All the dumb things

A cautionary tale in development

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This blog has moved

Posted by razzbuffnik on May 13, 2007

I’ve moved this blog to my own domain


Posted in All the Dumb Things, Animals, Art, Carnival, Carpentry, Climbing, Dams, Food, Gardening, Kites, Masks, Music, People, Photography, Planes, Recipes, Theatre, Travel, Uncategorized, Worthy things, Writing | Leave a Comment »

When is a hotel a brothel and vice versa? Phnom Penh, Cambodia 1974

Posted by razzbuffnik on May 9, 2007

In my experience, travelling and prostitution seem to go hand in hand.  Cheap hotels appear to be the catalyst. When I was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the early seventies, every hotel (always cheap) I stayed at doubled as a brothel.  As a matter of fact, at the time I was beginning to think that there were no cheap hotels in Cambodia, only brothels that let out rooms to travellers as a side line.

I was travelling at the time with my girlfriend who was an Australian born Chinese woman with a university education. We were both very young, I was eighteen going onto nineteen and she was about twenty-two. Many other travellers automatically assumed that I was another one of those guys knocking around with a local prostitute.  There were certainly quite a few guys who were doing that, so their assumptions could be understood.

One of the hazards of staying in brothels is that there were always women waiting, outside to pounce on one as soon as one opened the door to their room at any time of the day or night. It’s not a good look to be fending off two or three women waiting at your doorway trying to grope you in front of your girlfriend. I can understand how such experiences can lead some guys into thinking they were “special” because of all the attention. The thing was, though, the “prostitutes” were just extremely desperate young women in a poor country being torn apart by a civil war brought about by external global politics they knew nothing about, trying to make their way through life as best they could. It was saddening and totally non-erotic. After a while the door watchers left me alone, respecting the relationship I already had, although (as I was told by one of them later) they thought I was a bit odd in that I didn’t want more women like the rest of the men they had encountered.

I knew three guys that were travelling together (two Englishmen and an American) who were staying at the same hotel (for the want of a better word) as myself.  We’d become friends and I used to hang out with them. One morning I came in to their room to see them, and there were three of the local “girls” with them. One of the English guys was getting a pedicure from a childlike emaciated waif while a world-wearier veteran of the battle of the sexes looked on. As I walked into the room the waif gave me a sheepish embarrassed grimace and went back to her new job. She was probably hoping that she’d be able to make a career of it.


The guys explained to me that they had gone out drinking the night before and had achieved escape velocity from the bounds of sobriety. When they went back to their room and were fumbling with the key to get in, the waiting women made their move. One of the English guys (not in the picture) said he was so drunk that he ran into the shower and threw up all over himself while a woman was pulling at his clothes, trying to undress him.  Being so drunk, the Englishman not only wasn’t interested in sex but he also couldn’t defend himself. He told me that he turned on the shower and sat on the floor as the cold water ran over him, trying to stay conscious.  His assailant wasn’t put off and kept pulling his clothes off while he continued to vomit, thinking he was going to turn inside out.  He told me that he passed out in the shower and couldn’t remember the rest of the night. The other two guys just rolled with the punches or should I say the women. In hindsight, I’d say they were very lucky not to get robbed. In fact I’m sure that the girls were more interested in being “taken away from it all” and saw the guys as their lucky break, so therefore they didn’t want to cruel their chances.

I ended up staying in Cambodia for about six months until two weeks before the US backed government of Lon Nol fell to the Khmer Rouge.  In that time I got to know quite a few of the “girls” and heard some of their sad stories. My decision not to sleep with them for money wasn’t much use to them.  I’ve come to think that ethics tend to be a product of “fat” societies and ethics are one of the first things to go when the going gets tough. So as a way of helping out (I didn’t have much money myself at the time) I used to get one of the prostitutes I knew to wash my clothes. She didn’t actually wash them, she’d pass the work on and take a cut, I knew but didn’t care, anyhow she had kids.

The very first time I went to pick up my cleaned clothes from my new washerwoman, she invited me up to her room, to get them. Once I was in the room she began to take her gear off.  The assumption being that I was using the washing of the clothes as a ruse to see her behind my girlfriend’s back. After a quick explanation of why I was actually there, I was given the washing and I left. We still stayed “friends” and I’m pretty sure my washerwoman “worked” her way through most of the guys I was aquainted with in  Phnom Penh. Good luck to her, as I’m certain that things got much worse for her when the Khmer Rouge took over.

Posted in All the Dumb Things, Photography, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

How to get arrested in Houston Texas.

Posted by razzbuffnik on May 9, 2007

This is part two of a continuation of the “momma don’t let your babies grow up to be carnies” chapter of my “all the dumb things” series. This chapter deals with the time when I used to work for a Laser show, travelling the carnival and car show circuit in the US back in the late seventies and early eighties.

After finishing the Arizona state fair in Phoenix (1980) I took a one-week break from the Laser show. I had to fly to Houston Texas to meet up with Buzz and Jordan, who had driven the truck across.  On the way to Houston (to do a car show), the guys got a ticket in Oklahoma for having one of the headlights, on the truck, out of order. In the meantime Tom who worked at the head office in Columbus Ohio as a technician also came down to Huston to help out.


One night after a show, Tom and I decided to go out on the town. Buzz and Jordan were tired and went back to the hotel. We’d taken the un-hitched truck and had driven few blocks from the Astrohall (where the show was), when we were pulled over by a police car. We turned into the Holiday Inn car park and waited, with our hands in plain view, for the policeman to come to the truck. As one does, if one doesn’t want to get shot by a justifiably nervous policeman.

We waited and waited, for what seemed like about 10 minutes, still no policeman. The lights on the patrol car were still flashing but the cop stayed in the car. After a while we were thinking that perhaps it wasn’t us that he wanted to pull over, but we still stayed put and waited some more, speculating why we’d been pulled over. Perhaps it had something to do with the ticket Buzz received for the damaged headlight, a week previously that still hadn’t been fixed. Finally I got the none too bright idea that I’d ask the policeman what he wanted.  I got out of the truck and asked the policeman what was up. He started screaming at me, as he was getting out of the car while simultaneously pulling out his baton.


I complied.

He then called for back up, after which he walked up to the truck and started yelling at Tom.


