Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Back of Beyond

After two long posts about Heron Island with no pictures I figured I better post some kind of photo.  I didn't have a digital camera when I was on Heron Island.  I did take photos there but none were anything special.  This is a photo from a more recent trip down under.  A boab tree somewhere in the Western Australia.  It has obviously been Photoshopped.  I like the effect.  It looks like something from another planet which is how I feel in the outback.  There are trees, bushes, grasses, insects and animals but there is something different about them, something unfamiliar.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Heron Island - Singles Table

A hostess greeted me at the entrance of the Heron Island restaurant.  She explained that they had assigned seating for the guests.  Since I was there by myself, I was assigned to the singles table.  I did not like this news, I’m kinda shy and like to just sit by myself.  I didn’t protest but I wasn’t comfortable.  She showed me to my table.  I don’t remember if I was the first there or not but soon there were four of us at the table.  A shy young Australian kid.  Lori, a girl from the US who had been on a semester abroad and was doing a little traveling before returning home, and Matt Zarb, a bald Australian man with big loop earrings that looked like Mr. Clean.  The shy kid didn't say much during the meal and neither did I.  We just listened to the conversation between the other two.  

Eventually the topic of guitars somehow came up.  That not only got my attention, it also got me talking.  Matt obviously played guitars.  The two of us were soon talking about guitars and our favorite music.  He told me about Paul Kelly and other Australian singer song writers.  I told him about Greg Brown, Lucy Kaplansky, Leo Kottke and others.  He was very interested in the music I was telling him about and wanted to know how I had heard of these artists.  He asked me if I had heard of Dakoda Blonde.  I had not.  He said a friend of his had sent him their CD.  They were from the US and did a great version of “Down Under” but they got some of the lyrics wrong.  We ended up staying there long after dinner talking about music.  Lori stayed too occasionally joining the conversation when she could get a word or two in.  Eventually, Lori asked Matt something about performing that night.  Matt was the entertainment for the resort and was going to be performing soon.  I didn’t realize I was talking to an artist of that level.  I thought he just loved music like I did.  

I went to the lounge for Matt’s performance that night.  There were only a few of us there but Matt played as if playing for a packed house.  He played a mix of his own songs and covers.  Between each song he took “A sip o’ me beer.”  He took request and seemed to know just about everything.  He played a fantastic version of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”  He played most of that song scratching the strings with his pick and creating a fantastic rhythm.  He played “Down Under” to the delight of us foreigners.  
I looked forward to the singles table after that.  Matt was so much fun to be around.  He never acted like he was special because he was a talented performer.  He enjoyed hanging out with us as much as we enjoyed having him at the table.  He told us what it’s like trying to make a living as a musician.  Explained some Aussie slang.  I remember he swam around the island every morning to stay in shape.  He told me there were a bunch of sting rays and shovel rays that gathered just off the west side of the island in the late afternoon (this made for some nice snorkeling).  He told the funniest jokes I have ever heard.  Although it was his delivery with a jolly Australian accent that I enjoyed the most.  I hung out at the lounge each evening to listen to Matt play.  He’s seemed to always be having so much fun it was impossible not to enjoy his show.  
I got Matt’s address and later sent him a CD with my favorite songs from the artists I told him about.  I don’t know if he received it or not.  I searched for him on the internet but couldn’t find him.  A few years later I did find him on the internet.  He had recorded a few CD’s with his brother.  I was able to get them at CDBaby.  His song “Vincent Road” has become one of my favorites.  It’s about the home he grew up in and how he sometimes wishes he could go back there.  On his web site he once wrote that he did go back there and was disappointed.  It wasn’t the way he remembered and he said he doesn’t want to go back no more.  It is still a fantastic song.  I think we all have a “Vincent Road” somewhere.  
Matt spent some time in the US but he is back in Australia and performs often.  I hope I can catch one of his shows next time I am in Australia.  I really shouldn't be so shy about talking to people I don't know.  Especially when traveling.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Heron Island - "No Worries, Love"

It took a bit of travel to get to Heron Island.  I flew to LA.  Then to Sydney.  I had a 5 or 6 hour layover in Sydney so I checked my bags in and took a taxi to Circular Quay to see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge and to get some breakfast.  My next flight was to Brisbane.  After a short layover I flew to a small airport in Gladstone where I ran from the plane to a helicopter which took me to Heron Island as the sun was setting.  I was spending my first night Down Under on Heron Island and the next morning I would be scuba diving in the ocean for the first time.  
It was a short ride in small boat to our first dive site.  As soon as the boat stopped it was like a race to get our gear on and get in the water.  Except for me.  I got my open water certification a year an half earlier.  A mountain bike crash ruined plans for my first dive trip.  So it had been awhile since I put the regulator, BC, tanks and the rest of the gear on.  I wasn’t sure I was doing it right and was pretty slow.  There were only about a dozen divers on the boat and dive master soon spotted my troubles and came over to help me get ready.  Once in the water everything was great.  There was a large nurse shark right where we descended.  The fish and corals of the Great Barrier Reef were amazing.  When I was pulling myself back  into the boat after the dive my weight belt fell off and sank back into the ocean.  

