The Joy and the Scourge of Travel

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So you want to travel? The world is your oyster, so go forth and explore as they say, but is it as simple as that?

The appealing romantic notion of life on the road, without a care, pervades many of our daydreams. Travel is the circuit breaker to life’s daily monotonous grind, good or bad experiences, it matters little as long as it’s not at home. It’s the adventure of it all, the adrenaline rush of uncertainty, anything but boring.

I’ve spent the latter part of my life thinking this way. Due to circumstances, I have ended up living in South East Asia for the best part of 10 years and have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to expand my cultural and spacial awareness.

We should all travel if we can. Travel brings ideas and refreshes the mind to new and exciting possibilities and it makes us re-examine the way we look at the world. Home is never the same again; the last missing piece completes the puzzle and illustrates with brilliant clarity; we are all but a product of our own upbringing and environment.

To travel is what every human should do some stage during their life, but of course it’s impossible for most; not everyone has the means or the desire.

Any downside to this quest to explore? Yes, I fear so.
Is it better to seek security or live life to its fullest? A question that truly polarises.
With all that travel brings into our life also comes some unwanted baggage – discontentment.
The more you travel the more you want. I am sure you know or have seen the addicted 20 somethings that spend all their time on the road living out of a backpack, darting from one exotic location to another. The gypsy within, makes us quietly envious of these drifters even if we think it’s a touch irresponsible for them not to settle down sooner.

Of course the elephant in the room is truly money or the lack of it. I have spent tens of thousands on travel over the years but not for one moment regretted the expense. Others will disagree. I, for one, won’t be dying with a bucket full of money in the bank. Many could not bear that thought.

Travel creates the need to travel more. There is always one more road to find and one more beach to wander on.
So what should we do, stay at home and end our wanderlust? Personally, I think the benefits far outweigh the downside as long as all of us realize there is more to life than wanting to be elsewhere. The Joy

Starting Over Again

 

The beginning of the journey

The beginning of the journey

We, last year, decided or should I say I decided and persuaded my wife to relocate to Australia.  I moved to Sabah awhile back to start a life with my new bride having been part of reasonable successful small business in Thailand. I had known my wife for many years via the Internet; the connecting factor being our common love for teaching the English language. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I moved. I wasn’t totally ignorant about the environment I was getting myself into.  In fact, I had been to this part of the world a number of times, but like most ‘holidays’, perception is blinked from reality. Services that you take for granted elsewhere are unpredictable here. General day-to-day living is unremarkable and non stimulating for an enquiring mind. Race-based politics with a dose of religion thrown in for good measure dominates most of the news services, consequently an underlying sense of social tension bubbles under the surface always.  If you don’t belong to the chosen ethnic group, Bumiputra, you’re an outsider for life. Technically, all ethnic groups born here are Malaysians, although in reality a semi unofficial social division exists with a first and second class race base system in place. The chosen ones are given advantages in securing places in universities, numerous scholarships and with employment opportunities as well as financial assistance in the form off special interest rates and other banking privileges.

For these reasons and my inability to work here due to immigration restrictions, I have wanted to return to Australia for some time.  Here lies the problem.

My wife is a principal of a secondary school and apart from my obvious bias she is one of the better ones. In the 4 years she has been in her present school she has lifted the standard up by the boot laces and has gained the school and the state international recognition for her environmental awareness programmes.

She works with the energy of 10 of me and lives and breathes her school and its students although it has taken its toll physically and mentally.

I know she will have a much more controlled existence in Australia with time to do things for herself, but of course this means giving up her senior position and to a certain extent the Malaysian life style.

Moving can be stressful at the best of times. I should know, but fortunately she has been to Australia before, so knows what to expect to some degree; still as I said before, working and holidaying are two different things.

The paper work is finished and submitted and word back indicates things are proceeding smoothly. Zero hour is approaching.
Funnily enough it’s not only her who feels the weight of expectation. I have nothing to lose by returning, she potentially has a lot, but I fret about it a lot. Am I being selfish, only thinking of what is right and convenient for me or am I helping her escape a system that has taken its pound of flesh?
These questions will undoubtably twirl around inside our heads until we leave.

Death in the Morning

 

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It was a morning like every other morning. I crawled out of bed to the sound of the alarm, 5 am to prepare for my 35-kilometre journey to work. At the time, I was working in Bangkok and though I didn’t start until 8:30, the traffic and the distance necessitated an early start.

After a quick shower I dressed and prepared to leave when I decided to check my email.
And there it was as bold as brass. Title : Mum has died.