Tom, being the quiet and unassuming guy that he was, knew the drill and did as he was told in mute compliance. The cop then rewarded Tom’s unquestioning obedience by unnecessarily hitting him on the insides of his knees with the baton to get him to spread his legs even further. At this point I asked to policeman what was going on.


Within about 2 minutes the back up arrived. First one, then two, three, four police cars, all with lights flashing, arrived and out leapt another six or more police. So now there was about seven police on the scene.

The situation was getting ridiculous. A crowd was starting to form. They must have thought some of the F.B.I’s most wanted had just been captured. The police were in a circle around us about 4 metres (about 12’) away and not approaching. Just standing in a circle, hands resting on their guns and batons with the flashing lights adding to the surreal scene. It was like a piece of dada theatre, it just didn’t make sense.  Everything the police were doing seemed out of proportion and inappropriate.

After a while I called out to them, “hey don’t you think you’re overreacting, we’ve only got a headlight missing”.


Then one of the other policemen came up to us with his baton out and very wearily from as far from me as he could get, patted me down with his truncheon.  Tom, who hadn’t said a word, was also patted down the same way with the exception he got hit on the leg again, for no good reason. After the pat down, the back door of the patrol car was opened up, all the cops stepped back a pace and we were told to get in. The police had seemed very nervous and stayed at least 3 metres away (with the exception of the pat down) the whole time. Luckily we weren’t handcuffed.

On the way to the police station, I asked our host and chauffeur what were we being charged with.

As we came to a halt at the police station another cop stuck his head in the open front passenger window and exclaimed,


This stuff was starting to wear thin, so I (unwisely) said to our latest acquaintance, “you know you wouldn’t say that to me on the street if you weren’t in that uniform, so why are you saying it to me now?” Strangely he didn’t reply or do anything. In retrospect, I realise how lucky I am to still have all my front teeth. WHEW! That was a close call.

In the police station we were booked in, fingerprinted and photographed. I still didn’t know what we were arrested for. After processing we were led into the holding tank.

The holding tank was a big cell with about another thirty or forty mostly white guys in it. So there I was in a cell with a bunch of other desperados of the most minor kind, doing the jail meet and greet thing, just like in the movies. ”Hi, what are in for?” Sort of thing. The guys had been mainly brought in for fighting, shoplifting and being drunk. Every one was amiable and soon everyone knew everyone else’s story.

There were a few anomalies though. There was one guy dressed up as Jesus who had been dragging a large wooden cruxcifix across the country and he had been picked up for vagrancy.  Another guy that stood out was an impeccably dressed old (he looked about 70) black man. He wasn’t dressed in an overly flash way but I could see he was a man of quality and style. I went up to him to find out why he was in.  He told me that he’d gone into bar and ordered a cocktail. He was half way through his drink when the manager told him to leave. To this, the old gentleman replied, “I’ll leave when I’ve finished this drink I’ve paid for”.  Fair enough I thought. Who’d want to stay in such a place any way? The manager called the police, they arrived within minutes and this lovely, refined old man was arrested for trespassing! It’s no wonder that some black people in the U.S. are so pissed off.

The highlight of the evening came, when a very tall and thin guy in his early twenties, with a T-shirt covered in vomit and his face all smashed up and smeared with his blood, was brought into the cell by two very beefy policemen. This battered, bedraggled, beanpole was wearing a T-shirt that had written on it, “winning isn’t everything but losing sucks”. As the police let go of their grip on him, he fell face first into the concrete floor of the cell and didn’t move. The police just slid the cell door closed and left. Some guys lifted him up onto a bench and put him into a recovery position. I asked the beanpole in the morning what had happened, thinking perhaps the police had done a number on him.  The beanpole told me that he had been drinking all day and then took a couple of hits of acid.  Apparently he’d been staggering around the streets, doing face plants into the pavement every now and again.  The police had picked him up for his own protection.

Oddly, there was an almost party atmosphere of bonhomie in the holding cell that night. Everyone was getting along and I think that most of us were almost enjoying the novelty. I can remember thinking to myself “so this is what it’s like to be in jail”.

Later that evening we were divided up into groups of six and put into smaller cells.  In the morning we were herded into a big holding cell again and given breakfast. 

Breakfast was grits, a piece of white bread and a splash of corn syrup on a greasy, chipped enamel tin plate (What did I expect? Silver service?).  I just put it aside. This weedy little mouthy stoat of a guy who’d been yapping on and on all morning came over to me and asked if he could have it. “Sure can”, I said, and I was shocked to see the noisy little stoat wolf the lot down with so much relish.  He even licked the plate while declaring his love of grits. It was a real lesson to me about what I thought normal was and what “normal” is for other people. My idea of a normal or even acceptable breakfast sure wasn’t even in the same universe as the as the one that was home to the stoat or the justice department of Huston. Now these thoughts weren’t occurring to me because I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, they were occurring to me because the jail food was just bad on so many levels.  It was tepid, bland and had no nutrition other than carbohydrates. The thing that really got me about the stoat and his love of the breakfast was it got me thinking about what kind of home he came from if he thought it was such a great breakfast. No wonder he was in jail….. hang on a second, so was I, and I was brought up on much better breakfasts!

The people in the morning’s holding cell were a totally different crowd from the night before.  There were some very salty looking hard guys giving off a decidedly cold vibe that put a shiver up the backs of us minor transgressors. They were real hard-core criminals. Nobody asked those guys what they were in for. Everyone was quiet except for the stoat (there’s always one). He was crapping on about how he was going to kick some pig asses and what a tough guy he was.  He wasn’t fooling anyone.  Every one in the cell had his measure and I’m sure that if push came to shove, there wasn’t anyone there who couldn’t kick his butt.  It was bizarre how out of touch this guy was, with the reality of his situation. Must have something to do with being raised on a diet of highly processed carbohydrates. Maybe he was tripping on sugar.
Eventually one of the stone cold guys who looked like a solid lump of angry gristle, growled at the stoat to “shut tha’ f#%k up or I’m gunna f#%k yoo”!  I’m sure he didn’t mean in the nice way either. That didn’t stop the stoat, so the gristle dropped his plate, got up and started moving towards him.  It was like the gristle was Moses and the rest of us were the Red Sea. He stepped forward and we parted. The stoat just stood there mouthing off. We all knew things were going to get ugly for the stoat and I’m sure that just about everyone in the cell, sided with the gristle.

