Leg 4: F*ck tomorrow. We’re living in the moment.

High on the walls above our heads, Chairman Mao (Tse Tung) glares dictatorially across the room at Uncle Ho (Chi Minh), who returns with his own steady, benevolent gaze from within his dilapidated picture frame. This must be the China/Vietnam border post.


We’re moving south. Continental Asia tapers out in its southeast corner, firstly as the peninsular we’re just about to step foot on from China, and then spreading still further through Thailand and Malaysia, narrowing again into Singapore and then into a string of steamy Indonesian islands, like a dot-to-dot puzzle marking our intended overland route to Australia.


Passports are stamped and Chairman Mao waves us off with the great China to our backs. It’s not the real Mao though, it’s just his portrait. We know because we saw the real Mao lying embalmed in a glass case in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Interesting affinity of communist countries, this pickling business. Just ask Lenin, or any of the Kims of North Korea. Depending on the current political situation, you may need to hire a psychic medium to do this.


Whilst Mao signifies China’s five-millennia-long obsession with eternity, as do countless incredible and ancient buildings and monuments that are maintained perfectly to this day, something changes just southeast of the border. Rather than a Chinese-style reverence of the everlasting, the culture of South East Asia seems to embrace an altogether different attitude.


Sure, Uncle Ho is also pickled and viewable in his mausoleum in Hanoi (we saw him too, he’s sent to Moscow periodically for touch ups) but we found a surprising beauty in Vietnam, not in the permanence of it, but in its perfect decay.


There was an incredible aesthetic in the old colonial buildings as they crumbled. Bright coloured paints textured with age on facades originally designed for grandeur, now gaining exotic character with mould and ferns and cracks. Still further south, in Thailand, we see more unfixed, unrepaired decay, and Penang Island in Malaysia adds yet another beautifully dilapidated old town to our viewfinders. And in Indonesia, the home made quick fix solution to architecture is really pronounced.


Looking around though it’s not just the buildings, roads and public services that could do with a good investment in long-lasting facilities. The cultural attitude is also one of go-getters. How much ‘service charge’ can I squeeze out of you today if I don’t care if you come back tomorrow. Why bother to employ another cook and expand the business, if that means we run out of food and I have to go to the market? What’s the point in fortifying the shop if the roof is just going to cave in again the next time it rains? Besides I like a skylight.


Nowhere was the “F*ck it, it could all be gone tomorrow” attitude more pronounced than East Timor. The tourism industry has taken years to get off the ground as very few people see the point in building a road for busses if a dirt track for their scooter is fine for them. And taxis aren’t reliable cause – hey, what kind of world can’t a man have an afternoon smoke with his mates and fall off the company grid for 5 hours?


In an environment where there is little social security, little legal support, the police fine you periodically for made up offences and the fridge keeps on breaking down (if you even own one) it’s hardly surprising that people generally live for the moment. Especially if you’re very own country has only recently started to exist after years of invasions, massacres and suppression by the Indonesian army.


An environment where every time you try and build something up, a group of people or some corrupt authority will try taking it over or pulling it down. Unless of course you’re connected, which more likely than not means you’re part of the corrupt authority or have the pleasure of dealing with them closely on a regular basis.


Blaming people’s behaviour on their cultural setup is easy. “That taxi driver ripped me off cause he’s too culturally unsophisticated to appreciate me as a customer”, well, not quite. If we look at our own countries and go back a relatively short amount of time in history where we had the same lack of social security, a similar living-by-the-day attitude prevailed.


Add to that a climate in which long periods of drought cause the strongest walls to crack and monsoon rain can destroy whole towns. Mix in some gruesome tropical diseases you can catch from pretty much anything and TADAAA, you get a carpe diem attitude. If you think however that this outlook on life equates into lack of cultural sophistication, you’re in for a surprise.


Humans are amazing things. Capable of both the most inspiring and horrifying deeds, humans have the unique ability of imagination, and creating a reality from this imagination make up the awe inspiring wonders that we can experience daily around the world, if you know what to look for.


What we have seen time and time again on Leg 4 of our epic journey was that a lack of focus on long term goals does not equate to brains running idle. When you have very few external factors you can rely upon, friends and family become vital. Going out of your way for others becomes important, visiting others just for the sake of affirming a friendship is important. And with this, a strong, sophisticated and above all highly active social structure is developed by everyone chipping in emotionally as well as in practice by giving others their time.


