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Do not take my Vegemite

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

“Do not take my Vegemite ”

  • Vegemite
  • Storage
  • Letters
  • Chinese police using geese
  • Best loo in Kaifaqu
  • In-flight Movies
  • Lenovo
  • Baggage allowances
  • Australians are easy going, maybe some of the most laid back of any nationality. You will hear “she’ll be right mate” more than anything else. In fact there’s not that much going on down under. The weather is the weather, not much news there. Folks live their lives, watching the footy, whinging about the polllies (translation for Americans: politicians.). Not a lot ruffles an Australian but take away their Vegemite and we have a ‘situation’ at the security desk.

In the past six weeks we have gone through eight airports with their security checks: Dalian, Beijing (three times), Newark (twice), Atlanta, Albany, New York, Kula Lumpur (twice), Adelaide (four times), and Melbourne (twice).

Narda bought a jar of Vegemite and a jar of Promite at Woolies (Woolworth’s) in Adelaide after we had packed our check-in luggage so she placed it in our carry-on. No worries, we went through customs at Adelaide and KL. After a short night’s sleep at Metro Park Lido in Beijing (we arrived in Beijing at one AM and got to the hotel at 2:30 AM, up for breakfast five hours later and to the airport in time for our fight to Dalian which we just discovered has been delayed four hours. Most flights in China or out of China are delayed by many hours.

Customs @ Beijing Domestic was brutal. We had to take almost everything out of our carry-on bags then they took the jar of Vegemite and Promite from Narda’s bag. Narda was far from ‘she’ll be right mate’.

Vegemite ad from the 1960s “We’re happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mummies say we’re growing stronger
Every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite
We all adore our Vegemite
It puts a rose in every cheek.”

We’re happy little Vegemites – The original TV Advertisment

The customs agent chick walked off with the two jars in her hands with Narda close by saying ‘give me back my vegemite’. Good grief. I shoved all my bits and pieces into my bags – three carry-on bags because we were overweight for check-in plus Narda’s carry-on bags and ran after the jar carriers. At some desk in a corner of the terminal the customs lady was trying to open the jars which Narda was trying to take back from her. Narda kept saying that it was food and that every other airport allowed it through. Finally Narda opened the Vegemite jar, the woman sniffed it and started to look up on her computer monitor but Narda had the jars in her hand and we were off to our gate. I think the smell was a bit OK as it looks and smells a bit like something that could have been created out of soy bean paste. Narda was still upset but we had the stuff. Granted I remember seeing a few tubes and jars of it at home in our pantry but I suppose there never can be too much of one’s comfort foods. It is like Dutch Salty Liquorice, we always have a bag or two near at hand; well Narda does and I will have a salty drop now and then. Her parents always have a box of them next to their driver seat so whenever we go someplace there is the Salty Liquorice. Most people hate it and will spit out the liquorice right away though I do not mind them. I wonder if we would have had such an ordeal with customs if they took away Narda’s salty liquorice.

We did get out of Beijing though several hours later than we were scheduled to. Standing in front of us were two new teachers at our school and their sons from Peru, though at the time we did not know that. We saw them a few days later when school started and I said to them that I was standing behind them in line on the way to Dalian.

As always our true and faithful driver, Jack was there to meet us at the airport and we instantly felt like we were back at home. Being back in our home after six weeks flying around and rescuing vegemite from the grasping hands of officialdom was a nice experience. Our plants had been watered by the cleaning ladies and our home with all our crap was there shaking with excitement at our return.

On the note of all our crap… as if I have joked/complained/explained in the past it is scattered: in a house in upstate New York, in a shed in upstate New York, furniture in our Jersey City home, a piano in our Adelaide home, of course our home in China with even closets filled with boxes from years ago that we dragged here from the States two years ago and our furniture and now a storage bin in Adelaide full. We get exhausted just thinking about all the material belongings we have and I wonder how I managed to spend decades with just a bag of things when I was in my 20s and early 30s and traveled the world. The stuff in Adelaide has been moved about for more than a decade from being in the parent’s shed to Narda’s son’s shed then he moved and now into paid storage. Our firm confirmation, including a handshake, was that we would go through each box and toss what we did not really really need/want. We had left Adelaide in 2002 bound for New York with the belief we would be back in one maybe two years. Now eleven years later we have made the decision it will be one more year overseas then back home. So what we stored twelve years earlier we have managed to live without and therefore no longer would keep. Narda wants to sell everything and buy a live-in vehicle and travel around Australia for years as normal retired folks would which would mean all the more that we need to dump stuff. When we were in upstate New York a few weeks ago we went into one of those large bus-homes that Yanks trawl the USA, staying overnight in Walmart car parks in. It was ten years old, had pullout sides and would have suited us fine and we considered purchasing it on the spot until reason reared its ugly head and we realized it was not only impracticable but we did not have the money or place to store it not to mention that we have no intention to live in the States again. Nevertheless we got ourselves all psyched up and went to the storage bin with a whole day in front of us to do nothing but go through all our stuff and put it in a locked bin. At the moment it was all sitting outside of bins until we arrived to dump and store. We opened two or three boxes realized we did not know whether we wanted to keep the stuff within or not, resealed the boxes and put them into a storage bin. So hopefully a year from now we will move into our house in Adelaide or get an RV with less worldwide possessions and hit the road. We are following the grey nomads, an Australian site, http://thegreynomads.com.au/ that are blogs of folks that live and travel around Australia in their vans.

storage bin in Adelaide, South Australia
storage bin in Adelaide, South Australia
  • Letters. Today in teacher’s prep for the upcoming school year at Dalian American International School we did an intro of ourselves to one another that included one word or phrase to describe our most significant moment/activity and etc. over the summer school break. There were words like ‘beach’, ‘sunburn’, ‘beer’… I did not say my most significant word for the summer but instead said ‘film’ which I suppose has meaning in the sense that I studied film creation over the summer and worked with Adobe Premiere and the other products in the Adobe Creative Cloud suite (love them all – now if I can find the time to learn and work with them) and I am writing a script. The real word to describe the past six weeks for me was ‘letters’ but of course that is not something to say in public or for that matter put in a blog then post to the web but we all have some idiosyncrasies in us I suppose; mine are based on five planets in Leo with a Venus, Saturn, Pluto, Sun conjunction squaring my Jupiter in my first house (of course I no longer believe in astrology so that is good) – I have Mercury just starting Leo or maybe even with a feather in Cancer (29 degrees and 59 minutes) and my midhaven and part of fortune in Leo all in the tenth house – damn beliefs are hard to kick, probably because of my Moon in Taurus, Jupiter in Scorpio (damn grand square no wonder my life is this way) and the other fixed planets which gives me 7 out of 10 planets in fixed signs. Not to worry I am married to a Gemini and as all mutable sign people keep us fixed people on our toes my fixedness is just my own illusion. Try being fixed with a Gemini at your side – it just ain’t goin’ happen.

So my word for the summer is ‘letters’. Firstly, I found a box of letters from my brother Robert that he wrote to people in the 1960s and 1970s (he died in 1994). I found a box of letters from ex-girlfriends but we won’t tell Narda that I slipped that box in between other boxes I kept and then there are the most important discovery of the past ten years for me.

