Mike's photo adventure weblog

Mike's photo adventure weblog: May 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fuller's London Pride (England Update)

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Butterflies and Carnivorous Plants
I left you in the last update with a spiel about the airport in Bali, so let's start in another airport: Changi in Singapore. I posit that it's the best airport in the world. What other airport has crayons, stencils and drawing paper? Free wifi, free massage chairs, and a free movie theatre? Flowers above the urinals, and a bathroom attendant who perpetually cleans and polishes? As I gazed into the flowers, an old Chinese man relieving himself at the next urinal let out a startlingly loud sigh—more like a yell—of joy. I thought, "Yes, he must like the flowers too." I sure hope as he left the bathroom he pressed the 'Big Smily Face' rating on the customer feedback touchscreen.

But the airport gets even better than the urinals. The airport has a tropical Butterfly Garden with carnivorous plants and hordes of butterflies. With a fascinating cabinet full of real pupae in various levels of development. And for those who aren't captivated by nepenthes ampullaria.... there's plenty of shopping.

Foreign Words
I flew FinnAir through Helsinki and heard a lot of the Finnish language. I've met various Finns in my travels, and they can be a bit odd—but only when they're sober. They usually have split personalities; get one drunk and see for yourself. You'd scarcely believe they're the same person. But I haven't heard this much Finnish before. I decided the language sounds great, musical in fact, with percussive noises like a mouthful of marimbas.

From Heathrow I got on the tube (the London underground train system). A very proper elderly woman sat across from me, looking a lot like the Queen—bright red lipstick, a large-brimmed sunhat, pearl necklace, and gloves up to her forearms. This fascinated me because I never expected other women to resemble the Queen, a woman who I thought was a caricature of herself. (Ditto for Prince Charles: when you see a caricature of him, you're not sure if anything has actually been exaggerated).

So I sat across from Queenie, on the Piccadilly tube line in the direction of Cockfosters. You would assume that living in Australia would acclimatise me to silly town names, like Burrumbuttock, Cockburn, Delicate Nobby, Wagga Wagga, Pimpinbudgie, Mooball, Tittybong, and Chinaman's Knob. But every time the poshly accented female voice announced our tube direction, I nearly lost it with giggles.

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Welcome Home
It didn't take long to get into the flow of London life: Riding escalators with correct etiquette (lazy people stand to one side, to let others pass); Soaking up the beautiful English spring days (embracing every one of the fifteen degrees celcius); munching Cornish pasties (thank you to the coal miners of Cornwall: you may have depleted your coal reserves, but your pasties are a renewable resource of deliciousness), and sipping fine ciders and cask ale at pubs. Note to other foreigners: cask ale is supposed to be flat and warm. I sent Jenn to ask at the bar if there was something wrong with the beer, to spare me any embarrassment. The Russian bartender replied, "Actually, that's how they drink it here. Weird, I know."

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It was unfortunate I never made it on a tour of the Fuller's Brewery, where I imagined they'd welcome me, their kin, with open arms (and a free case of London Pride). But we still felt pretty welcome in London: JimKat put us up in their wonderful flat and showed us around town. And as Jenn and I waited for a clipper ferry along the Thames, a ferry-worker asked where we were from. After we told him, he replied, "Ah yes. Colonials. I've only got one thing to say to you. Welcome home."
He was lying. He had more than one thing to say to us. He went on to explain that Canada should credit it's modern greatness to all the great work of English and Irish colonists who built it. I suggested that the immigrants from the rest of Europe, and all the other continents, over the past 150 years, may have contributed a little too. But he wasn't convinced.

Despite my half-English roots, my home is presently Fremantle. On my way back there, a Finnish guy sat behind me telling a story to his neighbours in his Finnish musical marimba accent. On his journeys around Australia, he had hitch-hiked from Sydney to Perth (that's 4000km for you geographers), and at one point, was passenger in an 18-wheeler transport truck. When the truckie wanted a nap, he put this Finn behind the wheel, advised him not to brake for kangaroos, and left him driving until the truckie woke up, 300km later.

I'd rather bring home a story like that, than anything you can buy in Singapore's airport.

