Have you been inside a wild animal?

I arrive in Shenzhen, China, about 26 hours after leaving my house at 5am. I’m a little worse for wear, and have a mild headache.

Unfortunately, I’ve made a serious mistake, and besides taking a headache tablet, I’ve refused to accept any of the delightful airline food offerings I was presented with. Highly suspicious.

“Passenger in seat M15 please report to immigration staff on landing” Nervous looks from fellow passengers, and some check their bags to see I haven’t snuck any drugs into their unsecured hand luggage.

My first thought was that I’m getting a red carpet welcome and a limo to my hotel. It’s soon clear that the airline staff has reported my dubious culinary behaviour and I’ve been fingered for having the plague.

There are lots of questions. I answer yes to the headache question, but no to whether I have symptoms of vomiting, nausea, diarrhea.

Then they go up a level. Have I butchered an animal, or been around an animal being butchered in the last 10 days? Happily, no I haven’t.

The interrogator doesn’t speak English, but has a handy flipchart of badly-translated English questions. I get to shake my head vigorously to each question while she glares at me suspiciously. Shenzhen is grey – I’m not sure if it’s rain or smog. Well, it is rain, but there may be some smog involved too. I desperately hope I don’t start sneezing.

Smog or rain
Rain or smog?

Next question. Have you been inside a wild animal in the last 30 days? I’m tempted to answer yes, but immigration officials don’t always have a sense of humour, especially when protecting their country from African plague-bearers, so I shake vigorously again. I’m fairly sure that in China nodding and shaking have the same meaning as in English. But if not, that could explain some of the later treatment.

The flipchart wasn’t enough. She dials a number and gets me to answer more questions from a voice prompt. I try to put on my strongest South African accent, but the voice recognition is surprisingly good and get’s it right each time. Nothing about wild animals though. But a lot of questions about which countries in Africa I’ve visited recently, and which part of South Africa I come from.

I’ve only answered yes to the mild headache, and happily have no other symptoms. Luckily I landed quite early, about 10h50, but I would like to finish up soon. She puts on some rubber gloves. This is not looking good. She grabs what looks like a needle and leans over to me. She has quite a stretch as I seem to have lurched backwards when I saw the gloves.

It’s a thermometer, and she gets to see whether she can add fever to the list. I wonder how accurate a temperature reading is going to be when you’re groping at someone with rubber gloves, but can only wait and see.

After lots of what I hope is only smalltalk between her and a colleague, and not a back and forth about which quarantine committee to call, she removes the thermometer.

I have no idea what the reading indicated, but she grabs a needle. A real one with a point this time. Now I’m protesting, and she calls in a colleague who can speak some English.

“We have to take some of your blood”. I know how these things go. Don’t co-operate and I’ll spend the week in quarantine, or end up being grilled in another little room, so I reluctantly agree. I’m happy my temperature has already been taken as it’s just gone up a notch.

I presume passing out when I see the needle start filling with blood will only further arouse their suspicion, so I look as far away as possible.

Next, my blood pressure is taken. I’m sure it’s high.

Finally they let me go, and escort me to passport control. Everyone else has long gone, and the lone official has to get out of his chair to open the lane. He has seen me being escorted out of the immigration room, and has a glint in his eye. Today’s the day his training gets put to good use.

He flips through the pages, looking at each one carefully. And back again. He rubs his fingers over the visa and passport picture page, and then rubs them both with another piece of paper, presumably seeing if the forgery would rub off. He looks disappointed. Then he takes out a magnifying glass. By this time another plane has arrived, and a queue is forming. He’s still the lone official on duty. He examines each character through the magnifying glass. Then he flips through the passport some more. He calls a supervisor. The supervisor doesn’t entertain his wild theories about how I’ve undoubtedly forged the passport, and quickly goes back to snoozing on his own chair.

The crowd behind me is grumbling. I’m leaning against the counter rolling my eyes, wondering if the metro will still be open by the time I get out of there.

He takes out the magnifying glass again. My sense of humour is failing, but I manage to resist the temptation to make a break for it.

He finishes re-examining every character. He folds and prods the pages. He tries to slide something under the passport photo to see if it can be lifted. What was a fairly new passport is starting to look like it’s been in the wash.

Aha! He’s found something! “When you arrive America?” I tell him April. As is stamped in the passport… “When you leave America?!” April again.

