My Life As a Bum

The aftermath of quitting your job to go travelling.

Week 1 & 2:

The Mornings
My girlfriend berates me each day before she leaves for work, ‘You’re a bum, get a job!’ I throw the pillows at her and tell her to get off my back… ‘I wanna be a human rights activist!’ ‘Go out and get a design job!’ ‘But I wanna be a photo journalist in the Middle East.’ ‘You’re a Graphic Designer, go and design stuff!’ ‘Ok, you want design, design this…! (I then make an offensive gesture. She then runs out in tears).

She is getting annoyed. Yesterday I demanded a cut from her salary for all the design advice I gave her during Uni. She refused, so I said I won’t be giving any more design advice until I receive payment. I also stated my intention to start charging for sex, effective August 1.

My favourite time of day is in the morning, after my girlfriend has finished berating me and gone to work, and I have the place to myself. The daily news is fresh and the coffee is at its best. It’s also the time time of day when no time has yet been wasted. By midday the mood has mellowed a bit. By 3 it’s a lost cause and I go to the gym to avoid the peak crowds.

The ‘To Do’ List
I have a great ‘To Do’ list. I often spend more time on my to do list than doing the things on the To Do list. I like my To Do list, I just don’t like doing it. It’s good though… “Call agents/studios/producers, update website, edit travel photos, submit work to relevant sites, cycle to Scotland, write stage 2 of manifesto, read Das Kapital” etc etc. If you read my list you’d say, ‘Wow, that kid’s going places’. The only place I go is to the supermarket for some cheap snacks. I’m still going to Tesco, soon I’ll be going to the Pound Store with the other bums. My ‘To Do’ list is quite advanced, I’ve imported it into the notes section of my iPad, and also the calendar. It’s convinent because as another day goes by without me doing anything on my list, I can very easily move it to the next day, as opposed to my written list, where I have to keep crossing out Monday and replacing it with Tuesday, then Wednesday etc.

The Distractions
I get sidetracked very easily. Today I was sidetracked by a spider. I don’t kill spiders, I try and capture them so they can start a new life outside instead. I couldn’t catch him so we had a bit of a stalemate. Then I made myself some lunch.

Some days I play with the idea of going to the Pub with a copy of the newspaper for an afternoon pint of Ale. If I had a Dog I would. He could sit with me while I read the news, it’d be great. I usually conclude that it’s dangerous territory for a bum to start drinking during weekdays.

The Cat
I may not have a dog, but I have a neighbourhood cat. Being a bum has given me the chance to restore my relationship with the neighbourhood Cat. She wasn’t happy that I left for 2 months, now she’s beginning to work out I’m home each day and has started paying me regular visits. I tell her about the cats I met on my travels, as well as the dogs. I tell her that she’d actually like some of the dogs I met, like the Olkhon Island dogs, because they were proud, like her. ‘Y’know, when it’s all broken down, Cats and Dogs are quite similar, but instead of being united, you’re divided by politics. Centuries of conflict means your relationship is now broken, reduced to strained tolerance rather than acceptance, and that’s a real shame kid, coz you guys could really form something together, an alliance of sorts’. After paying very little attention, she usually licks herself and walks away. Sometimes this makes me angry… ‘See, that’s your problem, you’re arrogant. You never take anything I say seriously. If you were a dog you’d be listening’. This is met with an aggressive ‘Reow! Hiss!’, as to suggest..’Don’t you ever compare me to a Dog!’ ‘Why don’t you just loosen up? If you’re not obsessively staring at the bush in the garden, you’re cleaning yourself like a compulsive maniac. All you ever do is clean yourself, you’re already clean damn you!’ She’ll usually then give a timid meow, forcing me to back off. ‘Ok, I agree, hygiene is important, don’t forget I spent a month in China, I understand its importance! But it’s an obsession with you, it dominates your life. Look, all I’m saying is to loosen up a bit, that’s all, you’re a good cat.’

The Highlights
I love the weekends, because then I can not work and not feel guilty. I feel like I’m part of society again. I even go into Soho to have drinks with my former colleagues, like a real worker. They tell me about their week, and I tell them about mine, but I don’t really have anything sane to say.