When my son, Leigh, was playing baseball in South Africa for the Australian National Team in 1999 he met Jackie. I would find her name in his belongings years later. I contacted her once in about 2005 and said I found her name and could she tell me anything about her meeting with my son. I also told her that Leigh committed suicide in 2003 a few weeks after turning 20. I set up a Facebook site for Leigh which has hundreds of people who knew him on it. A year ago Jackie contacted me via Leigh’s Facebook page to tell me she had moved from South Africa to Perth in Western Australia and that she had a pile of letters that Leigh had written her. I do not check Leigh’s Facebook page much as it is too difficult for me. I see all his friends, most of whom have children now, including Jackie. I usually check on his birthday in July and read the wonderful tributes his friends write him on that day. I told Jackie I would be in Australia last month and she sent me his letters. There were seven of them, some ten pages long. He had written them in late 1999 when he was in Adelaide and early 2000 when he moved to Florida to play in the LA Dodgers organization. They were love letters. I had never known that he had met someone in Africa. He had a girlfriend in Adelaide and as I was a single parent with him and his brother I thought I knew all that was going on. I never knew he was having problems in his mind until I read his last very long email to his girlfriend in Australia written August 10th (my birthday) 2003 in which he said he had known since the age of ten that he would kill himself. What am I supposed to do with that?

His letters to Jackie did say he was having problems but he never said what they were and I always thought that he was at the top of the world being chased by six or seven major league teams since he was 16 (1999). His brother and I lived what I thought at the time was a fairly happy life.

I wrote my hand-writing analysis friend two days ago; he is a world authority and works with the FBI and police in the States and has written several books on the subject and I asked if he would look at Leigh’s letters. He wrote straight back that he would. I scanned and sent off several pages. So this is why the real word in my mind to describe the summer holiday was ‘letters’. Today is my 66th birthday (August 10 – see? Leo all the way) but that is not the significant day of my life. August 13 2003, ten years ago, Leigh flew to Sydney without notifying the Dodgers; met up with his ‘girlfriend’ at the time, not Jackie (story at http://neuage.org/Idol-star.gif click on the image to enlarge) and the next morning he was at the bottom of his fifteen story balcony at the Novotel Hotel Olympic Park across from the baseball stadium where he had practiced for the Olympic team that was to play in Athens. I did not even know he was in Australia.

I was finishing my PhD at the University of South Australia and we were to head back to New York after the weekend to go back to teaching. Narda came in to my office put her arms around me and said ‘Leigh is dead’. Nothing can change those words. We flew to Sydney and I had to identify him. Narda kept me together then and has since and here a decade later we are preparing for classes again. Now is not like then. We flew back to New York after the funeral and with a couple of hours sleep, incredible depth of despair, jetlag, and all the rest I was standing in front of a room of girls at Russell Sage College welcoming them back to a new year of school. I did not say “I am falling apart because my son killed himself five days ago” but instead taught that first class which was on ‘communication’ and the rest of my classes that day and my classes at the other school I was teaching at, the University of NY at Albany. I managed to appear and teach but it was just a holography of me the real me had died too.Ten years does not diminish depths it only gives it more texture. There is nothing that can be done. I still wake from the same type of dreams; Leigh has done something that has gotten him out of baseball and I am trying to get him back as he keeps asking me – then I awake… Narda hears me my despair wakes her too. I find comfort in going to the gym and lifting weights. I keep lifting more as if I can lift the burden off of me. I suppose it is better to do that than any other escape, at least it is healthy. Leigh use to life weights and spent a lot of time at the gym, maybe which has added to my escape. Leigh was big and strong, he weighed 220 pounds, was six foot four and a solid athlete. He has been reduced to a box of ashes which I still have no idea what to do with. So ‘letters’ were my theme and one word mindset. After death everything pales into insignificance, almost everything. I have a son who is happy and successful and doing stuff that is good: recording hip-hop, working with boat people who have crashed into Australia, works with youth programs involving street kids getting them into street art and hip-hop, giving their life meaning, so he and Narda –  my islands and mountains and strengths and they who make me laugh and help me go forth into the day so I can believe that when I feel that all else is insignificant that nothing can hurt me ever again I can still love; my son and wife give me that, they are my two protectorates. I have become inoculated against suffering, nothing can be taken away. In a way it is a liberating feeling to know nothing more can be taken only layers and my core is not accessible by life’s activities or babbling voices that echo off the walls of my Self.  I also have freed myself of beliefs that I had which too is liberating because the beliefs that we have, usually passed on to us or brainwashed into us via media or spiritual hustlers are nonsense to begin with. To stop believing is to start living. Instead of following where planets are I now look at a moment and see how that can morph into something creative. How can I storyboard a mesh-up of many different colours happening at once?

We were talking today about standards yesterday, a big focus within our school, and I said I am not following one standard, like the technology one. I am using the Language Arts Standards to create the story, the music standards, the Arts Standards,  IT, maybe math and other standards – I want to use every subject in our school to produce a collaborative film. Then I want to take the story, whether written by the Language Arts, or some other department and send it to Frank and Kay who are now in Burma and have their students create a film interpretation of the story as well as my film class to do the same then we can make a composite film. We integrate technology, actually that is my job at our school, but I want to integrate creativity using every department into film making this a year of production of the parts of the whole. Something like that in simple statements. Instead of getting too hung up on grades I want to unfetter the yoke of learning and see if we can find the divine spark in each student to create not only their masterpiece but a collective community of strangers piece. To quote Jefferson Airplanes (1960s)

“you are the Crown of Creation
And you’ve got no place to go’

I would add yes they have a place to go – take it to the next realm. We quit too easy. I continued with 14 years of university under trying times; raising two children, poverty, ten homes in ten years, no family support (I was in a foreign country, Australia, which strangely enough is now my home and the USA is my foreign country. Though I am a duel citizen I no longer feel that I am a Yank I don’t care how much my wife tells me I most definitely sound like one) and when you’ve got no place to go the only way out is to be creative. Maybe it was because I was a street person most of my life and I could live in the moment which is quite a creative thing to do. Creativity to a street person is survival meaning to survive one needs to be creative. But in reality I was most not successful I failed to read my son and at the time I thought I was very tuned into my children, I thought I was psychic in regards to them I was at the top of the spiritual mountain but hey it is all an illusion. One son is now happy has a great girl friend and will soon be making a three month tour of Europe. I think he and his life is real kool. I thought my ball playing son was kool too. We threw a ball every morning and every evening, one-hundred times, I taught him to be a major league pitcher then he no longer wanted it all. He had star potential. We all have start potential.