Now he’s got me. “IS THIS WHEN YOU LEAVE AMERICA?” He shows me a stamp from yesterday, 11 November. No, that was yesterday, when I left South Africa. He looks confused. He calls the supervisor again.

This time the supervisor snaps at him, with one eye on the now large queue behind me, and the official sadly concedes defeat, stamps my passport and let’s me go.

I’m not sure whether to break into hallelujahs, but I fear they’ll think it’s a symptom of the plague, and haul me back again. I think I spent less time driving across Luxembourg than I did stuck in Shenzhen airport. I try to look like I haven’t been inside any wild animals as I prance out of the airport.

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    September 2017 African language Wikipedia update

    African language map

    It’s time to look at the state of the African language Wikipedias again, as always based on the imperfect metric of number of articles.

    African Language Wikipedias

    Language 11/2/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017
    Malagasy 3,806 45,361 79,329 82,799 84,634
    Afrikaans 17,002 26,752 35,856 42,732 46,824
    Swahili 21,244 25,265 29,127 34,613 37,443
    Yoruba 12,174 30,585 31,068 31,483 31,577
    Egyptian Arabic   10,379 14,192 15,959 17,138
    Amharic 6,738 12,360 12,950 13,279 13,789
    Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 7,605 7,823
    Somali 1,639 2,757 3,446 4,322 4,727
    Lingala 1,394 2,025 2,062 2,777 2,915
    Kabyle   1,503 2,296 2,847 2,887
    Shona   1,421 2,321 2,638 2,851
    Kinyarwanda   1,817 1,780 1,799 1,810
    Hausa 1,345 1,400 1,525
    Igbo 1,019 1,284 1,384
    Kikuyu 1,349
    Kongo 1,173 1,176
    Wolof 1,116 1,161 1,023 1,058 1,157
    Luganda 1,082 1,153

    This is the 2nd update in a row that gets to welcome a new language to the thousand article mark – congratulations Kikuyu which has now joined the list, and is already hot on the tail of Igbo.

    I know some of the Afrikaans Wikipedia editors have been a bit disappointed by the slowing pace of growth as they move towards 50,000 articles. But, to put it in perspective, the 2013 Global Brittanica had about 40,000 articles, so there are less and less obvious gaps in content. Afrikaans is also one of the highest quality Wikipedias for its size – there’s a focus by many editors on the quality of articles rather than just the numbers. And they shouldn’t be too disappointed by the pace – Afrikaans is still the fastest growing African-language Wikipedia, catching up to Malagasy, which has the most articles.

    It’s interesting that Afrikaans is getting more media attention, but still has to deal with concerns such as but anyone can edit it, how can we trust it?, the kind of thing the English Wikipedia has long moved on from. A definite focus area for us as the Wikimedia South Africa chapter.

    Swahili continues to grow steadily, and Egyptian Arabic as well, and the other languages continue to grow slowly.

    South African Language Wikipedias

    Language 19/11/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 24/11/2016 5/9/2017
    Afrikaans 20,042 26,754 35,856 42,732 46,824
    Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 7,605 7,823
    Zulu 256 579 683 777 942
    Xhosa 125 148 356 576 708
    Tswana 240 495 503 615 639
    Tsonga 192 240 266 390 526
    Sotho 132 188 223 341 523
    Swati 359 364 410 419 432
    Venda 193 204 151 238 256
    Ndebele (incubator) 12 12

    Looking at the South African languages in particular, besides Afrikaans, Northern Sotho has returned to a more natural growth compared to the spurt of the previous period. User:Aliwal2012 continues to be the standout contributor there, having now created 3,228 pages.

    Growth in the Zulu Wikipedia has picked up slightly, with a few relatively new editors contributing the majority of recent additions.

    Two other languages have also seen an uptick. Tsonga has leapfrogged Swati, mainly thanks to User:Thuvack, who’s on track to make 2017 his record year for Tsonga contributions.

    Sotho has also passed Swati, with User:Aliwal2012 active there as well.

    So what are you waiting for? If you haven’t edited before, don’t be afraid that you’ll find the syntax difficult – be bold, and there’ll always be someone to ask for help. All it takes is clicking that “Edit” link and getting started. With just a few edits a week and you could be making a noticeable difference to one of the African language Wikipedias!

    Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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    Bliss

    Dragon

    In late 2015, after a moment of bliss, I decided to write down some of the peak moments, those little appearances of bliss, that I’ve experienced in my life. They’re in no particular order, just what came to mind at the time.

    1) In my parent’s garden, doing chi kung at midnight, a clear sky, channeling moonlight to the earth.

    2) A hike in the Hout Bay mountains, 3 close friends, a howling gale and I lean out over the edge, held up by the wind, buffeted, supported.

    3) In a car, driving home from the Boland Trail. Day 2 was cut short by an intense hailstorm, fingers numb, we stumbled and slipped down, sat by a fire having a hot chocolate, drove home in bliss in a warm car, listening to the Waterboys, conversation.

    4) Late night at “the mad-hatters tea party”. The moon is purple, smiling, a figure dancing in circles under the moonlight. Is it one or two figures? The world glows with beauty.

    5) Making love under a skylight, beauty, my body liquid, soft.

    6) On a mountain, a sandy overhang, 3 close friends, candles, sharing stories, connection.

    7) In a forest alone, near Knysna, night falls, fireflies come out, it becomes a magical fairy forest

    8) Dancing in a village in Madagascar, a new years party, a head taller than everyone, the music strange. The ecstasy of surprise, music and connection, after arriving on New Years Eve, no plans, after the dullness of Christmas alone in a forest eating a litchi for dinner.

    9) Floating on my back in Silvermine dam, ears underwater, silence, the mountains a bowl around me.

    10) Arriving at Rustlers Valley after an exhausting 3-day/2-night hitch. Collapse on the welcoming grass. Feel a deep sense of being home.

    11) Dancing at Rustlers Valley, no sense of anyone else. Feeling unwanted in my tent, I go to the dancefloor in the early hours, ecstatic frenzy.

    What’s noticeable about the list is that all eleven are moments felt in the body, mostly outdoors. There have been highs thinking, writing, doing something mental, but none of them have the same intensity as those moments felt in the body. Of the eleven, about half I was alone in some sense, and the other half were shared with others.

    And the other thing noticeable is that none of them are particularly recent. Most are from the 90’s, early 2000s. Only one, perhaps two, are from this decade. Time to change that!

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    Image from Wikimedia Commons

    No Lady

    I haven’t learned my lesson and I’ve chosen the cheapest hotel I can find in Manhattan, in the Chinatown district.

    I get to my room on the 2nd floor. A gloomy corridor leads to a tiny window, facing a wall, and there are countless doors dotted on either side of the passage, with about a doors-width of wall between each door.

    I enter the room. It has a tiny single bed, too short for me to lie without resting my feet on the wall. The entire room is smaller than a double bed. I can sit up with my back against the one wall, resting my feet on the far wall. I won’t have been the first person to do this, as three of the walls are covered in streaks from weary feet/shoes. There are no windows, but the streaks on one wall are broken by a carefully positioned plastic artwork.

    The view
    Floral masterpiece

    The bathroom is smelly. A friendly cockroach comes out of a drainage hole in the middle of the floor to greet me.

    The rooms have a chicken wire roof, so the area is more like a dorm with tiny walls between them, with every sound from the neighbouring guests broadcast across the floor. “No lady” said the sign outside, and I’m not sure whether they’re more concerned about disturbing the other guests or about the wellbeing of the lady as she contorts to fit on the bed along with the guest. Or perhaps it’s the walls they’re worried about – they don’t look like they could withstand much activity.

    The roof
    It may be New York, but the roof aims for that Alcatraz style

    The wifi is not working.

    I meet a Serbian artist. “Terrible, terrible place. I will never come back here, never!”

    “You hear everything, and the man next door, he’s an ex-convict, he tell me to switch my light off. ‘I’m reading’ I say. He threaten to kill me, say he stab someone to go to jail and if I don’t switch my light off, he kill me. Terrible, terrible.”

    “I snore, he shout at me to keep quiet. But he snore like steam train!”

    The artist leaves to go to his exhibition, where he will put on a helmet in order to control a giant robot arm that will wave him in the air, apparently controlled by his brainwaves.

    I like this place already.

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    A Visit to Home Affairs

    My passport expires soon, so it was time to brave the horrors of Home Affairs again. But wait, could things have improved? Since I last had the pleasure of experiencing their welcome, Home Affairs in Wynberg has moved to Maynard Mall, and this post gave a glowing review.