Despite how it may sound, there is progress, and there is excitement. Progress: in my first week back from travelling I never knew what day it was. I’d often ask, ‘What day is it? Sunday? Shit, I thought it was thursday’. Last week I always knew what day it was, that’s progress. Excitement: One day I locked myself out in my slippers (my slippers are my new shoes). I went to the neighbours’ house and told them of my dilemma, asking if I could climb their back fence. The guy said he was happy for me to climb the fence, but he doubted my ability to make it over, ‘It looks like a tough fence to climb’. I’ve always been a very good climber so I was confident of making it. I did it with ease and thanked him when I was on the other side. Then I cleaned my slippers and went and had a lie down to rest. Another day I let the Preachers in. Being in Brixton, we have a lot of English/Caribbean preachers who love Jesus very much. They came in and we spoke about God and such. I said I’m unemployed and he told me things will pick up soon. He said he’d pray for me. I’m hoping it pays off.

The Mum
Being a bum gives me more time to speak to my Mum. She asks ‘How are you Adrian?’ I say, ‘ I’m unemployed. I don’t work. At all. I’m living off my savings. I’m a bum.’ ‘Oh Adrian’ she says. She’s praying for me too.

The Schemes
Sometimes I wonder how far I can push being a bum. Like if I only shop at the pound store. Or if I skip a meal each day. Or if I invent schemes to make money. I often think of money making schemes.

My girlfriend comes home, and I’m either occupied with a Spider, talking to a Cat or sorting through my list, and I’ll say something like.. ‘Oh, and that reminds me, those gifts I bought you from my travels, ah, they weren’t free. I’m ganna require payment for those now. I spoke to a girl at the pub today who’s interested in that chinese jewellery box.’ She usually walks straight back out the door, allowing me to get back to catching the spider.

I hope you’re enjoying the new segment. I’ll continue providing updates of my life as a bum, including an RSS feed and Twitter page. Stay tuned.
Bye for now. 

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Reflections From 1 Month in China

China, the unanswered questions

Why do chinese spit?
It took less than a day in Beijing before this really got under my skin (and under my feet, *drum sound*). Constant spitting. Preceded by a loud hukking sound, as though they’re trying to withdraw their intestines before they spit. The longer I spent in China, the more it ate away at me. Spitting outdoors, while disgusting, is on some level acceptable, by simple grace that it can be sidestepped and avoided. But doing so indoors, on a packed train, a bus, a cabin, motivates me to call upon the little friend mentioned in my previous post. I would be sitting on a packed peasant train, stifling heat, and observe a Chinese man eject a massive piece of saliva onto the ground and think, ‘You bastard. You absolute bastard. Why?!’

Why squat when you can sit?
I can on some level understand the thinking behind a squat toilet when it’s well maintained, flushes, and is completely separate from any area where humans converse. In China, sadly, these luxuries were rare. I did a Yangtze River cruise in a modest cabin with 5 Chinese and a squat toilet behind walls that failed to contain its stench. I looked at it as I entered the room and thought, surely all will refrain from depositing number twos for the duration of this trip. We are in modest surrounds, and I can’t see a flush on that squat. To my horror, I discovered bombs had been dropped on day 2. Again, I looked to the heavens and asked, why? Banging my head with force against the wall, crying. Why not just go to the communal shit house, why do it here? We now have to live with this stench. That night, neither the warm beer, nor the sleeping tablets could get me to sleep. I lay there berating my cabin mates. Then one of them, without warning, rose and lunged toward the toilet to huk and hurl a massive spit. Again, why? Why! How much saliva do you have in your mouth that forces you to lunge with such urgency in the middle of the night to get it out? Why would you voluntarily, unnecessarily, want to enter the squat zone? What is so abhorrent about saliva being in your mouth? Do you not have a natural saliva circulation system? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Why combine a shower with a squat toilet?
What’s worse than a filthy squat toilet? Having to shower right on top of it. Whoever came up with the idea of combining a squat toilet with a shower should be shot by a firing squad. Bathing in the direct vicinity waste, its like brushing your teeth with sugar, washing your hair with cooking oil, taking a hot bath to cool down, it’s like… it’s like… any other ironic smilie contradictions? Masturbating with Olbas oil.
Ouch, that was bad. Too far mate. Too far. *cue heckles and hisses from the crowd* Showmanship Adrian, learn the value of showmanship.

Why have Internet restrictions?
This one is simple, so the corrupt aristocrats in the CCP can keep the proletarian ignorant, in turn allowing them to keep their cushy jobs in the party and the eye watering riches it brings. Meanwhile, the majority of chinese are poor and struggling, and always will be, but don’t know the difference. Define irony… Chinese communism.