The stoat was saved from a character building experience by the timely appearance of a policeman at the bars of the cell. The policeman got our attention by running his baton along the bars.  As one, our focus snapped from the gristle and stoat train crash that was about to happen, to the huge silverback in uniform that rattled our cage. This cop was really scary; he made the gristle look normal in comparison. The silverback didn’t seem to be interested in what was going on in the cell, he just told us what was on our agenda for the morning, in a voice, that left none of us in doubt of who was really in charge.

We were told that we were going to be taken into a courtroom where we were to either plead guilty or not guilty in front of a judge. If we pled guilty then we either paid a fine or went back to jail. If you couldn’t pay your fine, then you’d have to stay in jail for one day for every $10 or part thereof.  So if your fine were $45, that would mean that you’d have to stay in jail for five days.  We were then told that if we pled not guilty, we went back into jail to arrange bail until the trial. We were told bail usually takes several hours and that if we pleaded not guilty we’d get out of jail by late afternoon. We were also told that if we were being held for a misdemeanour, the bail would be for about $10 more than the fine and we’d have to come back in a week for the trial.  I understood the announcement as; plead guilty, get out quick. Plead not guilty, pay more money, get out much later and then get messed around some more in a week with the possibility of paying even more money. I still didn’t know what I was charged with and I hadn’t seen Tom since the night before.

After the announcement (luckily for the stoat) we were led into the courtroom and sat in a block of pews together. As I walked into the courtroom, I could see Buzz, Jordan and Tom in the visitor’s seating area.  What was Tom doing there I thought?  Maybe he’d been processed earlier and had phoned (I hadn’t been allowed to phone anyone) Buzz and Jordan to come and pick us up. It was nice to see the guys, it was just like when you arrive from overseas at an airport and your family is waiting for you.

I found out later that Tom was released at 3am after he paid the fine for driving the truck with a headlight out. Tom told me that the police had asked him what my problem was when they let him go. PROBLEM! WHAT PROBLEM?!

One by one our names were called out and the charges were read and pleas of guilty or not guilty were made. Woes betide those who said anything other than guilty or not guilty.  The judge was a short tempered, jaded piece of wrinkled meat. A Hispanic guy tried to protest that he was framed by the police for marijuana possession and shouldn’t even be there in the first place, was told to shut up and plead or his “wetback” arse was going back into jail for contempt of court. Now I can understand that judges are probably so sick and tired of having their time wasted by people who lie to them. It was the public nature of the “wetback” remark that blew me away.  I didn’t think that was something that people (particularly people in authority) said in public and front of large groups of people. Up until that moment I thought that racism was an old fashioned private thing that people were ashamed of and kept to themselves.

Finally my name was called and the charge of “public intoxication under an unknown foreign substance” was read out. This was the first time I’d heard what I was being charged with and what the fine was going to be. The fine was about $70, so I had about three nanoseconds to make up my mind.  To either plead not guilty, pay $80 for bail and get out later that day, to then come back about a week later for the court case (such as it was) or plead guilty and pay $70 and get out straight away. For me it was no contest, just plead guilty and get the guys to pay the fine to get out straight away.

So there you have it, I pleaded guilty and now have a record just so I could go about my business without being deprived of my liberty a second longer.

I didn’t get my drivers licence for another 10 years because of what I went through in Huston.  The way I had it figured, was that if you drove a car, the police could step into your life; take away your freedom; stick their hands into your pocket and help them selves to whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted for whatever reason they could think up.

As I was paying my fine and my possessions were being handed to me, the policeman who I was dealing with noticed my passport and saw I was from Australia.  His mood changed completely and a smile swept across his face as he said to “you’re from Australia?” “That’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit”. “So what do you think of Huston?”

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Momma don’t let your babies grow up to be carnies

Posted by razzbuffnik on May 2, 2007

This is part one of of a three part chapter from my “all the dumb things” series, about my time as a laser light show operator.

Back in 1980 I used to work in the U.S. as a laser light show operator in the carnival with a company called “Laser 1”. We used to do the carnival circuit in the warm months and car shows in the winter months. Russell Rauch, the originator of the original “Roach T-shirts” was the owner (with a few partners) of the Laser show and he started in the carnival business with strobe light in a tent, at a time when strobes were still a new thing to the public. Russell had a fairly long history of making money out of new or novel things. 


The laser show was performed in a 50ft (about 15m) diameter air inflated dome attached to the side of a semi trailer that had a folding sheet metal façade housing the entrance and control room. Two large blower fans supported the dome and the entrance was a revolving door with rubber seals (to keep the air in). The dome had a capacity of up to three hundred people, who would watch the show while lying on their backs on the carpeted floor.

At the time, it was a real rock and roll, dream job, for a guy of my age (24).


We’d pump out a show every fifteen minutes and we used to often turn in14-hour days. Show after show, we’d take turns, selling tickets, spruiking and performing the shows.

The beginning of the spruik went a bit like this:

“Laser 1, the ultimate in light and sound!”
“A dazzling display of laser lights in fantasy flights!”

Sheesh, it sounds so corny now, but at the time, when we were on the mike, we thought we were just so cool. There were also lots of people who wanted to meet us and it is the closest I’ll ever come to being a rock star. We were sure we had the best job in the carnival. There were usually only three of us working, Buzz, Jordan and myself.  Because of the rock and roll nature of the show and our head spaces at the time, Buzz Jordan and I looked like the Furry Freak Brothers, which was cool in the big cites in the northern states but it went down “like a fart in an elevator” in the south. We all had beards and long hair. Buzz had long brown loose curls, Jordan a big dirty blond Afro and I had blazing red, shoulder length hair. The people who ran the Kansas State fair (in Hutchison) told our head office that, “they didn’t want people like us, back”.


Buzz, a New Yorker, was the manager and was educated in the technical side theatre. Buzz was definitely the brains of our little group and he was always calm, organised and decent. Buzz took things in his stride and not many things disturbed his calm aura. He once beat at a game of chess while he was driving the truck. As the manager, Buzz tended to look after the financial side of the business, which meant he also used to spend most of his time in the ticket selling tickets and spruiking.