“No worries” the dive master said “someone will find it down there.”  

I didn’t worry.  I had a great second dive and wonderful evening.  

The next morning I got up early to dive again.  Feeling a bit more confident I was able to keep up with the other divers as we got ready.  We descended about 10 to 12 meters for the first part of the dive.  About five minutes into the dive I notice a weight belt on the ocean floor right below me.  We were at a different dive site.  It couldn’t be my weight belt from the day before.  Oh Shit!  It was my weight belt from this morning.  My belt had come off again.  I immediately remembered the instructions from the dive master when I was certifying.  “If you accidentally drop your weight belt, wave bye bye to the other divers cause your going to the surface.  Just spread eagle and try to ascend as slowly as possible.”  I didn’t wave to the other divers but I rise to the surface spread eagle.  
At the surface I saw the boat about 50 meters away and gave the diver’s okay signal and call out “Hello” until I got the attention of the captain.  I wasn’t happy my first dive was cut short but we were schedule to do two dives so I still had one to go.  He brought the boat over to me and as I climbed into the boat he asked what happened.  I told him my weight belt fell off and I surfaced. 

“How deep were you? How long were you down?  How fast did you come to the surface?”  

I could tell he was concerned.  I tried to assure him everything was alright.  I wasn’t down very deep and was only down for a few minutes.  Technically I didn’t even need to do a safety stop before surfacing.  He asked if I felt any tingling or had any muscle or joint stiffness.  

I said “No worries. I’m fine.”  

"Just to be safe I'm going to have you lay down and give you some oxygen."  

“Well, okay.  I’ll do that.”  

After he got the oxygen mask on me and covered me with a blanket he got on the radio and was asking someone for advice as to what to do next.  

I pulled the mask of my face to reassure him “I feel fine.  I wasn’t down very deep or very long.”  

He set the radio down and said we have to take you in.  He leaned over the side of the boat and started banging on the hull giving the emergency signal to the other divers.  

“No!  Really, I’am okay.”  

“Lay down and keep the mask on.”

It was too late the other divers would be surfacing soon.  I felt terrible.  I had ruined their dive too.  As the divers climb into the boat each one quickly dropped their gear and rushed over to my side.  

“Are you okay?”

“What happened?”

“Are you warm?  Do you need another blanket?”

I lifted my mask a little.  “I feel fine.  Really.  It’s no big deal.  I was only...”

A hand pressed the mask back over my nose and mouth.  

“You’re going to be alright.”

“We’re going to take care of you.”

“Don’t worry.”  

All the divers were back on the boat and huddled around me.

“I’m not worried, I...”

Another hand pressed the mask back over my face.  There was nothing I could do.  They were taking me back to the island.  About then I accepted the fact that my diving was over for the day.  

As we neared the jetty I spotted a red helicopter flying towards the island.  It took me a minute to realize it wasn’t the helicopter that brings guests to the island.  I thought to myself “Oh hell, they better not life flight me off the island to a decompression chamber.”  I tried to protest again but one of the divers held the mask to my face.  I gave up my resistance at that point.  

They struggled a bit lifting me from the bench onto a stretcher.  I tried to suggest that I just walk or at least get myself on the stretcher but they would not let me get up or even sit up.  The divers helped the medical team from the island get me onto the stretcher, cover me with blankets, set the oxygen tank on top and carry me off the boat. 

Heron Island is small, just one resort but nearly everyone on the island was waiting at the jetty to see what had happened.  I was carried right through the crowd which pressed as close as possible to get a good look at who was injured.  

I could hear people ask “What happened?” 

“Was it a shark?” 

“Is he going to be alright?”  
They carried me off the jetty to a cart waiting on the sand.  I could see the red helicopter on the pad with the blades still spinning.  Thankfully, they drove me straight to the small medical clinic a short distance away instead.  They carried me into the clinic and lifted me onto a bed.  The dive master reported the details to the young lady at the clinic and left.  I was relieved to get away from the divers and the crowd on the beach.  

I am not sure if the lady was a doctor, nurse, EMT, paramedic or what.  I can no longer remember her name.  She replaced the large oxygen mask with the kind that has two little tubes that went in my nose and she let me sit up a bit.  She checked my vitals signs and kept calling me “Love.”  I know she called everyone “Love” like many Australian women do but it was new for me and I liked it.  She left a sensor clipped to one of my fingers and said I had to stay there to be watched for an hour.  
By then I had to pee very bad so I asked if I could get up and go to the restroom.   

“No love, you can’t get up for an hour.”

“Is this my punishment for dropping two weight belts?”