After the social media bustle of Europe, the wide-open spaces of Russia, the political differences of the countries bordering the northern Asian ocean, it was the kindness of strangers that defined Leg 4 in South East Asia. To previous strangers: Tuan & Shane in Vietnam, to Pim in Bangkok, to Eddie, Dexter, Auntie & Uncle in Penang, to the Bali crew and to our Timorese guardian angel Sandra, thank you for going out of your way above and beyond and giving us your time. We have new friends, and ones who a little monsoon or political turmoil can’t touch.

Zero to Hero

How’s it going? Everything smelling as it should? Nice to sniff your behind, run around the block and get to know you a bit, you seem like a pretty cool bunch of people. Do you like my picture? I made it myself on Photopup.


If you’ve ever been to Bali or Java, you’ll know me. If you haven’t, my name is Zero, and I’m kind of a big deal around here. These days I hang out mostly around Red Island, an awesome beach on South-East Java, with my mates Ari, Mul and Mick. We have a pretty sweet pad going on – pool and all. It has this awesome red sign (at least I’m told it’s red, I’m also told dogs are colour blind, but I don’t believe that part), and it’s got eyes and squiggly lines on it. It looks something like this: M  OJ  O.


It wasn’t always the high life though. I’ve had my rough and tumble. I’m 3 years old now which is quite good going in my neighbourhood. And don’t look too bad for it though, I check my reflection regularly in the river outside our pad on the way to the beach every morning. Gotta look good for my patrol.


I am what people would describe as an ex-athlete. Maybe a boxer in human terms, although I’d say my experience is more in the MMA field. I was born on a beach on Bali, I can remember seeing the sea for the first time and thinking – WOW what an amazingly large puddle. Then I went in and realized it was all salty, so I didn’t do that again. I’m not a pussy though, it was cause the salt blurred my vision and I needed to be ship sharp.


When I was a young pup, I met these three guys called Mick, Ari and Mul. They came to my restaurant and we hit it off instantaneously. They told me stories of the bright lights of the city, and being young, dumb and full of beans I was intrigued. I couldn’t stop thinking about the excitement of the cosmopolitan lifestyle, so when two hours later they said I should tag along, all three of us headed towards Kuta.


Mul, Ari and Mick are the best. Before I was born, Ari left his village in Red Island to go to university on Bali. From what I understand, a university is a big house full of books and no food, so I don’t really concern myself too much with these things. Ari didn’t have any money, so he slept with my great grandparents under the stars for a few months whilst going to the book house every day. He came out at the end with a piece of paper and a big smile and said he was going to change everyone’s life. “What a dude”, granddad said he’d thought at the time.


He then met Mul and Mick and they set up a shop together in Kuta, which is where we went together. A shop is basically like a university, but with less books, more food and more smelly people. I loved it. I got in with a bit of a rough crowd but they taught me how to fight. And if you can’t fight on Kuta’s streets, you’re out. You basically have to pack your things and move to Seminyak. And no dog wants to do that.


The boys were a slight concern though. Humans can’t fight like dogs, they don’t know the etiquette, they don’t respect the hierarchy of things. Some tiny idiot in a big tin can that says ‘Porsche’ thinks he’s the shit, and some big guy drinks too much of that smelly stuff with the red star on the bottle and thinks he can take someone’s hat without asking. Humans are idiots sometimes, and I know Kuta inside out.

Naturally it was my job to make sure the boys were safe. They are awesome of course, but it’s the other humans you need to worry about. I made sure they were ok though, when they went clubbing I arranged with the manager before so I could go with them. If they took their scooters for a late night snack, I’d be at Macky D’s to make sure they got all the food they ordered, and that no one took any whilst their backs were turned.


They paid me back loads though – Mick even got into a fight once cause this idiot kicked me and Mick stood up for me. And when one day I got into a bit of a furry situation (think Butch in Pulp Fiction – I just have too much integrity to take bribes), Mul and Ari saved my life by smoke bombing with me one night.