Jordan, from Philadelphia, despite his “peace, love and mung beans”, outward appearance, was into modified cards and was basically a music loving motor-head in freak disguise. Jordan’s father was (from my naive perspective at the time) the last word in cool and he had a car collection that included a 1969 Lamborghini Miura, which he once took me for a ride in. Up until I’d met Jordan’s father, I thought all fathers were remote and out of touch.


One time in central Florida (I think it was Ocala), our truck’s timing chain broke and we had about four hours to kill while it was being repaired, so we went to a bar. I guess the first mistake we made is that the three of us walked in, imitating the “Three Wild and Crazy guys “ sketch from the T.V. show Saturday Night Live. We were always ready to have some fun and we thought this would be a good strategy to start the ball rolling. Everybody in the bar (about five guys), as one, got up and walked out, before we got half across the room. In retrospect, I suppose I should be glad that’s all that happened. 

No big deal, we ordered some drinks from the nonplussed bartender and put some money in the juke box. There was only country and western, which I knew very little about, so I chose several Charlie Rich songs. As soon as the music started, the bartender came over and told me that my music was too loud. I, in return pointed out that it was his jukebox and that, should he desire, he could turn it down.  He pulled the plug out of the wall. By this time the three of us had picked up on the vibe (I didn’t stop being insensitive until I was about 40), but that didn’t deter us and we stayed in character for the rest of the afternoon, playing pool like Steven Martin and Dan Ackroyd would’ve as the “Wild and Crazy guys”, laughing our heads off. We though it was hilarious and had the bar to our selves for the rest of the time we were there.

I hadn’t seen the movie Easy Rider back then. Now that I have, I thank my lucky stars that the “good ole boys” who left when we first came in, didn’t come back with their friends and some sporting equipment to put us in touch with their feelings.

Another time in Van Horn, Texas, at about, Buzz, Jordan and I were playing pinball in the lobby of the Holiday Inn where we were staying. When a stereotypical southern redneck Texas Ranger (you know the type, chewing tobacco, huge beer gut, wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses, indoors even at night) came up to us and told us to stop playing the game and get out of the lobby.  We told him we were paying guests of the hotel and had a right to be there. He pulled out his baton and told us if we didn’t stop playing and leave the lobby, he was going to crack our heads and arrest us for disturbing the peace. If I had seen such a thing in a movie I wouldn’t have believed it. Up until then I thought such stereotypes were just a counter-cultural bogeymen.

Part 2

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Cambodian AT-28D, 1974

Posted by razzbuffnik on May 1, 2007

This is a picture of the attack version of the “North American T-28”.  


I tried to get a ride on one but the pilot wasn’t interested in taking me up (strangely enough). I never was successful in getting any flights in Cambodian combat aircraft.  I even tried to get flights on “Huey” helicopters as well.  The only military aircraft I was able to hitch rides in were transports and they were always “Fairchild C-123K”s.

On a photographic note, the dark vertical streaks (bromide streaking), were caused by the fact that I had the film developed locally and since the ambient temperatures were so high, most of my negs were over developed and that’s why they look so grainy and the skies look so blown out.  The higher temperatures also meant that the development times were accelerated, making problems like bromide streaking, caused by insufficient agitation much more likely.

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Hitchhiking by air in Cambodia (part 2)

Posted by razzbuffnik on April 20, 2007

This is part two in a two-part chapter in my “All the dumb things” series

The other types of aircraft I used to air hitchhike in were civilian cargo planes. In 1974 there were still a lot of old WWII aircraft flying in Cambodia and I got to see first hand, aeroplanes that I’d only ever seen in books.  The most common were the Curtis C-46, Douglas C-47 (aka as the Dakota or DC-3) and also the Douglas DC-4.

The Curtis C-46 above was operated by the imfamous Air America
(I never asked them for a ride… they were just sooo serious) 

The planes were usually loaded with rice or fish as a cargo. Incidentally, the area around Tonlé Sap Lake is one of the most productive food producing areas in the world.

Most of the civilian pilots were Philipinos and generally as such, were a friendly happy-go-lucky bunch.  Most of the cargo planes had two crew, the foreign pilot and a Cambodian loadmaster. The relationship between the pilot and loadmaster, looked to me, like that of master and servant. There didn’t appear to be much crossing over the gulf of class, education and culture between them.  The pilots didn’t fraternise with the loadmasters in a social way.  The pilots sat up the front in the cockpit and the loadmasters sat in the fuselage with the cargo, each by themselves.


I once commented to an American journalist who could speak Khmer, that I thought it must be fascinating to understand what the locals were saying. His response went something like this: “not really, the average Cambodian is an illiterate farmer who has no concerns other than his crops and that is all they talk about”.  So I suppose, that attitude goes some way to explaining why the pilots had any interest in having anything to do at all with a young naive fool from Australia like me.  At least I spoke English and prattled on about other things besides farming.


The hand loading and unloading of a cargo plane by the loadmaster and a few locals from where ever we landed, took quite a while, so the pilots used to have a fair amount of time to kill. It was during these times I got to have extended conversations with the pilots, as they waited, smoking, in the shade under the wings of their planes.  Most of them saw themselves as nothing more than glorified truck drivers.  Flying air-cargo in 1974 by yourself (no co-pilots), in old dilapidated, ill maintained crates, during a war, landing quite often on dirt roads, in the heat and humidity of Cambodia was a long way from being glamorous and they knew it. Most of the pilots looked like they were in their fifties and I’m sure the novelty of flying had worn off many years beforehand.

Cambodia at the time didn’t seem to have any law other than that which could be bought. Which in turn meant that any safety codes that were deemed “inconvenient”, were just ignored. Nothing seemed to get “enforced” anywhere in Cambodia at that time.  A lot of the aircraft I flew in looked like they didn’t get much maintenance. For example many of them had some broken windows and dents along the side of the fuselage. The cockpits in many also had loose cut wires sticking out in the air. One DC-3 I flew in had a metal maintenance plate in the cockpit that said something like: Air India, Bombay, Last maintained 1947.  At least that was the last time it probably got a real thorough maintenance.


On a few occasions I was present when people tried to load more weight, in cargo, than the plane was rated for.  The pilots would be yelling at the loadmaster not to load any more, while the local, whose cargo it was (these sorts of things usually happened when we landed on dirt roads out in the middle of nowhere), would start to get out large wads of cash to try and smooth out the matter.  Not once did I see a pilot knowingly allow too much cargo to be loaded.  They always stood their ground. After all, self-preservation is a strong motivator. Large wads of local currency weren’t impressive in Cambodia. In one of the banks I frequented in Phnom Penh, due to the rate of inflation, they used to use bales of 100 riel notes to hold up the customer counters.


