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John van de Ruit

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Travel blog: Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

I’ve started a travel blog for the Penguins to help promote the third Spud. Follow me as I backpack through Asia, a convenient place to spend the long countdown to the book launch. Here are the first two entries:


71 DAYS to launch

Happy April fools day y’all! Since my job is to make people laugh and to distract them from their daily lives with idiotic nonsense, i shall therefore desist from attempting an April fool’s joke about myself. Options i considered were:

I’m not coming back.

I’m having a sex change.

I’m racing in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix

I’ve plagiarised Spud, Learning to Fly.

Penguin Books has gone bankrupt.

I’ve bought a brothel.

Macaulay Culkin is playing Spud in the movie!

So back to Malaysia. I find myself in the steamy equatorial capital of KL! Okay i thought Durban in February was worth moaning about, but this is a whole different ball game! The taxi driver who ferried us from the airport to the centre of the city yesterday morning was a lively character. He told Julia and I that we were extremely pale Africans and tried to out us as dinkum Aussies! Luckily we found some common ground discussing the Cape Malay culture and the evils of the global economy. He refused to open up about Malaysian politics, which made me immediately suspicious that he may be an undercover Malaysian booktrade operative. When he finally asked me what i did for a living to allow for a 2 month holiday, this is what followed.

ME I write books

TAXI What books?

ME Funny books.

TAXI (Laughing hysterically for no apparent reason) Oh funny books!

ME It’s set in a boarding school.

TAXI Oh Harry Potter!


7th April


Dear Spud fans, friends, Romans and people at the wrong website.

Greetings from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s a week into the trip and I have thankfully settled down after the flurry of finishing the book and then roaring off to bustling Kuala Lumpur. I have finally, after a number of torturous nights watching CNN until dawn, taken control of my jetlag. After attempting numerous techniques to combat this mysterious sleeping disease, i have settled on the cunning ploy of brushing my teeth with single malt whiskey before a bout of shadow wrestling with myself. Works a treat and the headrush is to die for.

So Phnom Penh is by far the largest city in Cambodia. It’s wild and intimidating when you first arrive, everything is loud and in-your-face and your’e not so sure this is the place for you at all. Within hours of your arrival it begins seducing you, after 3 days of exploring, it’s a love affair. Ramshackle slums and markets sit side by side with centuries old Pagodas and restored French colonial buildings. Beggars and tuk-tuk drivers accost you and small children sell books on genocide in the street cafes and sulk if you don’t make a purchase. Our hotel – The Hotel Castle lies on the riverside overlooking where an elephant strolls past every afternoon blocking up the rush hour traffic on his way home. He works at Wat Phnom, the city’s holiest site, where he offers rides to tourists for five dollars and eats their sticks of sugar cane in return for a posed pic. I kid you not.

Just cruising the streets or stopping off at a restaurant or bar can be an experienced, although Julia has a growing addiction to adopting mangy street cats so i have to be aware of small furry Rogers wherever i go. Saddened to report that i haven’t yet seen Brad and Angelina scouring the orphanages and backalleys looking for more children athough my recent avid CNN watching revealed Madonna’s hardship in childtrafficking closer to home. Ouch!

On a more serious tone, the weekend saw us exploring the Killing Fields where Pol Pot’s murderous regime slaughtered thousands of Cambodian men, women, and children who were accused of being enemies of the state. Pol Pot’s Khymer Rouge which devastated the country from 1974-1979 was unimaginably cruel and bloodthirsty. We witnessed a three storey glass monument packed with human skulls and the shallow pits in which the bodies were buried. When you see evidence of so much sensless death, you realise it’s such a fine line between everything you assume that is in your control and the reality that often it isn’t.


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