It took a second or so to register. I wouldn’t say disbelief, for it wasn’t totally unexpected she was 86, but a surreal feeling of being momentarily detached. My mother was dead, full stop, end of a story.

I spent years wondering how I would react when one of my parents died. The moment had come and to be blunt it wasn’t the way I expected. After the initial surprise ( my brother sent the email and is always direct and straight to the point) I gathered myself and went to work as usual.

Never being close to my mother, I had over the years minimal contact. When I lived in Adelaide I would go visit my parents maybe 3 to 4 times a year, for half an hour or so. Anything longer and we used to get on each other’s nerves, never seeing eye to eye. Arguments broke out easily, the visits were literally short, sharp and shiny. We just never connected as adults, let alone mother and son.

Anyway, I found myself spending that day thinking about possibilities. What if we had been close? Would my reaction be different, how different? What if she had died 30 years earlier? Does your own age dictate the way you react? Lots to ponder and reflect on.

More importantly, that day I thought about my childhood, when I was young and my mother wasn’t an old lady. I remembered things I hadn’t thought about for years. Little things that don’t really matter, but reminded me of the tenuous link we shared as mother and son. She wasn’t a natural mother and in hind sight I think she struggled with her 4 children’s upbringing. Not to say she neglected us, we had more than adequate food, shelter and was looked after, but she lacked an emotional connection with us all – empathy. She was mechanical in the way she did things and that extended to the way she brought up her children. I assumed she loved us, but I never felt it. Nothing was ever said or done to demonstrate it or if there was; I just don’t remember.

The reflection only lasted a day and then life went back to normal for me.

As the old adage goes, we are a product of our upbringing. I look into a mirror these days and see my mother’s face as I get older. I notice the way I act at times is the way my mother did; the way I detested as a youth. We should all learn by our life’s mistakes, though fighting powerful inherent forces that lie within is not so easy.

It’s interesting to talk to others about this. Some feel it’s strange that I never grieved about her death, in fact I was and remain rather neutral in my feelings; somewhat empty. She occupies my thoughts only when something reminds me of my youth. Like all of us, unless we become famous we are only remembered through living memory; children and maybe grandchildren then forgotten for all eternity. In the grand scheme of life, individuals mean very little, the specious propagates unabated through numbers until itself is eventually replaced by something more adept to life.
And circle of life continues on.

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on a carousel of time…

Joni Mitchell

State Of Decay

 

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The jungle path slowly winds its way onward and upward towards the summit. Early rays of sunlight try desperately to penetrate the thick overhanging canopy. What little light manages to filter through, illuminates the small pools of water that have settled after the morning’s downpour. Water continues to slowly find its way to the jungle floor, dripping and rolling from one leaf to another until it comes to rest on a thick carpet of dead vegetation. The pitter-patter of large drips splashing on this decaying organic matter add to the early morning din of the forest sounds.

The giant black Inch ants are busy in their organised military lines, moving this rotting material here and there to store for a future time of need.

Small birds scream from one branch to another, chattering and darting in a seemly incoherent chaotic way. High up, the hornbill glides from one treetop to another, the aerial king of the jungle announcing its presence by its harsh high-pitched squawk.

All this activity is conducted above the background sounds of the cicada, untuned violinists trying desperately to catch the rhythm and beat of the surrounding environment.

Squirrels occasionally disturb this symphony as their daily struggle for survival means noisily scurrying around in search of food; their next parcel of energy.

Air clings heavily around the mighty hard woods producing copious amounts of sweat for those intruding into their kingdom.

The narrow track continues its journey toward its final destination.

The deep greens of the jungle remain consistent throughout with only the subtlest hint of colour changes here and there in the fern beds that line the pathway. Morning steam rising from the ground adds to the illusion of an awaking green giant, ready to face another day.

Nearing the summit produces an intensity of the tropical sun. Strengthening light pierces the thinning canopy. This place has a soul, a heart that beats continuously in harmony with its many parts.

A large sandstone boulder marks the top. One can easily climb this monolith to obtain an uninterrupted view of the surrounding area.

Dark black smoke appears in the distance blanketing the horizon.

A forest fire maybe…?
No, the smoke is not natural. The factory that is producing it does so every day of the year.
Looking around, all that can be seen from this supreme vantage point is manmade.
We are sitting on top a green island surrounded by a sea of concrete.

Both decay in time.

The forest breaks down slowly to give hope to the next generation. The nutrients are used, reused in the never ending cycle of life.

The concrete that makes up the factories and homes decays as well, into faded dreams and aspirations. It ages with us until at some stage it no longer serves a purpose and disappears into the clouds of time. Forgotten without a trace. This concrete jungle has no soul.
Living without life.