Red Island is now my home. When Mick first got here, he was so stunned by the waves he slept under a Pandanas Tree for a week, just to be close to the water. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like there was a house to sleep in anyway, but I’m told that this certain type of human has a tendency to stay close to water they like. They also often carry around a large piece of white plastic, a bit like a door, with a little string on the end. You may not believe me (and I don’t blame you), but I have it on good authority that the string is tied to the human’s leg so the door thing doesn’t get washed away in the waves, cause… wait for it… the humans stand on the door in the waves! Crazy, I know. I think they call it ‘smurfing’.


After the boys got a little bit tired of living under a tree (those mosquitoes are ok if you have fur but if you’re a naked human monkey, they get annoying) they dug out Ari’s piece of paper from university that I heard had something like ‘Degree’ and ‘Tourism Management’ written on it somewhere. “Why is this relevant”, you may ask? I know – after all I can eat a piece of paper in less than 20 seconds.  But apparently the paper means Ari has the authority to tell people about a place and bring them there on holiday. So the boys had many meetings with Ari’s friends and family, and everyone else living in the area – all of whom where keen to invite people to come to Red Island.


Ari, Mul and Mick started talking to the government and saved up money to buy a piece of land by the beach. I of course made sure it was all kosher and soon enough they were building small houses with beds so other people could stay in them at the weekend. There was quite a bit of plastic on the beach when we arrived – for me of course a total non-issue as plastic usually contains tasty leftovers. But apparently it’s not so good for the sea and the other animals, so the boys teamed up with the elders and explained it to everyone living there.


Beforehand, no one really cared (except the other dogs, who wanted more plastic as it means more exciting leftovers – no brainer if you ask me), but now they were doing the whole tourism thing, it was good to get everyone to clear up, and to get the government to send round some humans once a week with a big smelly car to collect all the plastic. The boys organized a day when everyone came to the beach and cleaned it up – there were old humans and middle-aged humans and a whole bunch of school humans too.


And that made me think about it – I get food from the boys, and the amazing mix of smells from the smelly car totally make up for the lack of leftovers. It’s so good I even bark thank you at it sometimes. I have my pension; I have my patrol route and make sure no one steps out of line in the area. You can pee on the gateposts, but if you even think about pooping in the pool, you’ll have me to reckon with. Everyone knows that. And our pool is brand-new and the first one in the region, so we’re all very proud of it.


The boys do their smurfing thing and bring other smurfers to Red Island. Some of them are pretty good; I saw one jump out of the end of a wave on one of their doors the other day. It was awesome. Others are not as good (you can tell cause their doors are big and red, with the eyes and squiggly bits on, just like our sign), but they seem to be having loads of fun whilst I make sure they’re safe and don’t poop in the pool.


There’s a group of people digging a huge hole into one of the mountains nearby – and it’s not for hiding stuff, but for pulling this yellow stuff out. I saw this musician called Jay-z on TV, you may have heard of him, although he’s not nearly as well known as I am. He was wearing it around his neck, think it’s called gold. The hole-diggers want to use lots of chemical things, but because of Ari’s tourism idea the humans here know they need to keep the water clean, so are telling the government to not allow the hole diggers to use chemical things.


This tourism thing of Ari’s has been a pretty smart idea, people come to Red Island now just for fun, and to eat in the restaurants, so people here can earn money (and we get the leftovers). And this means they look after it more and more, so more people will come. It’s quite a party – but they’re also making sure it doesn’t grow too much, so I can keep the overview.


So, as you’re a pretty cool crowd, and I love you already, you should come and see us some day. I’ll be here, Mul, Ari and Mick will be, and M OJ O and some other smurfers too. Ask for Red Island – or if you’re talking to a local, just say Pula Merah (see, I’m even teaching you some Indonesian!). Or you can ask these Rat & Dragon guys who are publishing me on their blog if you have one of those metal Wifi box things humans watch videos of cats embarrassing themselves on (big fan of those!). I hear we’re pretty shit hot, we don’t even have tin cans with ‘Porsche’ written on them, just a big clean beach and a pool and lots of doors to stand on in the waves.