At the Dwight School in upper Manhattan the graduating students could choose anyone to give their graduating speech. Dwight is a prestigious school with many famous people having children at it (Paris Hilton was there up until the year before I started and members of The Strokes a popular rock band started their band while students at The Dwight School). I was just a silly person who came up with silly ideas for projects. But I was the overwhelming choice to give their farewell speech. I was going to say no but the Leo in me jumped out and said yes.  I told them the story of my son – it was sad I suppose – high school students were teary eyed, maybe I am just mean but I had to tell the story. I was a bit graphic but I sure highlight the good times too. My message was simple that no matter how difficult life gets do not kill your self. My son ended his life because his relationship to his girlfriend ended. My belief is that because his mother was not an active part of his life he could not have another female reject him though I would never say that to anyone – maybe I said it to his mother at his funeral because she said mean things to me that day and told me it was all my fault.

  • Chinese police using geese as guard dogs. My favourite story in the ‘China Daily’ that I collected at the Beijing airport was about a police station that bought a lot of geese to help prevent thefts, because geese will honk and chase intruders. There is a copy of the story here, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-08/03/content_16867985.htm I especially like the story because of the stories Narda has told me about geese she had and how they carried on. (notice how the two geese in the left front row are in step) geese
  • Movies we watched – we flew Malaysian Airlines for a few reasons. It stops in Kuala Lumpur – currently one of our favourite cities, and from there flies directly to Adelaide instead of Melbourne which was always a difficult connection to make after an overnight nine hours of little sleep. In Melbourne there is customs to go through then to switch to domestic but flying to Adelaide was great and the added bonus that one of the family will be there waiting for us (thanks Helena). Flying back to China was even better as we went day time from Adelaide to KL. The food is not bad compared to China Southern or China Eastern (the worse). The Chinese just give rice and a chunk of overcooked cabbage all smothered in MSG sauce for their vegan meal whereas the Malaysians actually give a proper meal without rice and perhaps without MSG. I do not think I have ever recommended a movie in my life except for Jim Carrey flicks which my wife cannot believe that not only will I watch but that I think are really funny (who could not love ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’, ‘The Mask’, ‘Dumb & Dumber’, ‘Batman Forever’, ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’, ‘The Cable Guy’, ‘Liar Liar’, ‘The Truman Show’, ‘Me, Myself & Irene’, ‘Bruce Almighty’, ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’, and’ Kick-Ass 2’? to mention what I think are the funniest and best of his. Narda did like ‘The Majestic’ and ‘The Truman Show’ and I did watch half of ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ on one of our flights whilst Narda read her Kindle.) Where was I? Oh yes, a recommendation; ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ we loved everything about this movie, a really unique and well done story. We also watched the Tom Cruise movie “Oblivion’ which is a typical stupid Tom Cruise movie – what a bad actor and predictable script but it is an entertaining time-waster in between vegetarian meals on a long flight. We watched some other movies but I have forgotten them already. Hey I just turned 66 I am lucky to remember where I put the car keys. Oh wait, we are in China and we do not have a car. Now I remember we left our car keys in the ignition when we got out at the airport in Adelaide. Luckily Narda’s son drove off with it.
  • Melbourne trip – I loved going to Melbourne but it is mainly because my super kool son lives there. He just wished me a happy birthday which always helps too. And he sent photos of children he cares for in his job working with illegal boat people. Australia in all its wisdom is now sending the boat people to PNG – I will not comment because this is such a hot topic now and I have my opinions but they are best kept in my own head. Sacha looks after the ones who are under 18, the rest get sent to intern camps then off to PNG. Melbourne is probably one of the better cities in the world though very expensive. We looked at some real estate in the hills outside of the city and we are ready to move there but probably won’t.
  • Back to school. Back to work. Back to as interesting as life can be. We all have different paths to get to where we are. Mine is probably not the most typical teacher’s path. I got into teaching because I like to create and youth are so creative.  For the most part adults have lost or covered or buried their creativity, the urge to be wild with imagination. I was not a very good student and passed only band in grade 10. I actually got a lower mark in French and in math doing both over for a second year. I still have my report card with the 40’s and 50’s for final grades just so I do not get on my high horse and say ‘look at me I have a PhD. I left before finishing tenth grade and that was it until 1991. I was 44 with two boys at school and a failed tofu business and illusions of being a writer and a creative free spirit. So I enrolled in a BA program at Deakin University, Melbourne and my ex-wife said that I would never make it past one year because I was too stupid. Maybe it was because that pissed me off so much that I persevered and four years later I had a BA in journalism, then I went and got an Honours in Children’s Literature, then a Masters in literature and whilst doing a degree in computing science at the top ranked tech school, Flinders University in Adelaide, I switched to a PhD which took me seven years to complete in 2005,14 years after starting uni. My midlife crisis was that I discovered I loved learning. I have gotten more degrees (and just three years ago I did another one to get my teaching degree) and computing certificates and whatnots since. Maybe when I retire I will just go back and get some more degrees. Of course I was very lucky living in Australia where I never paid anything; their system takes it out of one’s taxes and since I have not really made any money in Australia since getting all these degrees I sort of never paid for any. What I have loved about teaching is that I have been lucky to teach creative stuff. And even luckier to be teaching film and video and collaborating with students who have much better ideas for films than many adults.

How much more fun can one have in life than to say to some kids ‘hey let’s make some films, do some news shows, make rock videos, collaborate with students in other countries and create a film via Skype with them? The older I get the more interesting life is becoming. I goofed off and partied and did what I thought was creative stuff – like my thousands of on-line picture poems and before that I was a street artist in New Orleans, NYC, San Francisco, Honolulu, and Adelaide, South Australia where I did my last shows in 1997 when at age fifty I finally woke up and thought maybe I am too old for this and I should just go nuts on academic stuff. I found I loved doing research, I loved computers and when the World Wide Web was invented in 1990 I knew my life had just started. I probably have ten-thousand web pages; if I believed in astrology I would say it is such a Leo thing. No doubt this will be my last year of teaching but the next thing to do will be even more fun or creative or fulfilling; I have ideas but they are best kept set aside to be nurtured throughout this year.

  • Lenovo …. what a heart breaker you are.. all my grief to bear… so I researched what I wanted; sixteen gigabytes RAM, a terabyte HD, fast video card all in a solid 15 inch laptop. I bought it in Atlanta and had a wonderful time for a few weeks with it. Wrote blogs, did some video and photography stuff, started experimenting with the new Adobe Creative Cloud – give me more time universe I need time to create – and had a good run of it. There were a few days in the mountains of Georgia, Big Canoe, outside of Atlanta where I sat early mornings watching the sun come up and bonding with Lenovo. Then days in Jersey City and days in Malaysia editing stuff – love Malaysia and I will need chunks of time to edit more clips and photos from those days, then three weeks in Australia which started off well. After a few days Lenovo (Yoga 500 = bloody yoga what are we reliving the 1960s?) died, blue screen of death. I spent a day on phone calls. Australia Lenovo would not fix one bought in the States and the States said I needed a boot disc which they did not give me with the computer but they would send it to me. They would not send it to Australia and I spoke to several people including a supervisor. They would only send it to the States or Canada and Lenovo rabbits on how global they are. What? So I gave them Narda’s son’s address in Atlanta and I wrote him to send it special three day mail and I would pay the one-hundred dollars for the special service. He wanted to save us money and paid $15 for what he was told would take seven working days to get to us. Twelve working days later, a week ago Thursday we had to leave Adelaide and the DVD still was not there. The next day, Friday when I checked my email at the Beijing Airport after Narda rescued her Vegemite I received an email from Narda’s mum saying it had arrived so she went to the post office and sent it to me here in China. We have had mail get lost coming here so if it ever arrives that will be wonderful. Lenovo I hate you.
  • Baggage allowances – these sometimes are a grey area depending on the person at the counter. We always look at each person to see who will be most sympathetic to all our many needs: check the veggie meal for me, an aisle seat as I have a fear of being trapped in life: physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically,  seats toward the front, as we are always in a hurry to get off – though not bulkhead seats as we have long legs and need to stretch out, and of course our constantly year after year, trip after trip extra luggage and/or weight, and aside – can you  not put us in a row with or near babies which have a tendency to holler all the way? We sometimes make a bad assessment and having “no is not the correct answer” as our mantra, we then need a supervisor)

