Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog
Found on the webThursday, December 18th, 2014, (4:05 pm)

I might be a coffee snob. Not in the snooty ‘I only drink single origin beans’ way, but more like I always order a cappuccino and I know just how I like it. There was a time I wasn’t very particular and any old sugary nonsense would do, but living in Melbourne changed that.

Random baristaBack when I was new to Melbourne I innocently (or naively) wandered into a random cafe. It was an independent cafe strewn with hipsters, typical in many respects to the kind of cafe one might expect in this, the ‘world’s most livable city.’ I asked the tattooed and bearded barista for a “mocha I suppose,” then enquired as to what kind of syrups he had. Hazelnut? Cinnamon perhaps? “I like something cinnamony,” I said.

He looked at me in the same way that independent record store clerks used to look at customers who asked for something mainstream. His smile was drenched in disdain and disgust giving a hint to the mockery I was about to be subjected to. In silence he made a theatrical look around the counter, the coffee machine, and out past me into the cafe, then as he wiped his hands on a cloth he said, “Sorry mate, I didn’t realize we’d turned into a fucking Starbucks.”

It was obvious he was having some fun at my expense. He then turned to the menu on the board behind him and he leant across the counter and asked me if I had ever tasted coffee before, or just “something cinnamony.”

“Let’s try this,” he said continuing his theatrical manner and sweeping his extended arm toward the drinks menu on the board. “How about you choose an actual coffee. My advice would be to pick a drink then make that your order so that you can develop a taste for coffee rather than ‘something cinnamony.’ You could have a flat white, latte, cappuccino, or even a mocha, if you really must.”

I’ll confess, I hadn’t taken much notice of the coffee I drank before, as long as it was ‘something cinnamony.’ So I looked at the board then said more in a questioning tone rather than that of an order, “I’ll have a cappuccino?”

“Good choice, a solid choice,” he said as he flung the cloth over his shoulder and sprang from his slouched position. With his back to me he began making my drink and continued talking to me. “I’m sorry for being a dick mate, but come on, you’re not a giggly teenage girl anymore, right.” And right he was, my giggly teenage girl years were behind me! Right then and there in that Melbourne cafe I had thrown them off and become a cappuccino drinking man of the world, even if I had no real idea what a cappuccino actually was.

So I’m not sure that my choice of coffee drink says anything deeply scientific about me, but Seattle-based coffee-lover and coffee-related infographicist (is that even a thing or did I just make that up?), Ryoko Iwata, suggests that it might. Her infographic pegs me as an obsessive, controlling, and creative type of person who gets bored with unimaginative people. According to her, those traits are perhaps redeemed by the fact that, as a cappuccino drinker, I am also honest and someone who chooses excellent friends.

Curiously Iwata makes no mention of the obsessive controlling aspects of the typical cappuccino drinker in a later infographic on her website entitled ‘What your date’s coffee order reveals.’ In that graphic I’m seen as a loving and caring person who puts a lot of work into my relationship.

I’ll plead the fifth on this subject for fear of incriminating myself or inviting the protests of disgruntled ex-girlfriends who might turn the comments into an embarrassing show down. But I’m curious, what does your coffee order reveal about you?

What does your coffee order say about you?

Ryoko Iwata’s I love coffee infographics
What your date’s coffee order reveals
What your coffee order says about you
What does your cup of tea say about you?

GeneralTuesday, December 9th, 2014, (4:33 pm)

I’m heading back to Australia in a few days, so just for fun I’m sharing this video with you. If you’ve got 3 minutes to spare, I’m sure it’ll make you smile.

Councillor Robert Garland from Queensland is a politician who doesn’t like to crow like so many politicians we could all think of. However, Garland, who represents Division 8 of the Fraser Coast Regional Council, can crow very well indeed. He can also chirp like a budgerigar, coo like a pigeon, and occasionally let out a “ripper” of a Kokuboro squark.

Along with his son Daniel, Garland has been imitating bird noises for years. “I just like noises, and music, and the music of birds,” he says in a short film from Director Tim Marshall.

As the councillor for education and training in the Fraser Coast Regional Council, Garland is known as a ‘jovial’ representative. That comes across in the film that I first saw last year at Melbourne’s Shadow Electric open air cinema. Back then it delighted the packed cinema that often show wacky and ‘off the wall’ shorts before the main feature of the night.

Garland said the footage for the film was shot about 3 years prior to it’s release, but he was very pleased with the way it turned out. “It’s all a bit of fun. At the end of the day if you can’t have a laugh at yourself then who can you have laugh at?”

