Wednesday, December 15, 2010

12 Days of Christmas

A friend challenged Smithy and I to come up with an Himalayan version of the 12 Days of Christmas just a few days after our return from India. Not the types to back down from a creative task like that, we quickly came up with twelve alternatives to the traditional verses.

After a bit of polishing the next day, this is what we came up with:

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
a wild chicken from Nepal

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 seven painted elephants, six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 eight garlic naans, seven painted elephants, six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 nine charging rhinos, eight garlic naans, seven painted elephants, six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
 ten temple bells, nine charging rhinos, eight garlic naans, seven painted elephants, six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
eleven Tibetan lamas, ten temple bells, nine charging rhinos, eight garlic naans, seven painted elephants, six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
twelve lemon sodas, eleven Tibetan lamas, ten temple bells, nine charging rhinos, eight garlic naans, seven painted elephants, six blue kingfishers, five vegie momos, four white khatas, three banana lassis, two marigold garlands and a wild chicken from Nepal

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Running with rhinos

Smithy and I signed up for Intrepid's Kathmandu to Delhi trip last month, which was a whole lot of fun and I hope to share more anecdotes here. One of the early highlights of the trip, was the 3-day stay at Nepal's Chitwan National Park, where we hoped to spot a rhino or two. The adventure began with a 2-hour trip down the Rapti River in a dugout canoe, that had no wriggle room at all. Almost as soon as my bottom hit the 2-inch high seat, my right knee seized up and got progressively more painful as the trip went on. Bird and alligator spotting provided some distraction from my discomfort, and I was mightily relieved when the canoe beached and we all scrambled ashore for our jungle walk to Ghatgai.

Our guides, Ram and Lascar, led us along trails that wound through the lush jungle, pointing out spotted deer bounding away from us and the occasional bird. Eventually, we arrived at a spot along the river that rhinoceros apparently favour, and Lascar decided we should have lunch and wait awhile to see if any turned up. We spent a couple of hours whispering to each other, watching beetles, butterflies and various other insect life, and catnapping under the canopy before Lascar decided no rhinos were coming and led us off into the jungle once more.

After another hour or so of ambling along the trails, Lascar suddenly hissed, "Quick, come this way!" and leapt off the path and ran, crashing, through the undergrowth. What had he seen? Was it a rhino? Excitedly, we all raced after him, tripping over and plunging through bushes and vines. All of a sudden, an elephant emerged from the trees, then another and another. They each had people, tourists, atop who looked very surprised to find eight or nine scruffy hikers running alongside them.
"There it is! There it is!" someone called out, pointing off to the left. We all stopped and peered into the greenery, straining for a glimpse of the elusive rhino. Then, there it was. It stood about 20 metres away, swinging its head from side to side, taking in the elephants and then looking straight at our small group of trembling travellers. Remembering our guides instructions to climb a tree if a rhino came towards us, Smithy promptly leapt behind the nearest, and only, tree. The rest of us stood stock still, holding our collective breath as the rhino assessed the situation then turned and disappeared into the jungle.

"Come on," Lascar waved us all forward once more and we raced after it, just in time to see it plunge into the river, and escape to the safety of the far bank.

The following day, we went on an elephant safari of our own and encountered another rhino, this one with a calf. Neither of them showed the slightest bit of interest in the six elephants that circled them, and totally ignored the tourists onboard busily clicking away with their cameras, as they calmly grazed. Exciting as it was to see these rare and wonderfully ugly animals in such close proximity from the safety of an elephant's back, it couldn't beat the exhilaration of the previous day's pursuit through the jungle. That was one unforgettable experience!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Planes, trains and automobiles: travels to India

Smithy and I have just spent two weeks travelling overland from Kathmandu to Delhi and have utilised a mind-boggling array of conveyances to get there. We've travelled down the Rapti River in Nepa's Chitwan National Park in a dugout canoe. Ridden elephants through Chitwan's jungle. Cycled alongside elephants in Sunauli. Bounced along a road in the back of an open-air jeep. Crossed the Nepal/India border on foot, then travelled by private sedan to Varanasi. Sailed down the Ganges in sailboats. Been rowed alongside the Varanasi Ghats to see the evening puja. Journeyed to Sarnath in tempos and around Sarnath by cycle rickshaw. Gone from Varanasi to Orccha on an overnight sleeper train and to Agra and then Delhi on local  trains and survived several trips on Delhi's Metro train system.