Malaysian Airlines (international) – check-in, they have allowed us 24 kilos (any number of bags), plus 7 kilos carry-on, strictly enforced (this was ‘enforced’ at the Adelaide end, we were a bit over, almost a kilo, but Aussies help when they are able) and a camera bag or computer bag. The carry-on rule was not checked in KL because we were in transit and as Malaysia is touting themselves as the shopping capital of the world (forget Singapore and Hong Kong) they would not mind if we bought heaps of crap at the airport and added it to our carry-on which of course we did – oh look more stuff to put into storage and drag through life with us).

China Southern (domestic) – check-in = 20 kilos (any number of bags), carry-on – there seems to be no restrictions; we were overweight for check-in and took three bags as carry-on, all quite heavy as they would not allow our extra bag to be checked-in. They then disputed Vegemite as a liquid. Good grief!

Virgin Airlines or any Australian airline (domestic), inflexible – check their info.

USA, good golly what a mess… As I wrote a couple of blogs ago Delta lost our stuff three times for one destination (simply put it was on a flight to Newark which was cancelled after we sat on the tarmac for a couple of hours so instead of staying in Atlanta overnight and going on a flight the next day we took a flight to Albany, New York that evening and we were told our luggage was on our flight but it was not. Three days we were upstate and our stuff never arrived. After three days we said not to send our things to Albany as we were going back to Jersey City and we would collect it at Newark. When we got to Newark Narda’s bag was there but not mine, it was sent to Albany hours before we arrived and it took another couple of days to get it. Though we do appreciate that Delta reimbursed the $400 we spent for ‘necessities’ we needed until I did finally get my luggage).

Basically even United International will not allow more than one bag per person unlike Malaysian Airlines.

As this is getting a tad bit long and I already have begun thinking about my next blog I need to wrap this up – I just wanted to catch up for the past couple of weeks – I write for myself so to remember stop, after all I am now 66 did I mention that already?

  • Best loo in Kaifaqu… As we know finding a sit-down toilet in China is definitely the shits – I mean a chore. I have never squatted because I do not have the legs for it, well maybe, I do ride my bike almost every day and I spend heaps of time at the gym. Just last month for July Narda got me a month membership at a great fitness place in Adelaide, ‘Goodlife’,  and some days I would spend close to two hours there escaping dark thoughts that sometimes enter my head when I am in Adelaide and I think of my time there with my children and how they are no longer there, one is no longer anywhere… back to toilets so in Kaifaqu where we do a majority of our shopping not even McDonalds has a sit down loo but a squat one. I discussed toilets in a previous blog and even showed an image of a squat toilet so we will give that a flush, OK so I have lost any sort of literary uniqueness. But we found not only a sit down toilet but a really great loo with unfinished cedar wood walls, fancy wash basins and a really trendy place to just hang out. Go upstairs in Manns Coffee for a relief. They also have wifi but I was unable to get my phone fired up but it was not important enough to pursue. We got a mug of American coffee for 30 RMB about five dollars which is the going price. It is not as good as coffee at McDonalds but throw in the loo and it is worth it. We also had their waffles with fruit which was my birthday breakfast. Manns Coffee is on the main street past Ansheng shopping centre – the spelling may be wrong – hey I was a high school drop out until I was 44 and now I am 66 with heaps of degrees and certificates so it is a wonder I can spell anything. And on the next block is what we call the Green Door shopping centre. I do not know the name of the place as it is written in funny looking characters but it has green doors. This is where we shop the most as nuts and vegetables are cheap and the big thing for me is that it sells fresh soy milk and tofu. They make their tofu there and after two years they always give me a big smile and know what I want. I have my milk bottles and they just ladle it in and about two liters of soy milk and a kilo of tofu cost about 10 RMB or a buck fifty. I use to sell a block of tofu from my tofu factory in Adelaide back in the 1980s for a dollar for half a kilo. I am still working on my tofu ebook – http://neuage.us/tofu/ with the sub chapters such as ‘tofu made me a bad astrologer’ and many other tales along with recipes.

suitcase wanderlust

Friday, July 5th, 2013

This has been a fantastic visit with friends, family, business people and just being in the States. However, this is because we have learned through decades of travel to get only just so crazy with the actual travel part of our travel. Getting to the destination and getting to the destination with our belongings has often put in the mindset of why did we ever walk out the door of our home to begin with. As I dribbled on about in the two previous blogs getting from Dalian to Beijing to Vancouver to Newark then to Atlanta was all as normal as travel in the electronic age can be. Getting from Atlanta to wherever it was we were headed for but finally ended up at and four days later still wondering where parts of our extended selves – e.g. our luggage are.

Those companies that are upsetting our peaceful blissful zen-like traveling selves:

  • Delta – a big middle finger to you
  • Almos Car Rental – we left your stupid bloody car at a different car rental at the airport because we could never find, if in fact it exists, the drop-off place. We were going to leave it along side the freeway but feeling kind we actually left it in the car park at the airport.

Delta – who is running your show? Are you really a business that gets people and things to places they pay for? Delta you make China Southern almost look like a real airline and they just lost our luggage for good last year though it was only my Piggly Wiggly umbrella and a specialized curtain rod Narda had found in one of those southern states few tourists ever go to – she said it would be good for our window in China. We had them so well marked and you lost them somewhere between Melbourne Australia and Guangzhou China and spent weeks stringing together enough words in English before we realised they were gone forever and the compensation we received did not match the emotional attachment that I had formed with my Piggly Wiggly umbrella – but not to worry, we know China Southern struggles to act like a proper airline; we know this how? Because we have traveled for the past few years with them and are constantly amazed how we ever get anywhere, not to mention our precious luggage. And we have learned to bring our own food because no one in their right-mind could eat that crap China Southern serves.

Delta! You are the queen of shit.