GeneralThursday, November 27th, 2014, (10:54 pm)

I don’t really like winter, but there’s a magic and comfort to coming in from the cold and feeling the welcome of a warm home. Today, I’m far from that cold weather, but as my American friends prepare their Thanksgiving feasts, this might be one of the very few times when I actually miss the crisp chill of a colder day.

Warm fire

Not being an American, it’s never been a tradition of mine to celebrate Thanksgiving, but back in 2012 I got to spend that holiday with a friend in Seattle. Her family’s feast was nothing short of fantastic. A warm home full of people with conversation and laughter mingling in the air with the aroma of the forthcoming feast and the sound of (American) football coming from the TV.

Now, after seven years of celebrating ‘the holidays’ (as our American friends call them) in the southern hemisphere, the experience of coming in from the cold to a warm home and a waiting holiday roast has faded into the unfamiliar.

My first winter ‘down under’ felt bizarre because it lacked the reprieve of Christmas and New Year. Those holidays stand like lighthouses helping you navigate your way through dark and shortened days, but in the southern hemisphere the lighthouses are gone. Instead, winter is a long and featureless stretch of time like a desert highway without a curve or junction. It’s a ribbon of strung together days and weeks upon which you wait to reach your destination.

Indeed, not long after celebrating Thanksgiving in Seattle, I was on a white sandy beach in Fiji, a hop on my way back to another Christmas smack in the middle of New Zealand’s summer.

I’ve grown accustom to the summer Christmas now and to putting on sunscreen rather than a scarf when I step out into the late December weather. I love celebrating the New Year in the warmth of a long summer night. I also like that my birthday has switched from midwinter to midsummer like a politician unexpectedly changing party allegiance.

Thanksgiving feast preparationBut today, as I sit in a bright lush green garden of a cafe in Thailand, just a couple of weeks or so from returning to Australia, a part of me wishes that I was somewhere cold in the USA. Like I mentioned before, I don’t like the cold. However, just for today, it would be good to be wrapped up in a scarf, kicking up fallen leaves or walking over snow to a welcoming warm house filled with friends, football on the TV, an open fire, and a great big turkey roasting in the kitchen.

With that image in mind, I found a local restaurant here that has a special Thanksgiving menu for tonight. The place will be packed with Americans I’m told. So while it’s not going to snow here, it will get a little cooler when the sun goes down, cool enough for us to fill our bellies with roast turkey served with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables and pumpkin pie for dessert. I can’t wait!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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TravelTuesday, November 25th, 2014, (10:45 pm)

You know you’re in good company when there can be a period of comfortable silence. That said, it’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve written anything here and I think perhaps that’s amounts to a little more than a comfortable silence.

Vintage postcards

The last post I made here was from Vietnam after a period of riding a motorbike around the country and ruining my clothes in sketchy Vietnamese laundries. Since then readers of my blog could be forgiven for thinking I had fallen, or at least rode, off the edge of the world, and I suppose in some respects I did!

So where the hell have I been in the last eighteen months? That’s a good question, but a list of countries seems boastful and wouldn’t really answer the question, would it?

I twice swapped an Australian winter for a summer in the sun of the northern hemisphere. I spent time with friends and, of course, made a few new ones along the way. I got thrown out of China, travelled across the United States by train, had my laptop stolen in Paris and my wallet stolen in Venice, collected (and left) parking fines in the UK, pretended to be famous in Singapore (even signed autographs!), drove a race car down under, rode motorbikes in dusty far away places, and still didn’t get around to joining facebook!

A few of my friends have taken to calling me a vagabond, which is a title I embrace. I might put in on a business card so I can give it to the next person who asks me that awful, but somehow obligatory question “What do you do?”

Getting a motorbike in VietnamIn fact, I already have a ‘business’ card. I printed them to give me something to exchange with people who hand me their card. It’s not so much a business card but more of a somewhat cheeky response to that mechanical exchange. They thank me, we shake hands, then they glance at it, pause, then usually say out loud, “Rule bending consultant?”

That card has actually been a lot of fun to give out. I considered re-designing my simonjones.co.uk website into some very business looking site that touts the services of me, a ‘rule bending consultant.’

Of course, as a ‘serious business’ website it would have to include some of those terrible stock photographs of people smiling while gathered around a computer, and men wearing hard hats and holding clip boards while one points up at something out of shot.

“Simon Jones has been at the leading edge of rule bending for over 30 years, developing strategies and programs to flex even the most rigid of rules. A founding member of the F.U.N. (Federation of Unwavering Nonconformity) Simon helped thousands find their inner rule bender and move toward a more flexalogical life.” Oh how the marketing BS would flow.

