Pork (7)

January 31, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

I digressed onto weapons. But I wanted to also note that many memories of being at David’s relate to pigs. Indeed, when visiting David and his family in 2001 we pulled into his yard and I could only laugh out loud for there was a freshly slaughtered wild pig lying on the back of his truck. I was delighted that things had not changed in the intervening years. In 1981 good friend Steven, his brother Ken and I spent three days looking for pigs. Not one did us the courtesy of letting us sight them, despite plenty of spoor. David would drop anything to hunt pigs but after three days he had had enough and insisted we help him fix a fence in compensation for the three days “fun” he had provided. We were on holidays and were happy to oblige. We loaded up a dangerously precarious load of posts on the back of the Landcruiser, perched Ken and half a dozen dogs on top and proceeded to head up the property. After a short drive we were easing the vehicle into a creek bed, being careful not to dislodge Ken or the posts. The cry “pig” was made by Ken at about the same moment we in the cab saw a large sow and plenty of piglets heading into the tussock. Instantly the truck was slammed into the creek, ploughed out the other side and across the bank onto a track where we caught a glimpse of the sow vanishing up another bank into more tussock. She had been separated from her piglets and was squealing in rage. Steve and I tumbled out of the cab and I loosed of a quick shot which kicked up sand between her legs and then she was gone. David bellowed out “don’t shoot” as he took off after the piglets and Steve and I hurried after the dogs that were chasing the sow. I shouldered the .303 and caught up with sow and dogs, one each of the latter hanging off each of her ears. She had backed herself into a bank and was doing her best to dislodge the dogs. After a quick consult about why David might not want her shot I walked behind her and picked up her back legs, the very random and ill-conceived plan being to “wheelbarrow” her back to the truck. But her kicking quickly tired me out and I had only enraged her some more. So Steve stepped in, stood beside me and took one of the legs. At which point her left ear detached. Without the counterbalancing effect of a dog attached to each side of her head she set of after us, turning tightly to the left and trying to bite us. So we pirouetted out of her way as best we could, turning in seeming ever decreasing circles. The dogs got even more excited, she screamed blue murder and we rapidly tired – and wondered how on earth we were going to extract ourselves out of this one.

After what seemed like an eternity of madness and with her jaws snapped at us from only inches away David crested the ridge, paused and demanded to know what on earth we were doing. We were too breathless to explain and in any event were not going to take our eye off this sow from hell. He wanted to know why I did not just shoot her?!! Striding over he pulled a skinning knife from somewhere (he was good at that) and asked us to roll her onto her back. We flipped her quite easily and in a flash he had her jugular cut and she bled out in a few minutes. Once she had whimpered and gurgled to a stop David explained that his instruction to “not shoot” was made only out of concern that I might have hit one of his dogs. Our mute staring reply was born out of the dangerous pointlessness of the madness we had just put ourselves through. He just laughed and suggested we get back to the truck to see how Ken was.

As it turned out we had completely forgotten about Ken. Somehow he had survived the launch through the creek and along the track but all posts except for those immediately lying on the deck of the truck had been thrown out such was the violence of the traverse. After using a couple of the posts to float the sow in a nearby dam (it was a hot day and this was one way to keep her cool while we worked on the fence) we spent the next thirty minutes backtracking and recovering the scattered posts. I never did figure out how Ken had managed to stay on the back of that bucking tray.

Taxi Story – The Iranian

January 31, 2007

I came here ten years ago as a refugee. I am very lonely since I have no family here. But I have a good life in Sydney. When I was in Tehran I earned one dollar a day One dollar!! But it bought me everything I need although my life was very simple. But I am not sure if I have been successful here in Sydney. What is success? A friend at university has gone on to be a professor at the university. I earn more in one day than he earns in one month. He loves being a professor and lives OK. He is successful in terms of status. I earn more but I only drive a taxi. Because I earn more am I more successful? I do not know. Now I eanr $100 a day and it is not enough. $200 a day and it is not enough. I started at 7am two days ago, and yesterday and made good money. I normally start at 5am. Today I started at 7am and have only made enough to cover the petrol. I should not be so lazy and go back to the 5am start. I am hoping to go back to Tehran to visit my family. I have a girlfriend here but I need to have my family around me. That is important. I visited Iran many years ago but had to go there under another name. The UN helped me do that. Then I went back with my real name and nothing happened. So maybe it is OK to go back and visit family. I am lucky to have my PR (permanent residency). I hope to become a citizen very soon. (Laughs) – how good that will be. My girlfriend is a Catholic. I am a Muslim. How about that!? You are born to your religion so you cannot change that. I cannot become a Christian and she cannot become a Muslim. Conversions from one to the other are never true. You have to be true to yourself. I was sad when I became a PR because many people lied about who they are to become a PR. Two Muslims I know f*#@*^ many women here then said they were Muslims on their applications. They are not Muslims when they behave like that. I could not live or lie like that. My PR application said everything about me and it was true. You have to live true.