The pilots had a fatalist attitude towards the state of their planes. One pilot told me that when he was flying his DC-3, he was always looking downwards at a 45-degree angle looking for landing places, just in case the engines failed. He said, very matter of factly, “these DC-3s don’t glide too well, they just sort of fall, at about a 45-dregee angle”.

Now days you’d have to hold a gun to my head to make me go up into the air in such aircraft. Then again, I don’t go into countries that have wars in them anymore either. Safe experiences don’t tend to lead to entertaining horror stories, which of course, are what tales of (mis) adventure consist of. In short, adventure often stems from bad decision-making.

By cadging flights, I got to travel all over Cambodia, which was illuminating on many levels.  For instance, I know for a fact, that Kissinger lied when he denied that the Americans were carpet-bombing the country, and when he was caught out, said that the American air strikes were confined to areas near the Vietnamese border. From the air, in some areas far from the Vietnamese border, vast swathes of land, densely pockmarked by perfectly round pools formed in bomb craters, were visible in every direction, as far as you could see.

Here’s a link to map prepared by Yale University showing how far from the Vietnamese border the Americans bombed:

In this particular case, I don’t think that carpet-bombing caused the craters around this defensive position.
On a technical photographic point, the dark streaks are caused by insufficient agitation during development

It was also instructive to see how rag-tag and disorganised the government forces were once you got away from Phnom Penh. They were more of a militia than an army. When I look at the photos I took when I was in Cambodia and I see the photos of the boy soldiers (kids really, just like me at the time), I always feel an uncomfortable twinge, as I wonder what happened to them when the Khmer Rouge finally won the war.  Many of the soldiers had anti-Khmer Rouge tattoos. The poor and the ignorant always get dealt harsh blows by changes in history.


Enough of that morbid stuff, here’s “all the dumb things”.

One time when I was flying in one of those old scrap heaps I noticed a window with a large jagged hole in it.  I tentatively stuck my hand a short distance out and felt the warm air rushing past at about 380kph (approximately 150knots or 170mph). I made a small wing out of my hand and was playing with the air (like when I was a kid in the family car). As timed passed,  I got a little bolder and stuck my arm out further and further with (surprisingly) nothing bad happening.  One of the things that I always wanted to do on a plane was look straight down at the ground, I was getting a bit bored with looking across at the horizon all the time.


I stuck my head out of the window and immediately the force of the wind rushing past my, much fatter than a hand, head, almost snapped it off. The loadmaster couldn’t hear me screaming for help, above the sound of the engines. There I was, all by myself, without anyone but myself to save me. My neck was bent at a severe angle while it was being pushed into the jagged plexiglass teeth of the broken window. My head was fully out of the window, being pressed, hard against the outside of the plane. 

I couldn’t just pull my head in and I was starting to freak out. The force of the wind was so strong I couldn’t straighten my neck to get my head back through the hole and inside the plane. Every time I tried to pull my head in, the jagged plexiglass digging into my neck, dug in further and held me fast. I felt that I was going slit my throat (don’t want to cut the carotid artery now, do we?). I eventually got out of my predicament by pushing myself, with one hand against one of the fuselage’s ribs (against direction of the air-flow) and then reaching around with my free hand to grab a hold of a large hank of my hair and pull my neck straight enough to get my head back into the plane.

Won’t be doing that again!

For you photographers out there, the film I used was Tri-X.  I had the film developed locally and since the ambient temperatures were so high, most of my negs were over developed and that’s why they look so grainy and the skies look so blown out.  The higher temperatures also meant that the development times were accelerated, making problems caused by insufficient agitation (bromide streaking), much more likely.

Part 1

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My great shark hunt

Posted by razzbuffnik on April 19, 2007

This is another episode in the “All the dumb things” series

When I was about 15 in 1971 I got interested in going to Queensland. At the time, I had a friend called Karl and I talked him into going up (we lived in Sydney) there with me during our school holidays in the summer.  Back then airfares to Brisbane were very cheap so we caught a plane.  From Brisbane we decided to take a train up to Cairns, stopping off at Proserpine on the way.  I wanted to go Proserpine because from there we could go to Airlie Beach, which was near a few well-known resorts and the Great Barrier Reef.

The resorts had names like Daydream Island and South Molle Island. As a small child, growing up in the city, places with exotic names, evoked in me, visions of “Adventures in Paradise” a show that I used to love. Also as a kid I was fascinated with the idea of small islands and I used to fantasize about living a subsistent life on one.

It never occurred to me that the tropics were, about the last place on earth that a pasty, freckled, red haired, white boy should try and make a home. It was only years later when I lived in Vancouver, Canada did I understand what habitat my genes were suited to.  Long periods of rain and overcast skies made me feel “right”. I suspect my gene sequence was evolved as a good survival strategy in the last ice age by one of my mammoth hunting ancestors. As a teen, such realities never intruded into my thoughts.

Another reason why I wanted to go to Airlie Beach, was that at the time I used to do a lot of skin diving.  I even learnt how to scuba when I was 14.  The scuba course cost me $11 and was taught at a Y.M.C.A. indoors pool over a couple of nights. FAUI? PADI? Decompression tables? Never heard of them!  We were told; ” just don’t come up faster than your bubbles and you’ll be O.K”. Every one knows that the Great Barrier Reef is a Mecca for divers and I considered myself one, so I just had to go.

When I look back, I’m amazed that my parents let me go, at that age, with only another teenager as a companion. Come to think of it, what was Karl’s family thinking? Letting him anywhere near me, never mind traveling up the coast thousands of kilometers away, with me.

The plan was that when we got to Airlie beach we’d hire a boat and live in it for a week and when we got there, that’s exactly what we did.  We hired an open fourteen-foot aluminium (sorry you Americans out there but I just can’t bring myself to write it your way) dinghy equipped with a small outboard motor for eight dollars a day. After 5 minutes of instruction we were in the water and heading out to sea for the nearest island.  Lifejackets?  Never heard of them!

Enough of all this intermediate stuff and onto “all the dumb things”!