So we have our flight from Atlanta. What a restful time we had in Atlanta; three days in the mountains at a large lovely house deep in a mountain forest a few days with Narda’s son and his wife and all was good until we got to the airport. We checked in our luggage and got on the plane and even to the end of the runway. After a few moments the pilot went on about some traffic delays in Newark and we would be delayed a few minutes. The next announcement was that we would be leaving in 45 minutes. An hour later we were told the plane was headed back to the terminal but not to worry it would be just a slight delay but we did need to get off of the plane and take our stuff with us. “Just stay in the waiting area and we will have you on your way soon…” another hour – “the flight has been canceled”. OK these things happen so we are told we would not get a flight out Sunday night – we were suppose to leave at 2 PM Sunday. Turns out there is no way to get to Newark but we are able to get to Albany on a ten pm flight. Albany is where we are headed anyway. We were going to Newark to collect a rental car and drive upstate stopping overnight at Marta’s house in the Catskill then going on up the next morning to do our many errands.

We were very clear that our luggage was to get sent to Albany and we were told that all along the way; at the counter where we got our tickets and at the check-in counter at the gate we were told our luggage was definitely on the flight. When we arrived at Albany our luggage was not there and after much checking we were told it would be on the next flight which would have been seven AM Monday morning if that had not been canceled but not-to-worry there was a flight arriving at 2 in the afternoon and they would deliver out stuff to our hotel. In the meantime we could purchase what we needed for the night and for clothing for the next day but keep it under $50 or they will look at it more closely.

Who knows this?

It is not what airlines will tell you but it is true. Once our luggage went for a walk-about when we got to Scotland. We told them we were off for a week and could not wait until the next day for our stuff and we were told to purchase what we needed which to keep this short and not to reveal my dim-memory we needed to purchase a suitcase to carry all our new stuff in. When we got back to Edinburgh a week later we collected our luggage and nicely added our new suitcase of clothes and ‘necessities’ and went on our way and they paid for all we purchased.

At midnight we went to the only place open, Walmart, in Clifton Park; which by the way is close to where I grew up and lived more than 50-years earlier, and bought a few things. The next morning, Monday, still without our luggage we bought some more. And we did keep our purchases below $500.

Tuesday we needed to drive on to New York City and still our stuff was in Newark. We rang three times telling them not to send our belongings to Albany as we were driving to Newark Airport to collect our things. They assured us everything would be held for us.

This is just the baggage and car-rental part of my story. The family, friends, good news, houses and what a trip really is about I will say next so I will not forget which is the only reason to write anything down because I forget stuff the next day and to remember all the good stuff is easy but to put it into context or even in some sort of chronological sequence of it-was-three-years-ago, no, actually it was last month is useful for various reasons though I can not recall why at the moment.

So rentals have been a pain this trip. This was our third rental. The first was with Advantage Car Rental and we dealt with the biggest wanker in New Jersey with our first rental of a couple of days. The final bill was more than three times what was offered on Expedia which is more than usual. We always allow for twice the quote but by the time so many various taxes and stupid stuff was added the bill was more than three times the original quote. We rented from Advantage again in Atlanta for a few days and that was OK. This time we rented from Alamos Car Rental from Albany Airport for two days to deliver to Newark Airport. Our quote from Expedia was about a hundred bucks with taking it to a different location but our final bill was $275 and that is with us bringing back a full tank of petrol. So we have a lovely time visiting upstate – which I will get to – and midway to NYC – which I will get to and we get to Newark and there is no such location to return it to that is on our paperwork. We are a bit nervous by now as our phone has almost no charge left because the charger is in our suitcase at Newark Airport. We ring Alamos to find out where to take the car as the address does not exist they gave us. A rude cranky person gives us another address and we go there but there is no Alamos Car Rental there. With but a few seconds left we pull over and get Alamos Car Rental on the phone and say it is an emergency, come get us then our phone dies. We do not like sitting alongside the runway with no Alamos Car Rental or any place of business near where we are sitting which is where we were told Alamos Car Rental was. We decide to be more pro-active and to leave it at the first car-rental place at the airport we see. As we are driving toward the airport on this side-road we see a tow truck rushing past us – no doubt to our emergency. The first car-rental we come to at the airport is National and we drive in, get out, and say to the woman checking in cars that we are leaving this car and that it is an Alamos Car Rental and she says fine and gives us a receipt and off we toddled to Delta Baggage to liberate our suitcases. So aside of the huge price change Alamos Car Rental was OK they just have terrible service and have no idea where their cars belong. Obviously this happens heaps as it was easier to abandon our rental than we thought it would be.

At Delta, to our surprise, though I am not sure why, there was Narda’s bag but not mine. Holy-cow, they sent mine to Albany a couple of hours earlier. They said it could not come back until the next day, Wednesday, and to get on the first flight it would have to go with United then if we waited for 6 – 8 hours after its arrival we probably would have it delivered to our address. As we are not staying at a hotel but renting an Air B & B place for this week and we had an appointment with our finance adviser in The City Wednesday afternoon we rang and told them we were coming to collect it. This little communication with a company that would be unable to organize a screw in a brothel took more than an hour. The first person I believe was speaking English as some of the words sounded like English but most did not seemed to convey that perhaps the plane with my luggage did leave Albany and had arrived in Newark at 5.40 this morning but as it was a United flight and my bag had a Delta number on it she could not fine it in the system. At eleven AM without our first cup of coffee we got our sorry asses to the PATH train and to Newark. Now at Newark one can take a bus to the airport which we usually do for a couple of bucks but it takes awhile and stops heaps and we were agitated, without coffee, and in a hurry so we took Amtrak, at $16.50 for the two of us, the one stop to Newark Airport. Of course it takes people to the AirTrain at Newark only before going on its merry way. Unknown to us there is another fee of $5.50 on the AirTrain to go the couple of minutes to the terminal. We had already paid too much so following Narda which one tends to do especially when she is acting taller than her five-foot eleven tallness and she is agitated, without coffee, and in a hurry I quickly went through the gate which was open due to the person in front of Narda opening it to get her bags through and walking fast so as to not hear if someone was calling back to pay some unfair fee we discovered that the AirTrain was not running and we all got herded onto a bus to the terminal.

We had tea (dinner) last night with Narda’s art teacher friend (from five years working together at St. Luke’s School in the West Village) and Nancy use to say back in those years that she was going to have a bracelet made that would say, “what would Narda do” because Narda had a reputation for doing what Narda does and she is a great role model (though at times, frightening) for getting done what needs to be done. Nancy reminded us of that last night. Of course Narda said Nancy was true blue which is a great compliment to another human. According to the Australian Urban Dictionary “true blue = The real thing, no bullshit”.

Today having lunch with a few of Narda’s ex-work mates they were saying how “Narda” is a verb at work. “I will Narda it” or “I Narda-ized it” which is doing what is needed then telling someone. Or doing something then asking permission. I know we do this, not just us but most people at our current workplace because to ask first means getting a no but doing what needs to be done or should be done or want to have done then telling about it gets far better results.

Of course my suitcase was not at Delta’s baggage when we got there at 11:30 and Narda in her scary way walked straight into the back area where baggage is stored as three people were yelling at her not to go into the back area. Eventually a woman was on the phone calling United telling them it was an emergency that my bag had to be at the Delta area within the next ten minutes. I was left at the counter as Narda headed upstairs to get a taxi voucher to get us to our appointment on Lexington Avenue – a couple of blocks from Grand Central.