** Note from the editor: several spelling mistakes corrected and ‘woof’ noises omitted. For visual record of Red Island, please see DAY 7 of Mojosurf Bali & Beyond or the corresponding hero film:




Cashing in on Creativity

Young, fresh, radical and more often than not totally illegal, street art has taken our hearts and minds by storm. Now way beyond Banksy (also on Artsy.net), hundreds of internationally known artists regularly enhance the urban landscapes of cities such as Bangkok, Berlin, Bethlehem, Bogota, Bristol, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Dublin, Gdansk,  Istanbul, LA, Lisbon, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Moscow, NY, Paris, Philadelphia, Prague, Quintanar de la Orden, Rio, Santiago, Sao Paulo and Taipei, just to name the small ones. Our wonderful Penang deserves one of the higher rankings as street art is live and kicking in Unesco World Heritage Site Georgetown.


With one stunningly original mural around practically every corner, you have great chances of capturing your next perfect facebook profile pic (Penang was ranked by Time magazine to be one of the world’s 10 selfie capitals), but unless you are interested enough in finding out more about the origins of your newest Like-generator, this will be the end of your brief love affair as the artist themselves are rarely credited or mentioned.


Everyone likes something for free. And with something so unquantifiable as art that is not traditionally established (we’re not talking Monet or Damien Hirst here), it is more often than not up to the artists to follow their passion, beyond all the odds, keep their heads above water whilst they experiment, learn, develop and perfect their skills over years of hard work and financially supporting themselves through other means, only to then find someone willing to allow them to express themselves creatively on a piece of urban canvass or risk an ASBO (that’s ‘anti-social behaviour order’ to you non-Brits) or charges of vandalism if they go out in the dead of night and paint anyway.


Considering the working conditions and risks (from financial ruin to a criminal record) involved, it is quite honourable that there are people in this world willing to stick with their visions for the love of their art. As we all know, getting paid for creative work is hard enough when you’re in the corporate industry, but getting paid to completely free reign and –shock, horror – without ADVERTISING anything in particular is near impossible. Surely, if it’s not commercial, there is no real term value in it. No quantifiable cash profit attached. Therefore, why would any sane person invest in a piece of street art?


First of all, dear reader, if we have to remind you that there is more to this world than money, then we live in a bit of a sad place in time. Artistic expression can create a whole new world in a previously unloved place. It can turn a boring part of town into a trendy hideout, an abandoned park into somewhere people enjoy frequently spending time, turn a rough neighbourhood aspirational, inspire hope, humour and opportunity for communities in dire conditions.


And before you start waving a balance sheet at us, more than just human payoff, street art pays off in financial terms too. Penang’s tourism industry has vastly benefitted from attracting a whole new and young demographic following the explosive interest created by Ernest Zacharevic’s paintings around Armenia Street – most famously the two kids on a bicycle.


Originally commissioned by Mirrors (an art project from the 2012 Georgetown Festival), his mural was selected by the Guardian as one of the world’s best pieces of street art in 2013. And it’s only one of 6 fantastic pieces in the series, and Ernest is only one of many artists who have made it their mission to paint Georgetown in their spare time, for the love of their craft. Kenji Chai, Cloakwork, Drewfunk, KatunJulia Volchkova and Siek as well as Natthapon MuangkliangLouise Low, and Tang Yeok Khang of the 101 Lost Kittens project are also incredibly talented people who will make you sit up and take notice. And if you are fortunate enough to come to this wonderful place, check out the Hin Bus Depot, which hosts regular exhibitions, events and film screenings.


Despite the financial payoff, artists are still struggling. Interestingly it is now the same people who wouldn’t dream of investing in something as un-commercial as street art, who produce the endless supply of t-shirts, post cards, notebooks and re-prints featuring (and often not crediting) the artists’ work, making good cash off tourists willing to pay extra for that cute but ironically somewhat useless souvenir.


But there is no point in being bitter. After meeting up with Ernest (we have good mutual friend, who knew?), manager Gabi, Ronaldas and the Ipoh film crew, we strolled through the beautiful street light lit lanes of Georgetown. We heard all about his paintings being replicated in different parts of the world, of merchandise and re-prints being peddled for profit without credit or royalties but also about locals lovingly repairing damaged parts of the murals, or touching up faded paint. And if someone’s going to all the trouble to re-create your work, there must be something in it.


When we happened to walk past the mural of a boy on a motorbike, glancing fearfully over his shoulder, we heard the wonderful story of how someone had painted a child’s pencil rendering of a fierce dinosaur chasing the motorbike, and how everyone had been up in arms about the mural having been ‘vandalised’. Ernest’s response was to paint another boy behind the dinosaur, holding him by a dog lead. Talk about a positive spin.



