On our journey across the Gulf Country – the Gulf of Carpentaria – we happened upon this intriguing piece of art amongst the graffitti of a rest stop:

IMG_1626 (2) (427x640)

One cannot help wonder what situation generated this one.

This country would have to be one of the most repressed I have ever visited, with an extraordinary return of the repressed at all sorts of levels. On the one hand, everyone is impossibly polite, nice, tidy and meticulously rule-abiding. Everyone bows at the slightest meeting. Even on a train, the person wheeling the trolley with food will bow at the end of the carriage before making her way along, offering drinks and snacks. Police officers assist you with the most trivial detail, all the while wearing a huge smile. Everyone drives about 10 km below the speed limit, for fear of breaking the law. And forget about crossing an empty intersection if the pedestrian light is red. Even more, excessive noise is a no-no. You can speak on a mobile phone in a train only in vestibule of each carriage. Hotel regulations make a big thing about quietness. Every word is spoken softly.

At the same time, Japan has one of the largest prostitution industries in the world. Worth an estimated 10,000 billion yen a year, it is in your face – so to speak – everywhere you turn. In grocery shops, leaflets advertising local services can be found. If you live in the country, your letterbox will be full of such leaflets. But call it prostitution. Ah no, is it ‘health delivery’, or ‘soapland’, or you can engage in a ‘romantic’ getaway in a ‘leisure hotel (the latter are a cheap way to travel in Japan). Keep in mind that prostitution is technically illegal in Japan.

However, you don’t have to go that far to see such repression and its release at work. Take the toilets in a standard hotel. They all come with a curious panel of buttons on the side:


Initially, I ignored such devices, but then I became intrigued. How do they work? I tried pressing the buttons, but to no avail.


However, after sitting upon such a toilet a few times, I noticed that the green light went on (square button) after some water noises. I then pressed the ‘bidet’ button. At this moment, a phallic like tube emerged from the back of the toilet:


And before you know it, a stream shoots right up your anus:


Now let me be clear, such a photograph is not possible until after sitting down, pressing the appropriate buttons and waiting for that tingling feeling down below:


In fact, it requires significant dexterity to leap up from the seat while one’s underside is being doused, aim the camera and take a shot before the stream stops. After numerous attempts, I became somewhat damp, but now I wanted to try the ‘shower’ button. What would that do?


Yes, this one was for the ceiling, since it shot almost straight up with significant force:



As I said, Freud would have wet himself with excitement over all this. Return of the repressed – and how. But as I dried off, I also realised that Japanese cleanliness goes a long way, since it seems to me that anyone who uses such a device cannot help but having one’s whole internal system washed clean.

At last! A naked neighbour. For years I have been staggering around naked, first thing in the morning. I look for clothes in the sunroom, ponder the universe while looking over the harbour, have breakfast, make bread – all stark naked and with the curtains fully open. Thus far, our neighbours have kept their curtains tightly shut – all day.

Until now. One of our neighbours has decided that the best way to enjoy the clear air and sunshine of these parts to do the same thing: keep the windows clear and the body unencumbered. Next time I will wave to her, wearing nothing but a big smile.

On my recent overnight flight from China to Australia, I found myself seated in a row of four with two seats free and a woman at the other end of the row. Dinner was eaten, a movie watched and then each of us sttempted to get comfortable for the night. We tried to stretch out on two seats each, without much success. So I suggested she stretch out her legs and lie against the seat backs and I would stretch out in reverse and lie down in the remaining space. So we were able to lie down at full stretch, heads at either end of the row of four seats. I found a pair of smelly socks close to my nose, my consolation being that my socks were even more aromatic beside her nose. But I soon fell asleep. Some hours later I woke to find my hand resting on her somewhat ample thigh. I sheepishly removed it and smiled a good morning.

I was not quite sure what to expect: a slap or a kiss good morning. Instead, she was keen to talk and asked me what I did. I mentioned writing on Marxism and religion, researching in Australia and teaching in China, my children, travel etc. She, it turned out, was the head of a major company, married and with a brood of children. To top it off, she was a fundamentalist Christian who had found the command to obey her husband immensely helpful – she told me with Bible in hand. She was used to calling all the shots, so it was a relief to be able to let him do so some of the time. So on we chatted until the plane landed. But neither of us mentioned my wandering hand or her thigh. At least it broke the ice.

Quirky signs with unwitting senses – part of the pleasure of travel in distant places.


This is the name of a well endowed cafe at Leipzig railway station. Not to be outdone, the ship from Riga to Stockholm sports a somewhat different culinary experience:


But my favourite is this one, on the old train from Minsk to Riga:


It took me a moment to realise that there is no red line through the lit cigarette, for in the vestibule at the end of each carriage you can indeed smoke. How civilised!

Nudism was a particularly strong feature of the USSR, as also in East Germany. Lenin was, of course, a nudist, along with Krupskaya and many of the Bolsheviks. But what about Stalin? I have yet to find out more information on that one, but he is a long-term resident of Fox Bay nudist beach in the Crimea:

Stalin at nudist beach Crimea


More information on the range of natural places in Crimea may be found here.

(ht sk)

This question arose during a recent, brief stay in hospital. I had my third bout of atrial fibrillation in the last 17 years and went to emergency. They pumped me full of various drugs for the next 24 hours – flecainide, metropol, and amiodarone. None of them made much difference (good to know next time), so they zapped me with a low voltage electric shock the following day and I reverted to regular sinus rhythm immediately. I already knew this, since the shock had the same result five years ago.

So what has all this to do with a cause or its absence? I found last time, in 2007, that everyone is a cardiac specialist, keen to find causes. It’s due to stress, said one. You have a weak heart, said another. Too much exercise, said a third. Perhaps your heart is too big … and on they went. And I too sought for causes. In my discussions with my cardiologist at that time, I suggested excess coffee in the past, heavy smoking, periods of lack of sleep, inheritance … On each occasion, he simply shook his head.

‘There’s no cause in your case.’ He said. ‘You’re a lone fibrillator.’

To explain. There are three causes: heart disease, heart surgery, hyper-thyroidism (Graves Disease). I have none of those. The following data also applies:

Blood pressure: 95/65

Pulse: 46

Calcification: zero

Cholesterol: normal (i.e. nothing bad)

In other words, I have a “strong and healthy” heart, as they said at the hospital. All of this means that the atrial fibrillation is not particularly dangerous for me, although when older (70 plus) the risk of a blood clot in the heart does rise.

Of course, given the well nigh inescapable philosophical and scientific horizon within which we operate, there must be a cause for everything. So if I say there is no cause (as I do), the stock reply is, ‘not yet.’ Or, ‘are you a religious nut?’ But what if there is really isn’t a cause for some things? They just happen despite all the evidence that they shouldn’t. In this situation, that seems to be the case. My cardiologist sure thinks so.

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