Did you know this? The airlines will give you a taxi voucher to where you are staying if you go to collect luggage that was not on your flight. We got a voucher to where we are staying this week in Jersey City the night before including paying extra to have the person stop at a super market so we could get some groceries. Airlines will never tell you these things about getting supplies if your luggage does not arrive or getting taxi vouchers you have to confront and get this done.

My suitcase did arrive at the Delta Baggage Area and now it was 12:30 – almost seven hours after the plane landed and three days after it never made it on the same flight to Albany this past Sunday evening.

The Delta paid-for taxi, the driver driving like he was in China; no seat belt and going very quickly and weaving in and out of traffic got us to Lex Ave. within an hour which was really good considering the traffic. We got to our appointment on time – our Australian money advice person – and all was good.

We are quite happy that the Aussie dollar is dropping like a stone the past couple of weeks going from $1.05 to 91 cents making our Yankee dollars worth more than ten% more than a few weeks ago. Part of the reason is because of the slow down in China – go China.

Narda says I use to many words to say what I have to say. She use to tell me by mid-day that I had used up my word-count for the day. What? I suppose part of taking on a wife is dealing with their ideas, concepts, stuff-in-general. She does not say that anymore either because I use less words in a day or because she is being kind or she has given up and accepts my dribbling on. However, saying that, I doubt I could have said this all about Delta in any fewer words.

Being in upstate New York was so good. I grew up or made a bloody good attempt at it until I had a gut full of the place and at age 16 headed out on my own to become a writer and artist and 50 years later realising this did not come about but being more accepting of life’s muddy and murky path or at least the ones I have usually gotten on to I am not stressed about the fact I never became the artist-writer celebrity that as one with so many planets and points in Leo should have realised I move forward in a semi-blissful way.

We firstly checked on our houses in Round Lake, http://neuage.org/house/. Beautiful Victorians with good tenants. In our large house the couple have had four children since moving in six years ago and in our smaller house the couple had a child their first year there. These are very fertile houses. We have a great painting couple who paint a side of the house every year; this is the downside of Victorians – absolute money-pits. And we had lots of stories to swap between upstate New York where the new Global Foundry is only a ten minute drive or half an hour bike ride away. (“Fab 8 in Saratoga County, New York is currently the largest commercial capital expansion project in the USA”) and our adventures in China. They are building a college there as well as some other chip company and lots of tech companies are moving in all close to our little retirement investment places.

our Round Lake houses with the first one being 15 Second Street and the one after it 13 Second Street Round Lake.  see http://neuage.org/house
our Round Lake houses with the first one being 15 Second Street and the one after it 13 Second Street Round Lake.
see http://neuage.org/house
13 second street - our first house in Round Lake
13 second street – our first house in Round Lake
15 Second Street Round Lake  from the side side
15 Second Street Round Lake from the side

We had lunch with my first girl-friend, Kathy, from more than fifty years ago. Kathy is now our real-estate chick and is looking after our houses if anyone wants to purchase a couple of beautiful Victorians so we can retire she is the one to speak with. My father use to be upset that I was dating her because she was a Catholic and in Clifton Park, a 99.9% WASP area then – not anymore, that was really outside the box. My father use to give me those Bible tracks that had a heading “what happens if I marry a Catholic?” well years later I did find out as my first wife (the witch) was a Catholic and true enough my life turned to shit.

Two days ago, Tuesday, we visited my sister and her family. It was the third time in my life that I had seen my sister. A long story that I will not tell now but I was adopted and spent decades trying to find my family and I did and I have a blood brother in Hilo who I have seen once and my sister Sue that I have seen twice before. In other words I have little sense of family. I was a single parent raising my two children and for the most part before meeting Narda and being adopted by her wonderful family twelve years ago I have been on my own.

_DSC0099This was by far my best visit with Sue and her sons and a daughter and her grandchildren. I feel like at age 65, a few weeks from 66, I may end up being a part of my original family yet. Susan’s son, Justin, is so similar to my son Sacha that one would have thought they had grown up together to have such similar traits. Maybe there is something to bloodline.

On the way to Newark – to collect our luggage – I believe I mentioned that above – we stopped in to have lunch with Marta – http://martawaterman.com . Marta is one of my role-models in life. She is a few years older than me – living life to the fullest and on her terms. She is a musician, professor, actor, author and heaps of other stuff. She was a girl-friend of my adopted brother back in the mid-1960s. Marta and Marc Seifer http://www.marcseifer.com/ a professor who was a friend of my brother and writer of many books are writing a book on my brother who was an artist, writer and musician in NYC up until dying in 1992.

and that is the past couple of days

Here is a picture of my wander-lust of a suitcase – how could they miss it?

suitcase

Lunch Alert at the Butler's
Lunch Alert at the Butler’s

What a great day in NYC and having lunch with the Butlers was great with Narda catching up with her old – well not old as in we are old but former – workmates in their wonderful home built in the 1700’s – the only wooden house still standing in the West Village from the 1700’s.

_DSC0001 and Narda found a sign for her classroom door…

_DSC0006and we spent a couple of hours sitting in Washington Square – my old hangout place from the 1960’s

_DSC0010and what is the Village without its shops?

_DSC0002Or without their beer?

IMG_1903and 4th of July Fireworks – viewed from the Jersey side.

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A Piggly Wiggly story

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

A Piggly Wiggly story

I do not recall having heard of the Piggly Wiggly chain of stores before last summer. Not sure why that is as I lived in the States for about 42 of my 65 years on this planet and I surely have wandered through the south where they have 600 stores in 17 states. And it is not because they just started popping up around the place. In fact their website says they have been “bringing home the bacon for millions of American families since 1916”. Perhaps it is because my vegetarian life has created a subliminal blind spot for sellers who are such whole-hearted braggers, sporting the bringing home the bacon rhetoric – though it could just as easily have been my birth in the year of the pig that placed them over with other things I have avoided as much as possible in life: restrictive humans, haircuts, Pisces and most water-signed-people (having only Jupiter in Scorpio I did have some strange fixed fascinations in my youth with aspects of that sign – I use to find women with Venus and Mars in Scorpio a bit of a fascinating matrix to get involved in, as long as there was an escape clause – having five planets in Leo I am not afraid of the Scorpion sting but of the threat of water to put out my fire, I still avoid water sign people because of that; how they put the damper on us fire people is appalling… I am drifting here), and the clinging to material possessions such as umbrellas which this blog is actually about.

I horde stuff; a shed full in South Australia, a house full of stuff here in Northern China, stuff in an attic in our upstate New York house, and the shed next door to it, and our furniture in our house in Jersey City but that is not really an indicator of clinging to material possessions. It is really art artifacts that someday I hope to assemble in various arrays of sculpture and do gallery shows. That was a dream of mine during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and then I got married (again) and the idea of gallery shows was replaced by stored artifacts around the world that no doubt will end in the rubbish tip before I get to collect them all into one non-disposable spot.