    Arrive at 11-ish? 8 people in the queue, smoothly in and out? Glowing comments corroborating the experience? What alternative universe have I arrived in!?

    I arrive at Home Affairs about 11h30. There’s a queue snaking right out the door to Capitec Bank. Heh, those poor suckers are probably applying for an ID. I go to the front. Am stopped from going in and told to get a number for the passport queue at the back. No problem, I can already see the envious looks as I’m called in to the passport queue, leaping ahead of the poor saps who’ve probably been waiting since dawn.

    The guard at the back is in deep conversation with someone else. Tells him he needs photos. What? Already a spanner in the works, what happened to the new biometric application system, digital photos taken right there? No problem, I don’t mind getting photos, we’re well situated in a mall, should be easy to get.

    Eventually there’s a small queue by the guard, playing gatekeeper at the back of the large queue. He turns to me. “I’d like to apply for a passport” I smile. He starts laughing.

    “What, hahah, no, we’re full. You must come back tomorrow!”.

    “Er, OK, what time tomorrow” (I’d done well getting there by 11h30 I thought).

    “Before 7am”.

    “BEFORE 7am!?!?”

    “Yes”. He’s already done with me, moves on the next person.

    Before 7am? Not only am I no longer in the utopian universe of 8 people in the queue, I have moved into another universe where the laws of physics do not apply. I can conceive of being there before 7am as easily as I can swim faster than the speed of light.

    I’ll never leave the country again…

    South African Banks SSL Security (2)

    After seeing someone’s Facebook security horror story about a local credit card (not one of the banks listed below), I was inspired to re-run the tests I previously ran on the South African banks, using SSL Lab’s SSL Server Test.

    The results last time were awful, with Standard Bank and Absa falling way below the acceptable standard. This time, I was pleasantly surprised (previous results in brackets).

    Ranking Bank Overall Grade Protocol Support Key Exchange Cipher Strength
    1 FNB A+ (B) 95 (95) 90 (80) 90 (90)
    2 Nedbank A (B) 95 (70) 90 (90) 90 (80)
    3 Capitec A- (A-) 95 (95) 90 (80) 90 (90)
    Absa A- (F) 95 (0) 90 (90) 90 (90)
    Standard A- (F) 95 (0) 90 (0) 90 (60)

    All of the banks have improved their scores. Capitec, which has dropped from first to third, still does not support Forward Secrecy, but has improved its key exchange ranking from 80% to 90%.

    FNB, which jumped from second to first, has deployed HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) with long duration. FNB gets the only A+ ranking.

    Nedbank, which jumped from third to second, has improved from a B to an A, improving its protocol support and cipher strength rankings.

    Absa and Standard Bank have both improved from F’s to A-‘s, and are joint third with Capitec. To put things in perspective, their rankings would have put them top during the previous test. So all banks are doing better than the best bank in May 2016. With no-one talking of a big four anymore (Capitec now outrank Nedbank in some metrics), perhaps little bit of competition is helping after all.

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    November 2016 African language Wikipedia update

    The March update was positive, so let’s see how the various African-language Wikipedias have progressed since then. As always, this measures the number of articles, which is an imperfect metric, but it’s interesting to follow the trends.

    African Language Wikipedias

    Language 11/2/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 5/3/2016 24/11/2016
    Malagasy 3,806 45,361 79,329 81,240 82,799
    Afrikaans 17,002 26,752 35,856 39,065 42,732
    Swahili 21,244 25,265 29,127 32,565 34,613
    Yoruba 12,174 30,585 31,068 31,172 31,483
    Egyptian Arabic   10,379 14,192 14,839 15,959
    Amharic 6,738 12,360 12,950 13,031 13,279
    Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 2,830 7,605
    Somali 1,639 2,757 3,446 3,878 4,322
    Kabyle   1,503 2,296 2,643 2,847
    Lingala 1,394 2,025 2,062 2,131 2,777
    Shona   1,421 2,321 2,459 2,638
    Kinyarwanda   1,817 1,780 1,785 1,799
    Hausa 1,345 1,360 1,400
    Igbo 1,019 1,112 1,284
    Kongo 1,122 1,173
    Luganda 1,082
    Wolof 1,116 1,161 1,023 1,044 1,058

    Afrikaans continues to grow the steadily, and recently celebrated its 15th birthday. The quality of articles is high, and it’s starting to get more media attention. Which also means dealing with the kind of responses that the English Wikipedia has moved on from, such as but anyone can edit it, how can we trust it. It’s good to see the solid Afrikaans community continuing their impressive work.