The Lost Art Of Reading

The ironic part of this post is that the thrust of what I’m about to say most probably won’t apply to you. The simple fact you are looking at this means you obviously enjoy reading.

Reading is an activity that most of us do, on a daily basis, without much thought. We read the street signs going to and from work and school. We read the daily news in print form, online or more likely, the headlines on television.

Some of us are “Readers” and some of us are not. What I mean to say is, only a relatively small percentage of the population read books for pleasure. Is this a good thing? You can argue either way, I suppose, but I know through my experience people who read extensively are generally more knowledgeable and interesting to talk to. Of course, that’s a generalisation and I can hear you say from here that Uncle Freddy has never read a book in his life and he’s interesting, the life of the party and knows everything about everybody and everything about everywhere. True, but for all the Uncle Freddys’ in this world, there are plenty of Nigel knows nothing.

Most of us start learning to read at school from early age. We have to be able to read, if we want to learn from our text books and expand our knowledge and understanding of the world. Very few enjoyed the experience though. Reading can be tedious and boring for those who are have not developed the love for it by being exposed to their parent’s bedtime stories.

Not long ago, I was in a senior high school classroom conducting a meet and greet session when I popped the question. How many of you read books for pleasure? Out of the class of 50, only two raised their hands. Out of those two, only one read fiction novels. You might be thinking to yourself, that’s all very well, but these students are busy learning and spending time using their text books. This is true up to a point but here is another example to ponder.

In another senior class for English studies, the curriculum had designated only a single novel to be studied. In the best class for that level, less than 50 percent bothered to read the book. They relied on formulated answers for exam preparation to pass. I would suspect this is not uncommon around the world. Very few want to read for pleasure and even fewer want to read anything with substance.

Is the art of reading dying?

Today’s youth have access to television and computers. To most, watching a movie is much more enjoyable than reading a story.

Movies are visual, of course and the information is fed to us by picture form and sound. We can relax and let it wash over us in a manner that requires little energy or thought. Books, on the other hand, require us to create an image inside our head through words that ignite our imagination. It’s not passive information gathering; we have to work at it.

The question to be asked then, ‘Is child development being hampered by not using reading as a tool for mental stimulation?’ This is not to say television or computers don’t hold an important place in the education development of the young, as they clearly do, but isn’t it like only having 4 senses to survive instead of 5? We can be blind and still live, but we can’t see what the world really has to offer.

Varied reading is like that. It opens our minds up for us to see the many possibilities that exist. It creates new worlds for us to explore; places and events that we may never be able to experience in real life but can dream about through the power of the written word. Sadly, where I live, there is not a single book shop where I can go and buy a novel. It’s an ever increasing reflection on the dominance of other forms of media. I’ll leave you with this thought.

There is a tendency for authorities around the world to attempt to control the content of electronic and printed media. It is relatively easy to do. By owning the TV stations and the press, you can feed the populous, pancakes instead of soufflé. Books, on the other hand, are much harder to censor.

Life awaits you in this beautiful world of words. Go and find out for yourself.

 

 

The Nectar Of The Gods

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What makes a good wine? Ask a dozen people and get a dozen answers. I’ll state from the very onset that I have very limited knowledge about wine, no connoisseur here, I only drink the stuff, so that puts me with the 99% who haven’t a clue either. Am I qualified to make comment then? I think so, because it’s the 99% that drive the industry. For these people only one criteria that matters – liking the taste or not.

I was brought up in an area surrounded by some of the better wine growing districts in the world. (The French might not agree.) Neither of my parents drank alcohol, so it wasn’t until I became an adult that I started drinking wine. Beer and spirits never appealed. One you had to drown in lolly water to make it drinkable, the other was bitter and bloating. Wine is neither. After developing a palate for the reds tannin in preference to the mostly sweet whites, I found red to be the most satisfying to consume. By volume, it doesn’t bloat and usually complements the food I ingest. A glass of Shiraz goes down well with a McDonalds hamburger! (Philistine I hear you scream.)

This brings us to last night. Our friends invited us for dinner at their place and I was specifically asked not to bring a bottle as the host had a cupboard full that needed to be drank. Been given the honour of deciding what to drink, I inspected the 10 bottles on show and earmarked 2 for immediate drinking. Both were close to 10 years old. One of those, a Merlot 2005 from my old home town was opened first.

As most of us know, proper storage of wine is critical if you want to create the conditions necessary for it to reach its full potential. You couldn’t imagine a worse case scenario in this case, storage in a non air-conditioned room standing up right.