Ernest’s years of hard work are now paying off, he has commissions by major brands including Samsung and Allianz, but there are plenty of artists whose talents still go un-credited or even unnoticed. Next time you’re out marvelling at a mural, take a bit of time to find out who made it, what their story is and what they are up to now.


Promote their work and credit them if you love it. Support it where you can. If you are in a position to commission artists, take the leap and pay them. And if not, take time in researching them a bit. Often, the more context you discover, the more alive the piece of art will be. Just like our little bit of insight about Ernest’s dinosaur, you’ll be part of the little stories behind the postcards.

The gentrification of backpacking

As you may have gathered whilst reading our ramblings along this particular trip, we have been travelling before. And to some pretty exciting places as well, most of them, due to our fields of interest and budget requirements, well on the backpacker’s trail. After arriving once more in backpacker decompression zone Bangkok, we mused at the ever-continuous hordes of fresh and weathered faces, fondly remembering the first time we got on a plane to a country very far away, with our mates and not nearly enough cash.


Something this time was different. And we didn’t know how we felt about it. It seemed our safe and familiar world had been invaded, and by a force we were powerless to turn back.


Kids. They were EVERYWHERE. Not locals, not families on holiday who had by chance stumbled upon our backpacker haunts, but running, screaming, tie-dye-T-shirt wearing, Mohawk sporting, Pad Thai spilling backpacker offspring kids. And where no fried cockroaches or green-chilli-Sambuca shots could cause lasting unease, the presence of kids who could be our neighbour’s children or nephews and nieces suddenly made us feel somewhat uncomfortable.


Seemingly gone were the days of free frolicking, where you can drink as much as you can in public, DIY shave your head, wear the most ridiculous clothes locals can produce and embarrass yourself ties-free by tea-bagging your mate in that awesome Irish bar.


Suddenly, as you are mooning the hot Swedes on the other side of the room, you make the mistake of looking past them, straight at the dead pan face of an 8 year old girl in pigtails and a frilly Roxy Kids dress and (if you’re unlucky) the horrified look on her parent’s faces. After you have painstakingly escaped your own parents’, neighbours’, boss’, lecturers’ and even societies’ idea of acceptable behaviour to run free in the pastures of South East Asia’s anti-responsibility backpacking bubble, your moral compass yelps from afar that you should have the duty of being a role model to the younger generation.


If guilt tripping yourself into behaving on the streets wasn’t bad enough, you are now sharing your hostel with that lovely tattooed couple from Switzerland and their 4 middle-class feral new-age-hippy kids, all under the age of 5. The corridor outside your room has been turned into a 7am playground, and you can tell when sunscreen is being applied due to the high-pitched screams of torture reminiscent of Guantanamo that flood through your earplugs. And where beforehand you could have told your fellow bunkmate he’s an asshole for waking you up last night, there’s now nothing you can do. “Kids are kids you know, but look how cute they are!”


Gentrification has caused quite a stir in Europe’s/Australia’s/America’s real estate markets. Areas such as London’s Hackney (predominantly working class and Black African/Caribbean communities), Sydney’s Redfern (a traditionally low earning aboriginal and islander neighbourhood) and New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn (previously the largest black community in the US) have seen vast displacement of former residents. These areas have suffered a sharp rise in rent due to richer investors buying up property to let out to other richer seekers of the new trendy parts of town. Shoreditch is so 2004.


Whilst most backpackers of course come from families who have the means to invest in travel abroad, there are parallels. Many especially young backpacker are on a tight budget so having to compete with a family who are a) used to getting one room between 3 or 4 people thus splitting the cost and b) are more likely to just pay the going rate or more for better facilities rather than haggle to keep the peace (especially when the kids are playing up) can be a tough one.


After endless wondering about whether families are ruining your favourite budget accommodation and whether these kids are even taking anything in (and aren’t they supposed to be at school?!?!?), you decide to get out, have a coconut and think things over.


You probably didn’t have these kinds of memories from when you were a kid. Countries outside Europe, Oz or the US/Canada were probably a bit too much work to go to with small children back in the day, whether it was getting affordable flights, visas, jabs and dealing with lack of local infrastructure and language barriers. Many of us will have gone on easy family holidays to the seaside – somewhere slightly boring maybe, but safe, predicable and fun for everyone (including the adventurous maverick backpackers of those bygone days, who were glad you were on Malta, and not where they were).