    Afrikaans Wikipedia's 15th birthday
    The Afrikaans Wikipedia’s 15th birthday celebration in Cape Town

    There’s a new edition to the 1000 club this time. Welcome Luganda, leapfrogging Wolof, which has mostly stalled since achieving the milestone

    Most of the languages have continued to grow as per their previous tends, but yet again Northern Sotho is an exception, and showed the fastet growth over this period. Why is it doing so well? The overused Margaret Mead quote Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. perhaps? It’s disputed whether she actually said it, but moving on, just how small are we talking about? In the case of Northern Sotho, there are two main champions. User:Mohau, who has single-handedly created a whopping 4916 of them, and User:Aliwal2012, who I mentioned in the March update, has created 2958 articles. These two editors are an inspiration!

    South African Language Wikipedias

    Language 19/11/2011 9/5/2013 26/6/2015 5/3/2016 24/11/2016
    Afrikaans 20,042 26,754 35,856 39,065 42,732
    Northern Sotho 557 685 1,000 2,830 7,605
    Zulu 256 579 683 742 777
    Tswana 240 495 503 538 615
    Xhosa 125 148 356 473 576
    Swati 359 364 410 412 419
    Tsonga 192 240 266 352 390
    Sotho 132 188 223 299 341
    Venda 193 204 151 228 238
    Ndebele (incubator) 12 12

    Besides Afrikaans and Northern Sotho, none of the languages are showing substantial progress, but all are showing signs of life, except for Ndebele, which has stalled in the incubator. As South Africa’s smallest official language, it most reflects the struggles of many of South Africa’s languages, which while official on paper, receive little to no real support.

    But there’s no need to wait for others. Hopefully the Northern Sotho example has inspired you. All it takes is sitting down and editing!

    Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

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    There’s a mouse in mi kitchen, what am I gonna do?

    mouse

    It’s useful to have some backup skills if you ever want a career change. Mine is mouse catcher. In the last month, I’ve caught 5 mice. And I mean caught. No poison, no traps. I channel my inner cat, sneak up on then, and catch them in a bucket (usually by herding them inside).

    Don’t try this is the middle of the night. I’ve avoided sleeping in the lounge next to the fireplace for a while, as I hear them in the kitchen, can’t sleep, eventually furiously barge into the kitchen at about 4am, channeling not my inner cat, but my inner buffalo. The mice escape, I try to go back to bed. Repeat. And the next day I’m a sleep-deprived wreck.

    No, you need to stalk them fresh and alert, usually first thing in the morning, or late evening.

    I release them in a field. Not the field across the road, as I first did. Apparently mice can find their way back for more than a kilometre. So I take them for a little drive.

    Mouse number five proved challenging. After catching it as easily as the others, I had it in a bucket with a book on top. I heard it desperately leaping up, as the others had done, but left it alone as I wasn’t quite ready for the drive.

    I returned to find the mouse gone. The tiniest of mice had leaped many times it height, and squeezed out the tiniest of holes I’d left for air. And mice learn fast. Back the next night, now it proved much tougher to catch. The slightest breath as I stalked it and it was gone. Once or twice I had it cornered but it knew to avoid the bucket at all costs.

    I heard it again. After catching four mice I thought I had them all and had scrubbed the shelves. The next day they looked like a student’s party pad again. Although I’ve never met a student that shits everywhere. And gnaws holes in the hemp. Mice love hemp. If there’s no hemp seeds, they go for the hemp powder. If there’s no hemp powder they’ll go for the chia meal. Then the chia seeds. Then they start getting desperate and go for the lucuma. The only thing that’s safe is the cacao. They will even eat cardboard rather than cacao.

    With the precious hemp safely squeezed into the fridge, and the cacao of no interest, the mouse was in the shelf with my drill, screws, light bulbs. Chewing the cardboard box around the drill. I had the bucket ready, sneaked up, blocked the exits. Threw open the door. And the mouse was gone in a flash, hidden before I could see where it went. I started unpacking furiously, bucket ready for a sudden escape. Light bulbs, extension cords, screws, screwdrivers. No sign of the mouse. It could only be in place. I peeked into the drill box. And there it was. I had to move fast – the box wasn’t that secure, with all the chewing the mouse had been up to.