The thing is, I’ve been out in the world, bending rules and vagabonding my way from one story to the next, taking pictures along the way, but not writing. I simply got out of the routine, not that there was much of a routine here before then.

So as 2015 approaches I’m going to make a deal, though I suspect that my readers have long since moved on, so this is probably a deal with myself; I’m going to try and write a regular weekly blog post. This should give me the opportunity to share more photographs and maybe even help me find the inspiration to write more.

Also, I think this blog is long overdue a make-over. It’s looked pretty much the same since 2006 when my friend Joelle and I first hacked around with WordPress and this design.

I’m having a lot of fun being a rule bending vagabondsman out in the world finding stories to be told, so it’s about time I got back into the habit of telling them, before I forget!


Recent pictures I’ve taken on my phone and shared on Instagram

If you’re still out there and you’ve read this far, please say “Hi!” I’ll be back in Melbourne soon, so if you’re a Melbourne local lets get together and have coffee!

TravelThursday, May 2nd, 2013, (7:01 pm)

I’ve had a few people ask me for advice about doing motorbike tours in Vietnam. I’m no expert, but I decided to write a post to share my tips and experience about how to get the best from a motorbike tour of Vietnam. If you have any questions or tips you want to share, leave a comment below.

How to ride a motorbike around Vietnam - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

Riding a motorcycle in Vietnam isn’t an act of bravery, nor is it an act of madness. The roads in the cities are completely crazy, but if you can cross the road in Vietnam, you can ride a motorbike there. Traffic tends to swarm into every available gap in the road, but you’ll be just fine if you just take it easy.

HOW AND WHERE TO BUY A MOTORBIKE IN VIETNAM

Because seemingly everyone rides a motorbike in Vietnam, there are no shortage of dealers selling used motorbikes. There is no real advantage to be gained in buying from a dealer. There won’t be any kind of worthwhile warranty and you should certainly not pay more for one.

At a second-hand dealership the motorbikes are unlikely to have a price on them, so you’ll have to be ready to bargain hard for the right price. It’s no different to buying a used car anywhere in the world, so don’t be afraid of being a little theatrical in your negotiations if need be.

A lot of locals and travellers sell their motorbikes on Craigslist. It’s also worthwhile visiting backpacker hostels where you’ll often find people selling off their motorbikes. That requires some leg-work, but you might be able to get yourself a good deal as the seller may be short on time and therefore open to considering lower offers.

WHAT KIND OF BIKE SHOULD YOU GET?

A lot of people will buy old motorbikes like Hondas and Russian Minsks. These are okay, but you don’t have to go this route.

Getting a motorbike in VietnamMopeds (motor-scooters) are also fine. I rode around Vietnam on a 110cc 2004 Yamaha Nouvo (pictured above) that I paid $151 (£100) for. That’s a good deal cheaper than the average of $3-400 that most people want for those old Honda Wins and Minsks.

With more than 50,000 kilometres on the clock, my Yamaha cruised on the highways without any issue at 60-80kph. It crossed many a rough surface including mud and sand, and climbed the mountains north of Hanoi without grumbling once. I got one puncture that was quickly fixed at a roadside garage for less than $1.

WHAT DO YOU NEED WITH THE BIKE?

As mentioned above, when you buy your motorbike make sure you get the paperwork! That is important because while it’s unlikely that you’ll have any run-ins with the local law, if you do they are going to want to see the bikes paperwork. Without the paperwork you’ll find the bike much harder to sell at the end of your tour.

You will also need to get yourself a helmet and wear it too! I suggest getting something that looks like it might actually offer you some protection in the event of a crash, however, it seems that any kind of flimsy helmet is acceptable.

It’s a good idea to get one with some kind of eye protection. The roads can be very dusty, it sometimes rains, the air can be full of bugs, and at night it simply isn’t smart to wear sunglasses as eye protection.

Getting a decent road map would be a good idea. I didn’t really plan my tour so I never got one and while I was fine, there were times it would have been handy. You also need to consider that when rains in Vietnam it pours! So get yourself something that will keep you dry.

Motorcycle helmets in Vietnam

CARRYING YOUR BAG/BACKPACK

People carry all kinds of stuff on their motorbikes in Vietnam. I saw pigs, ducks, dogs, tires, and even an giant shelf unit being transported by motorbike while I travelled. You’ll be amazed by what people carry on their motorbikes.