My worst fears were realised when the cork started to disintegrate during removal. In fact, it broke in two and I could not get enough purchase on the remaining cork, so I did what any good wine expert (cough,cough) would do… use a knife to push the recalcitrant cork fragments into the bottle.

Finding a tea strainer and plastic container I filtered as much of the floating cork particles from the wine as feasible. Two attempts later, all of the contaminate was removed or as much as the naked eye could tell.

Oddly the wine had little nose. In other words, I couldn’t smell anything that clearly resembled any wine I knew, just a nondescript slightly sweet bouquet. The colour was unusual as well, chocolate brown with a dash of blood red.

All this pointed towards a tasting disaster, but to our utter astonishment it was tasting extravaganza. What a pleasure to the palate, smooth and silky, sliding down the throat, leaving a delightful after thought behind. Even the non drinkers were impressed. And to top it all off, we displayed no after effects the next day.

Perfect!

So it goes to show, in this case what should have occurred didn’t happen.

In the end it’s the taste to you that matters and not any extensive wine knowledge.
Having said all this though, I have recently witnessed wine being mixed with coke! Now there is a limit to everything.

À la vôtre

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On A Wing And A Prayer

 

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A bleak afternoon, thunderstorms and driving winds. I arrived at Kota Kinabalu International Airport 4 hours early for my flight back to Sandakan. Very early I know, but being the conservative person I am and the water rising in the street, persuaded me to err on the side of caution.

This airport is only 6 years old and I must say usually a pleasure to arrive or depart from compared with most. It’s medium sized as airports go, the third biggest in Malaysia after KL, catering for about 12 million passengers a year who visit Sabah. It’s modern, metallic and has 12 air bridges, never feels busy and you can easily find a place to sit away from others.

After disembarking from the taxi drenched, I sloshed towards the check-in counter and waddled through the x-ray past immigration that appeared to make only a cursory glance at the screen whilst continuing their more important discussion on the day’s current gossip. Maybe I don’t look like a terrorist.

I arrived before my wife and her conference colleagues, waited in a state of misery, some what exacerbated by the building’s cold air-conditioning.
Being a creature of habit I had immediately gone straight to my flight’s departure gate, indicated by the electronic board as A8.

My wife and her friends duly arrived and as per usual discussed work, ignoring me. Feeling neglected, I got up and wandered around the terminal which is mostly empty of things to do.

The major shortcoming in the departure hall is that most of the allocated shop spaces are empty. There are dozens and dozens of empty ‘shop fronts, in a myriad of short passages coming off the main thoroughfare. It’s possible to go into the bowels of the retail area and be completely alone.

Interestingly there are two terminals at this airport which are diagonal across the runway from each other. The low cost terminal which is smaller is always very busy. It seems odd to me that they don’t incorporate both under the same roof; more efficient way of using space and I suspect a way to enliven the retail areas. Anyway, the authorities must have their reasons, I suppose.

I happened to glance up at the departure board to discover, to my surprise, that the gate had changed to A6. I duly informed the others, so we gathered our belongings and moved to the new allocated gate.

Upon arrival, only a small group of tourists were milling around, we sat ourselves close to the front counter. The electronic board flashed up Sandakan and the flight number. A man sat there doing his paper shuffling and all seemed well. Except…

The gate next to us was experiencing some sort of commotion with a group of about 10 passengers milling around an official all looking very animated. I had no idea what it was about, but can only assume it was something to do with a communication breakdown. ( maybe the infamous departure board) I couldn’t hear anything from where we were, but it was highly entertaining and helped while away the remaining 45 minutes.

Being the observant creature I am , I noticed as the departure time approached, a distinct lack of passengers and no aircraft in the bay. Besides that, the little man at the front counter had suddenly disappeared and the electronic sign board had stopped flashing Sandakan. I walked to the departure board and as I am sure you have already guessed, discovered we were now back at A8. !!!

A mad dash to the new gate ensured where we joined the throngs who were about to board the aircraft. ( How did they know and not us?) Throughout all of this there were no announcements on the intercom that things had changed.

Lesson to be learned. Mistake on my part – If I hadn’t constantly been checking the departure board we would have been blissfully ignorant of the transitory change. Don’t assume officialdom will tell you everything you need to know in this part of the world. Most information seems to be gained by the mysterious process of mental osmosis, you are just expected to know. For some reason, the authorities don’t like giving out info unless it’s deemed unequivocally necessary (to them). Who decides this is anyone’s guess, so be prepared to expect the unexpected.

One little side issue to finish, Just before take off, after the safety video, a short prayer was offered for the safe passage of the flight.
Now that really does instil confidence!