We're now in Shimla, in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya, which we got to by travelling on the famous "toy train". Running on a two-foot gauge, the train goes through 102 tunnels, crosses 988 bridges and goes around 937 bends on its 96 km journey from Kalka to Shimla.

We've still got a few local bus trips and one very long overnight train journey ahead of us, but travelling through northern India has been a wonderful adventure.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It's been a gas, gas gas

A few months ago, Smithy and I decided to convert from mains gas to bottled gas after receiving a gas bill in which we'd used about $3.00 worth of gas, but had to pay $60.00 plus for the privilege of having it supplied to the house. So we went about buying the bottled gas and getting it all connected and everything and then Smithy rang the gas company (AGL) to organise the disconnection. It took quite some time for the operator to understand that yes we wanted the gas disconnected, no we don't have a forwarding address as we're not leaving, but yes we do want the gas disconnected. Yes we do understand that means the meter will be taken away. No, it won't cost the new tenants anything to get it re-installed because we are not going anywhere. Yes we want the gas disconnected...even though we aren't moving house. Eventually someone did come around and disconnect us from the mains gas and took away the meter. A little while after that we got our final reading bill, which included a penalty fee for terminating the contract with the gas company before the two years we had initially signed up for had expired. Money-gouging scoundrels, but we'll cop that since it's the last we'll ever have to pay.

Fast forward to last week when we received a bill charging us for the mains gas we've used for the past three months - the gas we no longer get because we're disconnected. Intrigued as to how they managed to read a meter that's no longer there, Smithy rang AGL and explained to them that we've been disconnected from the mains, the meter has been removed and all that's left is a pipe sticking out of the ground. Oh, says the operator, but our records show a new meter was installed there as the previous residents had moved out. No, we're still here, but there's no new meter because we're on bottled gas. Turns out, a meter had been automatically ordered, but its return never recorded or something. Anyway, the operator said she'd sort it all out and arrange for someone to come out and remove that pipe that's sticking out of the ground.

Fast forward again to yesterday, when we received a letter welcoming us as new customers to AGL. They don't know who we are as the letter was addressed to "The Customer" but they've signed us up for a two year contract. Thoughtful of them, ain't it. Smithy's going to call AGL, ask if she's speaking to the Left Hand or the Right Hand and then ask to speak to the other one as obviously half the people at AGL have no idea what the other half are doing.

Meanwhile, that pipe is still sticking out of the ground.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Today I gave up my website. It was a big decision to let go of something that's been with me for the past 15 years, but it was the right decision. I just don't have the time to spend maintaining and updating it anymore. The site was a vehicle for my photographs taken during my Himalayan treks and it was a lot of work creating each page, uploading the photographs and writing the HTML code. It's much easier to use Flickr - and cheaper. It was costing me about $25.00 a quarter to have an ad-free website with Yahoo. For $50.00 I get a two-year ad-free, unlimited upload account with Flickr, so it makes sense to go with that option.

I first got my website in 1996 with GeoCities and it went through quite a few incarnations on its way to its final form. I started off reviewing books I had read before moving on to showcase my photographs of Australian landscapes, which then morphed into a website of my trekking photographs. Along the way I learned a whole lot about design, good navigation and HTML.

I was able to use all those skills in my professional work, running library workshops teaching other people how to create their own websites. It was enormously satisfying giving people the skills and tools to create their own little corner of cyberspace and it was a part of my job I really loved.

I also really loved nutting out the HTML code I needed to achieve a particular effect on my webpage and going back and scrutinising the code to discover the errors I had made. I loved that sense of achievement seeing the webpage take shape and being able to say, "I did that."