One day, while out in the boat, Karl and I saw some bad weather closing in so we headed for shelter in a fairly protected bay about 10kms north of Airlie Beach. We anchored in about 2 metres of water and swam ashore.  We did this because the tides in that area are quite high and when the tide goes out you can be stranded on a tidal flat until the next tide comes in. The looming weather wasn’t as bad as we expected and we spent the next couple of hours ashore exploring the nearby bush.

Yep! You guessed it, when we came back to the boat the tide had started to go out and the dinghy was sitting in about 30cm (about 1’) of water which was too shallow to use the motor or row, so we started pushing the boat as fast as we could, towards the receding water.  The problem was, was that the seafloor in that area has an incredibly level surface with not much of a slope for kilometers. This all meant that no matter how fast we pushed the boat, the water quickly went down to a level where we couldn’t push it any more. So there we were, stuck out in the middle of nowhere on a tidal flat for the next 8 hours which meant that we wouldn’t be able to leave until after dark. Food? Water? Didn’t have much of that. Contingency? Never heard of it!

The good thing was, that after the squall had blown over there were millions of butterflies migrating out to sea. It was sublimely beautiful and calm. Karl thought it would be a interesting thing to see how far out to sea we could walk.  We walked for what seemed like an age, following the butterflies straight out to sea. When the water was only half way up to my knees the dinghy was nothing more that a speck the size of a piece of dust. On we walked following the butterflies straight out to sea until the water was up to our knees, further and further we went.

Not looking at where I was treading, staring at the horizon and the butterflies, I stepped on what I think was a Giant Reef Ray (Taeniura meyeni). The ray was huge, about 1.8 metres (about 6ft) across and about 3 metres long (about 9ft).  As I stepped on the stingray, I barely had time to feel the ground move from away from under my feet, all I saw was an enormous mottled disc shape fly up out of the water with a tremendous splash, landing back in the water about 3 or 4 metres away with another big splash and then off it flew away under water. It frightened me so much that I just about ran over the top of the water all the way back to the boat without stopping or gasping for breath.  It was a real son of mammoth hunter meets monster of the deep, adrenaline moment.

Back safely in boat we waited for night to fall and the tide to come in. As soon as the water got deep enough to put the propeller in the water we tried to start the motor.

Yep! You guessed it. The motor wouldn’t start and in our continued efforts to get the engine going we succeeded in flooding it.  By this time we were both hungry and thirsty so we decided to take turns rowing back to Airlie Beach, which was quite a way off.  On we rowed into the night, occasionally trying out the motor. This went on for what seemed to be hours and hours. During my turn at rowing we hit a large soft floating object, which jumped up out of the water creating a gigantic splash, drenching us and almost tipping over the boat. Needless to say it scared the heck out of both of us. We didn’t know what is was but we assumed it was either a dolphin or a dugong.

By this time I was a shattered nervous wreck and Karl wasn’t a happy camper either, but probability snapped back like an overworked waitress and we finally had some good luck, the motor started.  Within about an hour we were back in Airlie beach dining on fast food.

Since the night was warm and the water was calm we decided, for a change to sleep in the boat while it was in the water. We usually dragged the boat up onto the beach (which is made up of finger sized pieces of coral in that part of the world). It was a beautiful balmy night, I felt safe, fed and comfortable. As I was lying in the boat enjoying the night, it came to me that a spot of night fishing would go down well. We rowed out a little further into deeper water and baited up our hand lines.

Both of us weren’t having any luck until I felt a weight on my line. Usually when you get a bite you feel the fish through the line take the bait. This felt like I’d snagged on old boot or something like it, so I reeled it in. As I got it close to the surface I could dimly see that it was a fish, a decent sized one at that, but it wasn’t fighting the way that fish usually fought and we didn’t have light so I couldn’t see what it was clearly. The only option was to lift it into the boat.  As soon I lifted the fish out of the water I could see it was a small shark (cool!) about 50cm (about 20″) long, but it wasn’t moving around much like hooked fish usually do. So I lifted the shark with the line into the boat and as soon as I did, it bit through the line and all pandemonium broke loose.

It was dark, and we had this small shark that had suddenly sprung into action snapping at us from the bilge. Both Karl and I fell over our benches backwards; Karl into the bow and me into the stern and the shark had the middle.  The shark was going berserk, jumping and snapping all over the place.  It took me awhile, but I finally located my diving knife and stabbed the shark.  That only annoyed it and the jumping and snapping were getting much more frantic. The situation quickly degenerated into a jumping, snapping, stabbing frenzy. The shark just didn’t seem to want to die (strangely enough), so I eventually ended up pinning the shark down with the knife and we waited for what felt like an eternity for it to stop moving.

The middle of the boat was now covered in shark blood and guts so we ended up dragging the boat onto shore and having an unpleasant sleep on the beach. In the morning when it was light we got a good look at the shark that was still in the boat. There, in the bloody bilge, lay a poor little shark that had been rendered inedible by my panicky ministrations. One side of the fish looked fine, the other side was a mixture of bilge, fish mince and guts.

 I didn’t go into the water again for the rest of the trip.


pasty, freckled, red haired descendent of mammoth hunters
with monster of the deep

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A close encounter with a champion kickboxer in Japan

Posted by razzbuffnik on April 18, 2007

Another episode of “All the dumb things”.

Here’s another b&w image to balance the last two screamers.


This photo was taken in 1976 and it’s of a fight between the Thai Junior middle weight champion (the guy on top) and the Japanese middle weight champion “Kame” (at least that’s how I think it’s spelled).  Although Kame (Japanese for turtle and it’s pronounced Kam-air) won the fight, his temples were covered with purple streaky bruises where the Thai fighter had elbowed him numerous times when he had him backed into a corner.

I met Kame in 1976 in Tokyo through a room mate of mine called Simon.  Simon was in Japan studying shotokan karate and we used to teach at the same English school. Simon had been on the English karate team and while he was a great guy and like a big brother to me, he obviously wasn’t a person to mess with.  He used to do 500 sit ups day, could do the splits effortlessly, didn’t have an once of fat on him and had calluses on his knuckles from punching a makiwara board for hours.