She didn’t seem to catch my attempt at humor and went into the next room.  Soon she came back in and held out a glass bottle.  

“Here’s a bottle you can use if you like.”  

It took me a moment to realize what she was suggesting I could use the bottle for.  “No thanks.  Not right now.  I’ll try to hold it.”  
For the next hour I sat up in the damp bed and watched the clock with my wetsuit pulled down to my waist, oxygen in my nose and a little monitor clipped to me finger.  I chatted with the lady as she walked in and out of the room.  As soon as an hour was up and she gave me the okay, I jumped off the bed and raced to the rest room.  
Leaving the clinic a few minutes later I thanked her for taking good care of me.

“No worries, love.”  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The F Word

I was chatting with the daycare teacher at the edge of the playground.  My son who was about 7 years old at the time was busy playing with friends at the far end and had not yet noticed that I was there to pick him up.  We had been talking about the kids for a few minutes when we heard my son call out with excitement "Dad, I know the F word!"  
I heard the teacher gasp and could see a sudden sense of panic on her face.  I began to shout "We don't say that word!  Don't say that word, don't say it!."  My son didn't hear anything I yelled.  He was too excited to tell me the news.  He was running straight towards me with his fists clinched and his arms pumping like a sprinter's.  All the way over he was announcing at the top of his lungs "I know the F word!  I know what the F word is!"  I kneeled down and spread my arms out to greet him while trying to keep him from blurting it out.  He ran up and grabbed my arms rather than giving me a hug like he normally would.  I was still pleading with him not to say it but he talked over me.  
"Dad, the F word is Full. The F word is Full." 
"Huh?  That's not... uh, yeah, Full is an F word."
He must have sensed my confusion.
"You, know.  In the car, there's that pointer thing that has an E and F.  The F is for Full."
"Yes, you're right!  Full is the F word."

Friday, February 3, 2012

臭豆腐 Stinky Tofu

My second favorite place to eat in China
I have recently found a number of travel blogs that I really enjoy.  There seem to be so many that have great photos and wonderful stories.  I really admire these bloggers not only for their writing and their photos but also their lifestyle (traveling, photography and writing).  Many have quit their jobs and taken off alone or with a companion to travel the world and blog.  I may someday quit my job to travel and take pictures but blogging looks like hard work.  I have a lot to learn, which is part of the reason I started this blog.  This post has been inspired by a couple of posts I have read this week.  First I saw a video of Beer Fish being cooked in Yangshuo by Runaway Juno.  I have had beer fish in Yangshuo with a group of Chinese women from Guangdong who let me tag along with them around Xingping and the Li Jiang river.  Then I read about unbrave girl eating stinky tofu (chou duofu) at the Shihlin night market in Taipei.  Stinky tofu or "chou duofu" in Chinese, is my favorite food period.  It is the only food I dream about (while sleeping).  I have many stinky tofu stories and pictures but I will only share a few on this post.  And I will post my first video.  I like to show this photo to picky eaters and tell them this is my second favorite place to eat in China.  While working in Dongguan I kept asking everyone if they knew where I could get some stinky tofu.  All the manager types told they didn't think there was any place around that sold it.  A driver at the company overheard me asking someone and he told us that he knew of a place near his house that sold it.  Every night after that I when to this place to eat usually as a snack before dinner or for dessert afterwards.  There was always a group that went with me from the company but no one else would try it.  Too bad it was delicious!  

One weekend while in Dongguan I went to Zhaoqing with a few Chinese coworkers.  Walking around in the evening I was happy to find a stinky tofu vendor and ordered some.  A small crowd soon began to gather probably to see the foreigner but many were asking what the vendor was selling.  They didn't know what it was.  After a few had asked, I announced to the crowd that I would buy stinky tofu for everyone who wanted to try it.  Only these four girls took me up on this but they were there to get some anyways.  I ordered two helpings for myself.  I paid the vendor for mine and the four servings for these girls and I gave her a 100% tip (tipping is not customary in China and she tried to refuse the tip but I insisted telling her this stinky tofu was  some of the best I had ever had).  It cost me a total of $1.47 USD.  This is my favorite place to eat in China.  The next afternoon I went back the to corner where this vendor was just before catching the bus back to Dongguan.  I was so happy to see her with her cart selling stinky tofu, I thought it would be too early.  I took this video of her preparing my favorite dish.  It was the first time I had it served with minced garlic piled on top. Some kind of hot sauce is standard everywhere.  On the bus ride back my Chinese friends were laughing at me for eating the stinky tofu.  They told me I didn't know what was in it and if I did I wouldn't eat it.  I asked them to tell me what was in it that was so bad.  They asked me if I knew what that black stuff on it was.  I replied "It's mold."  Their jaws dropped in amazement.  "You knew that and still ate it?"  Yep!  

Sorry about the poor quality of the video.  It was taken in 2004 with a point and shoot camera.  It was something simple that I could use to post my first video on my blog.