Revering a man who was responsible for up to 70 million Chinese deaths is a little backward. Adorning him on the currency and in statues? I know why they do it, because many don’t know the difference, but i still cant get my head around it. It’s like Germany commemorating Hitler in a statue. The US commemorating George W Bush. It’s sick.

8 Hours on a Peasant Class Train
After experiencing the fleeting luxury of a hotel in Yichang, it was as if someone then asked, you all rested now? Yeah? Well you should have enough energy for this! Then picked me up threw me into a stinking hot train packed full of sweaty people, for 8 hours. I’d travelled a lot on trains in China up till this point, but not this. I seemed to have somehow booked a peasant class ticket. No air conditioning, little air, little space. The one luxury we were granted was that the windows could be opened all of 10 cm. It seemed as though everything on this train was designed to break the spirit of the people.

The last hour of the journey was a terrible sight. Day had turned to night. The carriages looked like a war zone. Bodies were strewn over the seats, people in a deep deep sleep, some were dead. Food and drink were scattered all over the floor. The toilets were evil, as were the basins. Puddles of spit were scattered across the floor. People huddled into corners, talking to themselves like madmen. It looked like a cyclone had struck. And then I borrowed that line from Elaine in Seinfeld, when she looks up to see everyone eating Snickers bars with a knife and fork.. ‘What is wrong with you people, have you all gone mad!?’ Then, pointing to the mess…’We did this to ourselves, we only have ourselves to blame for this sad state. Now we have to live in it. Correction, you only have yourselves to blame. I was clean, and this is the thanks I get’.

The horrible climax came when it started raining, causing passengers to do something terrible, such craziness reminding me of the final chapter of The Beach. As the rain tumbled down outside, splashes began to trickle through the tiny gap in the window. I’ll never forget what they started doing next… they closed the windows! All of them. So, they had spat on the ground, spat into bags, coughed and sneezed vehemently into the air, spilt food all over the floor and left it, thrown trash on the ground and out the window, smoked like chimneys. This was all ok. But the thought of rain coming in through the tiny gap in the window, that was intolerable. So with haste, all the windows were shut, and so the cooling gush of air coming from outside was replaced with the terrible stench of waste coming from the toilets. And the crippling humidity that only China can dish out. But this was ok, because the rain and noise from the tunnels was kept out. And that eternal question returned, why?

Hints and Tips for Surviving China
These are a series of very useful pointers for anyone wishing to travel to the other side:

Combatting Being Mocked
The chinese laughed at me a lot, some of which was quite clearly laughing of the mocking variety. I didn’t mind, nor should you, just do as I did, laugh along with them. But make your laugh much louder and much more intense. As though you’re taking your laughter very seriously. And don’t stop laughing, even when they’ve stopped. Keep laughing, and clap, really hard. With a very very intense look, until your face goes very red. And follow them. Laughing. Until the laughter is so loud and intense it becomes a scream-laugh. A scream-laugh? Yeah thats right, a scream-laugh. Then, the narrative will have changed, they will no longer be amused, rather, they’ll be concerned, even afraid. They may even try to run away from you in a desperate panic. And then, the joke will be on them. Game set and match.

Combatting Persistent Touts
When I’d disembark from the train at a new town, often very early in the morning, all I wanted to do was get my bearings, get a snack, and sit for a moment. The touts would have none of this. The worst thing to do with a tout is stop moving, they will hover around you like flies. I found the quickest and most effective way to get rid of them was as follows: when they asked 6 or 7 times in the first 10 seconds of seeing them, Where you want to go? Where you go?! Where you go?! Instead if politely saying no thank you, say… ‘Africa’. Silence usually followed, before they’d clarify their question.. ‘Where you go, now?’ ‘Africa’. ‘No no, now? Where you go now?’ ‘Africa, I’m trying to get to africa, can you take me there?’ They’d then look confused, probably wondering if they should help this poor kid who was trying to go to africa but somehow ended up in china, or whether to just move on. Every time it was the latter and I’d be free. True story.

Combatting the Language Barrier
I seemed to have a lot of in depth conversations with people who had no idea what I was saying. Often the chinese, despite knowing I couldn’t understand what they were saying, would talk and explain things to me for minutes at a time while I patiently listened. Then my turn to speak would come and I’d talk away while they patiently listened, neither knowing what the hell the other was saying. To make this more interesting I decided to change the topic of conversation and say… ‘I am Jesus Christ. I am Jesus Christ. My conception was immaculate. I am the son of God, that’s right, God is my Dad’ etc etc. It got me into a bit of trouble in Jerusalem, but in China it’s fun.

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