On with the umbrella story…

Last summer we were driving around the south. We left Atlanta with Narda’s son’s car headed to my old stomping grounds of New Orleans. I had wanted to take Narda there for the whole decade we were living in New York but we ended up making little trips to Europe, Asia and the yearly hops over to Australia, leaving no time or money to explore the States. Somewhere in the south: Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas or maybe we were in Alabama or Louisiana but somewhere down there we were in a small town lost on a country road and there was this big Piggly Wiggly grocery store. Narda saw it as quite funny, the born-in-the-year-of-the-pig part of my over active reptilian brain was offended but with no other shops in site and the last temperature reading we saw being 102 Fahrenheit ( Celsius = 38.88) the thought of something from a fridge was becoming overpowering. But getting a cold drink was not enough. At the checkout were umbrellas with the Piggly Wiggly emblem on them so of course I had to have one.

The umbrella got buried for a couple of weeks in the boot of the car as we drove around and we wondered how we would get it back to China. And not just back to China, but to Australia too as we were going there for a few weeks first. Narda wanted to bring back a curtain rod too because she could not find one in Dalian that was long enough to span two large windows in our lounge so she could hang some over-priced hand-sewed laced curtains we had bought in Belgium – yes Belgium lace, a few years ago. She found the curtain rod she wanted in one of those southern states and she taped it together with the umbrella that somehow magically would find its way back to Campus Village here in Northern China via Australia – and of course flying out of Atlanta, NYC, and all the stops between like Melbourne and Adelaide and Guangzhou in China.

First hiccup…. We were driving on a four-lane freeway heading north. Narda was driving and I was playing with my new Nikon camera when there was a big bump and Narda said ‘he hit me’ and at about 70 miles an hour we were going across a couple of lanes of freeway sideways and fortunately for this story to be told there were concrete blocks dividing us from traffic going the other way and we smashed into them sideways. Another few feet and we would have rolled. Of course Narda being Narda managed to restart the car to chase this huge truck that had hit us thinking he would get away. The back end of the car was dragging and we had flat tires. I was as much in shock from Narda restarting the engine and us going forward as I was from spinning across a few lanes of freeway. The truck did stop which was good because so did our car. Narda said afterwards she was waiting for the pain to hit her when we started spinning and I was waiting to hear the crashing of glass. I had been in three major car crashes before and that memory stays. There was no crashing of glass, the air bags did not open, and we did not get hurt but the car was totaled. We stood alongside the road in 104 degree heat – that is the absolute truth – the truck driver rang for the police – he took full responsibility, saying he did not see us when he switched lanes. Narda often says people don’t see her because people don’t see women past 50, but this was a whole bloody car he didn’t see. As we stood alongside the concrete barriers traffic passed by with almost no space between cars at high speeds. It was quite amazing no one hit us as we crossed lanes; there was just this few seconds let up in traffic when we decided to go for a bit of a spin.

Here is a photo of Narda under our Piggly Wiggly umbrella with a state trooper.

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I wish I had had presence of mind to tell Narda to turn the umbrella so as to show the Piggly Wiggly figures but who thinks of these things at a moment like this?

We told Narda’s son we put a bit of a ding in his car – impossible to repair – was the verdict, rented a bright red car so we could be seen and I drove about ten hours straight back to Atlanta. Narda was still in shock, I did not want to stop for a day and besides we had about two days left before our flight to Australia. The truck company was really good and bought the car at a really good price and took care of our rental and on we went.

There was not any problem with the airlines; they just put the umbrella/curtain rod in with checked luggage. In Melbourne we took a domestic flight to Adelaide and again no problem.

Here I am in Adelaide with my Piggly Wiggly umbrella in Rundle Mall with my favourite sculptures – pigs of course.

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So we tape up the umbrella with the curtain rod to hold our Belgium laced curtains and checked them into the flight to Melbourne. In Melbourne I visit my son, Sacha, for a couple of days, and Narda and I check our umbrella with the curtain rod into baggage. There was our name in large letters as well as our Chinese address and phone number. No problems everyone is happy. We fly out at 10 pm as is normal and arrive in Guanzhou about 8 am the next morning, switch to the domestic to Dalian. Our baggage has been check through from Melbourne to Dalian so life is good.

We get to Dalian Airport late in the evening and wait for baggage. The suitcases come along just fine. Jack, our driver, is waiting for us as usual which is so great after a long flight. We wait and wait but no umbrella and curtain rod. Narda finds someone with a handful and a half of English. We show our baggage claim for our parcel. They ring Melbourne and sure enough it left there and it was even traced to Guanzhou but then it stopped. They said to ring the next day. We did. Day after day for a couple of weeks until finally they said they would give us money. I think we got about $50 US maybe less but it did not come close to paying for the umbrella. It only costs seven dollars or so in real terms at the Piggly Wiggly store but what we had gone through no money could have paid for it.

So that is my Piggly Wiggly story. If I ever get back to one of their stores I may get another one but it won’t be the same. It looks as if we will be in Atlanta in six months, so perhaps I will get another one and this time take it as carry-on luggage.

I am not sure if I fully understand the differences between hording, cherished possessions with attachments, and material things that are filling spaces of ours around the world. What looks like junk to others, i.e. my wife, has special meaning to me. And I am sure if the Piggly Wiggly umbrella had survived the trip and not been lost once it hit China we would use it on rainy days and remember standing in the very hot sun alongside a freeway after an accident that surely we should have come to grief in but didn’t.

Lao Chai and Ta Van Village, Sa Pa, Vietnam

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Trek-outside of Sa Pa Day 2 Sunday, December 30, 2012

We said we wanted an easier walk today from yesterday’s trek up and down the local hills (mountains to my legs) through the rice paddies of Lao Chai and Ta Van Village. We hiked with the Henderson, from Liverpool, who we met and trekked with yesterday, at breakfast and we all decided to have another go and village hopping. They are on the way to stay with their daughter who has started a language school in Siem Reap, Cambodia, using her own money.

So we went firstly to Ta Phin village about an hour’s drive and two hour walk from Sapa, the little hillside village located in midst of the Hoang Lien Mountains. Several tribes live peacefully here: the Kinh, Red Dao and Black Hmong people. After getting past the overnight ‘sleeper’ (we didn’t sleep due to a hard mat and a loud rattling old train) and the hour winding climb to the town the journey of exploration is fantastic.

our-guideOur guide was an 18 year from the Black H’mong people (they wear black clothing). We said to her at the start that we did not want to buy stuff because the day before we were followed and hassled so much – and we did buy a lot of stuff yesterday – we just wanted to trek and be left alone. She said whatever to everyone that came at us and we had a great day of walking, talking and of course climbing up and down so much.

I took a lot of photos of children, something I rarely do as in some places people get really upset. When we were in Guatemala we were warned not to take photos of children because they get kidnapped and sold to Americans; we could have gotten beaten, killed or worse – they would have taken our camera. But here no one seemed to mind. I have posted some in an album in Facebook and Google+ and in my Flickr account in this set http://www.flickr.com/photos/neuage/sets/72157632393552028/ and I will have more in my webpage for this trip when I get home to Dalian China next week @ http://neuage.us/2012/Vietnam

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Our guide, perhaps Vivvie – that is what we called her, which was close to what we think she said her name was, and she was OK with that was really good at answering our so many questions. Her English was quite good and she humoured our lame humour.

