-based village was a highlight.oie_ukbqCPzU0wSf

As she drove away on the taxi about an hour ago, I felt nervous. Sad. Distressed. Scared even.

Uncomfortable. Not at ease. Unnerved. This sounds familiar.

I’m planning on hiring another bike and having a bit of a tour around Java and the less bustling side of Bali over the coming weeks. Let’s hope my guard comes back fast. Stay tuned…

Ps. Here’s (>>>>) a gem that I recently discovered again on my hard drive. Due to Singapore’s lack of hard drive accessibility; it didn’t see the light of day at the appropriate time; but it’s too good to remain hidden. Take yourself back a few days and enjoy!

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