Dubai – Feet Vote it Better than Spain

January 29, 2007

If you copy and paste these coordinates (25° 5’22.98″N 55° 9’18.47″E) into Google Earth you will be slowly flown to a remarkable bit of coastline that, as the view sharpens up, reveals odd flowering appendages to the coast (hint: if you need to speed Google Earth up head to the general area of the Middle East and start the search from there). If you have a close look you will see these are an amazing collection of man made islands, designed in a couple of cases to look like stylised palms, while another, just becoming visible, is intended to look like a map of the world. From overhead at least.

These are in fact massive housing estates accommodating a huge collection of apartments and stand alone homes. The photo here shows the approaches to The Palm, taken from the beach in front of the Royal Mirage (I was only stopping there for an afternoon of Jazz, mixed by a backpacking Australian kid who will look back on this and realise he never had it so good!) which is a hotel story in itself. Just out of sight, to the left of this shot, massive ship borne dredges were pumping up sand from off the coast and pumping it in a long arc out onto the breakwaters, filling the building site as quickly as they could. Later as night fell the lights came on and thousands of flashing orange vehicle lights told us the project was a 24 hour operation. Dozens of cranes in operation, a constant stream of hundreds of cement mixers and other trucks. Teeming with workers from all over the world.

It is a bit hard to talk about Dubai without sounding like you are loading up your account with a load of hyperbole. But the fact of the matter is that this emirate is doing all it can to attract not only visitors but residents as well. Mind you the deals are so attractive that there are an enormous number of people from all around the world who purchase a residence in Dubai simply so they have somewhere to holiday – but in their own house. And while you might bump into Russians, Romanians, plenty of Saudis and the odd American or three, it seems that the Brits are the ones who are making this place their second home. Can hardly blame them when the year round climate hardly turns up a cloud – makes a big difference to being in Blighty. That and real beaches that knock Brighton right off. In fact, on one of my recent visits there, our trade commissioner noted that Dubai is now attracting as many, if not more English for their holidays than the number who travel to Spain. Not sure how true that is but when the local government allows you to buy freehold real estate for a fraction of what you pay at home it is pretty hard to resist.

As you head out of the airport towards the immigration folk there are numerous large advertisements pushing the attractiveness of buying up in Dubai. But if you prefer to do some homework first, before flying out there that is, this is a pretty good place to start. Dubailand


January 29, 2007

During our trip with Nigel around New Delhi we were treated to some extraordinary sights, with Nigel focusing on cultural elements of the city that a tourist probably would not plan into their day. But which are an integral part of the fabric of India and for which a visitor is all the poorer for not visiting. You might not think that a couple of hours spent at a crematorium would hold much a appeal. Yet in a strange way it formed a powerful part of our visit. Mortal Hindus are cremated quite quickly after death and the process is an interesting reflection of society. The rich parade their deceased on an open bier, covered in marigolds and send them off with a very large fire – the firewood is purchased at the entrance. The very poor, some of whom had passed away on the river bank beside this crematorium, are picked up by “social workers” and given a solemn send off. We watched both. Interestingly, in each case once the fire was under way all spectators left, and the fire was left to blaze away on its own.

It is a good place to be reminded of our fleeting passing, and while intriguing (without being morbid – India wears everything out on her sleeve and this really is a good example of death being a part of life) it also was a sobering visit. But it was a good place to see death put in perspective as well. For directly in front of us a beggar woman had been placed on a bier, lifted to the top of the pyre, and the fire lit. Immediately after the crematorium staff departed another beggar jumped the fence and rushed over to the fire. We had all just ducked out of a heavy shower but this chap must have been caught up in it. The heat from these fires is intense. Very quickly he pulled off a pair of pants (revealing another underneath) and held them up to dry while he placed another garment on his head to get the same effect. Shortly there was a cloud of steam pouring off him. Here he is, giving a new level of meaning to “recycle”, while keeping half an eye on the crowd off to the left who were saying farewell to a wealthy businessman. I don’t think anyone in that crowd chased the beggar off -it is not that sort of place after all.