    Mouse shit everywhere. Pasta packets strewn open. The temptation to switch the drill on didn’t even cross my mind…

    If driving while texting, or having sex, is dangerous, it doesn’t come close to driving while trying to keep in a mouse in a drill box with many holes. The thought of it chewing through the car didn’t appeal, so the mouse was not escaping again. Luckily it was late at night, and the slightly wobbly driving didn’t cause any accidents. The mouse raced off into the field, hopefully to meet up with the rest of the little hooligans.

    It’s been two days. I may even sleep in the lounge tonight. The cupboards are half scrubbed, though I doubt I’d pass any kitchen health inspections. Hopefully that’s the end of them…

    Picture from Wikimedia Commons

    Before the Flood

    Today I watched Before the Flood with Dorje. The film is currently freely available on National Geographic’s Youtube channel. Of course I’ve talked to him about climate change, meat eating, pollution etc, but it’s different seeing it presented visually, and it seemed to have much more of an impact on him. Words alone will struggle to convey the scale of fossil fuel-related destruction of the tar sands, tropical forests, coral reefs.

    The documentary has attracted some criticism from those who feel it didn’t go far enough (see this review on Treehugger), that Di Caprio was too deferential as he met various political and other leaders, that his criticism should have been stronger.

    But I think he got the balance right between laying out how critical the situation is, and optimism that there’s still hope to turn things around. Without that optimism, there will be no personal action.

    Outrage and personal attacks are never persuasive. All they do is posture for those already in the in-group, pushing away everyone else.

    As Dorje jokingly said, “it’s your [adults] fault everything is messed up”. Sadly it’s no joke, and the consequences fall on his generation.

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    Bumbling round Bergen

    Norway is not a welcoming country. Not when the bottled water is on sale for R60, or the quotes for the taxi from Oslo airport to the city centre start at R2400. I can also splurge on a fancy limo for R14000. Maybe choosing the cheap flight and arriving in Oslo after midnight wasn’t such a good idea after all.

    I finally make it to my accommodation. Having failed to find a couchsurfer (another reason not to arrive after midnight), I look away as I hand over my credit card. Punch in my pin and hope my transaction doesn’t send the rand into freefall again. With impeccable timing, the finance minister has been charged with fraud, sending the currency plummeting 3.5% the day before. With the Euro, I can neatly pretend R1 equals 1 Euro (it’s actually 15 to 1), and everything looks a bargain. In Norway, that trick doesn’t work, as it’s about 2 to 1, and prices still seem outrageous even without doubling.

    The person at the counter asks me if I want bedding. “Er, bedding?” I ask. Yes, the hotel room comes without bedding. OK, the place is a bit of a dive, but it doesn’t include bedding? “Er, yes, I suppose…” That’s a further R92, thanks to the infernal machine showing me the price in rands.

    There was a review saying the place looked like a mental asylum. Online reviews, eh, always exaggerating.

    The place looks like a mental asylum. The lift doesn’t work, and I find myself staggering up I forget how many flights of stairs, and in a long corridor, white walls, no windows, with poky doors. I expect to see bars on them, but am too tired to look. I find my room, am too tired to even put on the duvet cover, and collapse down to sleep.

    A good lesson in why “order by price, lowest first” isn’t always a good idea when choosing accommodation.

    What I looked like after arriving in Oslo
    I wish I looked as good as this after arriving in Oslo

    I plan to stay in Oslo one or two days, and then catch the train to Bergen. I even have a couchsurfer from later in the evening after he gets back from work. Which means I get to check out, and wander around the city hauling my bags around. I came to Europe for work, and politely made sure I had a clean pair of underpants for every day, but now I’m tempted to burn the lot so that I can travel light.

    I wander through the botanical gardens. It’s autumn, and everything looks like I did the night before. I carry on to the train station. There are lots of beggars. I wonder about the viability of setting up a proxy beggar, and sending the daily earnings back home. Probably eradicate poverty in Cape Town.

    Looking online before, there are regular trains from Oslo to Bergen. I come across the train station, and decide to buy a ticket there. It turns out there’s a train strike, with limited trains and most of them full. The only option in my timeframe is the very next one, leaving in about an hour. I quickly message my couchsurfer, book accommodation for Bergen (again, I have a couchsurfer, but not for the next two nights) and settle down to enjoy the ride.