I used to hang out with Kame and Simon (I was never into martial arts) and go drinking with them.  Whilst hugely entertaining, drinking with Kame was always problematic as he used to urge us to drink more than we wanted to. A sort of terrorism by hospitality. So when Kame wasn’t looking we used to toss the sake that had been pushed on us, over our shoulders or pour it out into pot plants. Kame caught me doing it once and bit through a thick ceramic bowl to freak me out.  It worked.  I knew that Kame would never actually harm me (I was an unworthy adversary).  The same couldn’t be said for Simon, as I was sure that Kame wanted to take Simon on. It was a good thing that I was the one caught tossing the sake.

Kame grew up in Okinawa were he studied Goju Ryu Karate.  In his late teens and early twenties he honed his skills in Okinawan bars frequented by U.S. servicemen stationed there. 

Having said all that about Kame’s scary side, he was a great friend and could be extremely funny.  Kame and Simon used to regularly trash our apartment, sparring.  Great stuff to watch in a 3 tatami room. They put quite a few holes in the walls and once knocked over the refrigerator. Kame also used to get us ring side seats at his fights. Going into bars with Kame was always pretty cool as well as all the local Yakuza and Chimpera knew and respected him. We used to always get free drinks sent over to our table, with a curt nod in our direction from them across the room.

Once, on a cold night before a match, Kame cover over to our place looking for Simon. Kame wanted to warm up for the match by sparring with Simon, but Simon wasn’t home.  So Kame asked me if I was interested in taking a few kickboxing pointers with him up on the roof of the apartment block.  I thought, what the heck, why not? I felt quite honoured, so up the stairs we went, onto the roof and out into the cold to begin my little lesson in kickboxing, and as it turned out, in life.

Before I go on, I should digress and explain that the Japanese tend to be hierarchical in their interpersonal relationships.  Kame was about 10 years older than me and a champion kickboxer to boot (oops, sorry for the pun), so by Japanese standards I was subordinate to him.  He was the sempai (senior) and I was the kohai (junior) and due respect was expected. This sempai, kohai relationship is one of the basic tenets of Japanese society.  Now being my sempai didn’t mean that Kame felt he had a right to be overbearing towards me, but rather that he had a sense of responsibility towards me. Sempais take care of their kohais, it’s a bit like a mentorship. Conversely, kohais are expected to appreciate what they are being given and act accordingly.

The first thing that Kame showed me was the kickboxing stance (standing on one leg with the other leg raised and bent at the knee, with both fists up against the forehead with the elbows close together and close to the mid section protecting it) and how to block in that stance and then he showed me how to take blows.  This went on for about an hour and Kame was really patient with me. Finally Kame got into the stance and said that I should try and strike him anywhere as fast as I could (Simon used to get me to do the same thing). 

Needless to say, I didn’t get to lay a finger on him as he was just too fast and his defence was a quantum leap better than anything a novice like me could come up with. After five or ten minutes I’d worn myself out trying to land a punch or kick on Kame. Kame just effortlessly blocked everything I had. He could see I’d had enough so he said we should stop and he dropped his guard.

Now at this point I would like to ask you, dear reader to think (or image if you’re too smart for such idiocies) of a time when you did something that you knew was stupid and was going to lead to tears, but you continued. Sort of like the feeling one gets when you are trying to open an old paint tin with a chisel or a beer bottle with your teeth. Just dumb, dumb, dumb.

As soon as Kame dropped his hands I quickly and lightly touched his left ear with my right hand with a mock punch. Before I could pull my hand away Kame, quick as lightening, lightly snap kicked me in the head.  I know that Kame didn’t kick me hard as I was still conscious and standing. I’ll tell you what though, my ear was so hot that I didn’t feel the need to wear a beanie to keep my head warm. I could still feel the effect of the “lesson” two days later.

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Hitchhiking by air in Cambodia

Posted by razzbuffnik on April 18, 2007

This is part one in a two part chapter of my “All the dumb things” series.

 Back in 1974 when I was 17, I was travelling around South East Asia. I ended up in Cambodia about six months before the war there came to an end. One of the reasons why I went to Cambodia, is that I met a Belgian guy when I was in Laos who said it was possible to hitchhike in Cambodia by military aircraft or civilian air cargo.

I stayed in Cambodia for about six months and found myself various jobs teaching English (not being qualified, didn’t stop me). Road travel at that time was impossible as the government only controlled the cities (if you could call them that) and several of the larger towns. The Khmer Rouge were in control of the rest of the country.

When I wasn’t working (which was often) I used to hitch a ride down to the Phnom Penh airport,


walk out onto the tarmac (Ahhh the bad old days when safety just didn’t seem to matter) and ask pilots for free rides as their planes were being loaded. I didn’t care where I went and most of the pilots were happy to have someone to shoot the breeze with on their flights. I used to get flights with civilians and the military.


The military flights were always on a Fairchild C123-K (known as the Provider). The C123-K was designed to take off and land on short makeshift runways and it had a big rear ramp for quick loading and parachute drops. The plane had two propeller engines for level flight as well as two auxiliary jet assist engines to enable the aircraft to take off and land in short distances . The inside of the C123-K was basically a big square box with webbing benches running along the inside walls. At the front of the plane there was wall about 3 or 4 metres high with a ladder up into the cockpit. The centre usually had a payload of weapons and ammunition held down with a webbing net that clipped to the floor on the way out of Phnom Penh. Refugees and valuable civilians goods (like fancy furniture and motorcycles) were carried on the way back.


My first experience in a C123-K was a real education. The pilots had trained in Sale, Victoria here in Australia and were pleased to host an Aussie. I was given a tour of the cockpit and treated like an old friend. They told me they were going to Kampong Soam on the southern coast and then back to Phnom Penh. The take off was very fast and steep as there was the possibility that the aircraft could come under small arms fire while flying under 10,000ft. The jet assist engines were incredibly powerful and I was surprised how quickly we reached cruising altitude. They just didn’t muck about!

The airport at Kampong Soam was in pretty good shape and the plane landed like a normal plane and it dropped off some soldiers and a few boxes of ammunition. About 30 refugees and a few motorcycles were loaded for the trip back. Unbeknownst to any of us passengers, we went back to Phnom Penh via Takey, which had a short makeshift runway.

The Cambodian refugees were just poor, uneducated farmers, most of who had probably never been in a car, never mind an aeroplane. The refugees were quite pathetic in that they were plainly destitute. Most were women who didn’t have any shoes or anything else except the dirty and threadbare clothes they were wearing and perhaps a half clad child on the hip. These were people who obviously had gone through some very hard and harrowing times.


