In the capital of capitalism, is it possible to sell a ‘nothing’? During the 2006 New Year holidays I joined Phil and friends at the beach on Lamma, Hong Kong’s nearest outlying island. It was to become not only the greatest day trip ever spontaneously conceived but testament to the dumb crap that can occur when a group of young guys join forces. They said it couldn’t be done, but that day – as an experiment in ‘anti-real estate’ – we built and sold a hole. We also put a Buddhist monk in it, albeit briefly.
Upon arrival, and worried that building a sandcastle could damage our masculinity, we began digging a giant hole to emphasise our heterosexuality and perhaps trap a few small animals. We invested in a HK$25 bucket and spade and dug down to chest height in just under two hours.
Our first buyer was ‘Kevin’ who agreed a price of 20 cents – we wrote out a contract. He joyfully took photos in and around the hole with his friends blissfully unaware that he had been conned. Since we hadn’t furnished Kevin with a copy of the paperwork we were able to sell the hole again, half an hour later, to a frighteningly excited ‘Gary’. Gary agreed a price of 50 cents and proceeded to fit no less than 4 of his friends in the said cavity. We calculated a net loss of HK$24.30
Cambodia has two rail lines, both originating in Phnom Penh, totalling about 612 kilometres of single, one-meter-gauge track. Today, due to the lack of funds to maintain the tracks and rolling stock, the trains have ceased to run. However, in 2006, I was lucky enough to ride on one of the last Cambodian trains heading north to Battambang on Saturdays and returning to Phnom Penh on Sundays.
Running at less than 20km an hour, the journey (around 4 hours by road), took up to 17 hours. Pulled by a 1994 Czech yard-engine, “sleeper class” consisted of a hammock and the tracks were clearly visible through the crumbling wooden flooring. The train rocked, often alarmingly, from side to side but the beautiful countryside passing by made up for it. Foreigners paid double, but tickets still cost next to nothing. During the journey, the train became a village market, and if the hustle and bustle became too much, one could escape to the roof. Just be careful to duck when a power line comes along!
“Visitors to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, are able to visit the Killing Fields and the S-21 Genocide Museum, based in the school which the Khmer Rouge used for torture, detention, interrogation and murder. People held there were usually intellectuals – teachers, doctors, anyone – even those who wore glasses – all apparently posed a threat to the ‘revolution’. As the Vietnam War spilled over the border, the Khmer Rouge seized control in 1975 – declaring it ‘Year Zero’, they banned money, suspended the mail, closed the country down and killed 1-2 million people, a quarter of the population. Those who survived were worked to the bone in labour camps, underfed and diseased, often starved to death. As per Orwell’s ‘1984’, they brainwashed children who grew up to be amongst the most brutal members of the regime. One of the reasons that the infrastructure remains so bad today is that the middle class was wiped out between ’75 and ’79, until Vietnam invaded and occupied the country for 8 more years. It is this latter reason that many Cambodians still dislike their neighbours – it was a bittersweet ‘liberation’.
The Sedlec Ossuary is a small Christian Chapel, located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. The ossuary contains approximately 40,000 human skeletons which have been artistically arranged to form decorations and furnishings for the chapel.
The cemetery was a burial site for those killed in the Black Death in the 14th century. In around 1511 the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was, according to legend, given to a half-blind monk of the order. In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps into order.
The macabre results of his effort speak for themselves. Four enormous bell-shaped mounds occupy the corners of the chapel. A hugechandelier of bones, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vaults. Other works include piers and monstrances flanking the altar, a large Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms, and the signature of Master Rint, also executed in bone, on the wall near the entrance.
Paragliding over the gorgeous Himalayan mountain range in India, from 3,400 metres, is a truly magnificent experience – and it cost next to nothing when I visited in 2003 (see the India page).
The fantastic affordability was partly due to us choosing to do a jump with some near ‘cowboys’ who seemed to be slightly intoxicated and/or had a death wish. The video, above, is worth watching for the comedy value of my mid-air conversation with ‘Aman’, with whom I shared a worryingly shoddy harness. The flight lasted around 20 minutes.