Whilst these were fantastic times, they didn’t really teach us much first hand about the way other people, other kids live. That having the biggest, fiercest looking home-made kite in the neighbourhood is the best thing a little Balinese boy can wish for. That dried squid on a stick is quite a tasty snack for a 3 year old Chinese girl. That there are real, friendly, interesting and lovable people living in these countries and that they have just the same fundamental worries, hopes and dreams as we did when we were 6 (probably involving the acquisition of ice cream). That there are faces and souls behind what our national security officials and free market economists want us to believe are corrupt governments who simply won’t cough up their vast amounts of ‘endless’ natural resources at prices our multinationals want to decide. But don’t mention the rainforest.


The media tend to sell their wares through creating feelings of outrage, curiosity about disaster and fear. Cue stereotypes, nurturing misunderstanding and sensationalism that foster our own ignorance. And we are all up in arms after skimming that Daily Mail article about that one man in Indonesia who wouldn’t let his head-scarfed wife get a driving license, and because we know no other Indonesian people, they must all be backward woman-hating bigots. The best way to remedy a set idea of another country, culture or group (whether political or religious) is to go yourself, experience the place and its people and make up your own mind.


We still maintain that a holiday from your day-to-day life and the freedom to do so 100% is worth keeping. Go to a hostel or beach or bar that is clearly for young backpackers out for a good time. And you, dear tourism industry, make sure these places exist and that prices are kept fair for both budget travellers and locals who make a living from welcoming the young, bright eyed and bushy tailed into their midst.


Places are not just places though, to stagnate in time for you to tap into and out of whenever you chose. Places are also places in time, and if somewhere has developed since you last saw it, then appreciate the good bits and see what you can do yourself to fix the bad bits.


Consider the huge benefits of people’s lives mixing to create broader global understanding on a grass routes level, and for the sake of this interconnectedness, share your public spaces with a couple of kids who may be a little bit annoying, but who may just be finding their life’s inspiration to better the world we live in. And if not, they are having their own little first time adventure, and will later in life appreciate the impact they had on their surroundings a lot more if they remember having the time of their lives backpacking with their parents.

Leg 3: The Friendship Sea

Vladivostok -> Korea -> Japan -> China



We ran out of land. We took trains, busses and cars as far east as we could. Our arrival in Vladivostok marked the completion of the world’s longest railway track, and we found ourselves in the epicenter clash of the Far East’s Big Boys.


Two huge countries with immense geographical expanse rub shoulders with two smaller, but nonetheless just as powerful players in the global game of political dodge ball. Russia’s enormous expanse of frozen North interspersed by impressive distinctly Soviet cities, China’s booming economy and population amidst crowded Huton back alleys and explosions of ornate red and gold meet Japan’s highly sophisticated traditions and hyper modern skyscrapers whilst the divided people of Korea embody both the flashy K-Pop culture of the South and community spirit of the North.


Whilst the region has experienced tension between these four very different countries for hundreds of years, efforts have been made to overcome cultural differences and build mutual understanding and appreciation between the counties. In 2006 South Korea’s president Roh Moo-hyun suggested the sea which is bordered by Japan, North Korea, Russia and South Korea and who’s alternative naming was long time disputed (Japan calls it the ‘Japan Sea’, Korea calls it ‘East Sea of Korea’ etc) should be collectively re-named as the ‘Friendship sea’. Unfortunately, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saw ‘no need to change the name of Sea of Japan’, thereby somewhat missing the point and causing strained eyes for numerous sailors trying to read the tiny print of all possible names for the body of water they were crossing.


Rat and Dragon have met, collaborated and been inspired by the numerous people on our path through these four incredible counties, and in their honor we are ignoring international guidelines and re-naming the Japan/East/Korean Sea The Friendship Sea in all maps published in the Republic of Rat and Dragon. Despite differences between their countries on a global scale, we are sure that all of our wonderful friends and collaborators would get on like a house on fire should they ever meet. We will be planning an all expenses paid party in the Bahamas as soon as we find a generous sponsor. Get in touch if you are interested (and supremely rich).