(even one of those 4.5kg Toblerone bars)

You know the drill by now. No videos this time, just a plateful of photos, with a generous side of goofiness. www.michaelfuller.ca

- Fuller

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

From Awe to Bliss (Bali update)

Full Moon
It wasn't hard to spot the little man in the big crowd outside the airport. He was holding an A4 piece of paper penned boldy with "FULLER". The man was distracted on his mobile phone, but I called his name and he smiled widely and welcomed me to Bali. He apologised sincerely for being 'so rude' as to have been sending a text message when I arrived (which I reassured him was not offensive in the least), then he offered to carry my bag and then to fetch the car and return to save me 5 minutes of walking. I refused both his polite offers. And hoped the rest of the Balinese would be as nice as Nyoman.

The drive took forty minutes, all the while we chatted and he taught me about Balinese culture. I learned his name means 'Third-born' in the farmer-caste, and is an understandably common name on the island—I estimate there are only two names more popular. Most people have informal names their friends call them. Since I always love having a local name (to make locals laugh) I asked for Nyoman's help. He dubbed me "Madeh", which means 'Second-born'.  I wasn't particularly impressed with his creativity. So I asked him again, and he added the personal name 'Purrrnama' (rrroll yourrr Rrrr). It means 'Full-moon', which puzzled me until he added, "Because you're FULL-er". Ah. It also means 'strong building', which is an added bonus, if you're an engineer. 

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It's not easy being green
We soon arrived at Jenya's workplace, the Green School—now deemed the world's greenest school, and an architectural masterpiece. One of their claims to fame is that they have the only ATM in the world built from bamboo, bolted into a rock, and powered by solar panels. As my good fortune had it, I arrived on their most important day of the year (Earth Day). The celebration assembly ended with a performance by their resident fifteen-piece percussion band, composed mostly of tiny students playing massive marimbas. And I was one of the two-hundred people dancing. 

As I wandered around in awe of the place, Jenya and a veteran teacher Mary chuckled to themselves something about me being "in the Awe stage". Mary went on to explain to me the "Ten stages of Green School". The next stage was Confusion, where you ask questions like 'Why is a sewage truck coming to empty the composting toilets?' and 'Why don't the solar panels generate electricity?'. Stage 3 is Frustration, 4 is Anger, and 5 is Despair, which occur when you're yelling over the noise of students in adjacent open-air classrooms, the wind is blowing papers off students' desks, and the leaky roof ruins your textbooks and causes the computers to electrocute students. Stage 6 is Numbness, then Apathy, 8 is Sarcasm, and the 9th stage is Acceptance. After a teacher moves through these nine stages, they eventually end up close to where they started: Stage 10 is Bliss. But the spiritual, peaceful kind of bliss, not the overjoyed type. I'm certain in my brief visit, as I wandered the school grounds gaping in disbelief, I never left Stage 1.

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The little things
I find a lot of satisfaction trying to experience the pace and rhythm of local people's daily routines. This can often lead to wonderful random encounters that would be impossible to recreate. In the multitude of narrow alleyways entwining Jenya's flat, I wandered in the magic hour before sunset looking for photos. I watched women set out offerings and children fly homemade kites. I navigated by noting from what intersection which stray dog barked at me. 

Even the familiar was anything but: Locals slurped rice porridge for breakfast at McDonalds, where the service was so terrible it would be a joke to call it 'fast' food. Fortunately, the street / beach-shack food, prepared before you from fresh ingredients, cost a fraction as much. An exceptionally friendly woman made me gado-gado in five minutes, for a dollar, and it was the best meal I had in Bali.

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Which is the Hindu god of materialism? 
The Bali airport was simply astounding. While most of the world's airports resemble shopping malls, Ngurah Rai airport is actually a shopping mall that resembles an airport. Nine gates, and ninety shops. Well that's fine, you say, you don't have to shop, you can just sit down and wait for your—oh what! No you can't! There aren't enough seats for even half the passengers in the terminal. Thankfully those gracious airport owners have built a luxury lounge you may pay to enter if you really need a chair. Or you can eat at one of overpriced restaurants (if you have any rupiah remaining after your—surprise!—$15 exit tax). I opted to stretch out on the tile floor, my backpack a pillow, and read my book. Laying there, surrounded by overly-lit shops flogging cheap souvenir crap, and overly-lit shops flogging expensive designer crap, I looked around at the crowd of dozens of other seatless travelers sprawled around me like an Indian train station, and I laughed to myself, because we resembled some bizarre anti-consumerism protest.

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For a few more photos and mini-stories, from this and other trips, check out www.michaelfuller.ca.

Now, here's the awkward bit. I wasn't in Bali long enough to learn to say goodbye. Though I could say "Oh my goodness!", which was arguably more useful. So,

Be mindful,
- Madeh Purrrrrnama