    Each time I travel, I fantasise about meeting some gorgeous stranger. It doesn’t help that a friend did just this on a flight to Cape Town, ended up showing her around the whole week, and is now married to her.

    On the 12-hour overnight flight to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a gorgeous stranger. Who promptly went to sleep. She woke up about 2am, just as I was hoping to fall asleep myself. She started rummaging around for her iphone. This went on the whole night, and it didn’t help that she got up about 6 or 7 times too (I was in the middle seat, she by the window). After a miserable sleepless night, she finally accused me of stealing her iphone and demanded to search my bags. I let her search my bag (all the while hoping it hadn’t slipped into my shoe or something). She didn’t find it. She wanted me to ask the equally grumpy, sleepless passenger next to me whether he’d taken it. I decided to rather ask him to get up, so that we could both get out of her way and she could search for her iphone properly. The stewards came to see what was happening.

    “Is this yours?” the passenger behind helpfully asked, showing her the iphone that had slipped to the seat behind.

    Happily she got her iphone back. Unhappily I was more of a wreck than usual on arrival. No, we’re not getting married.

    The train from Bergen to Olso is apparently one of the most beautiful train trips in the world. I sit down next to a gorgeous stranger. But she has the window seat and is blocking my view. Soon the seat in front is free, and I move there to look at the view. Just as we start ascending, and I start to see snow on the hills, the gloom descends, and I can’t see anything. Thanks to the late departure, most of the trip will be overnight, and I’ll miss the views. I move back to the gorgeous stranger. She likes the pictures of Cape Town. She gets off at the next stop.

    I arrive in Bergen. It’s late again. At least the place I’m staying at is walkable from the station.

    It’s a self-service checkin. Enter your booking code. Enter your credit card. Aargh, not again, can’t the machines here stop showing me the price in Rands! I punch in the pin. The machine spits out my keycard, and flashes out a whole bunch of information. I’m tired, I want to go sleep. Wait, my room number?! Was it 420? 402? I enter the keycard in the main doors. Red light. A note pasted to the door says “you may have to enter your card a few times before getting a green light). I enter it again. Red light. And again. About 15 times later I’m starting to get a wild look in my eyes and am wondering how strong the door is. Luckily I’m saved from a night in Bergen prison by someone else coming in, telling me I need to remove the card quickly, rather than wait for the light.

    At least the lift works, and room 402 turns out to be correct. But disaster, what’s the wifi password!? Perhaps that was also on the bunch of info I didn’t read. I really must stop arriving late at night as a zombie. I go downstairs to find someone. Except I can’t get downstairs because I can’t find the lift. I remember coming through a door into a passage, but which door? There are lots, and they all look the same! At least everything is not all white this time. I try a few, all locked. Eventually I find the stairs, find someone who can give me the wifi password, and, concentrating carefully to remember my room number, the wifi password and where I came in, make it back, and settle in for the night.

    I can’t sleep, with the infernal racket the fridge is making. I get up to switch it off.

    The next morning I awaken, looking up at the hills surrounding this beautiful town. A deep, contented breath as I feel relaxed at last. And step into a huge puddle formed from the fridge defrosting onto the floor. Shortly after I get a reminder about the work I promised to finish up after Amsterdam, and haven’t got around to yet. The hills call to me as the day passes, distractedly punching the keyboard.

    My couchsurfer cancels. I get to extend my stay, and hand over my credit card again. I start to get worried about my cards getting blocked before I’ve even bought my return ticket to Amsterdam. I look at flight tickets. I find the cheapest ticket, one I’d briefly researched before. Click book. Wait! There’s an 11-hour stopover somewhere. I may as well walk. What about direct flights? Oh god, no. I feel like crawling into a ball and whimpering when I see the price.

    It rains 240 days a year in Bergen, and once set an impressive record of 85 days of rain in a row. My kind of town.

    And then there’s the fjords. I sit down to write some landscape love poetry.


    Ah, the fjords

    A good start, a little rusty, but I can feel this coming back to me.

    The beautiful fjords, bellisimo, belle

    Or is it bellisima and beau? What gender is a fjord anyway? Hmm, this isn’t really poetry, is it. I’ll skip the poetry.

    Anyway, Slartibartfast deserves his award for the fjords. If you get a chance, go see some!

    Before, you are wise, after, you are wise. In between, you are otherwise.