The military just herded the refugees into the plane, where they sat where they could. Some on the floor around the ammo crates and some on the webbing benches next to me. I tried to explain as best I could, using broken sign language, that they should put their seat belts on. Most just didn’t get it, and the few soldiers who were with us just smirked at my efforts and made no attempt to enlighten the other people.

Landing on short runway at Takey came as quite a shock. The C123 just dove steeply, hit the runway with an alarming thump and with the help of the jet assist engines, came to an abrupt halt. The only troubles were, that the cargo netting broke and there were unfastened refugees. Those of us who were strapped in stayed where we were. Everybody and everything else that wasn’t strapped down went hurtling forward at a terrifying speed, smashing into the wall at the front of the plane with sickening force. Crates of mortars, women and babies went past me in a blur. In the midst of all this, a little woman, with an iron grip, grabbed my leg as she flew forward and horizontally fluttered off me like a flag until the plane stopped. The most amazing thing is that every body walked off the plane unscathed, even the ones who were thrown into the wall with all the very heavy ammo boxes smashing all around them. It’s was a wonder that no one was killed.

Part 2

Posted in All the Dumb Things, Planes, Travel, Writing | 5 Comments »

Morocco (an introduction)

Posted by razzbuffnik on April 17, 2007

 This is the first in what I hope will be a long line of stories that I will be posting on this blog.  Things will get much crazier later on.
The thing to know about Morocco, to better understand the place, is that Morocco has for centuries been a gateway for trade between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. The Moroccans have made their livelihood from the traffic that passes both ways through their country. One gets the impression when in Morocco that you are passing through a kind of colourful, sticky money sieve.  It seems anything that you come into contact with, inexplicably extracts some money from you.
One can’t leave their hotel without being beset by touts. The touts offer to be your guide, which means they will either drag you around to places they have “arrangements” with or they will follow you around trying to get a cut of whatever transaction you make. In fairness most Moroccans are dirt poor and there aren’t any social safety nets.  Basically, the average Moroccan is on their own without much means of support and the average European tourist looks like a large overfed moneybag in comparison. Another consideration is that many people from the “first world” treat travelling in poorer countries as an extended shopping spree.
The longer I stayed in Morocco, the more I could identify with the herbivores of the Serengeti. There I was, an overfed target of seeming plenty for the ravenous circling predators.  After a while the constant badgering of the touts begins to pall and no amount of polite refusal of goods or services is heeded. To give you an idea of what it can be like, I’ll relate this short anecdote.

When I was in Chaouen, a small town in the north of Morocco a local who wanted to be my guide approached me on a number of days.  On all occasions I politely refused, as I didn’t want to have to interact with anyone who’s only objective was to drag me around to places where he’d get a cut of any purchases, including any food, I bought, while relentlessly blabbing in my ear.  I just wanted to poke around on my own (the predators could see the straggler who had wandered off from the herd and saw in him an easy feed) in peace, but this guy was very persistent. I was constantly being probed for information so he could engage with me. My last interaction with him went like this:
Q. “Where are you from?”
A. “Australia.”
Q. “You come from Sydney?”
A. “Yes.”
Q. “Very beautiful place, no?”
A. “Yes.”
Q. “Where do you go?”
A. “Walking around”
Q. “I will be your guide?”
A. ”No thanks, I’d just like to walk around by myself.”
Q. “I can take you to my uncle’s carpet factory?”



A. “No thanks I don’t want a carpet and I don’t want to buy anything.”
Q. “You want jellaba (a sort of full length pullover smock with hood that the locals wear)?”  I know where you can buy a very fine jellaba!”
A. “No thanks and I told you I don’t want to buy anything.
Q. “Ahhh! You want hashish?”
A. “No thanks, I just want to be left alone.”
Q. “You want a girl?”
A. “No and please leave me alone.”
Q.  Looking around and in a low voice, “you want a boy?”
A. “No and go away!”
Q  “You don’t want carpet? You don’t want jellaba? You don’t want hashish? You don’t want girl? You don’t want boy (in exasperated disbelief)? Why did you come to Morocco you f#%king Australian Jew!
I threw my charming interlocutor against the wall and made it clear to him he was in great risk of receiving some grievous bodily harm, he ran off and didn’t bother me for the rest of my time there.  This experience and several others in a similar vein taught me a few things though. The Moroccan guides I came into contact with tended to:
1.       Be desperate.
2.       Not understand, that not all foreigners wanted to shop all the time.
3.       See politeness as a sign of weakness.
4.       Understand force and aggression.
5.       Think being a Jew is a bad thing (Not that I am).
For what it’s worth, I met a hilarious Italian traveler who told me that his way of being left in peace is to scream at the touts, as they bothered him, that he was Italian while making a slashing motion across his neck. His rational was the mafia operated in Morocco hash trafficking and they had a reputation of being very dangerous.
As a result of this experience and many like it, I’ve come up with a way to reduce doing things I don’t want to do. Whenever I get approached by people, to do something, I go through the following mental routine:
I first ask myself if it would please me to please them (by doing what they want). If the answer is no then I don’t. If it pleases me to please them, then I will go along with them.
Many people in non-western countries are quite happy to exploit western politeness and a desire to be liked. While we here in the west have the luxury of thinking (or possibly deluding ourselves) that friendship is offered and given for the sake of friendship only, many people in poorer countries are so desperate they see any foreigner as a ticket out of their poverty and so seek profit from any overtures of friendship.
The Cambodians have a saying: “Never trust a poor man.” And there is an Arabic saying: “It is a sin to tempt a poor man”


Having said all that I still recommend engaging with the locals in any country that you visit, just keep your eyes open, your wits about you, and don’t do anything or go anywhere that makes you feel uncomfortable.  Listen to your inner self, it’s quite often right.


So there you go, a trip to Morocco, unless you go to a resort, isn’t really a vacation, it’s an experience. Somebody (I can’t remember who) once said, “Adventure is discomfort remembered in comfort.”
If you ever go to Morocco and stay for a while (outside of the resorts) you’ll definitely come back with some stories. I certainly did.

Posted in All the Dumb Things, Photography, Travel, Writing | 3 Comments »