Hopping on our first boat in Vladivostok we said goodbye to Eugene and Masha, two young creatives from Khabarovsk (a city 760km north of Vladivostok) who work in Russian TV and were fantastic guides for our final Russian city. Energetic, inspired, educated, globally minded and great fun, Eugene and Masha took us from USSR inspired cocktail bar to underground reggae venue to real-life Russian diner all whilst relishing having the opportunity to meet likeminded people from around the world. All the negative press Russia has recently received (see #Sochiproblems for an example) are blown out of the water by Eugene and Masha’s easygoing generosity, which should be the emphasis of any publisher genuinely trying to build a better world.


Our boat from Vladivostok took us to past North Korea to Donghae, a bus ride through South Korea’s beautiful countryside to its pumping capital Seoul, home to Songyi, Sky and little baby Yena who delighted us in inviting us for one of Korea’s favourite pastimes: Barbecue. With your own personal fire in the middle of the table and a variety of marinated meats plus veggies and kimchi to die for dining can’t get much better than this. With a population of over 10 million, Seoul is huge global metropolis living, with big business, the newest technology, fantastic restaurants and nightlife, a whole district dedicated to plastic surgery around Gangnam and (thanks to South Korea’s high value and emphasis on higher education) and abundance of alternative student hangouts and it’s own share of highly stylized hipsters to boot. We relish the incredible view across the Han River from Songyi’s flat and cannot get enough of the friendly, helpful and wonderfully crazy people of this fantastic country.


Heading further east, we catch the boat from Busan to Osaka, which passes through the tiny sea channel between Shimonoseki and Kitakyushu (two towns connected by a bridge who hold a yearly firework contest to commemorate/celebrate one cities’ Samurai defeating the other) before meandering overnight through the heart of Japan’s Islands. Japan was one of the undoubted hightlights of Rat and Dragon’s Epic Journey. Before, during and after visiting the famously refined culture, food, style, and politeness of Japan blew us away at every point we encountered it, and the people who we shared our experiences with were truly amazing.


Our Tokyo project saw our locals Goh and Koichi show us what they and the marvelous city they live in are made of. To pack the craziness that is Tokyo into a couple of sentences is no mean feat, so read more here. Leaving Tokyo and heading North, we met with Rat and Dragon’s honorary Japanese family from years back – Erica, Ryoko, Yumi, Kahori, Wataru, Osamu, Ayako and Sean, all residents of Niigata’s small city Joestu.


Exploring Niigata’s delights (Snow monkeys!) by tiny car with this motley crew was a joy, with everyone in their own way as outgoing, generous and sublimely helpful as can be. Young Japanese tend to be competent at written English, but a little shy and where conversation was more difficult, the team made up for it with a sense of spontaneous and off the wall crazy humour that would make standup comedian Bill Bailey proud.


Elise, part of the D’s house Hiroshima crew was our final fantastic local, showing us the splendours of Shimonoseki (you can hug a penguin if you get up early enough!), before housing us in her wonderfully Japanese flat on our last night in Japan.


And then one day later, it hit us. China in all its glory. A stark contrast to Japan’s tidy, quiet politeness, Qingdao welcomed us with guns blazing. Everyone was loud, brash and very interested in what we were up to, and with no regard for personal space helpfully offering their opinion, shouting and laughing with us. Think southern Italian no-nonsense hospitality, where restaurant staff are teenage family members who would rather be at home watching soap operas but in stead offer invaluable support to the family business (whilst gaining the work experience most graduates would dream of).


Shanghai expats Adam and Steph did a fantastic job sharing their unique experiences as ‘voluntary political refugee’ Australians in China during our private city tour on two wheels which included the wonderful mazes of the French concession and stunning views of Shanghai’s famous skyline from the rooftop of an converted Opium warehouse. Witnessing the stark contrast of skyscrapers shading workers picking up coke cans for pennies to live off with money spare to send to their rurally based families told of incredible commitment to looking after loved ones that most inhabitants of the more socially equal nations simply cannot imagine.



The Chinese equivalent of ‘make yourself at home’ literally translates as ‘don’t be polite’ and our Beijing locals Joy, Sean and Wu were the epitome of warm and welcoming. Bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, Joy showed us her hometown in all it’s splendour, and you can read all about it here. The candid approach to life followed us all the way via Shanghai and Guilin to Nanning’s night market, where freshly roasted dog was served alongside the best mussels and noodles in the world, just in time before crossing the border to a new chapter in Vietnam.