On Saturday nights in Sa Pa they have the ‘love market’. We kidded her about going tonight to it and she said ‘but no one wants me’. We of course said that was not true and when we passed some young male who looked at her we would say ‘maybe you should meet him at the love market’ and she would laugh and say no. Actually a lot of people in her tribe get married through arranged marriages and she is planned on going to Hanoi to university next year to start a teaching degree (gosh darn who in their right mind would want to do such a thing?) and come back and teach in her local village.

Here is a little about the Sa Pa love market that I borrowed and stole and amended from the world wide web; “Sa pa is famed for its “Love Market” – sort of a cross between a peacock mating ritual, a Middle Eastern arms bazaar, an Amish square dance, a bad Pavarotti concert and Bangkok’s Patpong (except here the people wear clothes). On Saturday nights, Red Dao hill tribe youths of both sexes congregate in a weekly courting rite, singing tribal versions of Loretta Lynn love songs to woo the opposite sex. The songs are highly personalized and boast of the composer’s physical attributes, domestic abilities and strong work ethic. While Dao women are indeed highly industrious, the men, it seems, prefer to spend most of their time drinking, smoking opium or sleeping, only occasionally slapping the rump of a lethargic bovine moving more slowly than they are. Few of their songs, though, are about drinking, smoking opium, sleeping or slapping rumps.” Lifted from http://www.sapatrain.com/local_market_sapa_laocai_vietnam.html

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We did go through the market and saw much carrying-on Saturday night – with a group of males playing instruments and dancing in the church square, see photo above.

I saw this woman in the local stream washing her clothes and I am not sure what she thinks of being single by the words on the back of tee shirt

_DSC4335

I asked Vivvie lots of questions – I don’t remember many at the moment but some were:

“Are there police/law-enforcement people in your village?” She said there wasn’t and the village didn’t need them. Having lived in the States for 40-plus years and Australia some 22 years and now China it is difficult thinking that a society could exist without law enforcement. What is wrong with a village where people do the right thing? Surely they should have automatic rapid-firing machine guns like they do in the States available to everyone. Surely there are people who murder, rape, steal and generally misbehave. I think all the villagers should go live in New York City or any city in the States for a year to learn how to live with other humans. She said she was a Buddhist, of course that explains it – one of those hippy-like religions where people respect each other and don’t kill animals for food or each other for sport. Those tripped out belief systems where people care for one another and work together. No wonder the Yanks bombed Hanoi and Vivvie said they bombed Sa Pa too – we cannot have people running around like this who respect one another and who look after their environment and who are not materialistic wanting more and more. Can you imagine being happy living in a house like this?

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Really, look how stressed out these kids look who are not playing on their iPhones or laptops

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_DSC4280_DSC4302_DSC4327Vivvie said there people have been in this area for about 1500 years doing pretty much the same stuff. What has changed in the villages, or most of them, is that they have electricity and television but most people do not watch and they are too busy living life to stay inside and spend time on the Internet and watching TV. Tourism is changing life in that people have money but she did not say much about what they do extra in the past few years with the influx of Westerners. She said she thought she would get paid ten-dollars for today’s tour – which was about five hours with us. The Hendersons and we each gave her five bucks which equals her day’s salary. She refused the money but we insisted.

She said that when a woman got married she had to live with the husband in his village. There is intermarriage between villages but it is the husband’s village that is home. She said she would not get married until after her uni but at 18 years old and not having lived in a city I wonder how much of that will remain. She said when people do leave the village they almost all come back.  Even though she seemed quite liberated she said most definitely she would live with her husband’s tribe if she married someone from another village.

There are a lot of languages but I think about six main ones in this area and they do not understand other languages but they all learn Vietnamese and now English. So they communicate with each other.

One thing that is so different from our glorious Western ways is that people barter and help each other out in emergency no wonder America was out bombing them and the communists hated them. There seems to be a lot of tension between the communists and the H’mong people though I think it is the ones in Laos that have had the most trouble according to the Internet.

Last year there was snow for the first time in memory or some-such-time-period and a lot of water buffalo died. They are expensive and a primary part of the life in the villages. The people have gotten together to help each other out giving rice and etc._DSC4300

Of course we were interested in how does one buy land and live in such a great environment. Apparently one can buy land and live here – something worth exploring.

We bought a lot over the three days here and got a large embroidered  bag from the Flower Hmong

As usual everyone seems so short…_DSC4255

Well off to Hanoi and another overnight train.

I am sure I will write more about our visit to Sa Pa but this is all for today.

thanks for the emails

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

30 July Dalian Development Area

Thanks for everyone who emailed that they were able to see this post via a link from Facebook and Twitter. We hope to get a VPN soonish then we too can see all our friends having wonderful western fun (they did have a jar of peanut butter in our pantry so we would not have too much of a culture shock and Narda brought Vegemite).

After a two and half hour flight delay – we are getting use to this, we arrived at Dalian airport where we were met by our new boss, the headmaster at DAIS. We learned a lot in our one hour drive to Campus Village – our new home, arriving five AM Saturday (Melbourne time, three AM). We got to bed at six AM – exactly 24 hours after leaving Melbourne. Now I am sort of awake and exploring our new home at 9 AM Saturday. Three hours sleep is enough though Narda seems to want more and I will be quiet.

My favourite tidbit on the way in is that here in the Dalian Development Area they have leveled three large hills. One of which was the largest in the area or province or whatever these sections are referred to. All done in eleven weeks of 24-hour earth movement. The dirt, rocks, fossils, trees and whatever that was in the way has been dumped along the sea where a new coast line is being constructed for the new city (a mere two-million population eventually) and the new industry of movie making. Hollywood folks have already been here putting in bids for studios. Gosh. It won’t all be done this weekend. Apparently they are only in the third of a ten-year plan. The film industry (Is it Chollywood?) is suppose to be like everything in China, a bit big. There will also be a marina for a yacht club. I want to be the token American/Australian old person in a sitcom here, wish me luck.

So our home. New, large two bed-room, big walk-in closets and two full bathrooms. All modern furniture which left us to say ‘what were we thinking?’ The fact is somewhere out there on the ocean blue is a lift-van, seven/six/five feet of our stuff steaming at a rapid rate to here. Full of “antiques”. We even sent a large desk (well it has been in the family for a long time) chests, bookshelves, dishes, junk and more junk. Where all those pirates when they are needed? Not only is there no room but basically, how embarrassing. It all looked good in our one-hundred year old house in upstate New York and our one-hundred year house in the hood in Jersey City, but here, heaven help us all.

We are excited about our school. Our headmaster is looking forward to our involvement and I have lots of ideas.

Narda finds her way into her unfinished music room

Well off to explore. And again thanks for letting us know that the Facebook/Twitter links work from this blog. We will make Narda’s OK to view soon.

cheers from over here

some photos:

 the distance from our apartment to the school – about three mintues

the distance to our work

the lobby to our building

the lobby to our building

 

yesterday’s biorhythms my physical is wrong I am feeling great

my biorhythms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whereas Narda’s biorhythms look great it is sure good we do not believe any of this stuff

 

Narda's bio