I'm going to miss my website and I do feel a little sad at letting it go but I have to be realistic and I can't write novels and keep up my website. One consolation is that more people may get to see my photographs now that they are on Flickr. So, come on over and have a look at Say G'day while you're there.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A tale is born

Do you, like me, wonder how writers come up the ideas for their stories that they do? As a writer myself, I am often intrigued with what it was that sparked a particular idea for a story. Sometimes I think the process of coming up with a story idea, the backstory to the story if you like, is as interesting as the story itself. So, in case you find the background to a story as fascinating as I do, I'll share how it happens with my writing.
Often, I'll start with a single image that has popped into my head and see where that takes me. My current project is a good example. It began with the image of sand skittering across the road. From there I began thinking about an outback town and some sort of disruptive event. A carnival coming to town, perhaps. Which led to the image of someone watching said carnival leaving, disappearing into the distance and the sand blowing across the road, obliterating its tracks. And that image led to thinking about the Burke and Wills expedition leaving Menindee and that became the genesis of the story I am writing now.
My short story Truth to tell came about as the result of the image of someone scrunching up a letter and flinging it away. There's no letter in the final version of the story, but that image provided the impetus and storyline for the tale.
Other times, I'll have an idea of what I want to write about but can't find the way in. For ages, I've wanted to write a piece that would convey the utter silence I experienced whilst trekking in the Nepalese Himalaya, but just couldn't find the right words. Then at a travel writing course, we were given an exercise where we could write anything we liked, but could not use the word 'adrift'. That immediately suggested a sea, which conjured up the phrase 'sea of silence'. And that gave me the key to the piece. It needs more work, but now I have an image to work around.
Very occasionally, I'll draw inspiration from other writers and stories. Years ago, I read a short story about all the ghosts who haunted the Tower of London, one of whom was Elizabeth the First. I was really tickled by the idea of Elizabeth I in the modern world and decided that would make a good story one day. Thus was my novel born.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

From Wealdstone to Warrandyte

Following on from my earlier post about emigrating from England to Australia, I thought I'd put up these two photographs of where I came from in England and where I ended up in Australia. The first one is a shot of the bustling shops of High Street in Wealdstone. The second is of South Warrandyte's equivilent. Culture shock, much?

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Tibet: Murder in the snow

Back in early October 2006, Smithy and I had just returned to Kathmandu after travelling in Tibet for a month and were staying at the Kathmandu Guesthouse, when a poster on the noticeboard at the Guesthouse caught my eye. It was announcing the deaths of Tibetan refugees, shot by the Chinese as they escaped over the Nangpa La on the Nepal-Tibet border on 30 September.

This is the documentary of that shooting and of the stories of the hundreds of Tibetans who risk their lives every year to escape the Chinese occupation and oppression in their land.

Visit the official website to learn more about this story or to donate to the fund set up in Kelsang Namtso's name.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Living in the Land of Oz

My family marked its 40th anniversary of emigrating to Australia on 1 August. I was just a kid when we set sail from England - 10-pound Poms, we were - and it felt as if we were leaving everything and everyone we knew and heading into the great unknown. At the time, it felt like a terrible mistake. I'd never see my grandparents, friends or schoolmates again. It poured with rain for the first month of our arrival. I couldn't understand a word said to me by the kids at school. The trees looked funny, the birds sounded strange and I couldn't get my favourite comic, Whizzer and Chips, at the little shop up the road - the only shop up the road!
Looking back now, I regret nothing about my parents' decision to emigrate. Who knows how my life might have turned out if we had stayed in England. Sure, I wouldn't have been bullied at school for being English, but I doubt I would have gone to university either. Granted, we never lived in a house big enough for me to have a room of my own, but at least my brother no longer had to walk through our bedroom to get to his. My parents would probably never have built and owned their own home, nor would my siblings.
If I grown up in urban outer London instead of South Warrandyte - on the outer fringes of suburban Melbourne - I would probably never have developed my deep love of nature.
Would I have grown up loving England as much as I love Australia if I had stayed? Probably. Do I love England now more than I love Australia? No. I have no desire to go back. I still have a British passport and I still support England in the cricket but it's not home. Australia is and I wouldn't live anywhere else... except perhaps Kathmandu.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can't take a (racist) joke?

I've been following with interest the stories in the media about recent racist remarks made by Andrew Johns and Mal Brown. For the most part there has been almost universal condemnation of the comments and the attitudes behind them, particularly for Mal Brown's dismissal of his comments as 'just a joke' - as if that somehow excuses referring to Indigenous footballers as 'cannibals.'

It's good to see so many commenters on the various news sites condemning the remarks. But there were enough other commenters dismissing the outcry as 'nonsense', 'political correctness' and suggesting people needed to 'harden up'. Others bewailed the fact that it only seemed to be racism when whites did it - "I get called white b8#%&d all the time but that's never called racism".