2007 Australia Day – On Pittwater

January 26, 2007

How we spent our Australia Day

Terrorist Gas Bottle BBQ Builders

January 25, 2007

26 January is Australia Day. Last week the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation ran this advertisement, cast in the style of political advertisements, which has struck a chord with most Australians. Apparently it is achieving a successful “viral” advertising penetration. I am more than happy to help it on its way. You won’t like it if you are a terrorist gas BBQ bottle builder. And if you are a hairy legged, sandal wearing, lentil eater you may take exception! P.S. a “hills hoist” is a clothes line. Just go along for the ride and have a laugh.

Chai Chai, Tea Tea, or Chai Tea? Or Just Chai?

January 24, 2007

The local Gloria Jeans coffee shop serves up a very nice “Chai Tea”. It has not been heated over a cow dung fire, filtered to remove twigs and other impurities, nor made with a tin of condensed milk and a secret recipe of herbs and spices which are best not ask about. It all comes out of a clean machine and I have to say it tastes pretty good.

When it was first introduced to the menu I badly wanted to point out the repetition of meaning – the word Chai, as roughly simulated in the tea served up in the Gloria Jean recipe, has its origins in northern India. Though its roots go back to the Chinese where it is called cha. Interestingly the British military took “Chai” into its vocabulary and from there into the British community as “char” – exactly as the Chinese pronounce it. You will still hear the word in use in Britain.

I digress. Within the bowels of the old fort in the centre of New Delhi, where tourists rarely venture, and where we would have never visited except for the guidance of Nigel, we stumbled over a group of men and boys pondering the contents of a black, simmering pot. The moment we showed interest one of the lads started ladling out the contents, pouring it through a filter a few times. The others peered at it excitedly, jabbering encouragement at the rise and fall of the liquid. Eventually, and with a flourish, it was ladled into a tall glass and offered to us. It smelled glorious and I would have gladly partaken except that Nigel warned us off. The contents came, in part, from local cows and was known to create health problems, even when heated. We had no idea what had actually gone into the pot but as Nigel pointed out, the glass was filthy, and loudly advertising a bad dose of “Delhi Belly” – at best.

The liquid was no less than Chai. Made with local cow’s milk – there are plenty around. Supplemented by sweetened condensed milk. And all sorts of herbs and spices. And accompanied by an elaborate ritual with which to serve it. Carefully filtered of any street rubbish and presented to many oohs, ahhs and other encouraging sounds. Sadly, we did have to decline – but we caught something of the sacred ritual in the photograph here. The Chai is being dispensed through a filter from an exaggerated height – but which helped create a more frothy texture. They should consider a franchise!

Venison (6)

January 22, 2007

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some “zeds”. Or zees” depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Domesticated animals, even those that are let to run feral are one thing. But two exotics are part of my memories of David as well. Deer. And Pigs. We were always scanning the hills for deer but they were far too cunning for noisy kids. But on one occasion I went out with David and my father after a hind that had come down close to the house but had moved on before David could grab his rifle. A quick call to Dad and we were off up the valley to David’s place. I was twelve or thirteen and was soon left behind as we climbed up into the high country. They had spotted the hind as she propped on a high point and watched us approach. Their hearing and eyesight are acute so there was no possibility we could approach her from the front. So we dropped over a ridge into a parallel valley and hiked up there as fast as we could. Soon I was on my own as David led the hunt back over the ridge and the last I saw of them on the climb were two bobbing heads vanishing through the snow grass. I assumed they were still climbing but had a wary sense they might have stopped to sight her up, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk into their field of fire. So I walked on and on until I was so far up the mountain I was sure I was safe. Carefully broaching the ridge I looked down but couldn’t see the two of them. Let alone the deer. Just as I was thinking I needed to get back into the neighbouring gully least I get a hole in the head, far below me three cracking booms split the air. In that open air position the rounds seared the sky for ever and I could hear them rip the air apart as they scorched down the mountain. Followed by faint stains of white smoke which flowered from the tussock below. The hind was still watching her front and never saw the rounds coming from behind, one breaking her back but not stopping her launching into the air and propelling herself downhill for a few hundred yards. David had loosed the first round but it had been deflected by the top wire of a three strand fence which he had not seen. Two wires makes for a low step obstacle for cattle so he no choice but to repair it. It was along walk up there and he spoke for years afterwards about the need to go back and rewire that fence the next day. We ate venison rolled with seasoning for a while after that. David wanted to know why I was perched so far above them and was puzzled at my safety reasoned response. I thought his effort with the wire more than justified my care.