The friendship sea – a fitting name for the water that divides and connects our wonderful locals in Russia, South Korea, Japan and China. Thanks to the interconnectedness of the modern world as well as ease of travel people, who would previously have known nothing more than the one sided accounts of old feuds, are now meeting and discussing views and opinions. Despite the doom and gloom of what the press may like us to believe, everyone we collaborated with was incredibly interested in meeting each other, realizing their differences and thus coming to the conclusion that under all the obvious cultural diversity are people like you and me simply wanting to make friends. Being part of this experience is what makes what we do so unbelievably rewarding and special, and as you can imagine, we genuinely cannot recommend travelling enough.


Whilst we have geographically completed our third leg of the Epic Journey, one country in particular stands out as having been bypassed this time. We do however have high hopes, thanks to a new collaborator made in Vietnam, to be able to visit infinitely intriguing North Korea. Keep you eyes peeled!

Time Travel, Geophysics and a Nice Hot Cup of Tea


We’re half way there!

Warning! Mathematicians, geophysicists and obsessive statistics fanatics, look away now. Avert your eyes from the guesstimations and suppositions that lay ahead. The rest of you, just bear in mind that a lot of the facts and statistics in this blog post are from our own subjective experiences on the road, or were pulled from various websites, chat rooms and your hairdresser’s cousin’s former cricket coach with absolutely no attempts to verify them. Simply enjoy the story…

Ever since leaving London, we’ve been chasing sunrises. East, east, east – Eastern Europe, across Russia and through Siberia – in fact, even when we ran out of land at Vladivostok, we took to the sea and continued on.

This means that we’ve actually been travelling faster than the Earth’s surface is spinning through space. Try it. Walk just a few paces to the east and you’ll be doing it too. Cool, huh?

Well we’ve been travelling a damn long way eastward, roughly between 45 and 55 degrees latitude, where the surface velocity of the Earth is about 1,200km/h, also in an easterly direction. That’s much faster than a cruising 747 (about 900km/h) but not as fast as a hoverboard hoax is revealed. As we’ve moved across the Eurasian supercontinent, it’s been fast enough and far enough for us to greet the sun slightly earlier each day, and so it set behind us a little earlier too. In short, our days got shorter.

This means we’ve lost time. We’ve crossed 11 time zones moving east, and so 11 hours of our lives have been sapped away by our journey. Which is a pity really, because we needed those. With so many blog posts to write, films to shoot and so much more of the world to explore, we really would have put those hours to good use.

All that has stopped now though. Japan was as far East as we’ve needed to go on our Epic Journey, and it’s been the longest period of time spent in just one time zone. It was nice. It was even long enough to get over our trainlag – which, by the way, does exists and can be just as bad as jetlag.

And now, for the very first time, we find ourselves heading directly west. We know it’s directly west because our ship, the Utopia, is sailing just about dead-on into the setting sun, and it’s damn well spectacular (we have a great time laps sequence of it).

We’re sailing from Shimonoseki on the western edge of Japan, across the East China Sea to Qingdao, home of China’s most famous beer, and it seems like a good time to sum up the Epic Journey so far, to take stock and to look ahead over a nice cup of tea.

Funnily enough, when we checked our proposed route against the mileage we’ve already done, we discovered that this new change of direction also signifies another major milestone of our trip. We’ve travelled, give or take, about 17,100 or so km over land and sea from Hyde Park in London, and our proposed route from there to Hyde Park Sydney will total roughly 34,400 km.

Somewhere between Japan and China, in the middle of the calm East China Sea under a sensational sunset, we reached the halfway point of our Epic Journey. Aaah…

And what a fantastic first half we’ve had. Seeing the world, catching up with old friends and making brand-new ones across the breadth of the planet, all while chasing down content to knock your socks off, has been utterly brilliant.

When you boil it down the goal of travel could be summed up by the feeling you get when you can genuinely say to yourself: “Wow, I’ve never seen/done anything like that before.” Travel makes this sensation possible, and the Rat & Dragon crew has been lucky enough to encounter this many times over so far. For a summary of the highlights and lowlights to date, see the graphic novel style illustration above, all are images from the Epic Journey.

And the best bit about all this? Well, we have plenty of adventure in store. It’s only halfway, after all…