Um, that's because generally white people do not suffer institutional racism based on the colour of their skin in Australia. You're not stereotyped because of your skin colour. You're not discriminated against because of your skin colour. You're not the victim of laws based on your skin colour.

Tell you what, try spending a lifetime being put down because of the colour of your skin, and see how it feels for someone to tell you to harden up, or it was just a joke when a racist epithet is flung your way.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Confessions of a bookworm

I read a lot of books. The list of titles I've read over the past 30 years of my adult reading career would be mind-boggling if I could only remember them all ( I started keeping a list 18 months ago). With the death of JD Salinger in January this year, I realised I had never read Catcher in the rye. And that got me thinking about what other 'great' books or authors I have never read. I've never read any Steinbeck novels either. Nor Hemingway. Never read The Great Gatsby. Never read a single Jane Austen - although I have read the Brontes and George Eliot. Never read Gone with the wind, or seen the movie. Speaking of movies, and while I'm in a confessional mood, I also have never seen The sound of music or The wizard of Oz.

I'll probably never read any of the above-mentioned books, except for Catcher in the rye and I'm only reading that because it was a book club suggestion. Do I feel impoverished by these gaps in my reading history? Not at all. I'm reading some of the fantastic literature that's been written in the last 50 years. There's enough there to keep me going for the rest of my life. I can't possibly read all the books out there (although it won't be from a want of trying), but every book I do read enriches me just that little more.

What 'great' oeuvres have you never read? Send me a comment!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why I shouldn't answer the door to 'Christians'

Catholic Man came knocking on my door yesterday, from a local Catholic church conducting a census of members in the area. "None here" was my response which prompted Catholic Man to enquire as to my religion. I told him Buddhist and he said they had encountered a lot of Buddhists in the area. He didn't know much about Buddhism, but wasn't it all a bit "vague"? I'm not sure what he meant by that but replied that on the contrary it was very precise. He then queried me about Buddhists not believing in a creator and how did we explain the creation of the world. He couldn't get his head around the idea that to Buddhists it was a waste of time pinpointing the very first moment of creation so instead launched into a speech about how Christianity brought love to the world as well education and reading and writing and democracy! Not really wanting to get into a discussion with him, I let him rabbit on until the reading/writing line, which I couldn't let pass - would have been news to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Eygptians, Chinese, Indians - and he conceded he had exaggerated a bit there. Methinks he exaggerated rather more than a bit. In fact, he seemed to be demonstrating rather a lot of Christian hubris.

Christianity brought education to the world? So he's never heard of the University of Al Karaouine in Fez, Morocco, which was founded in 859 CE and is the oldest, continuous degree-conferring university in the world and precedes Oxford by almost two hundred years. It just happens to be Islamic.
He also needs to go and read up on the University of Nalanda, one of the greatest Buddhist universities of its time, which operated from 427-1197CE. 427 - let's see...wasn't Europe plunged into the Dark Ages about then. Very little education going on there.
And then of course, there is Nanjing University, founded in 258 and still operating today. It didn't confer degrees way back then, but provided education to future scholar-clerks.

Universal education is a very recent concept, even in the 'Christian' West, and came about primarily because of the Industrial Revolution and its need for literate and numerate factory workers, and not because of the Christian churches.

Democracy too, I believe is less a product of Christianity than of the Enlightenment. In fact, the Churches held to an autocratic model of rule in which monarchs were seen as God's viceregents on earth - not much democracy going on there. Nor was much democracy on show in Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain or in Latin America up until recently - all Christian countries. Catholic Man's boss, the Pope, doesn't seem to hold to defending human rights much either as his recent diatribe against UK's Equality Bill demonstrates.

I let the man go with all those ambit claims, but it was when he claimed that Asian countries lacked a solid grounding in honesty because they weren't Christian that I saw red. His example of lacking honesty? "Asians rip off Westerners." When I said everyone tries ripping off others, he replied that Asian countries do it more than Western (ergo Christian) countries. Well, I snapped and told him he was insulting and offensive and I'd heard enough and sent him off with a flea in his ear.

I think he was trying to say that Christianity was superior to Asian religions because it introduced all the above-mentioned qualities to the world. But all he did was prove the narrow-mindedness, bigotry and arrogance of his own religion, as well as his own ignorance. He sure did not display any of that love he claims Christianity brought to the world.