Your luggage won’t be a problem! I was a little nervous about carrying my bag on the bike because it wasn’t a backpack, but a case with wheels. I purchased a gigantic plastic bag, some elastic clip ties with hooks at each end, then simply balanced my 23kg bag on the back of the bike and wrapped the elastic ties around it firmly. The bike felt heavier with the bag, but it made little difference in reality.

I carried valuable items such as my camera, laptop, and passport in a smaller backpack that I hooked over the handlebars so I could easily take it off and carry it if I left the bike anywhere – and yes, I left the bike with my luggage unattended on numerous occasions.

How to carry your bags on your moped/motorbike in Vietnam

COPS AND THE LAW

I have seen a few websites that claim you cannot legally ride a motorbike without a Vietnamese licence. This is not correct. You can ride one on your regular licence from home, but you must have that on you. I am told your travel insurance is unlikely to cover you in the event of an accident unless you have an international drivers licence (and even then it still might not!).

It’s widely believed to be illegal for a foreigner to own a motorbike in Vietnam, however that’s not correct. With time and some effort you can register a bike or car in your own name with the authorities and if you’re planning on being in Vietnam for a long period of time then you should probably look into that. However, as long as your bike is registered in a Vietnamese name you’re good to go.

Getting a motorbike in VietnamThe police in Vietnam do conduct regular road-blocks where they check vehicles and motorbikes. However, not many cops speak English and perhaps because of this I was waved passed every single road-block, even the ones where they were stopping every single bike. This experience was shared by every foreigner I met who rode a motorbike in Vietnam.

The question of insurance is a tricky one. I believe you do need it, however you can’t get it without a Vietnamese license, and in any case, if you are not a resident it would be pretty useless anyway. I was on a bike in 2012 with a local who was uninsured. We were stopped at a roadblock and he just negotiated the ‘fine’ with the cops for not having insurance. He paid about the price of 2 cups of coffee, and there were 2 cops, you can probably do the math.

How to ride a motorbike around Vietnam - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

TAKE IT EASY!

Go slow! That is the best and probably the most important advice you can get when it comes to biking around Vietnam, or indeed anywhere. Remember you are on the motorbike to see the country, so go slow and enjoy the scenery. If you fall off the motorbike every kilometre on the speedometer magnifies your injuries and you could be a very long way from medical help.

Getting a motorbike in VietnamIf you’re time limited then don’t rely on Google to give you estimates for travel time. You’ll be stopping to look at things and those estimates are all but useless. Accept the fact that you might not have time to see everything and instead just relax and enjoy your trip knowing that the other stuff will always be there when you have more time.

PARKING YOUR MOTORBIKE

Whenever you park your motorbike anywhere in Vietnam, you’ll probably be approached by someone who will want you to pay them about 2,000 Dong ($0.10). This isn’t a scam, it’s how they do things there and everyone pays. The person will write a number on your bike using chalk and give you a card with that number on. They might move it in busy places, but don’t panic if you get back and it’s not immediately obvious where it is. Just give them the ticket and they’ll take you to the bike.

How to ride a motorbike around Vietnam - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

REPAIRS AND MOTORBIKE MAINTENANCE

If you get some old motorbike that has been driven around Vietnam several times by backpackers, then you’re probably going to have to repair it here and there. This shouldn’t be a drama. Because everyone in Vietnam rides a motorbike, you won’t have to look far for someone who can fix yours. Repairs are cheap, but as ever, be alert for people looking to take advantage of you as a ‘walking ATM.’

How to ride a motorbike around Vietnam - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

SELLING YOUR MOTORBIKE

You can sell it to a dealer, but they will give you very little for it. My advice would be to give it a clean, take a good picture of it and put it on Craigslist.

Getting a motorbike in VietnamYou can also try putting a sign on it. I had my hotel write and print a for sale sign in both English and Vietnamese that included my phone number. I stuck that on the mirror wherever I parked it and it actually got a lot of interest this way. (You will need a local phone number, so get a local sim-card if you haven’t already.)

Another idea might be printing an ad (that includes a picture) and posting that in the local hostels wherever you are. If you’re a member of couchsurfing.com you could also post an ad on the local group as its likely to be read by people looking for bikes.

Tips about selling a motorbike in Vietnam

After my tour I sold my bike in Hanoi for the same price I paid for it in Hue. I sold it in less than 48 hours, and I was holding out for a price I wanted! I sold it to a local couple who saw my ad on the Hanoi couchsurfing group. However, I had 2 other offers from people who saw the ad I stuck on the mirror!

ANY MORE QUESTIONS?

