Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Welcome, Burness

Take a good look at this face.

Say hello to the face I will be seeing rather a lot of for about eight months. This lovely gent is named Burness, and for the duration of my travels in Asia he will be my trusty companion.

When I originally devised these Wonder-based travels, it was always an integral part of the trip to have a travel partner. Not just because I have no wish to be a hardcore solo traveller and instead prefer to have a familiar face to enjoy a pint with at the end of the day, but because I believe a second opinion on each visited landmark is essential. When alone, I have a rather bad tendency to rush around things, not taking them in fully and not really absorbing the experience as I might. But with a companion of some sorts, I am much more likely to be leisurely and chat about the surroundings and our impressions.

In an ideal world, I would have the same travel partner for the entire duration of these travels. This would provide consistency and, vitally, they would be urged to do no research whatsoever. At the very end of visiting every single location on my list, we could sit down and independently draw up our own lists. Would my list match theirs? How different would they be? My appreciation of each Wonder would surely be an amalgamation of not just visual impressions but also knowledge of the history, architecture, feats of construction and cultural impact; my travel partner's appreciation would be based only on visual impression and popular cultural awareness. In many ways, the latter is more pure - there is less in the way of preconception, and the monuments would be mostly judged on visual impact alone, which is the effect many of these buildings were designed to have. An important part of the project was not only to draw up my list, but to see how my travel partner - who had seen all the same places as me - differed.

This was planned with my good friend Handsome Matt in mind. Handsome Matt is a New Zealander now living in Sydney, whom I met during my two years in South Korea. He was deemed perfect for the quest due to his innate handsomeness (always reliable for attracting swarms of girls), his general lack of useful knowledge (thus a fresh-faced innocence when visiting each location) and his willingness for new experiences (obviously essential for travel enthusiasm). Unfortunately I didn't reckon on his innate handsomeness attracting a lovely girlfriend and this eventually leading to some rather permanent changes in his life - Handsome Matt and his girlfriend are expecting a baby in August, to their delight, and my delight too, despite the disruption to my immaculately-laid travel plans.

And by happy chance, Sydney is the first stop in my travels, in September, and I will get to meet the new baby (who Matt assures me, boy or girl, will be named "Baby Nev"), as well as a newly responsible patriarchal Matt and his girlfriend, who I have not yet met but have spoken to on the phone, and sounds far more lucid and aware that Matt ever was.

With Handsome Matt's abrupt bowing out of the travels, I needed new feet to step in. And so enter Burness. Burness goes back way into my childhood, when he was my childhood neighbour from age 5 (age 4 for him) just a few doors down. We spent our entire childhood irritating each other, ignored each other as young adolescents, but then in late-to-post university got back in touch to share a love of drinking. He started working in the oil industry seven years ago, with me starting - indirectly due to him - five years ago.

Burness is a man characterised mostly by his immense and impressive passion for booze. Even in my heyday, which saw a respectable alcohol tolerance, Burness could outdrink me with ease. Tales of his drinking prowess have become the stuff of legend, and somewhat the stuff of great concern, as they seem to frequently involve passing out on buses and trains and waking up in the wrong country.

Or molesting me.

Despite all that, a rich vein of culture does run within him, when not utterly washed out by lager or gin or crushed by a hangover, and he brings with him a sincere interest in food and music to the travels, as well as a keenness for cycling and swimming. Having never fully gone travelling before (but travelled much through work and short breaks), he is eager to go, and is happy to structure the travels along the lines of Wonder-hunting.

Nonetheless, more than one person has expressed concern that upon arrival in south-east Asia and finding out just exactly how cheap the booze is, Burness may well-and-truly break me.

Burness will be accompanying me for the Asian leg of the travels, that is until late-April and arriving in Moscow, before heading (overland hopefully) back to the UK. After that, he intends to do a post-graduate, and so won't be available for the European and Middle Eastern leg, and the American leg is too far away to plan as yet.

So, take a final look at this face, and imagine waking up to it daily for eight months, in hot, sweaty conditions.

I don't think I need any more encouragement to start hitting the gin.

(thanks to Lindsey Johnstone and Claire Smith for the top and bottom photos respectively)

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