As a minor aside the occasional deer would turn up in winter time seeking forage around the house David shared with his brothers. If that careless they were shot from the kitchen window. A booming domestic .303 would have been quite something. I never did see that. But I did witness something similar years later when David was married and the house renovated. On a November 5th evening as the fireworks were being fired off by the youth group in his backyard a number of extra large explosions got our attention. Those quick enough saw the shadow of his .303 being withdrawn from the louvers of the toilet window. He really was a bad example. Inspired by that, and freshly arrived at a new congregation in 1983 and invited to a fireworks night I took my own .303, pulled some rounds and fired ten cartridges inside a small aluminium garden shed. The effect was thunderous, I suspect my hearing was impaired for a while, I would have been a classic gunpowder residue CSI case, but a few of the matrons were appalled. I don’t think I have seen them since.

Next Chapter

Taxi Story (mine) – Singapore

January 22, 2007

Where you go?
Furama Hotel.
Which hotel?
No Furama.
Actually there are a few of them.
Not in Singapore.
Oh, you mean Furama!
Yes please.
Which one?
Singapore is Chinatown
(thinking “don’t be cute with me buster…)
Downtown Chinatown.
Downtown or Chinatown?
The Furama in Chinatown.
You know address?
Eu Tong Sen Street
Eu (oh) Tong Sen…Chinatown
You show me…
OK (you bastard)
(long silent drive from airport, with attempt to get him talking again)
Nice taxi.
How old is it?
How old is that?
One week.
(looking around to see what make of car, I could see no branding)
What make of car is the taxi?
Who makes it?
(long silent pause)
Ah, I see from the steering wheel the car is a Volkswagen.
No, this is “Vee Double U”
I thought they are the same thing.
No, this is “Vee Double U”
Made in Germany (or Brazil) by the same company.
No, this is better “Vee Double U”. Make in Singapore.
Not a Volkswagen?
No such car.
(I spy the Furama on the horizon just before he is beaten to death with a nodding Buddha wrenched from off his dashboard)
There we go, the Furama.
I know.
You know?!
Yes, Chinatown Furama.
(said very slowly) I thought you said you did not know this Furama.
I live in Singapore fifty years. You think I know Furama?!!
(silence until we arrive)
That will be $14.65
(I hand him $15)
$15 please?
You said $14.65.
35 cents please.
Sorry, no tip. 35 cents please.
You safe to Furama
Sure, but you nearly not so safe! I’ll be having that 35 cents please – I have earned it and you sure have not.
But you not know Singapore like me for fifty years.
True, but I know most are not like you here. Bye. (With my 35 cents).

Storm Over Singapore

January 22, 2007

The humidity seeps into and out of everything. From out of the lowering sky. Out of the damp ground and dark foliage. The light gray sky of the morning has given over to an angry gray which is hanging like a curtain and being drawn across the jungle horizon. The sun has long vanished although its background effect is to add a silver sheen and gold mist to that curtain. Thunder crackles in the distance and the roof over the shelter creaks in anticipation of being hit. The temperate seems to rise and the roof complains some more. As if in placation a few large, warm and soft drops bounce of the roof and scatter to the ground.

The rim of gold suffused cloud rips apart and the mirror flat reservoir of water in front of us loses its steel grey stillness as the rain dances off its surface. The thunder clumps a bit closer and in the distance continues to crackle as the wall of water makes its steady way towards us. The one or two vanguard drops become a scattering of drops and anyone still in the open head to shelter. Behind us the monkeys leave their foraging and climb into the trees, pausing every now and then to look up and check the sky. Or to check a fellow is not in their sheltered spot.

Distracted by the churning reservoir, the noise of the rain approaching us is initially lost. But soon it is unmistakable as it hammers the jungle foliage off to our right. Drilling down hard the sound of rain becomes as noisy as that on a tin roof but still there is no deluge over us. But you can hear it coming and the rising crescendo creates an anticipation that everyone can feel. The monkeys are now well hidden under leaves and branches. I can see the tail of one hanging out from under some leaves. Suddenly the drumming rain is on us and we are caught up in the silence it demands. There is too much noise for sensible conversation and all you can do is be lost in the effect of it all. Thundering rain, sheeting across the reservoir, the lawn, the mud, bouncing off the canopy above us and creating a small storm of leaves, petals and twigs that are dislodged and float to the ground. A stream of rain runs off the roof of our little shelter in a steady curtain of water and runs away downhill.

In a few moments the wall is past us. The noise of approaching rain on leaves is now the noise of departing rain and it slowly subsides into the distance. The canopy continues to shower water and foliage, and monkeys are triggers for the same as a scattered family uses the respite to regroup. The thunder continues to rumble and the silver clouds and golden mist wash around us and the hills. But it is safe to get back to the car, wipe most of the mud from off our shoes and get on to our next appointment.

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