A road trip of this kind is a real adventure, and you’re sure to be telling the stories of it for a long time to come. Don’t over-think or over-plan the it, just give yourself enough time to slowly let the road reveal this beautiful country and its fascinating culture to you.

As I mentioned previously, I’m no expert, but should you have any other questions or tips about riding a motorbike in Vietnam then leave them a comment.

Read about my Vietnam road trip
Slow Road to Hanoi – Day 1

TravelSunday, April 28th, 2013, (11:59 pm)

Having escaped the tourist trap of Ha Long Bay and found overnight refuge in the mountains to the north, I began my final day on the motorbike. Along roads that climbed into the grasp of clouds and wound a gentle path through rice paddies carved into the hillsides, this would be the grand finale of a road-trip to remember.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

I made an early start on my final day riding through Vietnam on my £100 ($151) motorbike. The street outside my open hotel window came to life at dawn. The sounds of horns and motors filled the air and demanded that I not spend another moment lazing on the bed. I got to my feet and looked out of the window to the busy street below. It’s funny, for a place that almost doesn’t get a mention on Google maps, the small town of Chu was a hive of activity.

Before I left the hotel owner insisted, through her English-speaking son, that I join her family for some tea. She kindly poured the strong green tea and was pleased when I thanked her and sipped from the small porcelain cup.

In truth it was not to my liking, tasting instead like the run off from a muddy field rather than something that I would ever choose to start my day with. However, wanting to be polite I finished the cup, covering my grimacing face with smiles and nods of gratitude. However, each time I finished the cup she would refill it with obvious delight at my apparent appreciation.

Eventually, after drinking more green tea than a vegan on a detox diet, I made my excuses and hit the road. The hotel owners son told me that Hanoi was less than three hours away, but I was in no hurry to get to the end of my trip, so I took a back-road that threaded a slow path further into the mountains that lie between my final destination and the border with China.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

On little more than a dirt track I rode toward the mountain tops that faded into the white sky above. Kicking up a cloud of dust behind me I was smiling broadly as I rode through small villages and rice paddies toward places that maps appeared to make no mention of. Within no time I was seemingly far from anywhere, in the company of misty clouds and a single track road that might as well have been made from yellow bricks.

I saw few people as I made my way along the road. Those I did see always shot me a second look as if checking that I was indeed real. I suspect few, if any, tourists would venture to these parts of the country where the maps seem to have nothing to say.

Small villages go all but unnamed and unmarked as the line of the road curves its way across an expanse of blank road map that gives not the slightest inkling of the beauty of this far-flung road. On paper I’m wasting my time, lost in a void of nothing but the occasional road number, but the truth of this landscape is anything but blank.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

I took my time, stopping frequently to snap pictures and look out over spectacular views I knew my camera couldn’t catch. Eventually I found my way back to the Highway bound for Hanoi. By my calculations I was now three hours north of the city.

My detour into the mountains meant that I would reach the capital of Vietnam shortly before sundown, and slap bang in the middle of rush hour for what would surely be a rude introduction to the perils of riding in the cities infamous rush-hour traffic.

Simon Jones on the roadStill in a largely unpopulated area I noticed the motorbike felt a little unstable so I came to a stop at the side of the road and noticed that I had a puncture. My rear tire was completely flat but I wasn’t really worried. With so many motorbikes in this country you don’t have to look far to find someone who repairs them.

I wasn’t in a town or village, but as luck would have it, I had come to a stop right next to a shop that repairs motorbikes. A man sitting in a plastic chair waved me in and got a young man to fix the problem right away. He then offered me a seat and more of that terrible green tea I had earlier sworn never to drink again. This time I sipped very slowly knowing that the refills would keep coming.

In less than ten minutes, and for only 20,000 Vietnamese Dong (less than $1), the puncture was fixed and I was on my way again. The mountains soon faded into foothills that flattened out and changed the landscape from agriculture to industry.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

It didn’t take long before I arrived in Hanoi. I looked for a sign that might announce the city and mark a victorious finish line for me, but there was no such sign. Instead, Hanoi just emerged and I found myself swallowed into a melee of some 6.5 million people who live within its blurred borders.

As I blended into the city traffic my slow road to Hanoi had come to an end. After ten days and 1,554 Kilometres (957 miles) I had made it to my destination. To celebrate, that night I met up with fellow ‘couchsurfers,’ some of whom were on their own adventures. We ate Pho Bo, exchanged stories and travel tips, and enjoyed drinks late into the night. It was a great welcome to the city, and a fitting end to this fantastic road-trip.

Slow Road to Hanoi - Simon Jones motorbikes through Vietnam.

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